Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Chapter III - Progress of Work
for Various Classes of Children
A FEW months after I began the Day Nursery work I felt
constrained to open a home in the autumn of 1877, as I found so many
children who had no home to go to at night, unless the Common
lodging-house could be called so, and so many others brought by fathers,
the mother having died and left the poor things to the care of the even
more-to-be-pitied man, who had now to be father and mother and all. Need I
say it likewise grew?
At this time, in 1878, I consented to have a board of
Directors. When I accepted their co-operation, I kept in my own hands
three items :
Ist. Provision and amount of food.
2nd. Entire control of the servants.
3rd. Admission of cases.
This I thought fair and reasonable, as I had undertaken
to be responsible for the expenses of the Institution.
Then a terrible class of little sufferers were brought
to methe inmates of baby farms. These I was enabled to protect
efficiently by the help of the police, and many were rescued.
But there was a class even beyond
these, more numerous and varied in bitter experience, as well as in
age; for when does the drunkards child, even the half-grown boy or girl,
cease to be the victim of its parents sin?
Many and harrowing were the cases for which my help was
asked from all quarters, and in an extraordinary variety of circumstances.
Sometimes help was needed only for a limited period; sometimes, until in a
year or two, I could put the boy or girl in the way of doing for
themselves. More frequently the little ones were left a burden on my hands
altogether, until at last I had, for a long time before I left Scotland,
300 children to feed every day, to say nothing of clothing and education;
and as all my Home children went to the public schools, the school-fees
were a heavy item.
Thus the Home, once started, grew rapidly; first one
house was opened, then another, till in 1883 I had Homes for girls and
little ones at 11, Mackenzie Place, Stockbridge, Edinburgh; 2, Craigholm
Crescent, Burutisland, Fife; For boys, at 1, Craigholm Crescent,
Burntisland, and 4, Bayton Terrace, Granton, near Edinburgh. Three of
these were arranged to accommodate twenty-five children in each, besides
two or three older girls as workers, and we often had to stretch a bit
when those pleading for admission could not wait
in cold, hunger and nakedness till some other had been provided
for. At Bayton Terrace we tried to keep to eight boys.
I lived on both sides of the Forth, and my own houses,
Merleton, Wardie, and 16, Craigholm Crescent, Burntisland, had many
occupants, little ones, delicate children, or those requiring special
protection from cruelty. I may mention that my servants, except the
housekeepers, were all taken from the elder girls who had behaved well
enough to deserve such promotion.
At this time I can well remember many a winters night,
when leaving Stockbridge at 8.30, after a hard days work, when very
pressing applications had been made and
sifted for admission to the Mackenzie Place Home, I had to take
two or three of the improved inmates from Stockbridge Home to Wardie with
me, in order to leave room in the beds for the perishing little
new-comers. Do you blame me? What else could I do? Could I have gone home
to sleep, and know I had left little children to perish,the little
children whom the Lord Jesus Christ told us all to in
I was careful only to admit children who were either
victims of cruelty or really homeless, and without the necessaries of
life; though, strange to say, from misfortune (too common at that time of
general depression and want of work, consequent on the commercial crisis)
many became destitute, whose parents had been respectable and well-to-do
people. But I never, that I know of,
refused to admit a single destitute or cruelly treated child or young
person, though I have refused hundreds of cases of mere convenience!
By 1880 the work had attracted a good deal of public
attention and a good deal of criticism; and when the British Association
met in Edinburgh, in October of that year, it was made the subject of
discussion, introduced by our Chairman, Mr. Colston, which provoked most
decided and, it seemed to me, most unjust opposition. I had been
previously invited to read a paper on Day Nursery work, and the help and
protection necessary for little and innocent children,
unsuited by their age and lack of even petty crimes for Industrial
Schools. I took the opportunity of pleading the cause of little children,
whose only crime was their poverty, as earnestly as I could, and was
listened to with much sympathy by many people, with amusement by others.
At the close of my appeal a gentleman standing in one of the passages
asked for leave to join in the discussion, and made a most touching and
eloquent speech in defence (much to my joy and relief) of the cause
of little innocent children. That speech, I am certain, turned the
tide of public opinion in Edinburgh, and the speaker was J. H. A.
Macdonald, Esq., then Sheriff of Perthshire, afterwards the Lord Advocate,
and now Lord Kingsburgh, the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland.
Here I may remark that in opening all these houses
since 1878 I always sought the advice of the directors in every important
matter, and when they failed to attend the meetings to which they were
regularly summoned, I frequently went to them at other times. Thus, in
December, 1884, I added the Shelter from Cruelty, 150, High Street, to the
list of houses, the reason for this being, I had found it necessary to
receive so many children requiring special protection from cruelty at
Merleton, Wardie; and as this was extremely inconvenient to myself and my
household, I thought it better to incur the expense of another house
somewhere near the Police Office. Besides, it was extremely desirable to
have a kind of test-house through which doubtful children could pass on
their way to the Home.
