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Arthur Burns Sculthorp: Man of Courage by Cheri Rauser

April 24, 2012

Cheri Rauser tells the story of a grandfather whose early life was filled with abuse.  Often people with tragic beginnings don’t become productive citizens but Arthur, and many other British Home Children who were abused, grew up to serve their country and their communities and became loving parents and grandparents.  The strength of character demonstrated in the lives of British Home Children is remarkable.

– Rose McCormick Brandon

When this picture of my maternal grandfather Arthur Burns Sculthorp (aka Salthorpe or Sculthorpe or Salthrop or John Burns) was taken, he had just gotten off a boat, the SS Tunisia, that left Britain and landed in Portland. He was 11.  It was March 1901. He was brought to Canada by Dr. Barnardo Homes along with 259 other young immigrants. Sixty of those were sent to Manitoba. Arthur was among them.

As a child immigrant, Arthur was put to work as an indentured servant, His first home was with an abusive farmer near Baldur, Manitoba. This man housed Arthur in the barn year round. He was never allowed in the family home. There was a tenacity in Arthur. He tolerated poor treatment for a time then he ran away and was rescued by a neighbour, Solomon Preston. This family treated him like one of their own. His third placement was also abusive and Arthur went back to the Preston home and completed his indentured service with them.

Like many home children, my grandfather was not an orphan. He had two living biological parents and a sister. Records show he was removed  from his parents and placed into care. It’s possible his parents were not able to obtain social supports because the father was abusive. Or they may have been considered unfit to raise him for other reasons. It was also a problem that Arthur’s mother was unwed and from the labour class.

In 1892 Arthur’s biological father and his wife (not Arthur’s mother) were jailed for 6 weeks and fined for abusing two and a half year-old Arthur. Arthur’s father had requested custody of him to avoid paying for his support. For five months Arthur was starved to near death until a neighbour intervened. 

When the story of Arthur’s abuse hit the newspapers, his mother attempted to claim him. She was turned down despite her “good character.” The system at the time refused to support unwed mothers and their illegitimate children. By doing this, they sentenced Arthur to years of abuse and child labour in Canada.

Little is known of Arthur’s young adult years after leaving the Barnardo program at age 19 except that Arthur returned to Britain and renewed contact with his mother, who had married. His only sister, Eleanor, died at age 15,  2 years after he arrived in Canada. By 1913 Arthur had returned to Canada, bringing his mother with him. At 23 he married Mary Fleming Gilchrist in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Family lore has it that they met while he was back in Britain, she being a native of Glasgow. Their first child, a son, Arthur, was born the next year. The young family settled in Medicine Hat and Arthur senior (aka AB) was known to have been employed by the city as a dog catcher. He was a talented musician, playing several brass instruments.  He  joined the city band. On August 26, 1916, Arthur enlisted in the Canadian Army with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and spent the remainder of the war in the trenches of France.

Arthur Salthrope watching his grandchildren play

After the war, Arthur and Mary produced two more children: Isabell in 1920 and Robert in 1926. Mary and baby Thomas died in childbirth in May 1930. Ten year old Isabell and Rob were sent to live with family in Pennsylvania, a brother and sister of Mary’s. AB and son Art left Medicine Hat and moved to the northern bush near Edson, Alberta. Upon their return to Canada in 1933, Isabelle  and Rob joined their older brother and father and lived and worked as trappers until the mid-1940’s. AB served as a bridge guard in the Edson area during the second world war. He was too old to serve overseas and had been gassed during the first world war.

In the late 1940’s AB remarried and that union produced a second daughter, Faye. By the late 1950’s Isabell had six children and the extended family had settled in the Shuswap area of British Columbia’s interior. AB kept a small holding in the Enderby area that his grandchildren remember fondly. When he died in 1958, AB was living with his daughter Isy and her family. Despite years of neglect and abuse, Arthur grew up to become a good father and loving grandfather. By all accounts, he was a joker and a happy man. He served his country in the trenches of France and was an active and  contributing member of society until his death at age 69. 

I am proud to be a descendant of a British Home Child (BHC). I want Arthur’s story told along with those of thousands of other forgotten child immigrants.  These children stand amongst Canada’s greatest nation-builders.

Cheri Rauser is a professional librarian living in Vancouver with her daughter Isabell.  She works as a virtual library consultant with online colleges and universities. Visit her website at cherirauser.ca

More than 10,000 British Home Children served in the Canadian military during WWI and WWII. It gave some an opportunity to return to England and reconnect with family. Sadly, most Canadians remain unaware of the contributions and sacrifices these children made.  RMB


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Arnold permalink
    April 24, 2012 12:04 pm

    Another amazing life, the sadness in these childrens lives began in England where Government officials would rather throw these little ones away for other countries to deal with, than to face the fact that they had a problem and help with it. Sad that Canadians took part in a good deal of abusive cases where these children were concerned. I believe the history of the Home Child should be taught in our schools, a contribution to show that all Canadians were not heartless towards the BHC………….Mary, proud daughter of Nellie Page, a BHC,

    • April 24, 2012 12:41 pm

      Mary – it’s sad that more Canadians don’t know about the BHC. I believe their stories would inspire children today who face different kinds of hardships. Their ability to cope and strength to survive is nothing short of amazing.

  2. April 27, 2012 3:02 am

    Cheri, What a heart breaking life your Grand father lived; you can be thankful of his stamina for over coming the abuse. He overcame this life, than fought in the war. What a trooper he was.

    • April 27, 2012 2:57 pm

      Hello
      Thanks so much for your comments on the story.

      He really does sound like a survivor. The irony for myself is that because he died the week I was born, he met me but I never ‘met’ him. But because he was the man he was I’ve always felt a strong connection and because my then teenage siblings and parents made him alive for me and my brother who was 3. My desire to know more about his life and my social justice beliefs led me to apply for the Barnardo records 9 years ago and slowly begin to piece together the man I was told about with the childhood he had. He talked little of his early life but I know he harboured resentment towards Britain. Not only was he indentured in Canada but he was in workhouses in Britain from the the age of 2.5 to 11 because of the prejudice against unwed mothers.

      Lack of supports implies the infrastructure didn’t exist – it did in the communities and homes of the working classes who didn’t make many of the same distinctions – its just that the attitudes were such that he was discarded not by his own people but because they had no say. He had no childhood – except the first 2 years with his mother and sister. And from all accounts in the records he was well fed and well cared for until going to his father, a member of the merchant classes.

      I also see these attitudes that should have fallen on the scrap heap happening around the world and still here in Canada. Some are blatant prejudice towards the mentally ill on our streets, children in poorer urban areas or subtle prejudices concerning women raising children without a partner in the home. The attitudes and prejudices that condemned my grandfather 120 years ago to a workhouse at age 2.5 are alive and well in the human psychology. But I do have hope that things will improve…..

      But my grandad, he was a survivor, despite it all. So many were not and are not so lucky – Cheri

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