My Grandfather, James “The Calm” Miller Dudgeon, 1866-1953 by Carol Dudgeon
I remember very little about my grandfather, James Miller Dudgeon. My earliest memory of Grandpa is him sitting peacefully on the porch of his home in a rocking chair. He had suffered a stroke, the same disease that had taken his father, Joseph Dudgeon, in 1879 in Lanarkshire, Glasgow. The death of his father set my grandfather on a journey that took him from an orphanage in Scotland to a Canadian home filled with love and a family of his own.
James begins his journey.
The world was reeling from and enjoying the benefits of the Industrial Revolution. From the early nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century Scotland’s towns and cities grew. Most people endured appalling standards of housing. Overcrowding and poor sanitation were widespread.
The Industrial Revolution transitioned the world into new manufacturing processes. This included going from hand production methods to machines. Being the first to use modern production methods, the textile industry dominated the Industrial Revolution in terms of employment. This marked a major turning point in history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced. The average income and the population exhibited unprecedented and sustained growth.
This was the world in which Joseph Dudgeon (born 1836), a twenty-one year old Cloth Lapper married the girl two doors down, Jane Miller, a Fringe Maker (born 1839). They began their life together on October 16, 1857. Joseph and Jane were the parents of my Grandfather.
Their first child, George, was three when a sister, Helen, was born. Before she reached her first birthday, Helen died, bringing sorrow to the Dudgeon home. Two years later, another child, Barbara, was born and before reaching the age of one, she also died. More sorrow. However, in 1866, after losing two children, the Dudgeons, on November 7, gave birth to another child, a healthy boy, James Miller Dudgeon (my grandfather). Sadness again struck the Dudgeon home when, in 1872, another baby was born and died without being named. The next year, a girl, Mary Miller, was born. This child lived for five years.
My Grandfather, James, was only ten when his mother, Jane Miller, passed away at the age of thirty-seven, succumbing to diarrhea and debility. I can only imagine the searing pain of loss he experienced when his mother, once the centre of his life, was no longer there to comfort him, to encourage him and support him. But she had instilled a love in James that he never forgot, a love that would carry him through the years ahead.
Joseph Dudgeon, now a widower with three children, soon married another woman, Grace Whitelaw. Within a year of that marriage, she died. The next year, Joseph married again to Mary Anderson and it was during this time that little sister Mary Miller Dudgeon passed away. It would appear that the grim reaper plagued this home. In 1879 death strikes one final blow. The father, Joseph Dudgeon, passed away of Apoplexy (stroke) at forty-three. This left my grandfather James with one blood relative, his brother George, who according to records was twenty-two years old and ill in the Royal Infirmary.
James’ step-mother, wife number three, following her husband’s death, surrendered James, twelve, to the Macpherson House of Industry on July 25, 1879 from the Glasgow Union (workhouse). This was the beginning of the journey that brought James to Canada.
Did James feel more hope than despair, more joy than sorrow, more acceptance than rejection as he ventured on in this journey? In his few years, he had faced so much death, so much sorrow and loss. Now, he would leave the home for ‘destitute’ children where he had felt some security, and some love, where he was fed and provided for and travel to a place unknown to him – Canada.
James’ identity became composed of: Orphan Boy, Emigrant No. 22, Passenger No. 45 aboard
the SS Buenos Ayrean. He sailed away from his homeland of Scotland toward a new land and a new future on May 14, 1880.
As he looked out over the endless Atlantic Ocean I’m sure tears filled his eyes as he thought of what might have been and fearful of what lie ahead. As he reminisced the good times, he remembered the losses of his siblings, his mother, his father, and wondered about the condition of his only brother back in Scotland. He carried only the memories of their faces, their smiles, their tears, and a little wooden chest that every child immigrant received containing a winter coat, boots, shoes, a hat, a jacket or sweater, underwear and toiletries, a suit, a few shirts, two ties, and a couple of pairs of work trousers. To encourage children to follow the correct moral path in their new homes, they also received uplifting books that included a Bible, a Sankey hymn book and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Lastly, the outfit included instructions on how children should behave in their placements and stationery so they could remain in contact with the home.
