Nuns buried hundreds of children in unmarked graves
The lead story today in Scotland’s Sunday Post reveals that that more than 400 children who died at the Smyllum Park orphanage were buried by Catholic nuns in in a single unmarked grave.
An investigation by the paper found that 402 babies, toddlers and children died there between 1864 and when it closed its doors in 1981.
The paper, working with the BBC’s File on Four programme, has produced a documentary – The Secrets of Smyllum Park – due to be aired BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, September 12 September at 20:00 BST.
The BBC reports that abuse at the care home including beatings, punches, public humiliations and psychological abuse.
And it points out that this case mirrors the investigation into the Tuam mother and baby home, an Irish institution run by a religious order, where it is thought nearly 800 babies and young children died and were buried in unmarked graves between the 1920s and 1960s.
Children who died at Smyllum Park were buried in an unmarked mass grave at a nearby cemetery in Lanarkshire.
Headstones mark the graves of the nuns and staff members buried nearby but no stone or memorial has ever recorded the names of the lost children.
The revelation the bodies are buried there provoked calls for Scotland’s ongoing Child Abuse Inquiry to investigate.
Former First Minister, Jack McConnell, who, on behalf of the Scottish Government, apologised to victims of care home abuse in 2004, said it was shameful they were still waiting for truth and justice. He said:
It is heartbreaking to discover so many children may have been buried in these unmarked graves. After so many years of silence, we must now know the truth of what happened here.
The order of nuns who ran Smyllum – where orphans and children of desperate Catholic families were placed – previously claimed they had records of 120 children who died there and were buried in 158 lairs at a cemetery.
But the paper’s research, carried out in association with the BBC, has revealed that far more children died at Smyllum. On average, one child died every three months there.
Former residents have accused the nuns and staff who ran the home – the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul – of beating and neglecting some of the children.
Their allegations formed part of the campaign that inspired the ongoing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. The charity who ran Smyllum has already given evidence to the abuse inquiry, claiming earlier this year that abuse allegations were a “mystery” with “no evidence” of mistreatment.
However, the care given at Smyllum will be scrutinised during the second phase of the inquiry starting in November.
The paper’s revelations have provoked calls for those sessions to include an attempt to detail the children who died at Smyllum and discover how many are buried in the graveyard at St Mary’s.
Relatives of children who died at Smyllum are also calling for an immediate ground investigation at the cemetery using ground-penetrating radar to establish how many bodies are buried there.
The paper said:
Our attempts to get information from the Daughters of Charity were blocked but we spent three months combing death certificates stored in archives for answers. Our research – carried out in association File on Four programme – found 402 certificates listing Smyllum as the place of death or normal residence.
No details are recorded of the children’s lives, apart from their names, date of birth and when they died. Causes of death include accidents and diseases of the time such as tuberculosis, flu and scarlet fever. Some died of malnutrition. Our research was carried out by Janet Bishop, of the Association of Scottish Genealogists And Researchers In Archives. She trawled through more than 15,000 official records.
There were 11,601 children who passed through Smyllum Park between 1864 and 1981, according to evidence given at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. It means the death rate among one to 14-year-olds was at least 30 deaths per 1,000. Analysis of figures from the National Records of Scotland, reveal the highest mortality rate among children aged between one and 14 was in 1901 when 10.4 deaths per 1,000 were recorded.
The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul declined several requests for interview.
But, in a statement, it said:
We are Core Participants in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and are co-operating fully with that inquiry. We remain of the view that this inquiry is the most appropriate forum for such investigations.
Given the ongoing work of the inquiry we do not wish to provide any interviews.
We wish to again make clear that, as Daughters of Charity, our values are totally against any form of abuse and thus, we offer our most sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse whilst in our care.
The Scottish Government said, as Smyllum is part of the inquiry, it would be inappropriate to comment.
Snyllum Park orphanage and children’s home was opened by the Poor Sisters of Charity after being gifted to them by a benefactor in 1864.
Persistent allegations of abuse at Smyllum and at other care institutes were the driving force in setting up the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, led by Lady Smith, which started hearings earlier this year.
A second phase of sessions starting at the end of November is expected to last four weeks and will investigate the care given by nuns at Smyllum and four other residential care establishments run by the Daughters of Charity.
Those include youngsters who went to the nearby St Charles’ Certified Institution in Carstairs.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn