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The Tragic Life of Robert Henry Beecher 1900-1980

December 30, 2013

Robert Henry Beecher, born in 1900, arrived in Canada from Barnardo’s in 1909. He went to live with Miss Ida Carr in Forestville, Norfolk County (Simcoe area). Over a period of several years, Miss Carr had a few Barnardo boys on her farm. She encouraged education and provided a family atmosphere for her boys.

Miss Carr employed a handyman, John Simmons. Simmons took an intense dislike to Robert Beecher. It’s believed that Simmons assaulted Beecher on many occasions while the two worked together.

On July 2, 1916, while two of Carr’s other boys were visiting the farm on military leave, an argument broke out between Simmons and Beecher. Simmons humiliated and threatened 16 year-old Beecher. Beecher, who had been using a shotgun for target practice, turned the gun on Simmons and killed him.

Much of the community supported Beecher who was known to be an excellent student with a possible teaching career in his future.

The Waterford Star published the following on July 6, 1916:

John Simmons, a farmer, living near St. Williams, is dead as a result of a shot fired from a rifle in the hands of Robert Henry Beecher, when the two engaged in a dispute this afternoon, and Simmons sought to take the rifle from the hands of Beecher, who is a sixteen-year-old boy, and the weapon was discharged, killing Simmons.

Beecher was arrested by Constable Murphy, and remanded until July 7. He was brought to Simcoe. The shooting occurred about four o’clock this afternoon on a farm owned by Miss Ida Carr. Beecher and Simmons were engaged in some target practice with a .22 rifle after returning from church, and getting into a hot argument, Simmons attempted to take the weapon out of the youth’s hands, when it went off during the mix-up. It is understood that Miss Carr was a witness of the quarrel.

Dr. Meek, of Port Rowans, will hold a Coroner’s inquest. Beecher, who is a Barnardo boy, received a fairly good high school education at Port Rowan.

At the trial, Beecher was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The judge gave him a suspended sentence.

In 1927, Robert married Emily May Ashby, a 17 year-old Barnardo girl who arrived in 1923 at age twelve. They lived in the Peterborough area. Two years later, Beecher left Canada and returned to England without his wife. He’s listed as “deported,” but the reason for this is unknown.

Little is known about Beecher after he left Canada. He remarried In 1944, to Theresa Parker. The couple had at least one child.

Robert Henry Beecher died in March 1980.

Note: Robert’s brother, Charles William, a Barnardo boy, arrived in Canada, also in 1909, but on a separate sailing. William went to a farmer named Link in Shanty Bay. He enlisted in 1918 as a Bugler, 1st Battalion, 2nd Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force.

The other boys who lived with Miss Ida Carr were: Frank Veasey, Hugh Swan (sister Hope sent to Hamilton) and Regnal Foster.


book coverPromises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, a collection of 31 stories, by Rose McCormick Brandon, is available here.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2013 8:36 pm

    That’s so interesting. I wonder why he was deported and what kind of life he led. Very well done!

    • December 30, 2013 10:06 pm

      I’d like to know why he was deported but no information available. Another researcher, Lori Oschefski found a relative of his in England. Some new info might come from that source.

      • Jean Constance Ashby permalink
        December 26, 2014 9:04 pm

        I am the niece of Emily May Ashby, and of course Robert Henry Beecher would have been my uncle.
        I have been trying to find out what happened to Emily May Ashby, so if any further information comes to light, I’d be delighted to hear it. I have a some details about her mother (my grandmother), her father (my grandfather) and her brother (my father). if anyone would be interested in finding out a little more about her background, I’d also like any other facts about Robert Henry Beecher.

        Kindest regards,
        Jean Constance Ashby.

  2. Hazel Perrier permalink
    December 30, 2013 8:55 pm

    I think we all have those unresolved situations with our BHC ancestors. Why?
    If we had only known!

    • December 30, 2013 10:07 pm

      Hazel – there are always holes in BHC stories. Sometimes the children were too young to know why they were put into care. And, more often than not, BHC kept their beginnings a secret.

      • Jean Constance Ashby permalink
        December 26, 2014 9:11 pm

        Re. Emily May Ashby. I feel I might have some insight into why she was put into Barnardos. Please email me if you would like to know more.

  3. Lester C. Fretz permalink
    December 30, 2013 11:12 pm

    Rose, you are to be thanked and commended for your ongoing research and reporting about the Barnardo Home Children who came to Canada. As a result of your coverage at the program held at the Wainfleet Brethren In Christ Church, feedback continues to come in expressing appreciation for your interest and work. I continually receive encouragement to do a follow-up program.

  4. December 31, 2013 2:35 am

    What a life these young fellows had to live!! I am glad that he at least had the privilige to attend school. Very interesting story Rose, well done.

  5. Mary Arnold permalink
    December 31, 2013 3:51 am

    Rose this is a very thought provoking story. I wonder why he just up and left. He was educated enough to know what his rights were. The secresy that these children hid from their families, will always be a mystery. My Mother never told us anything about her sordid life in England and I will never understand why they were so closed mouthed about it unless it was shame. Another great story and thank you for writing them and sending them to me………..Mary Arnold.

    • December 31, 2013 3:58 pm

      Hi Mary. Yes, I believe shame is the issue. And also, the children were encouraged to start a new life. Several of them are known to have made remarks like “I never look in the rear view mirror,” or “can’t fix the past so bet forget about it.”

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