Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

I’ve become very attached to these youngsters, called British Home Children. I never suspected there were so many in our township, but for the last few days I’ve discovered 16, and have been following the trail of two in particular. Here is a bit of their story.

English: A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Ind...
English: A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo’s Industrial Farm, Russell, Manitoba, ca. 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In late August of 1895 two boys, ages 13 and 10, departed from Liverpool and crossed the Atlantic in the company of 296 other children; they were on their way to Canada.  The journey would have taken approximately 3 weeks or more, across the dark and dangerous waters of the North Atlantic – Stephen and his younger brother Frederick,  arrived in Quebec City September 5th.

Upon arrival in Canada, they then would have traveled the few hundred miles across the province of Ontario to one of the many sister homes here in Canada – these particular boys went to a Barnardo Home located in Toronto, that was run by a Mr. Owens. Some further investigation found that they had come from a small town in Kent county, England. I know nothing of their circumstances that made them a ward of England, and probably never will.

Barnardos Village, Barkingside
Barnardos Village, Barkingside (Photo credit: G Travels)

More often than not they were brought to these homes by parents who could no longer afford them and so they were sent off to one of the various locations spread out across England that had been setup to house and care for these young charges. One location just outside Maidstone, called Babies Castle, was one such place that had been setup by Dr. Barnardo. {this site has photographs of Babies Castle, Kent – then and now} Some of these young ones were a product of dangerous liaison’s with foreign sailors, and it is entirely possible these boys may have spent time at the Babies Castle in Hawksbury,  Kent – which is on the southeast coast of England.

Beginning around 1869, many of these children ended up as servants in houses, stables, or hired hands on farms all throughout the British commonwealth, including Canada.

~ Henry Foale, 20 & Frank Foale, 18, Domestics for a Wigle family in Gosfield, Essex, Ont, arr 1894? with Dr Barnardos
~ Clara Shimmon, 17, domestic for Hamilton family in Niagara, Lincoln & Niagara, Ont, arr 1898? with Dr Barnardos
~ Thomas Franklin, 13, a student with a Brown family in Mulmur, Simcoe,Ontario
~ Charles Gannon, 13, living with a Wyatt family in Williams East, Middlesex,Ontario
~ Mary Ann (Minnie) Heaton, 6, a student with a McIlroy family in Mulmur, Simcoe, Ontario

BHC-ROOTSWEB (see below) – transcribed from original documents of British Home Children sent to Canada

It is a part of our heritage with perhaps a bit of controversy attached, in that it was condoned, even encouraged at the time. We now recognize the circumstances that some of these children were often faced with, and over the last 100 years Barnardo’s mandate has shifted, and now serves to protect children, rather than sending them off to work as they did up until WW2.

The various agencies and organizations that brought these children over had various motives, as one can imagine. Though many honestly thought they were providing these young people a better life, and more opportunities than they would have in England. Canada was a land filled with opportunity, and the dream of one day owning and working your own land was a fantasy for many English lads – but a reality in Canada. Many were placed throughout rural Ontario, and were often brought over to work as domestic staff or farm hands:

BHC-ROOTSWEB – Middlesex] Government Official workhouse document – 1890

Here is a transcription of a handwritten document dated June 22, 1889. In 2006, it was found in the Archives in London. It was a rare find because the majority of the records from Staines were destroyed by fire.

This document was stamped with a seal from the Official Government Board that included the date.

” I, the child’s name, an inmate of the workhouse in the Staines Union in the County of Middlesex {England} do hereby declare that it is my wish and desire to be sent to Home with a view of immigrating to Canada.
…Child’s signature….
Taken before us at Staines in County of Middlesex this 22 day of June 1889.
….Officials signatures….
Two of her majesty justice of the peace for the County of Middlesex.”

I have come to care very much for them. All alone, adrift without parents to care, with no one to love them, and shelter them. Many of us have no concept of the fear and uncertainty they must have faced.

I wonder if Stephen acted the big brother and tried to calm Fredericks fears, or did they silently accept the reality of their new circumstance?

