Children’s deaths in Lanarkshire

The bodies of hundreds of children are believed to be buried in a mass grave in Lanarkshire, southern Scotland, according to an investigation by BBC News.
The children were all residents of a care home run by Catholic nuns.
At least 400 children are thought to be buried in a section of St Mary’s Cemetery in Lanark.

Before the outrage:

It opened in 1864 and provided care for orphans or children from broken homes. It closed in 1981, having looked after 11,600 children.

The death records indicate that most of the children died of natural causes, from diseases common at the time such as TB, pneumonia and pleurisy.
Analysis of the records show that a third of those who died were aged five or under. Very few of those who died, 24 in total, were aged over 15, and most of the deaths occurred between 1870 and 1930.

Given the prevalence of child death from those diseases at that time that’s not actually a bad outcome. Well, obviously, dead children is a bad outcome but comparatively…..

26 thoughts on “Children’s deaths in Lanarkshire”

  1. I must admit to clicking on the Beeb’s link to see what this latest scandal was all about.
    Then thinking about it, also knowing something of the living conditions and life expectancy during the time span they were talking about.
    I thought “Nah, a non-story.”

  2. Orphans(?) buried in a mass grave dating from times when there were probably no funds to pay for individual graves etc. And possibly no family to even attend a funeral.

    All very sad and a reflection of the miserable nature of life on this shite planet but where exactly is the story with any relevance to today?

    Since it is the BBC and apropos of Rees-Mogg bashing it is likely an attempt to peddle the “Catholic Iniquity” angle but surely this is scraping the bottom of an empty barrel.

  3. The mortality rate is actually noticeably *below* average for its time, which implies that the nuns did an impressively good job at caring for the children.
    In the mid-twentieth century ELT #!0 has 11.6% of children dying by the age of 15 which would lead one to expect 1,345 deaths among 11,600 orphans. Late Victorian era mortality was worse (and Lanarkshire, on a coalfield, had worse conditions and death rates). So the death rate is less than one-third of what you should expect.
    It takes a bigot to turn that it “a scandal”.

  4. “The mortality rate is actually noticeably *below* average for its time, which implies that the nuns did an impressively good job at caring for the children.”
    Not if you assume that many of the children would have arrived after the first, most dangerous, years of their life. I.e. after infancy and the corresponding infant mortality.

  5. Having done a lot of family history etc. with most in the lower classes, the mortality rate for say the last half of the 19th Century and early 20th is rather better than in my family and other connected families some in Lanarkshire. This might suggest that when there was a bad epidemic current the children were safer in the orphanage with its regular food and strict hygiene than being left in the poorest parts of the community.

  6. Oh good. An inquiry, probably at the cost of millions, into people who died so long ago that anyone responsible for them is also dead. 1961? So, the nuns who are in a position of responsibility would have been what, 35, 40 years old? Born in the 1920s, 1930s at a stretch. We’re going to what, check that none of them murdered one of the kiddies, despite the fact that the evidence will have probably been destroyed, then maybe we put them on trial, if they haven’t died in the meantime, then maybe, if they don’t die during the trial, we put them in a prison that is as comfortable as their current living arrangements.

    For fucks sake.

  7. “The bodies of hundreds of children are believed to be buried in a mass grave in Lanarkshire”

    The picture conjured is one of a huge open pit into which the still warm bodies of children are being hurled callously by laughing nuns.

    I am so sure that reading the story in full will paint a different picture that I’m not going to bother.

  8. @ NDReader
    You have to make some “heroic” assumptions in order to get expected mortality down to 3.4% over the period 1864-1930.

  9. NDReader “Not if you assume that many of the children would have arrived after the first, most dangerous, years of their life. I.e. after infancy and the corresponding infant mortality”

    Why would you assume that? If a child was born out of wedlock it would have been given away pronto.

  10. So, 3 deaths per year with an overall death rate of 3%. They should be congratulated for getting the absolute and relative death rate so low.

  11. Was it at this learned establishment that I recently read a comment along the lines of “The modal cause of death throughout human existence is shitting one’s life away in a field”.

    That this is a story shows just how far we have come in the last one hundred years.

  12. This reminds me of the horror stories about how many people die during or shortly after contact with the police. Given that people who have a contact with the police are going to include a relatively high proportion of people who are mentally-disturbed, violent, extremely drunk or drugged up, the already injured and various people at the end of their tether rather than the calm, stable, sober and healthy, it’s not really much of a surprise.
    Of course, there might be particular causes for concern but the headline figures alone tell us nothing much.

  13. Reminds me of my mother’s stories of small pox ravaging her home town, from two different epidemics. One before she was born, and another in 1925. Many died.

  14. AndrewC: If a child was born out of wedlock it would have been given away pronto.
    And yet, the article states “a third of those who died were aged five or under.” That’s surely a lower proportion than anyone would expect. So maybe the infant deaths you might expect were recorded elsewhere and buried elsewhere – a different grave or even a different institution.
    And maybe orphans and children from broken homes had a different age distribution on arrival compared with the illegitimate.

  15. @ NDReader
    You have a good point which is that AndrewC’s assumption only applies to a minority of those joiningthe orphanage – most would have been genuine orphans in an era when frightening numbers of mothers died in childbirth and mining (together with quarrying with which it was grouped) had the highest death and sickness rates of any civilian occupation.
    I don’t have easy access to mortality rates by age in Victorian times (I should need to go cap-in-hand to a library) but it looks as if over one-third of children died before the age of 10 in the 1870s, around one-third in the 1880s and around 1 in 6 in the 1890s.
    http://www.jbending.org.uk/stats3.htm
    Extrapolating from the age-related mortality rates in ELT #10 (I admit, before GlenDorran comes down on me like a ton of bricks, it is horribly imprecise but it should be in the right ball-park) would imply that mortality rates for 5-15 year-olds would be o(6%) until 1890 instead of the o(2%) figure from the data in the article. A gradual decline thereafter in the expected death rate would not get the 117-year average down to 2%.

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