In August 1850 Mr and Mrs Bourke were elected as the new master and matron of the workhouse. Both had formerly been employed as assistant teachers in the workhouse prior to this. About this time it was claimed that things were improving in Dungannon workhouse and that the ‘numerical decrease of paupers is so gratifying and considerable, that the vacant office of assistant master will not be filled’.
The immediate post-Famine makeup of the workhouse highlighted the social dislocation which had taken place during the Famine years. A return of all children born in Dungannon workhouse in 1853 (and published in 1854) showed that there were eight ‘illegitimate’ children in the workhouse, while twenty-three women under the age of fifty. In the same year the Armagh Guardian newspaper noted how there were just over 100 paupers in the workhouse. The newspaper continued:
The extraordinary decrease attests in itself a marked improvement in the social condition of the able-bodied poor of the district comprehended in the union. The appearance of the house and grounds is very creditable to the master and matron, and the clerk’s department has long regarded as a model of business-like arrangement and clerical accuracy. There are 21 patients in the hospital, and the average weekly expenses of supporting a pauper are 1s 2d.
However, despite these positive comments about the workhouse administration, during the 1850s the large number of deaths in the house continued. Between July 1851 and February 1861 approximately 400 people died and were buried in the ‘barley field’. The deaths were male and female, young and old, Protestant and Catholic. In April 1860 the Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser newspaper reported on a melancholy death in the workhouse when a woman ‘in a state of difficult and protracted labor seized a knife with which she inflicted a deep wound in the throat she died from the effects of protracted labor but death was accelerated by the wound’.