An ‘orphaned mite of blue-eyed, wondering humanity’: Adoption, sentiment, suspicion and the poor laws

Workhouse Tales

In 1878, The Cambrian newspaper departed from its usual dry reporting of the meetings of Swansea’s Guardians of the Poor to publish an account of a ‘child adoption’, in which a female child was taken from the workhouse to be ‘adopted’ by a local woman. The only comparable entry in the guardians’ minute book is from their meeting on 22 August and relates to a Mrs Esau’s application to ‘adopt’ Bessie Havard, it was written without any of the drama and relish of The Cambrian’s version which I have copied in full below. I don’t know how much sentimental licence the newspaper used and to what extent it was a true representation of the guardians’ conversation, but its worth reproducing verbatim as the text raises many questions which I explore below.

The Cambrian, 6 September 1878, ‘Child adoption’.

“There, take her, and God bless you!”

Twas a Guardian of the Poor of the Swansea…

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