Minnie and John Ferguson from Balquhidder, taken into ‘care’, 1889 – 1893

This week’s post for the ‘Year of Young People’ concerns two children who were taken away from their mother by the Parish authorities in 1889.

The first surviving register of the poor for Balquhidder parish has entries for 2 children, brother and sister John and Minnie Ferguson. Minnie was 11½ years old and John 8 when they were put into this record. It may seem odd that they appear in the records of Balquhidder Parish when they were both living in Dumbarton with their mother at this time. This is because when people asked for assistance at this time, their request was set to the parish where they were born as it was this place, known as the ‘parish of settlement’, that was responsible for paying for assistance to be given to those in need. This means that even when people leave their parish of birth, these records can give details about their circumstances that may not be available anywhere else.

Although it is recorded in Minnie’s entry in the register that their mother was also on the poor roll, the earlier register has not survived. However, we can find out more about Susan, Minnie and John’s mother, from the Parochial Board minute book.

Susan Ferguson, whose maiden name is given as Elspie, is a widow and would appear to be struggling in this entry from the Balquhidder minutes from April 1889.

In this minute from May, she is being supported in her attempt to improve her life by the local schoolmaster and the Board reverses its previous decision to take her children away from her.

Sadly, Susan failed to keep to her good intentions and in June 1889, her children were taken from her and put into the local Poorhouse. Their entries in the register of the poor give details of what happened to them after this.

Minnie was 12 by the end of 1889 and like many girls at this time, would have been expected to go out to work. However, it is clear that poor Minnie suffered from some kind of recurring health problem, and this is reflected by the entries in the register. In 1891, Minnie is claiming assistance in Bonhill Parish, West Dunbartonshire. It may be that she was in employment there and then became too ill to work. She claims assistance for 10 days only and is then recorded as having recovered. Something similar happens in April 1892 for 2 weeks and again in August 1893. We can only hope that the absence of further entries mean that she was healthy after this.

John was brought back to Balquhidder Parish to board with Donald Ferguson at Strathyre. Donald may well have been a relative or someone who took in children as a foster carer, something that was common at this time. The Parish continued to pay for John’s support while he was in Balquhidder. It is not clear from the record why John was sent to Stirling Poorhouse and then back to Dumbarton Poorhouse but it could be because his behaviour was giving concern as on the 20th June 1890, John is recorded as being sent to the ‘Cumberland’ Industrial School Training Ship at Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire. Industrial schools gave a training to children who were at risk of criminal activity and it tended to be boys with behavioural issues who were sent to such establishments. The ‘Cumberland’ and its sister ship the ‘Empress’ gave boys a training to prepare them for a career in the Merchant Navy.

You can find out more about the ‘Cumberland’ and ‘Empress’ training ships here.