According to document, narrative of facts 1880, the voyage across the Atlantic consisted of some bright sunny days, however, storms and sickness took their toll. Perhaps, in a way, the weather was indicative of the life the children had already experienced. During the trip, it is recorded that they played, sang and had services; with several days of sickness on the rolling ship the children showed hope and encouraged each other by singing hymns. They experienced many sights as they neared their new world. They saw ships on route to New York and Boston, whales and passed many great icebergs.
As they neared the Gulf of St. Lawrence the ship’s speed slowed because of all the ice. The ship arrived in Quebec on the Queen’s birthday, May 23, 1880 and the children sang “God Save the Queen.” Treats of sweets and raisins made a very pleasant day for them. Upon arriving in Quebec, the children sang a parting hymn and gave three cheers for the captain whom they had grown to love. He had won their hearts by his fatherly interest in them throughout the voyage. His attention to their spiritual as well as temporal welfare had been constant.
After landing the children were given a plentiful supply of tea, bread, butter and eggs before the rail journey for Montreal. Unfortunately, the train ride was very long because the superintendent of the Grand Trunk Railway didn’t allow them to go on the express train but had the carriages attached to a special freight train and this made the journey three hours longer. The party finally reached Marchmont, the MacPherson Home in Belleville, Ontario. Miss Bilbrough and her sister were waiting to give all a hearty welcome. James no doubt felt tired and hungry but he anticipated a new life, a new family, and hoped for kindness. No one could replace his mother but perhaps someone would love him again.
James Miller Dudgeon was now 3400 miles away from what he had known as home. Just twenty days earlier he had watched his homeland fade to a speck in the distance and then disappear. Now he faced the prospect of another home in this new country of Canada. Soon after the arrival at Marchmont, people began to arrive to collect their Home Child. Many of the children were indentured (a contract by which a person is bound to service) as farm workers. In a perfect world no child was placed without a proper inquiry into whether this would be an appropriate placement and the organization always held the power to remove the child if the conditions agreed upon were not carried out. Monitoring the children became very difficult and was often neglected. James’ ledger recorded that he received seven visits from 1880 -1896, a period of sixteen years.
Nothing is recorded from his arrival on May 24 until August 21, 1880. I can only imagine little James as he anticipated what was ahead. Who would claim him? Did hope arise in his heart? Did loneliness grip him as he said goodbye to friends he had made in the Orphanage in Scotland and on the ship’s crossing?
Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Metcalf of Richmond, Forest Mills arrived in Belleville to pick up Emigrant 22, James Miller Dudgeon, age thirteen. They travelled thirty-two miles to his new home. It appears from reports that this placement was indeed a kind one as he is welcomed to the Metcalf home. The Metcalfs themselves had emigrated from Ireland some time following the potato famine. They too, no doubt, experienced horrific conditions, perhaps causing them to be more sympathetic to the plight of this little boy from Scotland.
The ledger, which was a copy of the original notes made by the monitors to describe his progress in the early years briefly states on August 21, 1880, “Got an excellent report of James.”
James wrote to Miss Bilbrough, July 1880:
“I write to let you know that I like my place well, and am well myself. As soon as you get a letter from my brother, send it as soon as you can, please ma’am. I was at the Church twice since I came to my place and any time that any friends come in I have to sing a hymn to them. Dear Miss Bilbrough, I feel very content and happy and only hope the rest of the boys have just as good a place as I have. I got my box home all right. Please Ma’am, tell David Gardner that I was asking for him and hope his is well, also all the rest of the boys in the Home. I have nothing more to write at present so I bring this to a close by sending my love to you and all the rest of the boys, also give my kind love to little Mary Ann M’Aulay.
