Purpose: This paper aims to examine the Victorian attitude to the poor by focussing on the health care provided at a large provincial hospital, the Newcastle Infirmary.
Design/methodology/approach: The archives of the Newcastle Infirmary are reviewed alongside the local trade directories. These primary sources are examined in conjunction with the writings of contemporary social theorists on poverty.
Findings: At a time when poverty was seen as a sin, an act against God, it would be easy to assume that the Victorians faced no moral dilemma in dismissing the poor, particularly what were seen as the "undeserving poor", out of hand. Yet, the paper observes how accounting was used both to persuade the wealthier citizens to contribute funds and to enable the hospital to exercise compassion in treating paupers despite this being prohibited under the hospital's rules. Such a policy conflicted with the dominant utilitarian view of society, which emphasised the twin pillars of economic expediency and self-help.
Research limitations/implications: More case studies are needed of other hospitals to ascertain how typical the Newcastle Infirmary was of the voluntary hospital sector as a whole.
Originality/value: Although many histories of British hospitals exist and some have examined how accounting was used to manage within these institutions, the concern has not been with accounting as a moral practice.