Friday, 18 January 2019

New year, new beginnings

Much has been discussed in this blog about the emigration of the many young orphans of the Manchester and Salford Boys' and Girls' Refuges and Homes (and those in the care of other charities) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Whilst the idea of the mass migration of vulnerable young children who had undergone life changing and traumatic events actions is unthinkable in the present day, it is, however, important to acknowledge and understand the circumstances which led to this. The first question we may now ask is whether the actions of these organisations was fully in the interest of the children: did places like Canada truly offer a new beginning, far removed from the poverty and squalor of urban Britain, or did the removal from familiar surroundings and family simply compound a child’s isolation and suffering? Did these wealthy philanthropists even consider such effects on the child, and were they truly motivated by philanthropic ideals or a need to remove the problem from their doorstep and provide a cheap workforce to the colonies? To begin to address these questions we will look at the stories of two girls, Mary Ann and Harriett who made the long journey to Canada together in May 1898 aboard the S.S. Dominion under the supervision of Miss Harriet Smethurst, representative of the Manchester and Salford Refuges. 

The events leading to Mary Ann's referral to one of the Refuge's orphan homes in Manchester were sudden and tragic. At the age of ten Mary Ann of Newton Heath was placed into the care of the Refuges at the advice of the magistrates after the attempted suicide of her father. During this period (and up to the 1961 Suicide Act) suicide was a criminal offence punishable by law. Mary's father, dealing with the loss of his wife some two years before, was no doubt placed under great emotional, and potentially financial, stress.  Mary Ann would have been dealing with the trauma of these events too when she was separated from her father upon his consent to her referral into the orphan home (likely having been given no choice due to his pending conviction), and her brothers and sisters whom were unable to care for Mary. Traumatic for all parties involved, within the one year of being accepted into the home, around the time of Mary's eleventh birthday, Mary's life faced further upheaval with her move to Canada.

Mary Ann, c.1897

Upon her arrival to Canada, Mary was soon received into the care of a Mr and Mrs Woodrows, a couple described as "well to do" on account of their "first class home." Mary, "an intelligent little girl", began to attend church and Sunday school. For reasons unexplained within the emigration files, Mary then moved to another family home in Tamworth, Ontario, one hour's travel from Marchmont (the Refuge's receiving home). Mary appeared to enjoy her new life in Canada, yet her experiences at home in England had cause a trauma not so easily overcome. In our final account in Mary's emigration file it details the upheaval she faced once more in moving residences in the area. Mary was described as a "difficult girl to manage on account of her temper." Mary's new guardians hopefully recognised her need for patience and support in coming to terms with her experiences. With a seemingly abrupt end to Mary's records we can only imagine how her life in Canada progressed – did she find happiness in her new country or did she long to return to her family?

The 1898 emigration party including Mary Ann and Harriett alongside Miss Smethurst

Accompanying Mary to Canada was thirteen year old Harriett, whose story was all too familiar amongst the child migrants. With both parents deceased, Harriett was in the care of her older sister when her brother alerted the Refuges to Harriett's ill-treatment. Upon inspection, the Refuges deemed Harriett's sister to be unfit to care for her; with her brother's situation also preventing him from providing Harriett with a home she entered the care of the Refuges and travelled to Canada twelve months later.

Unlike Mary, Harriett's life in Canada was well documented in the surviving emigration book. Harriett's story mirrors that of Mary's with her frequent moves to new foster homes on account of her "determined and headstrong" ways. Again, the behaviour of a young girl who had mourned her parents, suffered at the hands of a family member, and had been torn away from all that she had known was further misconstrued in a description given by one of the Refuge’s representatives upon her return to Marchmont from a Mr Hewson's care: "I find her untruthful and disobedient… this is the second good place Harriett has lost from the same faults". Evidently, despite knowing Harriett's background a lack of understanding of the effects of that remained.

Again in contrast to Mary, Harriett's records show that she soon settled, perhaps having been given time to adjust under the care of a more compassionate guardian, or perhaps as the records suggest "on account of her getting fair wages." Nevertheless, from then on Harriett blossomed into an ambitious young women. The final account in her file is telling of this upon her final return to Marchmont:
Harriett called and had tea with us. She was dressed as a Deaconess. She is working in connection with the Methodist Chapel of Toronto and hopes to take a medical course and then go to China or Japan.
Emigration had offered Harriett opportunities likely unimaginable if she had remained in England. Her story was ultimately one of success, but this was only after a difficult and painful journey that continued long after she stepped off the ship and onto Canadian soil. Others may not have been so fortunate and may have struggled to overcome the turmoil of migration and the memories of their former lives. If they did not receive the support they needed in their new homes, it is hoped that these two young girls, alongside the others who travelled together in May 1898, found solace in each other on the journey and sustained a support network throughout their time in Canada.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Like to know more about a certain home or period in the Together Trust's history? Why not comment and let us know.