Monday, November 12, 2012

Herbert Charles Saunders, 1884 to 1966, Part One

Herbert Charles Saunders

My great grandfather, Herbert Charles Saunders, was born in West Monkton, Somerset, England on October 22, 1884. He had five older siblings, Henrietta, Elizabeth “Lizzie”, Albert John, Lily, and Alick. They lived in a cottage which was part of a squire’s estate, where his father, James, worked as an agricultural labourer. His mother, born Mary Jane Goff, died before Christmas, when Herbert was two, likely in childbirth, of tuberculosis. It appears that his father did not cope well with the loss, and took to dissipated behaviour, which lost him his job, and, since it was tied to his employment, his home.

It seems that James took at least four of the children with him (all except Albert and Herbert) to the Liverpool area, the town of Bootle, where they and his brother John lived for a time with Mary Jane’s sister Phoebe, and her husband William Henry Drower. Herbert and Albert are found in the 1891 census living with their maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cross Saunders in West Monkton. Herbert was likely in school as he is listed as a “scholar”. It is possible they also had spent quite a bit of time with their maternal aunt, Elizabeth Goff Lee, as Herbert named her as his mother on his marriage certificate. It seems that in time, James returned for the boys and brought them back to Bootle with him. There is a report that the aunt in Bootle could not cope with the added burden of James’s family after a while, and all the children spent some time in “Major Lester’s Orphanages”. By 1893, when Alick was taken to live at Miss Louisa Birt's Liverpool Sheltering Home, Lizzie and Henrietta were in service, and the three youngest children were back with James. He is reported to have intermittent work at the docks. The children were “running the streets” when he was not at home.

Children were sent to the Liverpool Sheltering Home expressly to be sent to Canada, mostly to live with families there and to work on farms. Alick was the first of the Saunders family to be sent from this institution to Canada. He, like Herbert the following year, sailed on the S.S. Parisian of Titanic fame, to Quebec. It is reported that he did not like the conditions on the remote Quebec farm where he was sent, and “misbehaved”. He managed to hide himself in the straw in a cattle car on a train, and then to stowaway on a ship back to Liverpool. He was discovered after a few days, and was turned over the authorities when the ship docked. This led to his being incarcerated at the age of about twelve on the correction ship, the H.M.S. Akbar, which was anchored in the Mersey River. He was there for about two years, where he was beaten and made to climb the rigging and to stay in the crow’s nest for days at a time. Conditions were harsh aboard the ship, and one of the winters saw the freezing of the river.

By the time it was Herbert’s turn to go to the Liverpool Sheltering Home in 1893, Alick would have been back from Canada and already aboard the Akbar. Alick’s experience may have been a cautionary tale to Herbert. It is stated in his Sheltering Home file that Herbert had attained “Standard II” at the “Bedford Road School”, and had also attended the “Christ Church School” and the “S.S. Bootle”. He boarded the S.S. Parisian with Miss Louisa Birt and the other 105 British Home Children on March 22, 1894. The Manitoba Free Press on April 30, 1894 reported that they had received a cablegram from Miss Birt, stating that the other passengers had “remarked what a fine-looking set of intelligent, healthy children they appeared, full of promise”.

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