Squalid Hovel their Prison – September 11, 1900

This news clipping was included in the Vancouver Board of Health’s records for 1900 [City of Vancouver Archives COV-S33] and transcribed in June of 2018 by volunteer Gerald Soon. Gerald points out that although someone has hand-written the date as September 12 1900, the article was published in the Vancouver Daily World on Tuesday Sept 11, 1899.

original news clipping here

Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, September 11, 1900


Five Children Shut Up for Years by Parents.

Misery of Their Conditions Indescribable – Dirty, Unclothed and Uncared for – Their Existence Unknown for a Long Period.

Five children held prisoners, for months and years in Vancouver, and in a loathsome hovel, too. Impossible!
Unlikely as this may seem, it is more than possible. It is an actual fact, and what is more horrible to believer is the statement that the jailers of the unfortunate children were the parents, who should by all laws of mature and society have been the first to shield and cherish the helpless little ones, surrounding them with the comforts within their means. But these helpless little ones were not even permitted to run and play in the glad sunshine and fresh air, nature’s free gifts, and certainly easy of attainment in this beautiful city.
It must shock the boasted pride in institutions, educational, religious and charitable, possessed by Vancouver, when the cold, hard statement of fact is made that for the past three years, more or less, there have been kept prisoners, living in a house on a leading thoroughfare, the entire family of a man and woman, supposedly respectable, hard-working people, and engaged in a business that led them into close contact with the public.
And these same parents have been the jailers of their unfortunate progeny who have been kept closely confined under lock and key within the walls of a small cottage. Not only this, but the place in which the children are kept – or were kept until Monday – was found by the officers who visited it to be in a state of indescribable filth, and the wretched little victims in a condition that beggars description.
But let the story be told in the words of the officer who brought the strong arm of the law into long-deferred action.
Officer Mulhern, who was detailed to the case said the The World reporter Monday night: “I am sorry I did not tell you this morning where I was going. Had I had any idea of what I was to discover, I would have invited you to come and see for yourself.
“In company with the health inspector, I went to the place of Wm. Cressell, a bicycle repairer, doing business on Westminster avenue, at the corner of Dufferin street, Mount Pleasant, to inquire into the condition of his premises and to see what truth there was in the many complaints that had reached the health office and police station from neighbors who claimed that the insanitary state of the place and the inhuman way to which the man’s children lived were nothing short of scandalous.
“We found the stories all double discounted by the actual and horrifying conditions that met our eyes when we investigated.
“The man Cressell keeps a shot at the corner of Dufferin street and Westminster avenue, and has a house two doors nearer the bridge. He is an Englishman, rather a clever mechanic, it is said his wife works in the shop with him, and he also employs an assistant. He carries quite a stock and has a good outfit of valuable tools.
“But it was to the other place, used as a dwelling, that we turned our steps. Havingf been warned that we might expect opposition, we approached the back door. The woman answered our knock and despite a look that was by no means friendly we pushed into the house. The room was a sort of kitchen, but was in a state of unmentionable nastiness. The inner room appeared to answer as a dining room, but it was as squalid as the other. A table that had not been cleared off for many a day stood covered with decaying vegetables, potato parings and the fragments of past meals. It was a sight that removed all trace of appetite from the beholder for some time.
“But the worst sight of all, and one which it is simply past me to find words to describe awaited our gaze when we pushed on through the fetid atmosphere of the den into a room nearer the front.
“Here, huddled on a mattress that lay on the floor within the sides of a bedstead, were five little children, ranging in age from a girl of 10 years down to an infant of 16 months, which the girl held in her arms wrapped in an old blanket.
‘The filth and squalor of the place was nothing compared to the condition those poor children were in. The older, the girl of 10, was clad only in a scanty and ragged cotton shift, which could not possibly have been more unclean. Her hair was matted and filthy and her body was mottled and discolored with dirt. The infant in her arms had no other clothing than the wretched blanket, and it looked as if it had never in its brief existence known the luxury of a bath. The other three children were in a similar condition. Not one of them was clothed other than with barely a shirt or similar garment.”
Such was the statement of the officer.
On inquiry, it seems that these poor little ones never knew what it was to go out in the pure, free God-given sunlight and air. Within the confines of that awful hovel, rivalling the Black Hole of Calcutta, the wretched helpless little ones dragged a miserable existence, compared to which the most severely punished criminal in the Dominion lives a happy live of freedom.
The inhuman parents of the five hapless little prisoners pleaded “poverty” and “hard luck” as their only excuses for a most reprehensible course which has extended over a period, not less than three years at the very least They did not even seem to be at all impressed with the enormity of their misdemeanor, for which it would be hard to find a suitable description in the calendar, and for which it would be harder to “make the punishment fit the crime.”
The children appeared to be naturally bright, and would have been as other children had they had an opportunity. All the neighbors, from whom, in fact, have come the complaints, growing gradually more urgent, unite in the main features of the continuance of this awful abuse of the duties of parent and citizen.
The closeness with which the pool little wretches have been confined is well illustrated by the statement of the neighbor who has been living not more than two blocks away and passed the place daily in all the three years and never knew the people had any children whatever.
So impressed were the officers that the case required drastic treatment, that while the inspector questioned Cressell on the cause of his living in such a vile state, and maintaining premises which were such a meagre to the health of himself and neighbors. Officer Mulhern telephoned Medical Health Office Dr. MacLean.
That gentleman, when he arrived and inspected the wretched prisoners, at once advised that it was clearly a case of “criminal neglect” on the father’s part to provide for the natural requirements of his children. A summons was obtained and Cressell called o appear in the Police court to-day, his assistant, Walter Dingli, being also summoned as a witness.
In view of the extremely aggravated circumstances of the whole case, it is held by some of those who have heard the particulars that summary arrest should have followed the discovery and the unnatural parents given no chance to escape punishment for their disgraceful crime.
As a denouement, it is said the bailiff has been put in Cressell’s shop to hold the stock for arrears of rent.
To-day when the premises were examined it was found that the house had been slightly improved in condition though still in a vile state. The children had been bathed and dressed and were in much better state. Up to the time the court sat the man Cressell had not been found to serve the summons upon. It is though he has cleared out.