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Article Published June 25, 1999



Sandra Devlin EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles


Book Review:

Poor Ignorant Children- Irish Famine Orphans in Saint John, New Brunswick, by: Peter Murphy.

The history and genealogy of Famine Irish orphans of 19th Century Saint John, New Brunswick, get a huge boost with the release of Peter Murphy's extraordinary and exciting new book.

Important data from previously unexplored primary records, constructs family groups, gauges dimensions of overwhelming privations and identifies more than 100 destitute Irish children farmed out to homes, primarily in New Brunswick, with a few to Nova Scotia.

Of the more than 300 children who passed through the Emigrant Orphan Asylum between 1847-1849, nearly half were placed in stranger's homes. Of these nearly one-third ended up in farming communities along the lower reaches of the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers. Another 30 per cent were placed in Saint John.

No evidence surfaces of any effort by asylum administrators to keep siblings together, much less place them in homes to nurture their predominantly Roman Catholic heritage.

The fate of five Coyne children from Sligo (the origin of nearly half of the asylum's population) "with barely sufficient rags upon their persons to cover their nakedness" is one example of the hundreds of heart-wrenching stories which unfold in Murphy's scholarly study.

Bryan Coyne, 16, was apprenticed to Christopher Harper in Shediac on Nov. 20, 1847, three weeks after he disembarked with his family at the port city. His mother was dead and his father was in hospital. Four younger Coyne children, likely siblings of Bryan's, were scattered. Andrew, 14, went with Jas Fowler to Hampton; Michael, 12, with William Balcam to Annapolis and Lawrence, 10, with A. L. Palmer to Dorchester.

That left Bessie, who was four when admitted to the asylum, and six when it closed, one of the seven left-over girls sent to the Alms House, Nov. 8, 1849. The following spring, Bessie, then about age seven, went to Annapolis with Dr. Leslie. (How fervently one wants to imagine that little Bessie somehow became reunited with older brother Michael. This book has the power to evoke such emotions.)

Murphy's research, annotations, bibliography and analytic text are exacting and concise. This book is top shelf.

Poor Ignorant Children is available from Global Genealogy & History Shoppe.
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