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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Chapter VI - Homes for Homeless Children


IN a former chapter, when giving an account of the progress of the work, I alluded to the rapid growth of the Homes and the number of houses required.

There were eight altogether, from 1883 to 1888. These were :—

Day Nursery, 10, Mackenzie Place, Edinburgh.
Girls’ Home, 11, Mackenzie Place, Edinburgh.
2, Craigholm Crescent, Burntisland.
Leadburn Park.
Boys’ Home, Rosebank, Leadburn Park.
,, ,,              1, Craigholm Crescent, Burntisland.
,, ,,              4, Bayton Terrace, Granton Road.
The Shelter from Cruelty, 150, High Street, Edinburgh.

I know that some friends objected to having so many separate houses on the score of expense and in creased difficulty in supervision, but, after all, the Home is the first necessity of a homeless child, and I am convinced, a real home, and therefore individual attention, can only be secured where there is a manageable number of children; beyond that it ceases to be a home and becomes merely an institution, which I believe to be a very different kind of life, and which I have always been most careful to avoid for our children.

The Homes, as they existed at the time I write of, may all be described together, as they were all conducted on the same principle—exclusively that of a family. Each house was complete in itself, with Treasurer, some friend in the neighbourhood, who was entirely responsible for management of stores, accounts, etc., thus preventing any habit of waste or extravagance, which even in the best regulated (large) families is always too ready to creep in, this treasurer at the same time fulfilling the very important duty of seeing that the stores, etc., were used in the best way, and that the children actually got all that was intended for them.

I had not the means to build or adapt cottage homes all conveniently close together, and so I just made use of plain, ordinary buildings in suitable situations as I could find them, when the need for a fresh house arose. As to looking after them, no doubt it entailed a great deal of exertion on my part, even with all the help the treasurers so kindly and willingly gave me.

Next in authority to the Treasurer came the Nurse, whose duty it was to be mother in the Home. I did not encourage the children to call her so, for I think anything unreal is a mistake, and many of them who remembered good, gentle mothers of their own could not have failed to resent it. They so often told us touching little stories of how happy and well cared for they were "when my mother was living," and how sadly matters changed when she was taken ill. How, for instance, "Bobbie was a bonnie bairn, with curly hair, and my mother kept him aye clean and bonnie, and syne when she took ill she could na sort him ony mair; and she could na bide to hear him greet: and we tried to do, and we could na; and she was taken away to the hospital, and—and—" The poor little historian at this point would frequently throw itself on my lap in an agony of grief. Some were more composed with a precocious gravity and care of "the baby" that was even sadder. A very troublesome baby of fourteen months was brought to us; he was accompanied by his elder sister of nine, because, as she explained, "he won’t go to any one else." When I saw them at Mackenzie Place, I thought they were too delicate to stay there, and took them home with me. Master baby paid me the compliment of being pleased to go to me; and next day when I had him in my arms, playing with himself in the grass, Maggie stood watching us with great interest, and said in a tone of sorrowful composure, like an elderly woman, "Baby thinks you’re my mother; that’s why he’s pleased with you." I said, "When did he see your mother, my dear?" "About a fortnight ago, and she’s died since;" and poor little Maggie heaved a deep sigh and shook her head.

But I must be done with recollections, as these Homes in Scotland are now a thing of the past, and it is only necessary to refer to them by way of giving a history of the work which would otherwise be incomplete. My views as to the management of Homes for homeless children will doubtless appear hereafter, when I tell you the story of our Homes in Nova Scotia, where the same plan is carried on, and where the chief object is to make the Home a real home to each member of it.

Before I leave the recollections of this happy time of work in Scotland, I must mention the boarding out system, which I was obliged to have recourse to in 1884, when house accommodation failed. I was very careful in the selection of those with whom they were placed, and the children were arranged in groups of four or six, so that the friend who acted as treasurer and paid their board monthly, could see exactly how they were attended to, and look after them in every way. I beg to thank those friends in the country, especially Mrs.

Paterson, of Buckrigg Farm, near Beattock, who so efficiently carried on this part of the work, the results of which were, to my mind, extremely satisfactory; and many were the lamentations alike of nurses and children when it proved too expensive to be continued, and our children had to be removed to other quarters, on my winding up my personal connection with the work previous to leaving Scotland.


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