Scotland: 400 children tortured, buried in unmarked mass graves, and no crime was committed

Inside the orphanage

From 1864 to 1981, children were sent to the Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanarkshire, Scotland, where they were routinely tortured, sexually abused, and then dumped into unmarked graves. The orphanage was run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul. The sisters who died received proper funerals, complete gravesite and headstone. Close to 12,000 children stayed, and suffered, in the Smyllum Park Orphanage. In 2003, two survivors, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane, found what they thought might be a mass grave of Smyllum. They pushed the Daughters of Charity for some answers. In 2004, the order responded that they thought 120 children had died in the orphanage. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane suspected those figures were low. They continued to push. Earlier this year, both Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died. This past Sunday, the BBC and Scotland’s Sunday Post published the results of a joint investigation, and they claimed over 400 children are buried in that gravesite. As of Tuesday, the police have said that there was no evidence of criminal activity, but they will continue to investigate any allegations. If the activity was not criminal, what then was it? Ordinary?

In 2013, Andi Lavery founded White Flowers Alba, a group that advocating for Smyllum Park Orphanage survivors. After reading through the death certificates gathered by the reporters, Lavery said, “Why should they be dying from starvation? Why should they be dying from treatable infections? Why should they be dying from beatings?” These are not “rhetorical” questions. Andi Lavery, and others, want answers.

Marie Peachey is now 54 years old. She, her brother Samuel and sister Brenda suffered the orphanage from 1964 and 1969. Marie Peachey has suffered ever since. In 1997, she went to the police with allegations of abuse, but they said it had happened too long before. In 2003, she tried to sue the Daughters of Charity, but was told, again, that the events had happened to distantly in the past. In 1998, Marie Peachey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today she says, “It is awful to think of all of those poor children buried and forgotten. We have endured years and years of secrets and lies about this and everything else that went on at Smyllum. The truth must come out. It was a horrible being there. I was routinely beaten.”

Theresa Tolmie-McGrane entered the Smyllum Park Orphanages in 1968. She was six years old: “Every child was beaten, punished, locked in a dark room, made to eat their own vomit and I would say that most of us had our mouths rinsed out with carbolic soap.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane describes sexual abuse, physical violence and systematic psychological torture. One nun in particular tried to break the girl-child down: “She almost made it such that I didn’t get to university. She did everything she could to sabotage. I’ve never met someone who tried to destroy another person in such a systematic way. Thank God she didn’t succeed.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane left the orphanage at 17, went to university, and today is a practicing psychologist in Norway.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is investigating the case. From members of government to the Church and beyond, everyone is shocked at the tragedy. For decades, survivors have told their stories, to no avail. For decades, family relatives of those children demanded answers, to no avail. To their dying days, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane demanded what the White Flowers Alba demand: accountability, redress, and the restoration of dignity. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died without seeing any of that.

This story hearkens to the story of Tuam, in Ireland, where infants and children born in the institution were ‘buried’ in septic tanks. From Tuam to Lanarkshire and beyond, people ask, “Who throws dead children into an unmarked grave?” Who? Everyone. In the process of modern `nation building’, some bodies have value and others have less than none and end up in trash heaps, septic tanks, unmarked graves. There was is no secret and there is no surprise here. The activity was not criminal, it was altogether ordinary.


(Photo Credit: Sunday Post)

Who buries children in septic tanks and unmarked graves?

Artifacts left over from the Hiawatha Insane Asylum for Indians in Canton, now at the Canton Public Library.

In Tuam, in Galway, Ireland, the Bon Secours sisters ran a place for “fallen women”, from 1925 to 1961. People called it The Home. In Canton, South Dakota, in the United States, the federal government ran the only `asylum’ for Native Americans, from the dawn of 1903 to Christmas 1933, the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. The home and the asylum form parts of a shared history.

Thanks to the work of historian Catherine Corless, the world “learned” last week that close to 800 infants and children born in the Home were disposed of in a septic tank. These were children of single women. The women came and quickly left, moving to other parts of Ireland or beyond. The children stayed, to be persecuted in school and worse. They suffered extraordinarily high mortality rates. And then they were dumped in a septic tank.

While shock and dismay have been expressed, all of this happened in plain sight. Neighbors complained about the Home. Not so much about the abuse and disappearance of children, but about the stench emanating from the cesspool behind it. Thirty-five years is a long time in a small village to keep a large secret. There was no secret.

Canton presents a similar story. In the late 1890s, a senator from South Dakota began lobbying for an asylum for Indians because, he claimed, “insanity was on the rise among Indians.” Despite overwhelming opposition from the medical community, who found no evidence of high levels of mental illness among Aboriginal populations, the project went through, and, of course, ended up in the southwest corner of the senator’s state.

The vast majority of `residents’ of the Canton Asylum were in for resistance of one form or another. Canton residents and the few survivors of the asylum all agree that there were very few residents who manifested actual mental illness. If a Native American said no to a White person or to an agency or pretty much to anyone, it often meant going to Canton, where most died. Not surprisingly, given that for the first eight years, it had no psychiatrist on staff and for the first 25 of its 31-year history, it had no nurses. The Hiawatha Asylum was a death sentence.

Those who died were buried in an unmarked grave that now sits between the fourth and fifth fairway of the Hiawatha Golf Course. For the past few years, every year the Keepers of the Canton Native Asylum Story have come to perform a healing ritual. They also want the gravesite to be honored. They talk of not only honoring the dead but also of engaging in restorative justice.

From Tuam to Canton, people are engaging in restoration and in restorative justice. This means turning the camera away from the ones thrown into the earth like so much trash and focusing on those who threw those bodies into ground. Who throws dead children into septic tanks? Who throws Indigenous infants, children, men, and women into an unmarked grave? Who? Everyone. This is the process of `nation building’, and it’s a filthy process in which some bodies have value and others have less than none, are deemed problems and obstacles to progress and end up in trash heaps, septic tanks, unmarked graves. There was and there is no secret here.



(Photo Credit 1: Elisha Page / Argus Leader) (Photo Credit 2: CNN)