This is the fifteenth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases
Thomas William Kerrigan: The Lost Boy
“Thomas Kerrigan – 26 of May, 1910: The undersigned priest of Prince Albert buried in the cemetery of this parish the body of Thomas Kerrigan deceased yesterday at the orphanage at the age of nine years. H. Lacoste O.M.I.”
While researching on FamilySearch.org for information about the British Home Children in Prince Albert, I discovered this brief note, handwritten. Thomas William Kerrigan, one of the children at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage, died on 26 May 1910. He was 9 years old.
The Saskatchewan Catholic Church Records, 1846-1957, a database with images, is digitally preserved on FamilySearch. It contains records of baptisms, marriages, burials from 1908 to 1913 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert.
To learn more about the circumstances of Thomas’ death, I contacted Janice Trudel, Archivist at the Roman Catholic of the Diocese of Prince Albert. Janice was able to locate his burial plot in Lot 09, Block 33 of the Old Catholic Cemetery in PA. I hope to visit his grave when the snow disappears next spring.
I checked the spring 1910 issues in the newspaper collection at the Bill Smiley Archives, Prince Albert Historical Society, for a story or obituary but came up empty. I then contacted eHealth Saskatchewan (vital statistics) for a copy of Thomas Kerrigan’s death record and was sent the following reply:
“We advise that our search failed to locate any such death. In such cases it is usually due to one of the following reasons:
• The event was not registered at the time that it occurred.
• The evet occurred in a year other than those we searched [1907 to 1913].
• The event occurred under particulars other than those provide by you.
• The event did not occur in Saskatchewan.”
I believe the reason is #1: the priests at Sacred Heart Cathedral did not register the boy’s death with provincial authorities.
In my third column in the “Shattered Lives” series, published in this newspaper on 26 May 2022 (eerily, the 112th anniversary of Thomas’ death), I reported on the telephone conversation I had with 100-year-old Machel Johnston (born Eileen Daly), daughter of Daniel Daly, one of the British Home Children at St. Patrick’s. Daly lived at the orphanage at the same time as Thomas Kerrigan. Machel told me that her father told her a boy at the orphanage died due to the abuse he experienced at the hands of a “very bad” priest. The boy suffered to the point that he stopped eating and grew very thin. When Daniel reported the abuse, he was sent at age 15 to live on the orphanage’s farm. “They got rid of him quite quick,” Machel said. It is possible that the abused boy was Thomas Kerrigan, but I have no way of confirming this.
Six-year-old Thomas had been sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage from England in 1907 with 20 other children; he was sponsored by the Southwark Catholic Children’s Rescue Society. His ship, the Empress of Britain embarked from Liverpool on July 12th and arrived in Quebec on July 18th.
Born in Surbiton, Surrey, England on 31 March 1901, Thomas had a difficult early childhood. His father John Joseph Kerrigan (abt 1871- ), a milkman, was convicted of the attempted murder of Eva Rix in June 1903 and sentenced to ten years in jail. A full transcript of his trial can be found at www.oldbaileyonline.org. Kerrigan had deceived Eva Rix, a domestic servant, into thinking he would marry her. He persuaded the young woman, who did not know he was already married, to withdraw all her savings from the bank in order to invest in a milk business in Wimbledon. On the way to look at the shop, Kerrigan threw her to the ground and attempted to strangle her and steal her money.
The Illustrated Police News reported on 11 July 1903 that Thomas’ mother Bertha Mary (Asbury) Kerrigan (abt 1872 – ) was left in dire straits:
“A HARD CASE – Sad Lot of the Woman Who Married a Scoundrel. An unhappy lot that of Mrs. Bertha Kerrigan, the wife of a criminal. Her husband, a milkman. was sent to penal servitude for attempting to murder servant girl whom he had courted, swindled, and got tired of. Mrs. Kerrigan is left with four children to support and has now been ordered by the landlord to leave her home in Spring Grove, Kingston. She appealed to the magistrates to help her to get a separation or a divorce, but was informed that, while they sympathized with her, they could do nothing. She had, she said, nowhere go”
Bertha handed all four of her children over to rescue societies. They were all sent separately to Canada, all at 11 years old with the exception of Thomas who was six. John Albert Kerrigan, born 15 September 1895, was shipped off to Ottawa on the Tunisian on 31 April 1906; Elizabeth Kerrigan, born 18 January 1897, sailed aboard the Tunisian from Liverpool on 31 April 1908; and Edward James Kerrigan, born 28 January 1903, arrived in Quebec on the Corsican on 25 October 1915.
Thomas had spent some time in the Mile End Workhouse, Middlesex, London before being sent to Canada in 1907. The cause of his death three years later at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage remains a mystery. I have shed more than one tear for this unfortunate, lost boy.
Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan R-A1594.
Thomas Kerrigan may be in this group photo taken at St. Patrick’s orphanage after 1906.
Saskatchewan Catholic Church Records, 1846-1957, FamilySearch.org
Record in French of Thomas’ death from Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert.