It is six years since I first wrote about William Onion and now my biography of him is nearing completion. Every time I revisit the sources, I discover something new, which helps build a picture of his character to supplement the facts. In the early stages of his drunken career, that allegedly accumulated a thousand convictions, Onion was repeatedly found singing in cemeteries late at night. He said that he was merely paying his respects to his deceased father. The newspapers and courts mocked him for not knowing where his father was buried.
Onion was three when his father died from alcoholism. He remembered attending the funeral before he was sent away to relatives in Hull. Quite possibly he was unaware of the burial place. The song he always sang was “Father, come Home,” which is about a little girl pleading in vain for her drunken father to return home before her brother dies. It became an anthem for the temperance moment.
Years later Onion joined that movement, using his experiences to help dissuade others from crime and strong drink. It is my belief that he wanted to take this step much later and that singing “Father, come home,” reflected his own struggles with alcoholism.