03 January 2018

A Wandering Minstrel - home child?

It's easy to go off on a tangent when you find someone from your British home town in Canada.
The cause this time was William (Joseph) Carter. A summary of his colourful life as a wandering minstrel in Canada and the UK, reproduced from the Stories Behind the Stones: The Churchyard and the Old and New Cemeteries at Great Yarmouth  by Paul P Davies is on the British Home Children in Canada website here.
No civil birth registration could be found although he claimed to be born in Great Yarmouth (GY). His GY baptismal record for 12 November 1881 included a birth date of 5 December 1875. His school attendance has the same date a year later.
An article in the 16 March 1935 Winnipeg Tribune quotes him "My mother died when I was three years old and I was taken into Dr. Barnardo's Homes. In 1899 they sent me to Canada, to Portage la Prairie.  I stayed there a few years and have worked over wide areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan."
He was confused about his early life. In the 1881 census he's in the GY workhouse as is his mother Emily. A sister Eliza died later that year and his mother in 1882. There's no sign of a father.
In the 1891 census he's listed as an errand boy living at Belfort Place, an independent home for orphan boys in GY supported by charity and the earnings of the boys.
He variously gave his year of migration to Canada as 1899 or 1900. I was unable to find any record.
In the 1901 census there's a possible fit to William J Carter in Rockwood, Selkirk, Manitoba as a farm servant, born in England 11 July 187?, emigrated in 1901. In 1906 a William Carter is a roomer in Portage le Prairie, age 30, emigrated in 1900. He was elusive in censuses from 1911 to 1921.
He claimed to have been rejected for war service and to have moved to a haunted rented farm in the Carrot River valley north of Melfort, Saskatchewan in 1926. The house burned down in 1929 and he took to life as a wandering minstrel playing violin and tin whistle.
He nurtured a modest fame in numerous newspapers with many stories including playing at an event for the Dionne quins and renowned violinist Fritz Kreizler dropping a dollar in his hat. Articles mention his sunny disposition.
He returned to England in 1937 continuing as an itinerant musician seeking media attention including on the BBC.
In September 1939 William Carter is in the National Register in GY listed as a musician, his birth date is given as 8 March 1875.
He died on 7 July 1958 at Westminster House Home for Elderly People, Liverpool leaving £267. The body was buried in GY beside the graves of his mother and sister which mention their relationship to "Canada's Wandering Minstrel".

Comment: Should an immigrant 24 years old be counted a home child?

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