Guest Post: Liz Lloyd

I am delighted to present a guest post from British blogger, Liz Lloyd.
This is her own short bio.

‘After 35 years as a primary school teacher and school librarian, I started two blog sites based on my main interests in history and books. I am a volunteer researcher at my local Workhouse Museum as well as following my own family tree. I also enjoying travelling, especially to the Algarve’.

Liz has two blogs. One is solely concerned with book reviews.
Her second blog features her travels, photos, and visits to places of historical interest.

Here is her unedited guest post, a sad story of poverty, and forced migration.

British Home Children in Canada.

Since 2013 I have been researching the lives of people connected to the Union Workhouse in Guildford, Surrey. Initially we were preparing for an exhibition at The Spike museum about the changes from Workhouse, to war hospital in both world wars and later a General Hospital but subsequently I became particularly interested in what happened to the children who had stayed in the Workhouse, many of whom went to Sail training schools, Scattered homes, into domestic service or apprenticeships. However, the most alarming fate was the decision to send the children across the ocean to a new life in Canada.
“From the late 1860s right up to 1948, over 100,000 children of all ages were emigrated right across Canada, from the United Kingdom, to be used as indentured farm workers and domestics. Believed by Canadians to be orphans, only approximately 12 percent truly were. These children were sent to Canada by over 50 organizations including the well-known and still working charities: Barnardo’s, The Salvation Army and Quarrier’s, to name a few.” (British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association)

In Canada and America many descendants are trying to trace the origin of their ancestors, often only discovering after their grandparents’ deaths that they had been sent across by British charities or Union Workhouses. Some of the children were lucky, going to good homes where they were educated and cared for, but others were treated like slaves or abused. Government Inspectors visited from time to time but in such a large country this was a rare occasion. These are a few of the children I have followed.

Margaret Ellen, Edith Mary and Louisa were born in the village of Pirbright, Surrey the daughters of James Chewter and his wife Sarah. James was a farm labourer. As agricultural labouring opportunities declined many families moved closer into Guildford so that the fathers could find casual labouring jobs. They managed to eke out a living until one parent died and then it was impossible to provide for the family and look after the children. According to the death records registered in Guildford, Sarah Chuter, mother of the three girls, died at the Royal Surrey Hospital in 1884 aged 38, so it must have been very difficult for their father James to look after them on his own while continuing to work.

Margaret, Edith and Louisa were first sent from Surrey to Mr Middlemore’s Home in Birmingham where they were prepared for their voyage. The Board of Guardians in Guildford provided each with a chest containing a basic set of clothes and a Bible. On June 18th 1887 they were part of a group of 115 children aboard the SS Lake Ontario bound Quebec and on to the Guthrie Receiving Home in London, Ontario. The Chewter/ Chuter girls were soon given placements. Edith was placed in three different locations, the final one being at Belmont, Ontario, Louisa, age 7, was placed with Francis Davis at Adelaide Street, London, Ontario and Margaret, age 12 went to David Phillips of Durham, Oxford Co. Ontario.

Two years earlier, Walter Shires, an 11-year-old boy from a tragic family, had also been migrated to Canada. He can be found age 7, amongst the inmates listed in Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881 and next to him, the name Mary Ann Joyce, age 12, who was his stepsister. Both children had been orphaned two or three years earlier, but only Walter would be part of the small party of children sent out to Canada to begin a new life.

Walter’s mother Kate May married William Joyce at St Nicholas, Guildford in 1866. He was an Agricultural Labourer and by 1871 they were living in the area of St Catherine’s with their three children, William John Joyce, age 4, Mary Ann Joyce, age 2 and newly born Kate Elizabeth. Sadly, Kate died within a few months and a year later their father, William Joyce, was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, aged 26.

The young widow, Kate Joyce, married again next year, this time to labourer Walter Henry Shires. Their son, also called Walter Henry Shires was born shortly afterwards but there is no evidence of any other children born to the couple before Kate’s death in 1878. At the age of 30, her funeral was held at St Nicholas’s church. With three young children to look after, Walter Shires senior entered Guildford Union Workhouse where he died a year after his wife, aged 37.

By 1881, the eldest boy William John Joyce was 14, so he was working as a farm servant in Hambledon. The next time we find Mary Ann Joyce is in 1891 when she is living in Spitalfields with three other girls, all with no occupation, in the household of a Docker and a Laundress.

Like the Chewter sisters, 12-year-old Walter first went to the Guthrie Home in London, Ontario. From there, Walter was sent to live with J D Crane, a farmer in Chatsworth, Ontario. Each child was subject to one inspection to check that his new home was suitable. Walter Shires was reported to be both honest and untruthful, stubborn, sulky and a source of trouble. He was, however, “showing signs of slight improvement,” in his behaviour, although suffering from scalp disease. In later years Walter married and had 2 children, before his death in 1937.

