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Joseph McAuley by Karen McAuley-Smith

June 25, 2013
photo from Barnardo file

photo from Barnardo file

My grandfather, Joseph McAuley, died when I was three years old. I have no memory of him at all, yet my desire to know him has had a lifelong impact on my life.  I grew up being told that he was a homeboy, an orphan from Northern Ireland, who came to Canada as a very young child.

I could not imagine what his life must have been like or the feelings that he must have had, leaving his family behind and coming to Canada all alone.  When I was 13 years old, I wrote my first letter to England to try and learn who my grandfather’s family was and what had happened to result in Joseph being sent to Canada.  Thirty-five years have passed since I wrote that first letter; I still have many questions, but I also have some answers and many new cousins have been discovered.

Joseph McAuley was born in Ballynahinch, Down, Northern Ireland on April 1, 1898 to Robert McAuley and Sarah Mary Graham. Records from Barnardo Homes list his year of birth as 1896; however, baptismal and census records confirm he was born in 1898. Joseph was the seventh child in a family of eight or nine.  Robert and Sarah had the following children:  Hugh and James who were twins born in 1888, followed by William, Robert, Sarah, John, Joseph, and Mary who was born in 1899.  There may have been another child named Agnes or Alice who was born late in 1901, but confirming any information on her has proven difficult.   On the 1901 census the family was living all together in a house at 17 Windmill Street in Ballynahinch. Robert’s occupation was listed as general labourer and his wife, Sarah, was listed as a seamstress.

According to information received from Barnardo Homes in 1990, both Robert and Sarah died within weeks of each other in the fall of 1905 leaving their nine children. Three of Joseph’s older brothers were in their teens, working already, and were able to live with their employers. His fourth brother went to live with their paternal grandmother, Ann Gordon. Unfortunately, she was only able to take one child.

The children’s maternal grandparents, William and Sarah Graham, were still living at this time in nearby Glassdrummond, and while they were described as being respectable and intelligent, they were simply too poor to be able to support any of the children. The documentation from Barnardos states that the youngest child in the family, who they refer to as Alice, had been admitted into a Cripples Home at Bangor.

This left Joseph and his sisters Sarah and Mary (known as Minnie) with no homes.  They were admitted into Barnardos care in Belfast on December 29, 1905.  Joseph was seven years old at the time, although the Bardnardo records indicate he was nine.  He and his sisters were then sent to England and for the next fourteen months he lived in various facilities. The records show that Barnardos received an inquiry in July of 1906 from an uncle, David Graham of Belfast, asking about the children. No other inquiries were recorded.

Bible and medial received from Barnardo's

Bible and medal for good conduct and length of service-  from Barnardo’s

On February 21st, 1907 Joseph boarded the S.S. Dominion in Liverpool, England and set sail for Canada; the only child in his family to leave Britain.  The Dominion arrived in Portland, Maine on March 5th and Barnardo records show that on March 9th he was placed with Mr. Hiram Winney in Huntsville, Ontario.

This information puzzled my father when I first discovered it, as he only ever recalled his father mentioning that he lived with the Hubbard family here in Huntsville. I later discovered that Hiram Winney had a daughter, Martha Jane, who married James S. Hubbard.  We assume that, although the records only show Joseph being placed with Mr. Winney, it is quite plausible that he actually lived with Hiram’s daughter’s family, the Hubbards.  This is possible; however, Joseph does not show up living with either the Hubbard or Winney families on the 1911 census. There is a 14 year old Joseph McAuley listed as a domestic with a Henderson family in Emily Township, Victoria County in 1911.  I believe that this is my Joseph and he lived there in addition to living with the Hubbard family in Huntsville.

Joseph McAuley WWI

Like a true Irish soldier, Joseph is photographed with his shillelagh

In April of 1916, Joseph enlisted with the 122nd Battalion and by the fall of that year he was venturing back across the ocean, once again, with much uncertainty ahead. Joseph served in France and during one of his leaves he was able to visit with his sisters in England. Joseph returned to Canada and was discharged from the army in April of 1919.  He continued to correspond with his sisters for many years after the end of the war; however, they never saw each other again.

On November 24, 1920 Joseph married Mary Irene May at Ravenscliffe, Ontario. After their wedding they left for their honeymoon on the midnight train to Omemee, Ontario which is located in Emily Township, Victoria County.  Was he possibly taking his new bride to the place he first lived upon arrival in Canada?

Joe and Irene had two sons: Donald and Ray, my father.  Joe worked as a guide in Algonquin Park for a time and also worked at the Union Garage in Huntsville for many years. I am sure that he was better known though as being a drummer and square dance caller in Huntsville and the surrounding area, as he played and called at area dances for over 40 years.

Drumming in the country band

Drumming in the country band

On June 27, 1968, Joseph McAuley passed away at his home in Huntsville. He left behind a wife, two sons, and seven grandchildren. Four months after his death, an eighth grandchild was born and since that time the family has grown to include 18 great-grandchildren and 25 great-great-grandchildren.

That first letter I wrote so many years ago was to the daughter of Joseph’s sister Sarah who lived in England. She was able to tell me the names of my grandfather’s parents and siblings but had no knowledge of the involvement of Barnardo Homes with the family.  Her own mother had gone into Barnardos care, yet like so many of these children, they simply did not speak of this. I have since been able to locate and correspond with other descendants of one of my grandfather’s brothers who actually still live in Ballynahinch, but where the rest of the family are; whether little Agnes or Alice, that Barnardo mentions in their files, really was a sibling; why only Joseph came to Canada and any information on Joseph’s grandparents remains a mystery.

Karen McAuley-Smith is a researcher and writer based in Huntsville. McAuley-Smith has a special interest in the history of British Home Children. To contact Karen:

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna permalink
    June 25, 2013 8:28 pm

    I really enjoyed this story; what a lot of work to find out as much as you have. Hope you get to Ballynahinch to visit any relatives there.

    • June 25, 2013 11:34 pm

      It is exciting when people locate long-lost cousins. It happened in our family. My mother and her sister traveled to England to meet an aunt they didn’t know existed. Turned out my mother looked so much like her.

    • Karen McAuley-Smith permalink
      June 26, 2013 7:16 pm

      Thanks Donna. I am hoping to get to Northern Ireland within the next couple of years.

  2. June 26, 2013 2:28 pm

    Such a challenge to research these children’s previous homes, but ultimately worth it for the families they leave behind.

  3. Glenna Walkden permalink
    June 26, 2013 4:33 pm

    My grandfather, Frederick William Smith was on the same ship at the same time!! I would like to think that maybe our grandfathers got to know each other. I am President of the Ontario East British Home Child Family in Morrisburg Ontario. Our Mission Statement is to “give a voice to those children who walked silently among us.” My Grandfather was a Barnardo Boy. He died in 1975 so I was lucky enough to know him until I was 28 years old. He was sent to a farm in Port Hope where was not treated very well. In 1916 he also joined the Canadian Army in London Ontario and served in France. He was also in WWII serving as a guard at Gateway POW Camp in Gravenhurst Ontario..

    • Karen McAuley-Smith permalink
      June 26, 2013 7:19 pm

      Wow, Glenna, it’s great to connect with someone with a relative on the same ship. There was another boy, Billie Gale, who was also on that ship who ended up in Huntsville. I can remember him visiting our family when I was young. He lived in our neighbourhood but never married or had children.

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