At this time there was an idea of some other friends
beginning a newsociety for the same end, i.e. of Prevention
of Cruelty to Children, but finding how fully the Edinburgh and Leith
Childrens Aid and Refuge (which was the name nowgiven to this
work) occupied the ground, these friends thought it better to join us and
all work together.
In May, 1885, we were greatly cheered and encouraged
when the Earl of Aberdeen, who was at that time Lord High Commissioner,
did us the honour to visit the Shelter from Cruelty on his way from the
General Assembly, accompanied by the Countess of Aberdeen, the Dowager
Countess of Aberdeen, and members of the suite. His lordship, who was
patron of the original society, expressed his satisfaction with the
arrangements, and especially commended the manners and appearance of the
children whom I had brought from the Homes for his inspection. The ladies
also were most kind and cordial in their approval and sympathy with the
work carried on in the prevention of cruelty to children.
That day I received a request from Mr. W. T. Stead to
go to London and give evidence concerning what was known as the Leith case
(of which further details will be found in chapter v., headed "German
Children"), which was desired for the effort then being made to secure the
passing of the Criminal Amendment Bill. This I did, and went through a
good deal of annoyance in consequence, as did everybody who ventured to
meddle with the subject which so agitated the country at that time. I was
therefore not sorry that I had previously arranged to go to Canada that
summer, and carry on the inquiries, begun in 1882, relative to the
emigration of children and the protection to be obtained for them. On this
occasion I met with more success, and obtained promises of help of various
kinds from various people; and matters having become serious, so far as I
was concerned, financially, I told the directors I must avail myself of
the opening, with such children as could not be provided for otherwise. I
further said if they (the directors) wished to withdraw from the
undertaking, which had so outgrown its original proportions, I could only
be obliged to them for what they had done. If they, on the other hand,
decided to go on with me, I should be glad of their help. They decided to
In the meantime I took a short lease of the farm at
Leadburn Park as an outlet for our older boys, and as a means of employing
them profitably, and training them for work in Nova Scotia. There were two
houses on the place, one of which was very convenient for younger children
Thus, in 1886, when I sailed for Nova Scotia, and had
closed my two private houses of Merleton, Wardie, and 16, Craigholm
Crescent, Burntisland, I had still eight houses full of children,
besides many boarded in the country. Under these circumstances, with 300
children to provide for, I was forced to see what I could do in the new
country, unless, indeed, I accepted the alternative of giving up the
children, which I could not do. You will say, "Did you get no help
?" I answer, "Very little in proportion."
The Town Council of Edinburgh and other public bodies
gave annual grants, and the public contributed latterly about £500 a year;
but, as I said before, it was understood I was responsible for the
expenses of the various branches of the institution, which before I left
Edinburgh amounted to at least £8,000. This seems a large sum, but when
you consider this paid the expenses for eleven years of so large a work,
that at a very moderate computation 3,000 children had passed through my
hands, and that about 700 young people had been started in the world, the
amount does not seem extravagant. In Nova Scotia I have spent about £2,000
In March, 1886, I accepted the invitation of the London
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to attend (as the
representative of the Edinburgh Society) at a meeting held at their
Shelter in Harper Street, where I met Mr. James Grahame, chairman of the
Glasgow Society, and others. The Rev. Benjamin Waugh greeted me most
warmly, and introduced me to the meeting as "a veteran in the work,"
having been fighting the childrens battle against cruelty since 1877,
while, as he was pleased to say, stronger people had only awakened to the
necessity in 1884. In the course of the meeting we Scotch representatives
urged the necessity for legislation in Scotland, and were advised to ask
the help of any parliamentary or official friends on whose support we
could rely. I brought the case before the Hon. J. H. A. Macdonald, who was
the Lord Advocate of Scotland at the time, and he most kindly arranged a
meeting in one of the side rooms of the
House of Commons, which was attended by the Hon.
Preston Bruce, M.P., Dr. Farquharson, M.P., and some other Scotch members.
The Lord Advocate presided. James Grahame, Esq., represented the Glasgow
Society, and I attended by special invitation to represent Edinburgh,
which I believe was an unusual honour for a woman ! Our friends spoke
encouragingly, and promised to do all they could, though it was not until
1888 that the law regarding cruelty to children was altered. Praise the
I am thankful to have thus been the means of laying the
foundation and developing in Edinburgh the work which since then, by
joining the Glasgow Society, has become the Scottish National Society for
Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
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