News Local

Immigrants began new lives in faraway countries

CECILIA NASMITH

Pat Douglas finds the subject of her grandmother, Rebecca Ann Thomas, an emotional one when she stops to think of young Rebecca forced to leave her family and establish herself in Canada at the age of 14.

Rebecca was what is known as a Barnardo child.

Dr. Thomas Barnardo set out to bring children to Canada from the British Isles in hopes of giving them a better life. He was offered a home in Peterborough, called Hazelbrae, to be used as a distribution centre for these orphaned and ward children. In 1884, the first 150 of an eventual 10,000 children would arrive.

Coincidentally, Rebecca was born in 1884, at Exeter, Devon. Her father died when she was eight, and her mother was a charwoman in derelict health struggling to raise four children with no money.

Mrs. Douglas and her husband, Willis, only have one photo of Rebecca as a child, with her hair cropped close, and they also have a photo of the boat on which she was brought to Canada. Though ship's records have her as an 11-year-old, they know she was closer to 14.

"She didn't know anything about Canada, but she was willing to leave for a better life," Mrs. Douglas said. "She went to Hazelbrae in Peterborough and later worked in the Millbrook-Peterborough area. She ended up marrying Franklin Davis."

The couple would end up being married for 64 years and having seven children. Three would fight in the First World War, and one would give his life.

Ken Ledgard calls the story of his first cousin four times removed A Crime To Roo.

As a young man of about 18, John Ledger (1810-1888) stole some lead from a forge in Yorkshire, England. He and the friends along on the caper were caught and convicted. Mr. Ledger was charged with theft under force of arms, because he was carrying a small pocketknife.

"He was transported to Tasmania in 1828, a voyage which took 104 days," Mr. Ledgard said. "On that particular voyage, nobody died, which is perhaps a bit unusual."

Mr. Ledger received his Certificate of Freedom in 1833 and was granted some land. He chose to farm and to raise and breed kangaroos (hence Mr. Ledgard's story title).

Starting with his 1843 wedding to another English convict named Mary Ann McFarlane, he also married and raised a family of nine.

As an illiterate young man, he had to sign his marriage certificate with an X. The minister entered his name as John Ledger.

"He became a very respected member of the community in Eastern Australia and died at the handsome age of 78," Mr. Ledgard said.

"In retrospect, it was not a crime to regret, but rather a crime that turned out very well for him. He got out of England and had a good job in Australia."