Miss Bilbrough, write soon and let me know how you are, as I would be glad to hear and the next letter I write I will try and do better, so good-bye, and may God bless you all from James Dudgeon”
The following letter is from the master of this boy, Mr. Metcalf:
Miss Bilbrough-Dear Friend—I write you these few lines to let you know that Jimmy has been a very good boy since he came to us. He is very willing to do my bidding and tries to learn to work as well as he can but he feels very much afraid of the horse yet. If he can only get used to them, I think he would be along all right, but as long as he does what I tell him I will not find fault with him. My wife and daughter think an awful lot of him. I hope he will continue to be a good boy. This is all I have to say at present so I will conclude by sending my kind regards to you and all the rest who are interested in the welfare of the orphan children. Wm. Metcalf
A visit was made to the Metcalf home on July 28, 1881: “At work in harvest field. Thin – growing fast. Heard from his brother and needs his father’s photo.” It must have been such a comfort for James, now fourteen, to finally hear from his twenty-four year old brother, George.
The glowing reports continue: “Exceedingly good boy, obedient, attending school during the winter, and does fairly at his studies 2nd book.”
In 1883 another visit was recorded: “Is a very good boy much liked in his house. A good worker, friendly and obedient in 3rd Book at School. Fond of study, attends church regularly. Had a letter from his brother in Glasgow this morning it was there Sept 13.”
The visit in Feb. 1885 (in his 19th Year): “James is growing quite tall and strong and keeps his good character; they can’t speak too highly of him. He is bilious at times but otherwise healthy. Is in 3rd Book at School. His master is very ill at present and James has entire charge of the stock.”
June 1885: “Mr. Metcalf brought James to see us. Could not speak too highly of him”.
It appears from the ledger report that James indeed was accepted into the Metcalf family who were very fond of him.
Unfortunately, disappointment struck again. James had lived in this home for five, happy, years and had just celebrated his nineteenth birthday when the ledger records this devastating report:
Dec 29/85 “Mr. M daughter called, gave a very bad account of James and his conduct with his little grand daughter. James has left him and gone to a very bad house near.”
It appears betrayal came from someone within the family, the home where he had experienced support and care. He had faced more than his share of traumatic struggles and once again the feeling of rejection and abandonment overtook him in a place he called home. Was James’ conduct worthy of such an attack? How does one go from glowing ledger entries such as, “can’t speak too highly of him” to “a very bad account of James and his conduct.” As more and more information is gathered about James, a flawless character emerges with no earlier problems hinted at. I believe that with his gentle, kind nature, James walked away from the situation rather than defend himself. James would have fulfilled his indentured contract by this time as he was now nineteen. It is curious to note that this ‘little granddaughter’ that he supposedly displayed poor conduct towards either became his wife or a sister in law nine years later.
There is silence in the ledger for two long years before we catch another glimpse of James in his new environment. On July 4, 1887, an entry was made which stated, “Mr. M. called said James been in two places doing pretty well.” (Mr. M is possibly Wm. Metcalf still keeping in touch with James.
Nina Tucker, a granddaughter, recalls hearing stories of him in this new setting, having to sleep over the woodshed where snow would come through the boards. From the warmth of a family home to the stark, cold, damp woodshed, life for James had changed. He was paid very poorly. Paul Dudgeon, a grandson tells the story of James realizing that he had only received 30 cents of his promised 35 cent wage. Upon questioning the man, he was told that a nickel was placed in the offering plate on Sundays on his behalf. I guess the man felt James, being such a man of integrity, would appreciate his generosity to the church or perhaps this simply eased the man’s guilt.
Life for James took a blissful change. Love once again filled his heart and on April 18, 1894
James Miller Dudgeon, 27, and Elizabeth Schermerhorn, age 22, were married. The final entry in the ledger on June 4th 1896 reads: “G.M. called at James- married Miss Schermerhorn, granddaughter of Wm. Metcalf – farming.”
James and Elizabeth settled on a farm west of Selby, near Napanee, Ontario, where together they raised eleven children, three sons and eight daughters. With the memories of his parents still lingering with him, he named my dad after his father and his mother: Joseph Miller.
