Charles Trevelyan and the Great Irish Famine


Robin Haines

Hardback €76.50
Catalogue Price: €85.00
ISBN: 1-85182-755-2
November 2004. 640pp.

‘Overall Haines’ book is well written and engaging … this book is a major addition to famine historiography. It is based on extensive research which is cleverly synthesized and offers a fresh insight into a major event in not only Irish but British history', Christine Kinealy, Agricultural History Review.

‘The book is more than a biography, more than an attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of a dead civil servant. It ranges far beyond Trevelyan’s role, becoming, in effect, an administrative and fiscal history of the Great Famine', Laurence M. Geary, Irish Economic & Social History.


'Charles Edward Trevelyan’s position as administrative head of the British Treasury during the Great Irish Famine established him as the central co-ordinator for relief efforts and conduit for information between the Cabinet and officials on the ground in 1845–8. Trevelyan believed that future generations would admire these humanitarian efforts. Instead, most accounts of the Famine, from the 1970s ballad ‘The Fields of Athenry’ to academic studies of government policy, present Trevelyan as the incarnation of a harsh, moralistic relief policy, marked by a quasi-genocidal insistence on restricting relief to avoid ‘demoralization’ …. Until now, the only significant defence of Trevelyan came from the Irish civil servant and potato blight expert, Austin Bourke, in a 1977 article …. Robin Haines argues that Trevelyan’s historical reputation as an obsessive, inhumane, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish moralist has been created by a snowballing process …. This study transforms the debate on the British Government’s famine policy, but will not end it …. this is an epoch-making book and a reminder that systematic mining of an archive can throw up new results. Trevelyan fell short of his own frequently repeated declaration that ‘the people must be saved from starvation’; but it is too easily forgotten that he worked to save lives', Patrick Maume, European History Quarterly.