Census, Home Children, Oral History

Home Children: Open Secrets (Part 1)

“Could you look up Mary Hogan?” asked my dad’s cousin Aggie. “I think she may have been,” and this added sotto voce, as if, even after so many years, there might yet be something to hide, “a Home Girl.”1

A Home Girl?

At the time, I knew next to nothing about the Home Child movement, the child emigration scheme which saw over 100,000 children sent from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1930. And yet, I must have already encountered the term somewhere, because the “Home Girl” designation immediately made some sort of sense to me. I imagined an orphan: an orphan from England? (though Hogan is an Irish surname, obviously, and from the description provided by my father and his cousin Aggie, Mary Hogan certainly sounded Irish).2

Well, I had heard of the “Barnado Boys,” of course. Indeed, I had no doubt first encountered the term as a young girl, when I avidly devoured Lucy Maud Montgomery’s series about Canada’s most beloved (though fictional!) orphan girl ever. As a childhood devotee of “Anne with an e,” I had read of Marilla Cuthbert drawing a line in the sand at the thought of a Barnardo Boy, or, in a phrase which captures the casual racism of the time, a “London street Arab.”3

My father and his cousin recalled Mary Hogan from their childhood as a somewhat elderly and somewhat eccentric fixture on the Burke family farm: not quite a blood relation, perhaps, but no mere “hired girl,” either, and “almost family” through affinity and through sheer length of tenure: apparently she had been with the Laheys and the Burkes since forever.

Well, since at least as far back as 1891, at any rate…

…So I looked up Mary Hogan, as per Cousin Aggie’s request. And here is what I found:

In the 1891 census of March township (Carleton Co., Ontario), Mary Hogan, age 15, is found in the household of my 2x-great-grandparents John Lahey and Margaret Jane Killeen. Her occupation: domestic servant. Her birthplace: Ontario. Hmm…Ontario is not England, but perhaps the census enumerator was mistaken in his birthplace designation?

In 1901, Mary Hogan is found in the household of William Lahey (son of the above-mentioned John Lahey and Margaret Jane Killeen, and brother of my great-grandfather John James Lahey) and his wife Sarah Kelly. Here again she is listed as a Domestic, born 10 July 1875; and here again her birthplace is given as Ontario [O r, for Ontario rural]. Well, that Ontario birthplace listing doesn’t exactly strengthen the Home Girl thesis, to be sure.

But wait! (and here is where I first began to notice Home Children in the census returns) … While the 1901 census records an Ontario birthplace for Mary Hogan, it records a birthplace of England for two other young people in the household of William Lahey and Sarah Kelly: John Maguire, age 16, born England, “adopted;” and Mary Kavanagh, age 10, born England, “adopted” (click the following to see larger image):

William Lahey household, 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario, Carleton, March township, family no. 27, p. 4, lines 1-9.
William Lahey household, 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario, Carleton, March township, family no. 27, p. 4, lines 1-9.

There can be little doubt that both John Maguire and Mary Kavanagh were Home Children.

John Maguire entry; SS Parisian Passenger Manifest, 30 Oct 1898; database  Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935.
John Maguire entry; SS Parisian Passenger Manifest, 30 Oct 1898; database, Ancestry.ca (www.ancestry.ca), Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935.

John Maguire may have come to Canada in October 1898 (Liverpool to Quebec; destination: Ottawa, Ontario), at the age of about 14, under the auspices of the Southwark Catholic Emigration Committee, London. Mary Kavanagh (Cavanagh? Cavanaugh?) has proved more elusive: I have not yet found a Home Child emigration record that might refer to her. But there was a Maggie Kavanagh, age about 10 in 1899, who travelled to Canada (Liverpool to Quebec) under the auspices of the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protective and Rescue Home in May 1899.

Margaret Devine entry
Margaret Devine entry; SS Numidian Passenger Manifest, 6 June 1897; database, Ancestry.ca (www.ancestry.ca), Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935.

