A Barnardo Boy

Robert Steiner Hutton, in his Barnardo Home clothing

The picture shows a solemn boy of about eleven years, dressed in a dark jacket and pants, posed beside a podium and the caption reads, ” A Barnamo Boy”. I had never heard the expression. His records had been sealed but in my ancestral tree this boy had married one of my Miller cousins, a descendent of Garrett Miller. I don’t know much about his story but find 3 pictures of him, the posed Barnamo Boy one, a picture placing him beside his foster father and mother with 2 other children and another he looks jauntily out from under a panama hat. What I can tell you from researching is the story of the Barnardo Boys.

The British Home Children were boys and girls from the United Kingdom. They were relocated to all the British colonies, including Canada, hoping they would have a better life and more opportunities. More than 100,000 came in eighty years, one of them being Robert Hutton. Many were orphans but many had families in financial troubles. In destitute families who were unable to care for them some due to illness, death, or workplace injury, their parents felt that they had no choice but to place them in charitable organizations. This was Robert’s situation. Most of the children were hosted by farm families, the boys providing farm labor, the girls domestic duties. Robert was lucky enough to end up with a loving family, who sent him to school and treated him well. Many others, unfortunately would be treated poorly, neglected or abused. Some were moved from farm to farm, with no stability, ran away or died. When WWI broke out many of the home children, as young immigrants volunteered and saw it as a way to get back home and reconnect with family. Others saw it as a chance to escape a cruel situation, many lying about their age to sign up. During this time no new children were sent to Canada, as it was too dangerous with the German u-boats sinking Allied transportation ships. While 66000 Canadians died in the trenches, also 1,100 former British Home Children gave their lives in war, including at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. With war over, there was a greater need for workers on Canadian farms, as so many young farm boys were injured or killed on the battlefields. The flow of Home Children started again. In WWII, they were old enough to enlist again and 20,000 joined the Canadian military. They had lived on farms during the dirty thirties and known poverty and hunger that ravaged the prairies. After this war until 1948, on a farm school on Vancouver Island, children were brought to live in cottages rather than be placed with families and taught agriculture. Today it is thought that ten percent of Canadian’s can trace their ancestry to British Home Children.

The name Barnamo Boy came from Thomas Barnardo, a preacher and ragged school teacher who lived in London. Ragged schools were charitable organizations dedicated to the free education of destitute children. Barnardo opened homes for destitute boys and girls, the first one in Ilford, Essex where Robert was born. His policy was no poor child ever to be turned away. Younger children were boarded with foster families. Older children worked. Barnardo opened in 1888, an 8000 acre farm in Russell, Manitoba with the purpose of training boys for farm work. Barnardo passed away in 1905 but his wife continued the work and Barnardo’s sent 35,000 children to Canada, one of them being Robert Hutton on the ship Corinthian in 1913. To be chosen for the Canada list one had to be both physically and mentally sound. Robert Hutton came with 148 other boys with Mr. Laflen as chaperone. The sea voyage took ten days.

Robert Hutton did experience a better life in Canada, than if he had remained in the urban slums of London, trapped in poverty and never climbing the rigid class system there. He was born April 13, 1903 in Ilford, Essex, England. His parents who had to give him up were Robert and Elizabeth. If they had entered a workhouse, they would have been stripped and bathed under supervision. The tasteless food was the same day after day, consisting of bread, porridge, and broth with maybe a few onions or turnips added. All had to work hard doing unpleasant jobs. An oppressive heat wave ravaged all of London from July through September of 1911. Robert survived though many other children didn’t. Record high temperatures, with uninterrupted sunshine along with humidity topped 98 degrees, for over two months. The drought scorched crops, food spoiled, disease spread, and 2500 people died.

George Baptie and family took Robert in as a Barnardo Home Child in 1913. The photo of the family was taken at the Baptie farm, on Trent River Road east of Norwood, Ontario. The young boy on the left is Robert. He had a half-sister named Hildy that became a worker for Barnardo’s in Canada for ten years. The farming couple sent Robert to school with their children.

On left Robert Steiner Hutton 1913 aged 10, with foster family George Baptie, near Norwood Ontairio.

He married Evelyn Jean Miller a great great granddaughter to Garrett and Elizabeth Miller in 1933, when he was 30 years old listed as farm laborer. Evelyn was 24 a teacher from Napanee. They had two daughters and he died in Peterborough, Ontario at the impressive age of 93. The inscription on his grave reads Hutton, Robert S. 1903-1996, Together Forever, Married 3 Jun 1933, Evelyn J, 1909-1989.

Robert and Evelyn Miller Hutton

Having never heard of the Barnardo Boys, I’m happy to think Robert’s was a happy, success story, but once again I feel the heartbreak of the parents as he wasn’t an orphan. I think Mr. Barnardo had the best intentions of providing for those improvised and this is an untold story to me of how Canada would become a bread basket to feed the world, on the backs of these children. Further social reforms cause the child migration process to cease and the last ship of Barnardo Children arrived in Canada in 1939.

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