Both Stephen and Frederick were placed with families here in Dodge. I found them actually just by chance. As I was looking for another young fellow, also one of the HOME CHILDREN, and I saw this 19-year-old farther down in the Census of 1901, listed as DOMESTIC. I’m not even sure why I thought to look for him in the immigration records at Collections Canada, but maybe his story just needed to be told. The page was open and so I searched – and there was a lad with the same birthdate, arrived in Quebec City, Canada. They were to be brought first to a location in Toronto, to a home owned by a Dr. Barnardo.

WW1 Discharge Document – January 1918 – for Stephen Charles Parnell

I was intrigued. Or I was compelled, I guess I may never know. But I next found Stephen in the 1911 Census in Saskatchewan, married, with a young son. The Canadian Government at that time was providing land to all that where willing to go West and settle this new territory. Sometime between the 1901 and 1911 census, Stephen had gone from a domestic servant in Ontario, to a husband, a father and a landowner hundreds of miles across the vast nation.

My next step was to do a general google search to see if the name popped up elsewhere, which is how I discovered he had served in WW1…so back I went to Collections Canada…but this time I looked through the soldiers database, and BINGO. Stephen didn’t just serve, he was wounded and discharged.

I started out just wanting to find out some more information for one man’s family story we were researching for the Heritage Book Project, and now I have almost 16 children’s names that were HOME CHILDREN placed with families in our township. Each of them has a story, and I find myself compelled to find out what that story is – Did they stay in Canada? Or did they eventually return to England? Did they stay in the township like the original man’s family did? Or did they go out west as so many did at the turn of the century.

The man whose family story originally started this whole quest, used to live down the street from us. When I was growing up every winter he would come down and plow both Grandma’s and our driveways, and every summer we would receive a bag of the sweetest, most delicious corn I have ever tasted. Both of his Grandfathers were HOME CHILDREN, and both of them choose to stay in the township. He is a good man, with a good heart.  I’m thankful he asked me to be a part of helping him craft his family story, otherwise I may never have known of these children.

Now I hope to uncover some of the stories of these other children, and to add their names to the many others that have helped to form the history of our township. Their stories are valuable and document a time and a set of circumstances that have not changed over the years, unfortunately. Children are still abandoned and orphaned, while others are for various reasons unable to be cared for by their existing families and so need to have a place to go.  Many organizations have been setup over the decades since these young charges crossed the Atlantic, some succeeded, while others have categorically failed in their duty to protect and care for these unfortunate youngsters. More can certainly be done.

In the meantime, I will piece by piece search for and hopefully uncover more information – I will try to tell as much of their stories as possible. So many children that came to this country, and specifically this township, eventually moved away and therefore don’t strictly fall into the mandate set for this history book. I will search for their story anyways though. I expect that I may not find they all did well, or they may in fact remain lost, but never the less I feel compelled to add my name to the list of the many others out there who are digging through the annals of history in hopes of telling the story of these homeless children.

I’m reminded of all the young girls who Mom took into this very house, young women who for various reasons had no place else to go. She became a second Mom to many of them, and if she had had her way my sister and I would have had many more siblings, as one of her dreams was to adopt children. It never came to be, as there were circumstances that prevented it. Yet, she in her final days said the thing she cherished most in her life is in being a Mom. That man whose family story started this whole quest named one of his daughters after Mom, so perhaps it is fitting that I should be a part of helping to uncover these stories.

I feel compelled to be a part of some greater story that needs to be told. These youngsters came here seeking a better life, many of them didn’t find it. Never the less they formed a piece of our countries history, and I hope I can in some small way share their story so they are not forgotten.

4 thoughts on “Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

  1. Your story here reminds me of an American effort to improve the lot of homeless children in New York City and other eastern cities. They were sent by train — called “Orphan Trains” — to adoptive families in the Midwest. Some received quality care with loving farm families or older couples. Others, though, were treated practically as slaves.

    Even programs with the best motives sometimes go awry.

    Keep up the good storytelling.


    1. Thank you Tony.

      Alot of these children had some bad experiences, and many of them would never speak of it. I didn’t know about the orphan trains. It was much the same here…good families and bad, but even with a good family they were often ostracized by some, and spent years I would imagine trying to overcome the stigma.

      Its been a bit of a journey for me… lots of stories out there just waiting to be told.


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