Friday, 13 June 2014

A Layman's view of Societal Attitudes to Bastard Children over the Decades

I do not claim to be a sociologist nor claim to be a expert .  However, if people are to look at why society readily accepted to mass adoption of babies during what is known as the forced Adoption era in Australia one needs to look at the attitude of society to bastard babies which for all of us born in that area was our legal description. This attitude evolved with the industrialisation of the United Kingdom and was exported to all the english speaking countries.  Australia prior to federation looked upon them selves as the outpost of the motherland and upon federation, the Commonwealth of Australia strove to be more british than the United Kingdom. So it is logical that we, Australia, imported that societal norm and more that still appears to be prevalent in the United kingdom today.
Many of the activist first mothers have strenuously denied the link and causation of forced and potentially illegal removal processes of their children. There motive was simple and that was to ensure the primary blame was passed upon the hospital/mothers maternity home staff and by default the governments of the day.  this is understandable but they have failed to understand that it did not operate in a vacuum. It operated with relative impunity only because the social attitudes of the day regarded single pregnant women with at best disdain at worst simple minded loose women with no morals. And their children, we bastards were no better and a blight upon society.  This no way condones the activities of the staff at places where forced adoptions occurred. but it does show how these places did operate in many cases in contravention of the laws of the day and no one gave  two hoots because society mores had already condemned us.

I have been thinking a lot about the overall attitude towards children born out of wedlock for a long time because despite the findings of the senate committee and apologies i believe that nothing happens in a vacuum.  I then read this extract from from the ratepayers meeting in Potumna, Republic of Ireland in 1929:
  " continuing, the speaker said the ratepayers had to work hard to support their families, and some of
     of them were hardly able to get the bare necessities of life. They had enough to do besides     supporting the waifs and strays in the Homes, such as illegitimate children and unmarried mothers"

This lit up a lightbulb moment. Whilst this was in Ireland the feelings of the population would have been similar to that in the other countries from whom Australia received migrants from since 1788.  If the social mores and attitudes in Ireland 1929 had placed illegitimate's and their mothers at the bottom of the pecking order the must have been occurring in Australia which had been the destination of so many person of Irish heritage.  The article gave me a the clue i wanted that historically the social mores and norms were against the mother and illegitimate child had been in place for most of the early to middle twentieth century.  I wondered just how such attitudes were in the United kingdom.  In some article I read the term Baby Farm so i googled it.

The article that i found in relation to baby farms was the  one on the attached link:

The article started with the words " illegitimacy has always been stigmatised in English Society"
The article goes to to tell us just how vicious 19th century England was to bastards like me.  Advertisements would appear in papers read by the working class where for small sums like 15 shillings per month they would look after a single mothers child or if under 12 months they would adopt for 12 pounds. These baby farmers would then take the child  and starve them to death so they could have more. it was a lucrative business.

 "the primary objective of professional baby farmers was to solicit as many sickly infants or infants under two months as possible, because life was precarious for them and their deaths would appear more natural. They would adopt the infants for a set fee and get rid of them as quickly as possible in order to maximize their profits. The infants were kept drugged on laudanum, paregoric, and other poisons, and fed watered down milk laced with lime. They quickly died of thrush induced by malnutrition and fluid on the brain due to excessive doses of strong narcotics. The costs of burial was avoided by wrapping the naked bodies of the dead infants in old newspapers and damping them in a deserted area, or by throwing them in the Thames. <32>"

Older children where a monthly payment was made were slowly starved and abused so they could stretch the monthly payments out:

 "Older infants were also lucrative. These babies, whose young mothers struggled to support and to visit them on a regular basis, were the ones who suffered a slow and agonizing death. Babies accepted under these conditions had to be healthy and robust. They were profitable because they could withstand the most abuse before they finally succumbed; the longer they lasted, the longer the weekly fees were paid. To insure maximum profits the farmers would slowly starve the infants to death. The mothers continued to work night and day to support their infants believing they were being well cared for only to watch them slowly waste away. <33>"

Whilst there were efforts by some in authority to protect children, the sad fact was that society from all demographic levels had no time for us or our mothers. In fact the appeal for the organisation of a society for prevention of cruelty to children occurred 65 years after the establishment of the Royal Society of prevention of cruelty to animals.

As Australia was a  group of english Colonies before federation in 1901, it , to me seemed logical that such barbaric attitudes towards we, the bastards of the world would exist so off i went hunting for baby farm information in Australia.  I did not have to look far.

The first article i found was the attached link which again describes letting babies starve to death in small hovels

That in itself showed the societal attitudes of the day in Australia and again describes the same events that were happening in England and no doubt elsewhere in the world.  Then i saw a article which listed the known baby farm mass murderers

If these were the ones discovered just how many were out there undiscovered. it also makes one wonder where were the maternal instincts of the mothers who left their responsibilities with such people. A further article from south Australia was also located

Using trove i was also able to see quite a few cases of infanticide which again makes one wonder just how bad it was and I also noted the last case in Australia of baby farm killing was 1907

As it is common knowledge that the dirt collection lanes of Melbourne used to have dead newly babies babies found , it is obvious that the social norms in relation to illegitimate babies was not a positive one , and whilst the states did introduce adoption laws to protect us these laws were mainly designed to reduce the number being placed in children's homes.

Whether the mothers like it or not the simple fact is that societal norms or mores were still present up until the early 1990's  as shown by this article in the canberra times

How the practice of adoption became a mass production line i do not know, but what i can see is there was a stigma in relation to single mothers and their illegitimate offspring that came from England and Ireland during the decades that they were the prevalent immigrants to this country. Some Australian complain today as to how recent immigrants bring their customs and attitudes to our country. So again it is logical that the immigrants from the Mother country would also be bringing their social attitudes and mores as well. hence the social mores of looking upon single pregnant girls and especially we bastards was well established with  decades of migration. in fact until the late 1960's we in Australia tried to be more english than the english

For the mothers and some adoptees to exclude social mores and attitudes from the forced adoption is to deny nearly two hundred years of history. is it a excuse for the illegalities and coercion which occurred. IT IS NOT.  but it was factor in allowing the activities to go unchecked much like the baby farms that were still around some forty to fifty years previously.  The fact that adoption was used in a large scale was in part due to higher number of single ladies presenting to have babies as evidenced by this article

There was also a desire to keep as many babies out of the homes run by religious orders and government so as to save the public purse because we bastards were not worth the expense. it would have been very easy to adjust the social mores of the day to change the attitude towards we bastards to one of pity not scorn, although the scorn was still prevalent

Finally the social mores and attitudes towards us was ever present in a good english society be it in the UK or in Australia. The mothers could quite easily hide their shame from the good people of society by palming their kids off to baby farms and in later years adoption. How it became a  procedure where the single pregnant girls was to be coerced or forced to have their child taken , it is unclear and actually how many fell into that category is also unclear.  But regardless of that fact we the adoptee or the person who was raised in a children homes were treated as a nuisance that society had to sort out. And sort out over the centuries they did with cool efficiency

1 comment:

  1. Sickened at the disregard of sacredness of human life, classism and apparently misogny reigned in the UK which spread like a virus and infected the world. Maybe it starts in Rome. I am not sure. But this is as appalling as torture and war crimes for those of us "bastards" affected. Sorry (in the form of an apology) will never cover or excuse this abuse and murder of innocent babies. I will be haunted by this a long time, Murray.