Arthur Theodore Clarkson: The Rest of the Story
In January 1911, newspapers across Canada published articles about a 13 year-old Barnardo boy who was severely abused by a farmer in Tilbury, Ontario. People were appalled when they read the child had been whipped, his feet frozen to the point that amputation was considered and that he slept in a barn without protection from cold and snow. When Inspector Kinder arrived at the Flaherty farm, he found the boy fevered and covered in bruises. Charges of cruelty to a child were laid against Flaherty. The boy, Arthur T. Clarkson, proved more resilient than his oppressor. He went on to find lucrative employment, marry and raise a large family. The following story is based on information provided by Arthur’s daughter, Linda Clarkson Pagnani.
Arthur T. Clarkson’s father, Arthur W. Clarkson, was an engineer who helped design the first railway system in South Africa. He came from an upper middleclass English family that included lawyers, ministers and military officers. When he married Annie Maude Baker, the daughter of a Norwich postal worker, Arthur W. was disowned by his family.
Arthur T. was the second child born to Arthur W. and Annie. Their first son died in a tragic accident. Arthur T. was born on December 23, 1897 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. In 1907, Arthur Sr. contracted malaria and died. Annie was left alone in a strange country. She returned to England in a fragile emotional state. Nine year-old Arthur became responsible for the wellbeing of his mother and a younger brother.
Back in England, Arthur often left school to check on his mother. His poor record of attendance caused school authorities to label him as incorrigible. This label carried frightening consequences. Arthur was sent to a reform school. From there, he went to one of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for children in Surrey. Arthur’s family doesn’t know if his mother signed a release for him to be sent to Canada. Considering her fragile state, she may have done this.
On February 25, 1909 eleven year-old Arthur Clarkson boarded the S.S. Dominion and sailed for Canada. In September of that same year he was placed with a farmer, David S. Flaherty, of Tilbury,Ontario. The only information Arthur passed on to his family about the Flaherty farm was that he slept in a barn with an opening that allowed snow to blow onto him while he slept. Arthur’s feet froze. He couldn’t get his boots on so Flaherty gave him a pair of his, several sizes too large. The oversize boots chafed his feet raw.
Newspaper reports of the actual abuse suffered by Arthur painted a much worse picture than the one he shared with his family. On January 6, 1911, the Chatham paper reported:
“With his feet so badly frozen that both may have to be amputated, his back covered with blue and red welts, a young immigrant boy working for a farmer of Tilbury East, was brought here by Inspector Kinder. Charges of cruelty to a child will be laid against the farmer. When Inspector Kinder visited the farm, he found the boy out in the cold doing a man’s work on a cross-cut saw. He was working with his feet frozen in No. 10 shoes and every step he made the big boot rubbed the raw flesh off his foot.”
Arthur’s feet were badly deformed but doctors managed to save them. By August 1911 he had recovered and went to work for another area farmer. This man sent good reports to Bernardo’s about Arthur. In 1913, he went to the farm of Francis E. Brown of Tweed. His employment with the Browns gave him a chance to realize one of his goals – to save enough money to bring his mother and younger brother to Canada to join him.
In 1914, Arthur learned his mother had died of an overdose of Laudanum. He never shared with his children how he felt when he learned of her death but his daughter Linda thinks he blamed himself for not being there to protect her.
Arthur remained with the Browns until 1916 when he enlisted in the Canadian Army Signal Corps. He served 10 months in the trenches in France before getting sick with appendicitis. After emergency surgery on the battlefield, without anesthesia, he convalesced in England. A few months later, the army sent Arthur back to Canada.
Before Arthur left for the war, he had met Lily Ivy Agnes Wood, also a British home child. She worked for a local family, the Newtons. After returning to Canada, Arthur proposed to Lily and they were married on March 7, 1919 at Sydenham United Church in Kingston. Arthur upgraded his education through correspondence. He was hired to work at the power facility in Kingston Mills. He and Lily moved into a tiny rented house overlooking the Rideau Canal. By 1922 they had three children.
When Arthur heard the Ford Motor Company in Detroit was paying five dollars a day, he moved his young family to the U.S. With hard work and frugal habits, it wasn’t long before he had bought a lot in a Detroit suburb. He built a small house and a fourth child was born. Immediately, he began building a much larger house on the property. It was completed just in time for the birth of their fifth child.
As the world descended into a major depression, another child came along. Arthur found himself without a job, mortgage payments and six children to feed. He sometimes juggled three or four jobs. A wise man, Arthur wrote a letter to the person who held his mortgage. He asked the man to accept interest payments only until he could afford to make full payments. Arthur explained that if the house was repossessed, they would both be losers. The mortgage holder agreed.
By the time their seventh and youngest child, Linda, came along in 1941, Arthur had a
secure job at Detroit Edison Co. as an electrician. He remained there until 1963 when a heart attack forced him to retire. Arthur kept busy with amateur radio, gardening and socializing with his many friends. In September 1973, a few months shy of his 75th birthday, he passed away.
Arthur’s children are proud of their father. He found little love in his early years but he gave love freely to his wife and children. Arthur and Lily’s 7 children and their families still live in the Michigan area, most of them not far from the family homestead their father built.
Below are a few of the newspaper stories that were published about Arthur Clarkson.