Two Home Children: Wilfrid Lofft and George Botting by Tamara Botting
In mid September, I called our local paper, The Sachem, to let them know that September 28 was British Home Child day. I spoke with Tamara Botting, the editor. She asked if she could come over and interview me about this site, The Promise of Home, and its stories. When she arrived, she told me that my call had caused her to find out more about the home children in her own family tree. Consequently, she wrote an article about me and this blog for The Sachem and another article about her two home child ancestors. This is Tamara’s story.
I had a vague knowledge that my paternal grandpa, George Botting, had been a British Home Child, but it wasn’t until I started working on an article about Rose McCormick Brandon’s blog, The Promise of Home, that I began to understand what that meant.
The short history of British Home Children is, there were a whole lot of orphans and other young ‘undesirables’ in the British Empire, and the Empire’s colonies (including Canada) were coming up short on their labour force. So, the idea was struck that these children would be shipped out as (forced) immigrants, and they would have the ‘opportunity’ to work and build a life wherever they landed. While some of these children were placed in good situations where they were treated kindly, and in some cases, adopted by the families they ended up with, many more were abused (financially, physically, sexually) and neglected.
The day before I was slated to meet with Rose, my Great Aunt Nancy (grandpa’s sister-in-law), asked me to run an errand for her, so while I was at her place, I asked her if there was a chance that Grandpa Botting had been a British Home Child, to which she replied, “Definitely he was; definitely.”
Aunt Nancy began to tell me of how her family moved around a lot when she was young (six times in one village), and that her father would never tell her or her siblings much about his childhood. “When someone won’t tell you about their childhood, you know there’s something wrong,” she said.
As Aunt Nancy spoke, I realized that she was talking about my Great Grandpa, Wilfrid Lofft; furthermore, I realized that my Grandma Botting had been the daughter of a British Home Child, and she had married one.
Wilfrid Lofft was sent from Liverpool in 1895 at the age of 12 from Barnardo Homes; he arrived in port in Halifax, or so I’ve been able to glean from the Canadian Library and Archives website.
Nancy didn’t have much to tell me about her father’s youth. She told me that once, when she was in her twenties, she had a job looking after a woman who had had a nervous breakdown. A family member of the woman came to look after her for an afternoon so Nancy could have some time off, and she went home to see her parents. She was frustrated by the demands of the job, and her father told her to quit. She said she couldn’t; that there was no one else to look after this woman.
After listening to his daughter’s story, Wilfred told her that when he was younger and working on one of the farms, there was a man there who would beat him after he’d been out for a night of drinking. I suppose his point was that no job is worth being beaten for, physically or emotionally.
Nancy said, “I remember being horrified at the thought of someone beating up my father.”
The next day after speaking with Nancy, I was talking to my dad, and he was able to give me some information about George. George’s mother had been institutionalized (if I have the timing right, this was shortly after she’d had Dorothy, George’s younger sister; of course, in that time, there was no diagnosis of post partum depression).
Dorothy was sent to live with an aunt, and wasn’t told she was adopted until she was 16. By that time, her mother had already died, and was buried in the institution’s graveyard.
One day, George was at home when the coal man came. He let the man in, and went back to whatever he had been doing. The man dropped the 50-pound bag of coal on the top of the stove and left. When George’s father came home that night, he realized that having the bag of coal dropped on it had broken the top of the stove (which was cast iron).
Shortly after that, George’s father took him to an orphanage and told him that he’d be back to pick him up after the weekend. George’s father never returned, and at the age of 16, in 1927, George was sent from Liverpool to Quebec. He went to the Gibbs Home in Sherbrooke and then to a farm.
Dad continued with his story: “My father told me years later that he felt like that incident with the broken stove had been the reason he was sent away. ”
According to my father, my grandfather, George, was working on a farm, and he was supposed to get so much money each month in pay. But after the farmer deducted his room, his board, his clothes and any medicine he needed, there was only a couple of dollars left at the end of the month. Besides this, George’s father back in England would write to him and ask for money. It was a lot of responsibility to heap on the shoulders of a young boy.
When he was older, Wilfred went back to England but, like other home children who returned to England he found there was nothing for him there, so he came back to Canada, and eventually married my grandmother.
When I was talking to Rose, she noted that some of the British Home Children were sent out with the hope that they would find a better life than what they had in the British Empire. It’s possible that Wilfrid Lofft and George Botting ended up in a better financial position than they would have in England but in other aspects of their lives – family attachments, emotional health – I suspect they did not end up in a better position.
Tamra Botting is the editor of The Sachem. Contact Tamara at email@example.com.