Monday, 1 May 2017

Home Children, the Lucky Ones

An article in the recent History Extra, Life in 19th-century slums: Victorian London’s homes from hell paints a sobering picture. Major cities like Birmingham and Liverpool where displaced workers flocked to seek employment were no different.

Home children had drawn the short straw when it came to living conditions in which they were raised, and the ability (or willingness) of their parents to support them.

Canada was a new opportunity.

Many were young adults expected to be in the workforce. Less than half were younger than age 14, the school leaving age, not the bedraggled kids so often shown. As farm hands they had to work hard; so did the farmer's own children. And remember conditions in Canada were not what they are today. Charlotte Gray describes in The Promise of Canada that at the time of Confederation, just 2 years before the first home child landed on our shores, Canadians were living "narrow, hardscrabble and often illiterate lives, four out of five of them settled on isolated farms and in villages."

While some young immigrants did draw the short straw again, sadly finding themselves exploited and in abusive situations, were the majority worse off than they likely would have been in Britain? For those who believe they were ask them to describe what the children's prospects would have been left without help in the UK and without the assistance of the philanthropic organizations that operated immigration programs.

1 comment:

Carolyn Lumsden said...

My grandfather was a Bernado boy, and his life in Canada was a wonderful experience for him. He worked for two different farmers in the Elkhorn, Manitoba area. He wrote a letter to Ups and Downs, a magazine to and for them, describing his working day. Upon his return to England at the end of his ten years, he worked to return and homestead in Canada. He had no prospects in England, and his cousin, who had not been a home child, also chose to come to Canada.

It's nice to see some focus on the positive instead of negative experiences. I've read many of the horror stories and felt they weren't balanced accounts. Grandad had a wonderful life and he knew it.