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A VISIT TO THE OLD MEN’S HOME., Ashburton Guardian, Volume IV, Issue 795, 17 November 1882
A VISIT TO THE OLD MEN’S HOME.
[BY OCR SPECIAL REPORTER ] Having for some time past meditated a visit to the Old Men’s Home, I took advantage of a leisure hour the other evening to call upon Mr Harris and get him to show me over the Institution. I was was about seven o’clock when I put in an appearance, and perhaps rather an unreasonable hour, but one’s time is not always one’s own, and to my query as to whether 1 might bo allowed to take a ramble through the building, Mr Harris at once cheerfully responded in the affirmative, himself leading the way. Before describing what I saw and heard, it may be as well to furnish my readers with a few particulars respecting the Home. The building was originally an immigration depot, and was converted into a refuge for the destitue between four and five
years ago. The original Institution, for Canterbury, was situated at Selwyn, but the Home there was on a much smaller scale than the one under notice, and the accommodation becoming too limited to meet the growing requirements, the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board entered into arrangements by which the inmates were removed to Ashburton. Here accommodation exists for 40 men, although as many as 46 have been housed at one time, the number at present on the books being 41. In addition to the twenty dormitories, each fitted up with two bunks, there is a spacious sitting-room, or “ day room,” as it is called, a convenient kitchen, a sick-ward (recently added), a bath-room and lavatory, etc. Although called the “ Old Men’s ” Home the Insti-
tutiou is open for the reception of any really destitute male per on, but women are not received. The great majority of the present inmates are aged, and infirm, whose present quiet existence must form a strange contrast to the stirring scenes they have taken part in in years past and gone, for nearly all of them have led adventurous lives. Four or five are seamen, veritable “ ancient mariners,” who having been tossed to and fro upon life’s stormy sea, have come to an anchor at last in this quiet old place, and calmly await the signal to go aloft. Then there are four blind men, and three inmates are afflicted with paralysis, and are absolutely helpless so far as motion is concerned. They have to be moved from place to place. One is bed-ridden, but the others may be seen on fine bright days sunning themselves in the grounds. The oldest inmate is William Harris, who has attained the ripe old age of 82, and who, we believe, has grown-up sons and daughters who could maintain their father if they would, but who are quite content to let him remain an inmate of an alms-house. William Tyndall is a1.'.0 in his eighty-second year, and led an active life as a gold-digger in Aust alia until old age compelled him to ra’inquish the pursuit, and he came to New Zealand, to gravitate to the Old Men’s Home. In addition to this elderly
pair there several who have passed the rubicon of three score years and ten. My conductor led me first of all to the “day-room,” a somewhat bare-looking but nevertheless cheerful apartment of about 40 feet x 20 feet, furnished with plain deal tables and benches, the former being liberally supplied with newspapers. Here the majority of the inmates were assembled, some reading, others sitting listless and unoccupied, dwelling perhaps on memories of by-gone days. This is the diningroom, as well as sitting-room. Passing on we reach a corridor .the dormitories being situated on either side. These little apartments, as before stated, are each fitted up for two occupants. They are furnished in very homely style, buf are doubtless comfortable enough, and are kept very neat and clean, as, indeed, is the whole building. Entering one of the dormitories, we find an old fellow seated, dressed, on his bunk. He does not move or live any sign of recognition of the master who whispers me
that this is one of the old diggers of whom there are several in the Home. This man could tell many a story of Ballarat and Bendigo, and the days of the gold excitement in Australia thirty years ago, if his memory would allow, but he is not easily “drawn out.” Hois getting too old in fact, and besides which he is “ not quite right in his head,” as my guide explains. “ How are you to-night, Harrison T says Mr Harris, bending down to speak to the old man, who makes an inaudible reply “ How would you like another big rush to break out V is the next question which is answered by a shake of the head, and the opinion that there never will be “ another -big rush,” “ although,” the speaker slowly adds, “ he still feels a touch of the gold fever sometimes.” We leave him still ruminating, and pass on to the sick-ward where eight spotlessly clean beds are arranged in two rows, although there is room for more beds if required. Adjoin-
