For Alfred George Henry Lay you get the sense that family was not a big deal for him up until his marriage to Kate Short in 1892. There is no mention of any member of his family in his diaries, except for that of Kate, in the entry ‘Adventure’.
We find out in the biographical entry to Alfred’s diary that he has had a difficult time when it comes to family as a child. His mother, ‘Sarah died in 1877 after the birth of a daughter’. Alfred would have been just 8 years old when Sarah passed, leaving Alfred and his siblings without a massive part of their lives. Losing their mother would have left them without someone they can look up to, without someone who loves them unconditionally and someone who has been with them everyday of their lives.
Shortly after Sarah’s death, Alfred’s father, ‘Samuel William placed Alfred and at least four other children in an Aylesbury orphanage.’ In what would have already been a traumatic time for Alfred and his brothers and sisters, they now must deal with the loss of their father. Due to their abandonment, not only have they lost their mother and father, they have lost their home and life. Their everyday life would have changed, they have gone from a home where they would have been loved and cared for to a place where they know no body, without the same kindness that they would have had.
Merryn Allingham states that ‘a contrary strand of Victorian thought held it was incumbent on Christian charity to provide at least basic support, and that included caring for orphaned children’ (Allingham, N.d., N.pag) She highlights that the level of care that is provided for the children is less that what they need. For Alfred and his siblings, by not going to a place where they will get the care that they need after the loss of their mother would have a major effect on their childhood.
In a time when Alfred and his siblings needed their father. A time when they needed to feel loved, comforted and to be told that everything is going to be alright, he left them feeling alone and unwanted. This, along with Alfred spending a lot of time at sea contributes to the lack of family mentioned in his diary. He leads a very lonely life constantly moving from place to place without anything to come home to.
Before Alfred’s marriage to Kate in 1892, he spent a lot time at sea, firstly through his apprenticeship and particularly in the states as mentioned in the entry ‘America’. For Alfred travelling was his alternative to family life. After his apprenticeship he states,’ then I took it into my head that I would go to Australia or America’ (21). He set sail for America ‘on the 29 of September’ (22) 1889. Alfred wanted to explore the world, see new places and meet new people before settling down with family.
Allingham, Merryn. ‘The Rise of the Orphanage’. Merrynallingham.com. N.d. Accessed 22 May 2020.