Moreover, in the 1901 census of March township, I found another Home Child in another Lahey household: Margaret Devin [Devine], age 14, born Ireland, “adopted,” in the household of Thomas Burke and Mary Ann Lahey (daughter of the above-mentioned John Lahey and Margaret Jane Killeen, and sister to my great-grandfather John James Lahey). Margaret Devine came to Canada in June 1897, travelling from Liverpool to Quebec under the auspices of the Liverpool Catholic Protection Society. I have since learned a little bit more about Margaret Devine through correspondence with one of her descendants,4 of which more in a later entry.

By 1911, Margaret Devine was no longer in the household of Thomas Burke and Mary Ann Lahey: she had married in 1908, and had married another Home Child! whom she had apparently met on the Burke-Lahey family farm, where he had also been placed. Mary Hogan, on the other hand, can be found with Thomas Burke and Mary Ann Lahey from at least as far back as 1911, and with this Burke-Lahey family she would remain for decades. And when, on 11 June 1958, Mary Hogan “died suddenly at her abode at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dominic Stanton,” she was at the home of Michael Dominic Stanton and his wife Mildred Estella Burke, daughter of Thomas Burke and Mary Ann Lahey, and granddaughter of John Lahey and Margaret Jane Killeen.

So Mary Hogan lived with three generations of Laheys, in other words: first with John Lahey and Margaret Jane Killeen (generation 1); then with their son William Lahey and his wife Sarah Kelly (generation 2); then with their daughter Mary Ann Lahey and her husband Thomas Burke (also generation 2); and finally with their granddaughter Mildred Estella Burke (daughter of Thomas Burke and Mary Ann Lahey) and her husband Michael Dominic Stanton (generation 3).

No question she lived as a “Domestic” in the household(s) of another family from at least the age of 15. But was Mary Hogan a “Home Girl”?

(To be continued…)

  1. Oral interview with Mary Frances Agnes O’Neill, January 2007.
  2. As I was later to learn, there was nothing unusual about “English” Home Children of Irish origin. In fact, Ottawa (more specifically, St. George’s Home on Wellington Street in Ottawa, now Holy Rosary Rectory) was one of the main receiving centres for Catholic children sent to Canada from Great Britain under the auspices of various English Catholic “protection societies,” which apparently set themselves up as Roman Catholic alternatives to the Protestant-centred Barnardo scheme. Many, probably most, of these Catholic children were of Irish background. For more on the Catholic Home Child movement, see  Frederick J. McEvoy, “‘These Treasured Children of God’: Catholic Child Immigration to Canada” (CCHA, Historical Studies, 65, 1999, 50-70).
  3. “‘At first Matthew suggested getting a Barnardo boy. But I said “no” flat to that. ‘They may be all right — I’m not saying they’re not, but no London street Arabs for me,’ I said. ‘Give me a native born at least. There’ll be a risk, no matter who we get. But I’ll feel easier in my mind and sleep sounder at nights if we get a born Canadian.'” Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, cap. 1
  4. This descendant had acquired some of her information by contacting Nugent Care in the UK.

2 thoughts on “Home Children: Open Secrets (Part 1)”

  1. Chris Moran says:

    Great reading, Mary Cath! What else did Aggie say?

  2. Aggie had LOTS to say, I wish I had recorded the interview. But it wasn’t prearranged as a formal interview or anything like that. It was a last-minute impromptu sort of thing (Dad: “Do we have time for a little detour? Let’s go to Almonte to visit my cousin.” Me: “Okay, sure, why not?”). We had just gone to St. Michael’s Cemetery in Corkery to view the gravestone of Bridget Galligan and Patrick Killeen — so the drive to Almonte was more than “a little detour”!

    My notes from that interview are currently in storage, alas. But I recall Aggie telling me that Mildred Stanton used to put holy water (and plenty of brandy) in her Christmas cakes. Also a great anecdote about her father (Danny O’Neill) visiting Aunt Evelyn in Detroit. And she and Dad had some great stories about Aggie’s grandfather Tommy Burke (husband of Mary Ann Lahey). When I get the notes, I will write it up.

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