Cuba

These photos capture a Cuba that does not exist anymore; a Cuba caught between its Spanish colonial heritage and the beginning of the 20th century. The photographs were taken by Charles Berchon, a Frenchman who wrote a book called “Six Months in Cuba” published in 1908.

In his preface Berchon wrote,

I am delighted with the land that I  have come to know, Cuba, the largest and most beautiful island of the Antilles, with its beneficent sunshine and glorious blue skies


The interior of a Cuban home belonging to well-to-do people.

The interior of a Cuban home belonging to well-to-do people.

In this picture we are given a glimpse into the sitting room of  a Havana home which clearly belongs to some well-to-do Cubans, likely belonging to the cultural and political elite that proudly traced its pedigree to Spain.

One of the things that I find interesting about this picture is the way the house is decorated. Notice that the paintings or wall hangings are angled about 45 degrees away from the wall. Also interesting are the foot rests.

In contrast to the genteel comfort of this house, are the following pictures which depict what life was like for persons of the lower classes.

A street hawker selling pots and pans on a Havana street

A street hawker selling pots and pans on a Havana street

This picture depicts a traveling street salesman. His entire stock of goods consisting of various pots and pans is balanced ingeniously on a hand-pushed cart.

In this picture we see a large number of foundling and orphan children at a Havana hospital. Most institutions like these were funded by private donations rather than public funds.

Children are laid out like cord wood in a Havana hospital. Did they use any sort of ID bracelets to keep them straight?

Children are laid out like cord wood in a Havana hospital. Did they use any sort of ID bracelets to keep them straight?

A private Havana club.  Its members enjoy a good cigar.

Enjoying a cigar at an exclusive Havana social club.

Enjoying a cigar at an exclusive Havana social club.

As now, the production of tobacco and cigars was a mainstay of the Cuban economy. In the picture below workers are seen preparing bales of tobacco by moistening it.

Preparing the Tobacco Leaves for Market, Havana, Cuba 1908

Preparing the Tobacco Leaves for Market, Havana, Cuba 1908

A picture of a tobacco merchant:

Tobacco Salesman, Cuba 1908

Tobacco Salesman, Cuba 1908

Workers at a Cigar Factory

Workers at a Cigar Factory

In this photograph you can see some of the workers who rolled the cigars. Then as now, it was a labor intensive process that required each cigar to be rolled by hand. What I find interesting about this picture is how the manager or foreman is seated on a raised seat from which vantage point he can survey the entire shop floor. One can imagine the kind of dictatorial management style that must have been employed.

A Cuban Farm Family

A Cuban Farm Family

In this picture a Cuban farm family is depicted. Not the baby on the right of the picture: he appears to be suckling milk directly from the family goat’s teat.

A High Society Cuban Lady

A High Society Cuban Lady

A Young Cuban Beauty

A Young Cuban Beauty

And so now we have reached the end of our six month’s stay in Cuba and we must say goodbye forever to the Cuba of 1908.

Orphanages

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

Those who believe in the good old days and believe that, overall, things are getting worse in society are likely ill-acquainted with what life was like in the great cities of England and America during the late 19th century and early 20th century. With almost no government run social services to fall back on, the poor lived a hard scrabble life.  As usual, those who suffered the most were  the children,  who often represented an impossible burden to an impoverished family.

Thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were left to fend for themselves in great squalor and poverty.  Few did anything about it.

One man that did care was Dr. Thomas Barnardo, (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) an Irish born British philanthropist. Shocked by the poverty and appalling living conditions of children throughout the British Isles, Barnardo set up a series of homes for orphans and foundlings.

The first of the “Dr Barnardo’s Homes” was opened in 1870 in London and by the time that Barnardo died, in 1905, there were 112 such homes established. It is estimated that during his career, Barnardo saved 60,000 children.  The Barnardo organization still exists in England.

In 1893, the Strand Magazine, which described itself as “An Illustrated Monthly” ran an article about Barnardo and his orphanage. Pictured below is what the article described as Dr. Bernardo’s Babies’ Castle in Hawkurst. At the time of the article, 1893, Barnardo ran 28 such orphanages.

A Phorotgraph of Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle

The magazine included an obviously staged photograph of a foundling supposedly dropped off at the front steps of the orphanage.  The caption reads: “To Dr. Barnardo With Care”

An Orphan Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo's Orphanage

An Orphan Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo's Orphanage

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Less obviously staged were the pictures of the inside of the orphanage and the nurses and children who lived there.

In the picture to the left the orphans are depicted praying before bedtime. The Barnardo organization cared about instilling virtues in its young charges. While the Barnardo home offered love and protection to the children, the conditions were still not ideal by today’s standards. Notice the overcrowded communal living. The children are all in beds with metal railings in a single room.

Meals were also communal. In this picture the children are eating heir meals in the large dining hall.  The article describes the portions for the children as abundant, so at least this was not an Oliver Twist style workhouse.

Orphans Eating Dinner

Orphans Eating Dinner

The younger children were given nap time in the afternoon as this picture illustrates:

Nap Time at the Orphanage

Nap Time at the Orphanage

The orphanage was run by nurses and religious sisters.  Here are some pictures of the staff:

Sister Alice

Sister Alice

A nurse at the orphanage giving a bath.

A nurse at the orphanage giving a bath.

A Quiet Pull

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo's Home for Children

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo's Home for Children

The pictures below are interesting in many ways. The children certainly appear well cared for. There is no apparent malnutrition and they are wearing nice clothes. It is also interesting that the pictures depict the faces and identities of the children,  which speaks to the different concepts of privacy that existed back then.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.

The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the orphanage

The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the orphanage

And so, like the picture above, it is time to say goodbye to this piece of history.

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