Hello to you reading this story! This is based around the life of my great grandmother pre-WW1. It will continue into that era later on. I hope you enjoy and remember, this is just a short story.
My name is Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Bessie. I am a Home Child.
A Home Child? What is that, you might ask. Well, a Home Child is an orphaned, abandoned or poor child who is sent abroad from a children's "Home of Industry" in Great Britain. Starting around 1870, children were taken in by these homes, trained in a skill and then sent in large groups on passenger ships to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Once arriving at the intended country, the group would be taken to a receiving home and a child would then be sent on to their new "home". Whether or not it was a good home remained to be seen. I am one of those children and I will tell you my story.
In a poor area of Glasgow, Scotland and on what was probably a cold day in April of 1903, I was born Elizabeth Rankin Shields. A small bundle of baby, I was the fourth and last child to parents who seemed to be just getting by in an already cramped tenement. I don't remember much of that time, but I do remember when things started to go wrong; when something terrible happened that would change my life forever in both good and bad ways.
It was in January 1906 when my mother was admitted to hospital. She was very sick and had been coughing for weeks before my father took her to Stobhill because the flat wasn't very clean. He would come and go, letting us know how our mother was, but would never stay for long and it was up to my older brother and sister, John and Grace, to take care of things at home including my other sister, Euphemia, and myself. Then, about a week after my mother was admitted, she died of consumption. My father was at the hospital at the time and one of our neighbours, Miss Aikman, asked if we might be seen by a doctor to be sure that we were healthy. When the doctor confirmed that we were all well, we were sent back home and told our father would be home shortly.
He never arrived.
Over the next few days, we relied on the kindness of our neighbors as the authorities searched for our father, but they were unable to find any trace of him. He had even left his job. We were now considered abandoned and there was only one place for us to go as there were no relatives who could take us. My brother, John, my two sisters, Grace and Euphemia, and myself were sent to Quarriers Orphan Home where we would spend the next five years of our lives learning how to work on farm and other domestic duties.
My sister Grace was the first to be sent to Canada in 1910 at the end of June. She was ten years old when they took her and 90 other girls, aged seven to twenty-one, and boarded them on a ship called the Southwark. She was sent to Brockville in Ontario and lived with a nice family for many years. The couple even adopted her after a few years! John was 16 when he was sent to Canada in 1911 at the beginning of April on a ship called the Hesperian. He also went to Brockville in Ontario, but he wasn't lucky enough to get a family like Grace did. They worked him very hard on the farm. He was thinking about joining the seminary once he was old enough. My sister Euphemia (she hated that name so we called her Effie) and I were lucky enough to be sent to Canada together in June of 1911 on the Hesperian as well, but when we got to Brockville, we were sent to different homes. She was 9 and I was 8 and she got the good home. I, however, had a really rough beginning.