Smyllum’s Children: Lanarkshire kids’ home scandal revealed as hundreds of orphans laid to rest by nuns in mass grave

Our investigation centres on the Smyllum Park home in Lanarkshire
Our investigation centres on the Smyllum Park home in Lanarkshire

 

UP TO 400 children who died at an orphanage run by nuns were buried in a single unmarked grave, we can reveal today.

Our investigation into Smyllum Park orphanage reveals 402 babies, toddlers and children died there between 1864 and when it closed its doors in 1981.

Children sent to live at the orphanage who died 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 that up to 400 youngsters – and some adults – are buried there today 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.”


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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 our research, carried out in association with the BBC, has revealed hundreds of children died at Smyllum – far more than the charity that ran it has admitted.

On average, one child died every three months there, with many believed to be buried in unmarked graves at St Mary’s Cemetery in Lanark, a mile away from the former orphanage.

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.

Inside Smyllum Park

However, the care given at Smyllum will be scrutinised during the second phase of the inquiry starting in November.

Our revelations today 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.

‘Sweet Jesus have mercy on the souls of the children of Smyllum’: For 100 years, the words that were their only memorial

Our probe involved scrutiny of thousands of death certificates. In 2003, burial records given to
campaigners by Smyllum bosses suggested 120 children had been buried at St Mary’s but relatives believed the figure was too low.

Only today, almost 15 years later, can we reveal how many children may be buried there.

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 with the BBC Radio’s File on Four programme to be aired on Tuesday – found 402 certificates listing Smyllum as the place of death or normal residence.

No truth. No justice. Victims reveal abuse ordeal at Smyllum orphanage and condemn years of lies and secrets

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.

It is believed most, without parents or families able to pay for funerals, are buried at St Mary’s.

We checked with surrounding cemeteries and local authorities and found only two of the 402 laid to rest elsewhere.

Janet Docherty is the widow of former Smyllum resident Frank, who passed away in April.

She is pleased her late husband’s suspicions about the true death toll at Smyllum were correct.

“Frank always feared there were more kids buried there and this is proof of that,” she said. “He would have been content that it has come out now at last.”

Janet Docherty holds a picture of husband Frank, who lived at Smyllum (Jamie Williamson)

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 1000. 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 1000 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.

Jack McConnell: As First Minister I apologised to victims and hoped for honesty from the organisations involved. It did not happen

Probe into home for 11,601 kids

The building has now been turned into private flats (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

 

SMYLLUM Park orphanage and children’s home was opened by the Poor Sisters of Charity after being gifted to them by a benefactor in 1864.

Soon after opening, the order also turned a small row of houses in Lanark into the town’s only hospital called St Mary’s.

The order, now known as the Daughters of Charity of Vincent de Paul, says that 11,601 children lived there between1864 and its closure in 1981.

It was sold off in the 1990s to build three-bedroom flats.

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.


Were you affected or do you have any information on Smyllum? Contact the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry at talktous@childabuseinquiry.scot or call 0800 0929 300

Email our reporter gblackstock@sundaypost.com or call 0141 567 2814

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