In 1881, wheelwright, Benjamin Sink was living with his wife Jane and their three little girls in Farthing Lane, Wandsworth, but Benjamin came from Ockham, Surrey where most of his family still lived. By 1883 the lives of Ruth, aged 7, Beatrice, 6, and Ada Sink, aged 3 had been turned upside down. Their mother Jane had died and Benjamin was imprisoned in Wandsworth jail. The family in Ockham took in the three girls, but their grandmother was 64 and nearly blind so they were soon given up to the Union Workhouse in Guildford. In in June 1884 the sisters set out from Liverpool on the Allan Line steamship Parisian, with 115 other girls from various parts of Britain.

It is recorded in Ontario that Mark Smallpiece, Clerk to the Board of Governors of Guildford Poor Law Union, requested feedback on the children’s situations, as did other workhouse Boards and thus we have it on record that Beatrice, “would like to know her birthday if possible,” that Ada, “thinks she has a brother in the Union,” (Guildford Workhouse) while poor Ruth is so unwell she has been returned to Guthrie House. We do not know whether Beatrice discovered her birthday or whether Ada really had a brother “in the Union.”

Thanks to Maureen Salter, a descendant of the Sink family, I now have a little more information.

Beatrice Sink was adopted by the Burton family and took their surname. Later she married a cousin of her adopted family. Ada also went to a caring home in Ontario where, at the age of 6, she was adopted by Ephraim Snell. Sadly in 1893 she died of typhoid fever.

The children’s birth father Benjamin Sink died in Richmond Workhouse, Surrey in 1938. There is no record of a brother in Guildford Union Workhouse, and we do not know whether Beatrice was given her correct birth date.

It seems fitting to conclude with a quotation from the journalist of Guildford Jottings in the Surrey Mirror in 1885,
“Although one feels almost guilty of expatriating the poor little ones by deciding to send them from our shores, it does not follow that it is not in reality, the very kindest thing it is possible to do for them. They are at a premium in Canada, they are a discount here. It’s just as well to get a premium on one’s wares where possible.”

Liz Lloyd

Please take time to visit Liz’s other blogs, and give her some support from our great community. There is lots to discover on her general blog, and I am sure all you book fans out there will appreciate her reviews on the literary blog.

45 thoughts on “Guest Post: Liz Lloyd

  1. A great post from Liz, both of whose blogs I follow. She has done a huge amount of research into the tragic stories of forced child migration. Her history blog is fascinating – and not all tragic stories. She does great book reviews on her book blog and, as we seem to be drawn tot he same kinds of books, costs me a small fortune every month!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I post the names I have information about on several different facebook groups for British Home Children. Recently one of the descendants from America came to meet me at the Workhouse Museum after we have been corresponding for a while. Two other descendents have combined their research in Canada with mine in England. Other researchers in both countries also share their information on these Facebook groups.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I found the post to be well written and well researches. I also reacted with OMG! for I rather suspect the inhumanity to our fellow human beings continues to this day under a variety of motives–witness the separation of children at the US southern border today. Thank you for sharing; and, I thank the author for writing this. Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Fascinating post, I had no idea this was such a common practice, I can’t imagine how difficult life must have been for all those children! Thanks for sharing your research Liz, and Pete thanks for sharing Liz!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. An interesting but sad read. It must take a lot of work to do the research for this type of post. Sadly more and more of these parts of our history are being brought to light, it’s shameful that these things ever were allowed to happen.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s always been tough for orphans or children taken into ‘care’, but I was thinking how young these parents were when they died and how harsh it was to survive with no social support. I can see in some way how ‘exporting’ children might have been considered as giving them a chance of a new life, it’s just appalling how it was done and with no safeguards as to how they were treated, not to mention splitting up families and taking children away who were not in fact orphans. You have to wonder what atrocities people will be talking about in two hundred years. If the human race survives that long.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. The newspapers reported long discussions amongst the members of the Boards of Guardians. Some truly thought it was offering salvation to the children, others were very concerned that it would be difficult to monitor their care.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Fantastic post, really interesting and equally horrifying that children could just be removed like this. I have heard similar stories with children going to other countries, and as a parent it always makes me very sad. I am glad some probably got a much better way of life offered to them, but no doubt many didn’t. Shocking things like this used to happen, and in an official capacity – and even more harrowing is the final paragraph, the quote from the newspaper, where the poor children are deemed equivalent to “wares” 😮

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, MBB. Kids were still being sent off to Australia like this, when I was at school. And in the US, thousands of Native American children were forcibly removed from their culture to be adopted by white Americans and Canadians.
      Best wishes, Pete.


      1. Wow were they really? I thought that had been long stopped by then! And it’s even worse that story of the Native American children, we cant seem to help but interfere!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. In Canada many “British Home Children” hid their background because they were ashamed. British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, apologised for Britain’s part in their treatment but the Canadian government are only just beginning to acknowledge their responsibility.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Aww what a shame for those poor children 😦 But at least people are starting to accept responsibility! Even though it doesn’t really help anyone now… I remember something similar with the children going to Australia that the UK recently apologised for. Having had a quick Google after reading your post, I see some were sent to NZ and South Africa too!

        Liked by 3 people

  6. A fascinating account that brings social history to life. I hesitate to do any family research as one cannot change the past but these stories should make us more aware of the benefits of modern life and teach us to be more careful of what is precious to us. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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