This post has been inspired by some reading I was engaged in this week. Whilst browsing through a social media site I was directed to a really interesting article; if somewhat very sad, about the plight of many British Home Children in Canada. British Home Children is the term used to describe children that were part of an immigration programme that began in the late 1860s and continued right up until 1948. It was a scheme designed with the intention of dealing with an ever growing problem of children being abandoned or separated from their families as parents sought work. Workhouses were becoming overcrowded and so the idea of sending children to Canada to be fostered out by families there was born. The intention was that children would be sent out under contract to farming families where they would be clothed, fed and educated in return for a small fee to recompense the families for fostering these children. The scheme was marketed as being much better for the children than the squalid conditions of living on the streets or in workhouses in built-up city areas. Children would be safe, healthy, enjoy fresh clean country air, good food and opportunity. History has since revealed that the reality was all too different. The scheme was poorly managed and monitored meaning that for the most part children were not orphaned and picked up off the streets as thought but came from intact families who had fallen on hard times through one circumstance or another resulting in children going into what was supposed to be temporary care to then being shipped out and separated from their families permanently and abandoned in a foreign country to a life that was far worse from the one they had come from. The original article that inspired my thoughts and gives an insight on the experiences of many can be read here.
This sparked a memory of some research along one of my own family lines I conducted a few years ago now that revealed that this part of British History affected a branch of my own family, all be it extended family. Elizabeth Doo (1834-1893), my 4th Great Aunt on my maternal side of the tree was married to Francis Scott (1827-1897) and this story involves members on the Scott side of the tree. I don’t normally research so extensively along a marital branch of the tree but did so in this case to assist someone with an enquiry about the Scott lines and as a result discovered a wealth of information I couldn’t help but record.
Central to this story is a man named Frederick John Bertram Scott, born 30 May 1872 in Worcester, Worcestershire, England. He was the above-mentioned Elizabeth Doo’s 1st cousin once removed by marriage. He was married to Evelyn Green, daughter of Henry Green and Sarah Ann Bateman and they had two children together, both boys. The eldest son was Frederick Charles Henry Scott born 9 Jun 1898 at 11 Coventry Street in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England and the younger boy was Frank Bateman Scott, born 14 Aug 1900 also in Stourbridge. The mother Evelyn sadly died in 1907 as a result of an accident in the home. Family stories say she tripped over the boys toys on some stairs and died as a result of her injuries. The boys would have been aged 9 and 7 at the time. Ther father Frederick sinking in grief and even perhaps blaming the boys a little in his grief because it was their toys that caused the accident found himself unable to cope and placed both the boys in the care of the Middlemore Home.
Frederick Charles Henry Scott (1898-1960)
Frank Bateman Scott (1900-1985)
That decision proved instrumental in what happened to the boys next. Both of them became subject to this scheme of using British children as a source of labour in Canada. Charles or Charlie as he was known to family was sent to Canada on the ship “Mongolia” and left England on 24 May 1910 arriving in Nova Scotia 7 Jun 1910. His younger brother had already been sent to Canada the year previously travelling on a separate ship, the “Carthaginian” on 24 May 1909 arriving in Nova Scotia on 9 Jun 1909. Neither were to see their father or each other again.
I always invest my personal feelings in stories like theirs. It is hard to not feel connected and imagine how you would feel in their situation and feeling so thankful that I have not had to experience anything like this in my own lifetime. Such young boys to have suffered the pain of losing their mother to then be separated from their father and placed in a home and then to have been separated from each other at a time when they would have needed each other so desparately to live and work in a country that was alien to all they knew. How courageous and strong they would have needed to be. Both boys survived into adulthood which sadly wasn’t the case for too many like them. Many ran away from the homes in which they were placed, many were abused or neglected, many died as a result directly or indirectly of that abuse and neglect. Both boys were lucky in that regard although Frank seemed to fair better from his experience than his older brother.
Frank was “adopted” into the McAskill family in Canada and treated as a family member ought to be. He later married a Cassie MacPhail and moved to Whycocomagh where he and Cassie had 14 children. Frank passed away in 1985 in Nova Scotia aged 85. Although I do not know the exact circumstances he endured under his placement, conversations with closer family lead me to believe that Charlie’s experience was not a happy one. Many British Home Children refused to speak of their experiences because of the associated pain and stigma so much so that many descendants of these children are still unaware of their heritage. Charlie endured whatever he had to endure and became a soldier in adulthood, married a Florence Mattick and had six children that I am aware of. He passed away 30 Apr 1960 in Saanich, British Columbia, Canada.
It is hard to believe what we do in the name of good sometimes and the level of cruelty we can throw at our own kind. What strength of character was born out of such tragedy. How thankful I am that Charles and Frank survived and came through and how pained and sorry I am for the hundreds more that didn’t. I hope we never forget and only hope to honour their memory in the telling of their story.
(Thanks to Craig Kennedy for sharing these images of Charles and Frank)