Smyllum Orphanage death toll feared to be up to 400

Smyllum Park children's home, Lanark. Pic Neil Hanna
Smyllum Park children's home, Lanark. Pic Neil Hanna

Claims are being made that the death toll of children during the 120 years of Lanark’s Smyllum Orphanage’s existence could be almost four times that originally estimated.

Allegations by the BBC and a national Sunday newspaper that up to 400 orphans were laid to rest at St Mary’s cemetery rather than the previous estimate of 120 has led to calls for an underground radar study of the graveyard to be made to finally establish the true figure.

The fresh calculation of the number of the lost children of Smyllum buried in unmarked graves is understood to be based partly on the high child mortality rates of the pre-Second World War era being applied to the number of 10,000 youngsters who passed through the orphange, run by the Daughters of Charity order from the 1860s to the start of the 1980s.

Over a decade ago, it was the Gazette that first made public calls by Smyllum survivors for a proper memorial stone to be erected at St Mary’s Cemetery to the then-estimated 100 to 120 orphans lying there in unmarked graves.

The memorial was duly created with financial help from the order and has been the site of an annual act of homage by ex-Smyllum inmates ever since.

Interest in the issue of the lost children of Smyllum has been revived recently with the start of the official Scottish Government inquiry into claims of historic child abuse at various institutions.

Past events at Smyllum Orphange were probed on the very first day of the inquiry earlier this year, and the current administration of the Daughters of Charity came in for criticism after claiming that records relating to its years of running the Lanark orphanage could no longer be found.

That fuelled speculation that earlier estimates of Smyllum orphans who died of natural causes and from possible neglect and malnutrition in its care over 120 years might be well out.

It is now claimed that research shows that, on average, one child died at the orphanage every three months, vastly boosting the previous estimate given by the order, representatives of which will be quizzed again at future sessions of the child abuse inquiry.

Before those sessions resume later this year, some want a full scientific investigation to be made of St Mary’s Cemetery to try to establish as far as possible exactly how many children are buried in the section of the graveyard reserved for Smyllum orphans, staff and nuns.