More than 400 children died at a Scottish orphanage run by Catholic nuns and were buried in a single unmarked grave, according to a joint investigation by the BBC and Scotland’s Sunday Post.
The Smyllum Park Orphanage, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, was home to more than 11,000 children between its opening in 1864 and its closing in 1981 in Lanarkshire, Scotland.
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It was previously acknowledged that 158 children were buried in compartments at a nearby cemetery. But that number appears to be much higher.
According to archived death certificates, 402 babies, toddlers and children died at the orphanage between 1864 and 1981. Many of the children were buried in an unmarked mass grave at a nearby cemetery.
There are headstones for the graves of nuns and staff members who are buried in the cemetery, but no stone or memorial has ever recorded the names of the lost children, according to the investigation.
The death records show most of the children died of natural causes, from diseases such as TB, pneumonia, and pleurisy. About a third of those who died were age five or under, the BBC reported.
The investigation also found many allegations of abuse at the home, including beatings, punches, public humiliations and psychological abuse.
Former Scotland first minister Jack McConnell told the Sunday Post: “It is heartbreaking to discover so many children may have been buried in these unmarked graves.
“After so many years of silence, we must now know the truth of what happened here.”
History of Smyllum Park Orphanage
Smyllum Park Orphanage opened in 1864 and provided care for orphans or children from poor, working-class families and troubled homes. It closed in 1981, having looked after 11,600 children.
For many years, an unknown number of children were believed to have died in the home, but few details were available about how they died and where they were buried.
In 2003, a burial plot, containing the bodies of a number of children, was uncovered by two former residents of the home, according to The Guardian.
The religious organization that ran the home confirmed that Smyllum residents were buried there, BBC and Scottish newspapers stated. In 2004, the group said records suggested that 120 children had died at the orphanage, and their remains were buried in 158 compartments in the plot near the orphanage.
The allegations of abuse at Smyllum are currently being investigated by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. In June, representatives of The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul gave evidence to the inquiry in June and said they could find no evidence of abuse.
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The next phase of the inquiry hearings starts in November. The team is then expected to produce a report in 2019 with its findings and recommendations.
The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul said to the Sunday Post in a statement: “We are core participants in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and are co-operating fully with that inquiry.”
The recent findings of the Smyllum Park Orphanage follow the recent discovery of 800 babies and young children in a mass grave at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland.
DNA evidence of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to three years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children.
That orphanage home closed in 1961.
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