ing this ward ia asmaller room, containing the bed-ridden paralytic patient, and Efated ne<»r are two other* suffering from paralysis, and who are incapable of moving although able to ait up. On the mantelpiece of the larger ward i« a very cleverly executed model t>f a h*-i digged ship, which is complete to the minutest detail, and the handiwork of one of the ancient mariners before referred to. -This model was carved with a common penknife and also a smaller one —that of a brigantine, which graces Mr Harris’ gitting-rocra. We understand 'that the maker of these minature vessels will be glad to undertake commissions for the public, and it would be an act of charity, areatly appreciated, to employ him. lie fs not the only inmate who is anxious to turn his leisure time to account. There are a couple of very clever mat makers, who can produce articles both ornamental and useful, and who would be only too happy to execute any orders entrusted to
them. In addition to these people there are several who can make or repair sacks and corn bags —when they get the chance, and here I cannot too strongly urge upou my readers the great charity it would be to find occasional employment for those capable of doing it amongst old men, and so enable them to earn a little pocketmoney. Many of them prebably have friend* in distant part* of the colony whom they would be perhaps glad to join, if only for a season, had they but the means to do so—or they may wish to save for other purposes —and to set them to work making models, mats, bags, etc., would be to give them what too many of them lack “at present —an object in life. Leaving the sick-ward, which I should mention contain* at present five patients,
we went out into the grounds. The lawns, back and front, and the flower and kitchen gardens are all kept in apple-pie order, and reflect the greatest credit on the gardeners, one of whom has lost both his legs below the knee. He is quite a young man, and met with his misfortune by getting frost-bitten on one unlucky occasion when he spent a night in the open. He has been an inmate of the Home for a considerable time, r id although a cripple manages to get through a considerable amount of work, and very excellent work too. Everything considered, the inmates of the Home appear to be very well taken care of. The rules of the institution re-
quire them to rise at six o’clock every morning, and this rule Mr Maddison, Mr Harris’ predecessor, rigorously enforced, as we well remember to have been the case. 'Under Mr Harris this has besn altered. Every man cin get up as early as he pleases, but he is not compelled to rise until close upon eight o clock. This is a very wise modification, as it seems to us, of an unnecessarily harsh regulation. Formerly, also, all the inmates were compelled to clean out their rooms as soon as they rose. Now there is only one.regular cleaning-up diy in the week, although as much neatness and cleanliness is observed as possible; Considering the inlirm and crippled condition of many.of the inmates •this new rule can only be regarded Ss a good one. Formerly, also, the old men used to complain bitterly that they were never allowed to go outside the grounds. Now each man who desires it can get leave to obtain a day’s outing once a week : if he only proves himself worthy ' of ; the privilege. Breakfast is served at eight, dinner at one, tea at five, and all lights are extinguished and the inmates in bed by nine o’clock. The dietary scale is a very liberal one. It consists of threequarters of a pound of meat per diem per man, one pound of bread, half a pint of milk, half an ounce of tea, and two ounces of sugar. Half a pound of butter is allowed to each a week, and one-snd-a-half ounces of tobacco. The stoppage of this same tobacco, by the way, for a week or ten days in the case of very refractory inmates, constitutes the severest punishment inflicted. We can easily understand that it is one that is keenly felt, and it is gratifying to learn that it is not often necessary. The above is the ordinary fare, but the invalids are supplied with other things, in the shape of medical comforts.” Blankets and underclothing are supplied to the inmates, and other clothing where necessary. Dr Trevor is the medical officer of the Institution, and visits it regularly once a week, and oftener, of course, if required. The cost of maintenance per head last ; year averaged 10 3 5d per week, the total expenditure for the twelve months being L 1,064 17s 7d. Mr Harris has been in charge of the Home for two years and seven mouths, having been appointed to succeed Mr Maddison, now master of the Burnham Industrial School. We may mention that the amateur entertainments occasionally given at the Home by kind - hearted friends are very much appreciated by the old men, who are temporarily in quite a flatter of excitement both before and after the event. Such little breaks in the monotony of their every-day life must be very welcome. Some time ago Mr Harris obtained leave to collect subscriptions towards a fund for the purchase of a piano or harmonium for use at these entertainments, but I regret to learn that only three or four pounds have been obtained so far. In conclusion, I would remind my readers that donations of old clothes, linen, books, newspapers and periodicals, etc., are always‘welcome at the Home, and could not po-sioly be applied to a better purpose than the benefit of Mr Harris’ charges.
A VISIT TO THE OLD MEN’S HOME., Ashburton Guardian, Volume IV, Issue 795, 17 November 1882
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