Kristin Butcher

Well-intended home children program brought many to Canada

My grandfather, William Philip Martin, was a home child

William Phillip Green.

Between the 1860s and1940s, more than 100,000 children were sent from Britain to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

They were known as home children, often poor and orphaned waifs, who had landed on the doorstep of such organizations as the Salvation Army, Dr. Bernardo’s, and Quarriers. The children coming to Canada arrived by ship and were transferred to receiving homes across the country, where they were collected by farmers. There were at least seven applicants for each child. The premise was that the children would be cared for, and in exchange farmers would receive the benefit of cheap labor. Though this child migration programme was well-intended, the children were not always well-treated.

My grandfather, William Philip Martin, was a home child. He was born in one of the poorest parts of East London, and he was illegitimate. On April 6, 1908, his mother, pregnant with her ninth child—only four of whom lived past infancy—fell down a flight of stairs. As a result, she went into labour, and both she and the baby died.  She was 38 years old. At the time of her death, she’d been living with a man named Thomas Chambers. Unable to care for four youngsters on a part-time carman’s wages, and probably since my grandfather and his sister were not his biological children, on October 19, 1908, Chambers put William and Ada into Dr. Barnardo’s Home in Stepney Causway. During the next 3 months, William was transferred to a hospital and two other Barnardo homes, ending up at Leopold House, where he stayed for the next 9 months.

On Oct. 2, 1909, William sailed on the SS Sicilian to Canada, arriving in Quebec on Oct. 19. In 1911 Ada was also sent to Canada, though she ended up in a different province. It wasn’t until 1935 that William and Ada again found each other.

Though I know little of his time as a home child, the documentation I have seen indicates the farmer who took William in had little regard for him, and his interest was primarily in having him work. Needless to say, William left as soon as he could and enlisted in the army, preferring to take his chances in the war.

Dr. Barnardo’s has been most helpful in tracing my grandfather’s roots. The organization has kept in-depth records, and as a result, I have been able to pick up other threads of my grandfather’s life.

Please use the following blurb with the photograph.

 

This is a photo of William Philip Martin taken the day he was admitted to Dr. Barnardo’s Home. It bears a strong resemblance to a mug shot. Note the surname is Green. That was the name of the children’s grandmother (she was married several times), and as she was the one who delivered  William and Ada to Dr. Barnardo’s, the children were registered with that name.

 

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