William Rooks 1885 to 1905.
A SKELTON LAD'S CANADIAN ADVENTURE AND A TRAGIC END.
William Rooks, was born in the first quarter of 1885 at 1 Back Lane, Skelton.
His Father, another William Rooks, came originally from Danby and worked as a Quarryman, probably at the sandstone quarry in Skelton
nearby on the Hills.
His mother, Mary Ann came from Great Ayton. He was their sixth child and they would have nine in all, which was about average for
By the time of the 1891 census the family had moved to No 1 [later 11] John St, New Skelton and by 1901 had moved again to 8 Thomas St,
New Skelton. William was now aged 16 and working as a Farm Labourer. During the next three years he made the acquaintance of John
Beeforth, probably a fellow farm worker, who came from Fryup and in 1904 the two lads decided to emigrate to Canada.
One can imagine their high hopes and boyish excitement as they saved their meagre wages for the train fare to Liverpool and the cost of
a steamship ticket, some 5 to 8 pounds, to take them across the Atlantic.
It must have been a great wrench for a nineteen year old village lad, who had probably never been far from home before, to say Goodbye to his
family, possibly forever. It also took some courage to set out with a few possessions on a 3,000 mile journey into the unknown.
The 14th of July 1904 saw them sailing out of Liverpool aboard the "SS Tunisian" bound for the port of Quebec, Canada.
Their final destination according to the Passenger List was Ottawa, where presumably they had some prior knowledge of work opportunities.
The ships records also noted that they were "able to read and write".
Ticket number 65504 was issued jointly to William and John, aged 20, for the cheapest and lowest class of accommodation, "Steerage".
The shipping lines made the bulk of their profits from this class of passenger.
Although the Tunisian was a new ship in 1900, steerage
had long had a bad reputation for cramming in as many passengers as possible with poor
Service for steerage passengers on board the Tunisian, 1900.
food, ventilation and sanitation, thus creating the perfect conditions for the spread of disease.
The passage took about ten days depending on conditions and emigrants often arrived hungry, dirty and ill from more than just sea sickness.
The Canadian authorities took precautions against the probability of emigrants introducing contagious diseases by keeping all arrivals
in quarantine on an island called Grosse Ile, in the middle of the St Lawrence river for up to 40 days.
The two Yorkshire lads finally ended up in a town called New Liskeard, which had not been long founded, as the first settlements in the area
were not made until 1891.
What lodgings they found and whether they obtained employment is not known, but living conditions must
have been fairly primitive.
Sadly, just five months later William Rooks contracted meningitis and after four days died on the 2nd January 1905.
What happened to John Beeforth is not known.
William came from a generation of men who were to know tragedy only too well, for, had he lived, he may well have found himself on a ship
back across the Atlantic with the gallant Canadian troops who did so much for the Allied cause in the First World War.
His parents, back in Skelton, would receive more heart breaking news at that time.
William's younger brother Allan would be killed on the 14th September 1916 in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme.
The sad story of his brother James is told on Page 21 of this section of the website.
[The photographs and information on this page have been kindly contributed by William's nephew, Owen Rooks, also a native of Skelton and
now living in Sunderland.]