James had experienced devastating loss over and over again, throughout his childhood; however, by this time, having so many children, there was probably never a dull moment. He never buried one of his children during his lifetime. His wife, Elizabeth
Schermerhorn, was one of twelve children, so there were many members of the extended family as well. He no longer carried the identity of “Orphan Boy” or “Immigrant No. 22” or “Passenger No. 45.” As a husband, father and grandfather, he was surrounded by those who loved him very much. James was an affectionate parent with unbending integrity, principles and moral virtues.
Elizabeth passed away a short time before James but even then he was never alone; he lived
with his son Ross for a while and then with his daughter, Greta, who looked after him until his death in the same year as his wife, in 1953.
Not having had my own relationship with my grandfather I drew from my relatives who had the privilege of spending time with him.
Gerry Varnes, a grandson, now living in Winnipeg, spent a few summer weeks on the farm each year in Selby. He recalls – “When I was with grandpa, I felt like I was in the presence of God; he was a wonderful man, he never complained.” Gerry recounted asking him if he would have done anything differently. Grandpa reached down, took some soil in his hands and replied, “God made me a steward of this soil and I am trying to take care of it.” Gerry said, “It must have been tough coming to Canada, leaving Scotland.” Grandpa answered, “I had a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat, I wouldn’t have had that in Scotland.” Gerry’s mother, Maude, when she spoke of her father always remarked, “If anyone deserved a medal it was my father.”
On the lighter side, two of James’ daughters, Vera and Audrey, were playing baseball on a team. Vera was called out at second. Grandpa came out of the stand and took Vera back to second base. The umpire objecting to the action intercepted Grandpa and Vera. Grandpa gently replied, “Everyone makes mistakes, you made one, she is safe.”
Paul Dudgeon, a grandson, lived across the road from the Dudgeon homestead. Paul regrets not sitting down more and talking with grandpa; however, he remembers him as being very quiet, never raising his voice. Grandpa suffered a stroke and was unable to walk without assistance. After Grandma passed away he went to live with his son Ross, Paul’s dad, just across the road. Paul often cultivated the potatoes for him with the horses and Grandpa was always so grateful. Maybe he never got over his earlier fear of horses.
When it came time for James to set up his own homestead, Howard Dudgeon a grandson, tells the story that he remembers hearing: ”When it was time for him to receive the money for his indentured period there was no money, however, he was given a promissory note for the amount. On his way to a bank, a good hearted lawyer took the note and gave him the cash. With that he was able to purchase a wash tub, a churn and a cow.”
Again on the lighter side, when everyone got together, there was much laughter. I remember his daughters laughing as they recalled their parents. They referred to their mom as “the storm” and their dad, James, as “the calm.” These names described how each parent dealt with situations. Grandpa James was always the gentle one. His experiences moulded him to take life as it was given, to embrace the good times and gently and calmly deal with every situation.
I started my story with, “I remember very little about my grandfather” as I was only seven when he passed away, however, this research has brought me heart to heart with a man, whose bravery, love, gentleness and calmness, a life well-lived, has made me proud to be his granddaughter and to carry his name. All of his children and grandchildren could say the same.
I wish I could sit on the porch, or the stoop, as they called it, and rock alongside of him and say, “Thank you. Thank you for enduring the hurts, the losses, the heartbreaking conditions. Because you came, this family continues to make a positive contribution to our communities and to our country.” James Miller Dudgeon, my grandfather, never accumulated many treasures on earth; he instilled the best treasure ever in his family, that of love.
I am sure that Jesus said to him, “Well done James, my good and faithful servant.”
- The Golden Bridge, Child Migration from Scotland to Canada 1869-1939, Narrative of Facts 1880.
- A brief that traced the Dudgeon family back in time undertaken by Val Wilson
- Research conducted by Valerie Smith, Archive and Administration Officer @barnardos.org.uk
Carol Dudgeon is a teacher and musician/singer from Hamilton, Ontario. She grew up in Napanee and has remained close to her large extended family.