A Letter From Barnardo Boy, Frederick Gatehouse
Frederick Gatehouse was one of fourteen children born to William David Gatehouse and Elizabeth Ann Oliver Gatehouse (born in Wales). His mother appears to have left her children in the care of their father. Descendants of this family believe she was an entertainer/singer. Members of this family appeared in the first production of Peter Pan. Frederick and twin brother, George, were born August 18, 1904. One week later, George died.
In 1980 Frederick wrote to his nephew, David, giving him the names of family members and including what little he knew of his English history. He writes, “Being one of the youngest of the family and separated from them all until I was about thirteen, it is a wonder I recall so much.”
In a handwritten letter, Frederick wrote the following . . .
– Rose McCormick Brandon
“When my father died, I was put in an orphanage, as were some of the other younger children; others were adopted or went to live with well-established families. When I was three, I was placed with a couple in Norfolk, near Norwich and remained there until I was eight. This was the happiest period of my childhood for I was treated with tender loving care.
“At eight years, I was taken back to the Barnardo Home in London until I reached the age of ten and was sent out to Canada (on the Sicilian in 1914) to work on a farm. The family I was farmed out to was very low, crude and dirty (something I was not used t0) and mistreated me with floggings, hard, heavy work and meals were whatever was left from their table, served out on the back porch, or stoop, as it was called in those days.
“I was there two and half years, when I finally wrote a letter (as if from a friend) to the Authority which had placed me there. In just a short time, less than a week, a gentleman from Toronto came to check into the situation. He found me working out in the stubblefield with bare, bleeding feet, and at once ordered them to pack up my belongings and took me to a very fine couple in Huntsville. I stayed there for about four months, going to school. These people were also kind-hearted and I remember them and my stay in Huntsville with pleasure.
“During this time, the Home contacted my family in Preston, Ontario (some of Frederick’s older siblings had immigrated) and at Christmas I was sent to the family, where I met for the first time, brother Harry and sister, Ivy. In 1916, my mother came to Preston, and that was the first time she had seen me from the time I was three years old. In fact, during those years, no member of the family came to see me, and after going to Preston, I had to meet them one by one.
“I lived with my Uncle Dick and Aunt Martha Gatehouse and went to school in Preston for a time, helping Uncle Dick
clean the school rooms before and after school hours. Then my brother, also Dick, returned from France in 1919 (he was in the army of occupation) bringing sister, Mable, with him – the first time I had met them. Out of the fourteen children, there were five that I never saw.
“I went to work at thirteen – my first steady job. Most kids in those years were at work by that age – supporting themselves. When I look back over the years and remember the various experiences I have had, I am amazed and grateful too, that I have been able to accomplish what I have. The little schooling I was able to absorb during my childhood was very sketchy, but I have done my best to improve upon it by taking night school courses – many times working a full time job and going to school five nights a week. It was rough but well worth it.”
Frederick Gatehouse married Lorraine Bradley. The couple lived in Rochester, N.Y.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – a collection of 31 stories of children who emigrated from the United Kingdom to Canada between 1869 and 1939. More than 100,000 arrived, including Rose’s grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith. Many experienced abuse. All struggled to adapt. Shame turned many of these children into silent adults. Rose’s hope is that the reader will empathize with the ‘home children’ and celebrate their coming and the contributions they made to Canada. It’s time for our nation to say to them, “thank you.”