Yesterday, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened in London. Already we are hearing the dreadful testimony from individuals who were sent to Australia and subjected to both physical and sexual abuse. Sadly, abuse of children is nothing new, and as this sorry story from the workhouse confirms, children who complained continued to be ignored and disbelieved.
Amongst the Boarding Out Committee minutes I came across this story of a troubled young boy who would have been aged about 9 years of age. I am not going to use his true name nor that of the adults involved for obvious reasons, so will call him William. His father died and his mother became an inmate of the asylum at sometime between his birth and 1901, when he can be found as a resident of the workhouse. William was the youngest child in the family and his siblings no longer lived in the family home.
The Boarding Out Committee made no less than four attempts to place William with a foster family, and all these attempts ended in failure. On the first occasion, William ran away from his foster home and returned to the workhouse, covered in bruises. On arrival at the workhouse, he complained to the Workhouse Master that he had been severely beaten by his foster carer. He was then examined by the Medical Officer, who found William’s bruising was consistent with his story of having been severely beaten. The Boarding Out Committee subsequently interviewed the foster parent, whose explanation of the injuries was accepted, and as so often seems to be the case, William was not believed.
Life did not improve for William. On the occasion he ran away from his foster home to his married sister, he was dragged back to the workhouse. On the final occasion, the foster father returned him to the workhouse saying William was “incorrigible and would not work”. The Boarding Out Committee instructed the Clerk to enquire about a training ship to take William …. and “to tell the Workhouse Master to give him plenty of work”.
William was eventually sent to the Training Ship Indefatigable at Birkenhead. This cost the workhouse £22 and 10 shillings. I do not know what happened to him subsequently. His real name is quite common so it is difficult to pin down but I have reason to believe he joined the army in 1910. A career in military service was not unusual for the boys who had been on training ships.
You can read more about the Training Ship Indefatigable on Peter Higginbotham’s excellent website http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/TSIndefatigable/