It was recently learned that up to 400 children died at a Scottish orphanage that was run by Catholic nuns. To make matters worse, the bodies were discovered in one single, unmarked mass grave.
The Telegraph reports that the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul ran the Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanarkshire, where hundreds of homeless children were sent to live. In the past, the nuns admitted to burying 158 children at a nearby cemetery, but some have long suspected the real figure was much higher. They were right.
The investigation, which was carried out by BBC Radio 4’s File on Four program and the Sunday Post newspaper, revealed that hundreds of children had died at Smyllum — far more than the charity admitted. In total, 402 babies, toddlers and children perished at the orphanage between 1864 and 1981 (the year the establishment closed its doors). The bodies were found in an unmarked grave at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Though there are headstones noting the location of the nuns and staff members, no memorial can be found recording the names of the deceased children. In 2004, on behalf of the British government, former First Minister Jack McConnell apologized to victims of care home abuse. He said it was “shameful” they were still waiting for the truth and justice. “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,” said McConnell.
Former residents have spoken out about their time at the orphanage and have accused the nuns and staff of beating and neglecting some of the kids in their care. During the second phase of an inquiry starting in November, the care given at Smyllum will be scrutinized as a result. This newest revelation has also provoked calls to investigate how and when the children died at the orphanage.
Janet Bishop of the Association of Scottish Genealogists And Researchers in Archives led the research. For the initial investigation, Bishop and her team looked through 15,000 official records. They learned that for the most part, there are no recorded details of the children’s lives other than their dates of birth and deaths. Most of the deaths occurred between 1870 and 1930. Causes of deaths listed include accidents, diseases (such as tuberculosis, flu and scarlet fever), and even malnutrition. Between the years of 1864 and 1981, 11,601 children passed through Smyllum Park, according to evidence obtained by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul refused to comment, but said in a statement: “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.”
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