Young Immigrants to Canada

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Washwell House and Harriett Catherine and Alice Wemyss

Harriett Catherine Wemyss [born c1841] and her sister, Alice, [born c1848] were the children of Captain Francis Wemyss of the Bombay Engineers. These two ladies took a special interest in social conditions of the day. Washwell house from the street Door to Washwell House

Harriett served for many years on the Stroud Board of Guardians. She took a special "interest in the administration of the Poor Law, and she was among the first to realize the need of removing from the class of in-and-outs of the workhouse those helpless girls, styled feeble-minded, whose unrestrained existence made them a danger to themselves and to posterity. In 1890 she founded a home for mentally feeble women, which was the precursor of dozens of others all over the country, and showed how these girls might be kept by kindness when there was no power of legal detention. Later she interested herself in the more general schemes for dealing with the mentally defective which culminated in the passing of the Mental Deficiency Act, and since then she has served for many years as a co-opted member of the Committee of the Gloucestershire County Council for administering that Act. In earlier years Miss Wemyss had thrown herself, with her characteristic energy, into the movement for emigrating destitute boys, accompanying them personally over the seas, in all the discomfort of a steerage passage; and many are the letters from successful men in Canada and elsewhere that have come in as grateful tokens of the help that gave them their chance in life." [The Times, August 20, 1928] Washwell house from the back

Harriett also took an interest in the treatment of animals and fought for the prevention of cruelty to animals, even to the point of appearing several times in court. The Times finished with, "She gave in all things an example of courage, love, and generosity which inspired many more followers than she herself ever imagined she had. The spirits of these two old ladies will long hover over the grey roofs of their little Cotswold town."

Washwell House, in the village of Painswick, Gloucestershire, was the home of Harriett and her sister Alice. As with many of the village houses, the street side of the house does not present its best side. The entrance to Washwell House from the street is by a large white door covered by a small peaked roof.

The sisters brought children to Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario in the late 1880s and very early 1890s. Miss Wemyss, however, appears on the passenger list for the SS Circasian on May 7, 1873 accompaning a party of children with Miss Macpherson. From this we can assume that she was involved in the child emigration movement several years before she opened her home at Washwell House in the mid-1880s or was at least investigating the work of Annie Macpherson. View from Washwell House View from Washwell House

Originall there were three separate cottages but they were joined together to form Washwell House. You can notice this in the roof line which shows the original buildings.

The back of Washwell House is the garden side and it is a large garden. At one time a tennis court was in the garden but not in the time of the children. The house is situated on the side of a hill, as is the village of Painswick. The view over the hills from the back of Washwell House is wonderful to behold. Views over the hills, even on a hazy day, are breathtaking.

Mrs. Eliza Steel ran the school at Washwell House for Miss Wemyss. We also know that the children were accompanied to Canada by Miss Merry [Annie Macpherson's neice], Miss Hart and Miss Annie Gertrude Laver. Parties on the Polynesian in 1888, Sardinian in 1889, Circasian in 1890 and Sardinian in 1891 can definitely be attributed to the Wemyss but there are other parties as well or a child or two mixed in with one of the Marchmont parties. Plaque in honor of the Wemyss Sisters in the Painswick church

There were a number of very young children in the parties that came from Washwell House. Many of these young children, it appears, were adopted into Canadian families - what form this adoption took is not known. Letters from some of the children, which appeared in the Painswick Magazine, a local publication, report on happy situations in Canada.

Harriett and Alice were remembered by villagers for sharing their Sunday roast with those less fortunate in the village and for their kindness to animals. They died within months of each other. Alice died on February 26, 1928 at the age of 79. Harriett died a few months later on August 14, 1928 aged 86 years. A Plaque in honour of the Wemyss can be found in the village church.

Plaque reads:
In Memory Of Two Sisters
Harriett Catherine & Alice Wemyss Who Lived At Washwell House Painswick For Over Half A Century And Died In 1928: Alice On February 26 Aged Seventy-Nine And Harriett On August 14 Aged Eighty-Six Their All-Embracing Sympathy Brightened The Lives Of Countless Fellow-Creatures And Shielded Many An Animal From Cruelty And Neglect
Go and do thou likewise


UWInfo | Young Immigrants | 19th Century Immigration | Genealogy | Local History

© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1998-2010
Last updated: October 26, 2010 and maintained by Marj Kohli