04 March 2012

Child Migrants and British Home Children

The Reba McEntire episode of WDYTYA found her ancestor in a party of children sailing from Liverpool to colonial era Virginia. At nine years of age the child was indentured as a farm servant until age 21. The episode explored the circumstances which led the widower father to give up the child, and the success the grown child enjoyed in Virginia. McEntire's view changed from seeing the child as being rejected and exploited to understanding the best was being made of a difficult situation in the context of the times. That's something those exploring British home children who came to Canada all too often fail to appreciate.  

On the topic of home children, I had a note from Christine Woodcock about a DVD, Oranges and Sunshine, the subject of a posting Child Migrants and British Home
Children at her Scottish Genealogy Tips, Tricks and Tidbits blog.


Persephone said...

I realize that what we're aiming for is an appreciation of the possibility of greater opportunity that brought on such a wrenching decision. However, leaving the Canadian home children aside, it was made quite clear in the Reba McEntire programme that these Virginia-bound children were temporary slaves and that a good chunk of them didn't survive their servitude. I got the impression that Ms McEntire's ancestor was a fortunate, and rare, exception.

Moonraker said...

The "abuse" of Home children
I agree with John D. Understanding the lives of Home children hinges on understanding, or at least trying to understand the times the lived in. My research in the Victorian era and later convinces me that for the most part citizens were looked on as pawns serving the state. (That's the classical definition of fascism by the way.) So our ancestors were abused by the state, or at least, that's the way it appears to our eyes. It was not just the state abusing citizens; citizens abused each other--by today's standards.

Examples: poor houses were workhouses, generating income; what we consider minor offences (swearing, quitting your job, not paying wages) were judged in criminal courts and if you did not have the funds to pay your fine, you went to jail; emigrants were told there was good land in Canada after it had all been taken. All my examples are from Ontario after Confederation.

This approach of people existing for the pleasure of the state or another way of putting it is that a few powerful people had the power to decide what's right for citizens bottomed out when our ancestors served as cannon fodder at Vimy, the Somme and other battles.

In a watered-down form it might be at the heart of the current robocall controversy.

Christine Woodcock said...

Interesting blog post, John. I too thought of the BHC when I watched Reba try to come to grips with her young ancestor leaving England and heading to a new world. Like Reba's ancestor, the BHC were indentured servants to those who took them in. My 4 homechildren were 13, 11, 10 and 8. I can't imagine their fear and wondering what they had done wrong. Poor little boys.
This episode of WDYTYA shed light on a very poorly known era of the history of both the US and Canada.

J said...

Thank you for this posting and the interesting comments. We shouldn't forget the historical context. I also agree that we have not evolved very far from the desire of some to influence or hold power over the many. I guess it is the intent of that control that we may judge. An impoverished single parent may have decided his Child's best hope was in a new land.
in Winnipeg we will celebrate the 200 th anniversary of Lord Selkirk bringing Scots to settle here. Now we think he had their interests at heart, but they suffered.

Lori said...

Reba MacIntyre's fore father came in about 1695 - almost 200 years before the British Home Children. Not a very good analogy I'm thinking...
The best was often made of difficult situations back in the start of the era of the British Home Children, 1863 to 1890ish. But by the time Dr. Barnardo arrived on the scene, things were markably different. Changes to the laws in the early 1890's ensure that the voluntary care organizations, such as Barnardo's had the power to determine the fitness of a parent and to have all parental rights stripped from them. Many children were removed from parents and families who wanted them, but for whatever reason were, more often temporarily then not, able to care for them. That is just as true as the fact that many parents were unfit and did not deserve or want to keep their children. When you stand back and take an overall look at this particular wave of child migration from England, we look at a system in which many if not most of these children suffered abuse, isolation and the loss of their families vs those who SEEMED to do well (as my very own mother SEEMED to do well - to the outside world), how can we honestly say that this was a good thing. I would think that in this case, clearly the good does not and cannot outweigh the evil and harm that was done to so many children and so many families. To liken what happened to the British Home Children to a system of child migration 200 years prior does not do these children or their suffering any justice at all. The good does not and cannot outweigh the evil and harm that was done to so many children and so many families. You also have to remember, sir, that migration of children from England under these schemes continued until 1970 into Australia... the show Oranges and Sunshine is based on the Australian migration of children. So, are you saying that between 1695 and 1970 socially nothing had changed? The times the children removed from the country in 1970 had not changed?