Home Child – My Grandfather’s Story (extract)

Chapter One – England and the Voyage

George could feel the ship gently rock as he lay in his berth. He was lonely and scared. Just a few months ago his father put him into the care of the home and then just left. Even though his father was drunk a lot and spent little time with George or his sisters, George still missed him. When George’s mother died, his father started to spend more and more time away from them and when he did return he was usually drunk. That was his family, such as it was, but he still missed them.

So now here he was at age twelve in June 1900, on his own crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean in a ship for a new home in Canada. Granted there were other children with him. They were traveling as an escorted group. He had been told that he would be going to a farm in a place called Dumfries, New Brunswick. There he was to work on a farm. He was a city boy and didn’t know anything about farming, although he was sure he would soon learn. Hopefully the farmer would treat him alright.

The group consisted of ninety-four children including himself, and two adult escorts. The adults tolerated no tomfoolery and enforced discipline strictly. They had no sense of fun or humor at all. George was not enjoying his journey at all. Back home in West Bromwich he knew the routine, here he was lost and confused most of the time. The fear of the unknown ate away at him. He was trying to think good thoughts about his future. It had to be better than his life in dirty, sooty West Bromwich among all the smelters and coal mines. At least that’s what he told himself. There was a reason his home in England was referred to as the “Black County”. The adults told them that the air was clean in Canada and everything was green, except for the winter when it was cold and white, covered with snow.

The ship S.S. Siberian of the Allan Lines left Liverpool on June 7, 1900 and was scheduled to dock at Halifax, Nova Scotia June 18, 1900 with a short stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland along the way.

George had been taken to Middlemore Homes by his father when he found that he couldn’t look after him or his sisters any longer. He was separated from his sisters. His older step-sisters, Edith and Mabel Harvey, had been taken in by another family. Sara (Sadie), his youngest sister, had been sent to another place to become a domestic. He was sure he would never see them again and tears welled in his eyes thinking of them. Perhaps someday he could return and find them again.

They had shown him his birth certificate where his parents were listed as Alfred Davis, father and Tryphena Harvey, mother. The names meant little to him, but he had called them father and mother with much affection. His mother had been a gentle soul and his father a gruff man with no tolerance for boyish games or misbehavior from his children. His mother had been more patient with time for all. She was not a hardy woman though and seemed sickly most of the time. Tryphena had died from an infection as a result of a miscarriage, whatever that meant. George didn’t understand that, only the sober fact his mother was never coming back.

The Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick received a request for a farm laborer from a James F. Miller of Dumfries, New Brunswick. They in turn forwarded the request to Middlemore Homes in Birmingham. George was a tall and stocky boy for his age. He was selected for his physical prowess and sent as the requested laborer.

So here he was anxiously awaiting his fate, but hopeful and confident that things would get better.

Author’s Note: This is an extract from what I hope will eventually be a book. I have written this using the “creative nonfiction” approach to add reader interest. As I outlined in my previous posting “Home Children”, this is a factual account with historical background woven in. Dates, places and names are fully researched.

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