Home Child – My Grandfather’s Story (extract)

June 13, 2007

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.


Home Children

June 6, 2007

Between 1869 and 1930 several thousands of young boys and girls immigrated to Canada from Great Britain. These children were known as “home children”, “orphan immigrants, or “young immigrants”. They were from homes in England, usually run by charitable organizations or churches, that took them in when parents died or could no longer look after them. Churches in Canada handled requests for children to work on farms or as domestics in homes across Canada. Some of the well known homes were Barnardo’s, Middlemore, and Rye.

My grandfather on Dad’s side, George Alfred Davis, was one of these home children. His mother had died and his father couldn’t look after him so he was consigned to Middlemore Homes. From there he was sent to work on a farm in Dumfries, New Brunswick in June 1900. This area is located in the St. John River valley and is known locally as “The Barony”.

I have already done the genealogical research and written a short family history on my Dad’s family, now using this research data plus historical background I want to try a different approach to telling his story.

One of my writing projects is to tell his story in a more entertaining way. To accomplish this I intend to use a writing technique called “creative nonfiction”. What is that you say? “Creative nonfiction” writing blends historical facts with interpretation to tell a true story. Educated assumptions are woven throughout to better detail the conditions of the time.

For example, I know what ship he came to Canada in, so using research I am able to reconstruct what the conditions on board ship would have been like. Even though I don’t have his actual thoughts and writings, I can still relate in story form what his experiences would have been like. The result is almost like a novel, except of course it is supported with facts and historical background research. The result is a true story that reads in an entertaining way.

I will be posting extracts from it here in the near future. Watch for it. My intent is to publish it in book form eventually.

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