Doctor Of The Lost by Simon Blumenfeld
When Thomas Barnardo arrived in East London in 1866, he planned to train at the London Hospital before sailing to China to work as a missionary. The conditions he found in the East End stopped him in his tracks. The unemployment, poverty, overcrowding, drinking and disease were bad enough, but seeing thousands of destitute children living on the streets broke his heart.
Inside a year Barnardo had opened a ragged school and by 1870 the first of his homes was in operation. He faced opposition from jealous rivals and struggled to find the money to provide enough shelter, but following the death of Carrots, a boy turned away due to a lack of space, he determined to never refuse any child again. By the time of his death he had helped tens of thousands of children and his work continues to this day. Doctor Of The Lost is the fictionalised story of Dr Barnardo’s early years in East London.
While based on fact, Doctor Of The Lost is very much a novel, and author Simon Blumenfeld brings Barnardo’s character vividly to life. The likes of the Black Doctor, Splodger and Brad show the other personalities and forces at work. In with the poverty and hardship, we also see the colour and excitement of the markets, pubs and music halls of Mile End, Aldgate, Whitechapel.
The Black Doctor rides his mare Rachel through the East End, tending to the poor, insisting that political change, not religious belief, will help the area’s orphans. Splodger introduces Barnardo to the Black Doctor and dips in and out of the narrative, a heavy-drinking coalie last seen sober as he marches with the dockers to confront the bosses. Brad, meanwhile, plots to destroy Barnardo from a gentleman’s club, his obsession ending in a final, dramatic act.
Doctor Of The Lost shows London at a time of rampant industrialisation, when a few became very wealthy at the expense of the many, but it was also a period of charity and good works, when idealists such as Tom Barnardo were prepared to stand up and be counted.