Sunday, 23 January 2011

Child and youth migration 1600-1980

Child migration played an important role in emigration as early as 1617 when the Virginia Company considered sending ‘vagrant’ children to the Americas. Although a hundred children were sent in 1619, question about its legality were not resolved until early 1620 when the Privy Council authorised child migration. Throughout the seventeenth century, children were sent to the American and Caribbean colonies in increasing numbers but this failed to meet the perennial labour shortage and in 1645 kidnapping or ‘spiriting’ children has grown to such an extent that Parliament made it a felony. This did not prevent the practice and in the 1740s, over 500 children were kidnapped for the colonies in Aberdeen and its surrounding area though it declined with the loss of the American colonies after 1775.

By the early-nineteenth century, there were increasing concerns about the numbers of children and young people especially, though not exclusively in urban areas, regarded as ‘outcasts’ within few prospects and a tendency to become involved in criminal activity. Some historians argue that this represented an ‘invention’ of juvenile crime but there was not so much an ‘invention’ as a ‘reconceptualisation’ of the juvenile offender during the nineteenth century.[1] Contemporary reports commented on the swarms of ragged children infesting the metropolis and investigations by social and penal reformers were heavily influenced by a hard-core of juvenile offenders. People’s awareness of juvenile crime was raised by the publication of Oliver Twist in 1837. Dickens shocked people with his description of the Artful Dodger and Fagin’s trained gang of metropolitan pickpockets. His story may have been fiction but it was successful in getting people thinking about child crime and how to deal with it. Discussion of juvenile offenders occurred in other parts of the country but it was rarely as influential as the metropolitan perspective. [2]

As a result, there was a proliferation of voluntary organisations, strongly motivated by evangelical zeal, and some state involvement in sponsoring migration as a means of improving the life chances of children. In 1830, the Children’s Friend Society, which aimed to reform outcast children, was formed and during the 1830s sent between 700 and 800 boys as child migrants to the Cape Colony and a smaller number to Toronto in Upper Canada. In 1849, Ragged Schools, a movement founded five years earlier, received £1,500 to send 150 children to NSW. The following year, Parliament enabled Poor Law Guardians with the consent of the Poor Law Board to fund the emigration of any child in their care. This led to some child migration as, for instance, the St Pancras Poor Law Guardians sent a small number of children to British colonies in the Caribbean. In 1875, John Doyle, Poor Law inspector was highly critical of some aspects of child migration to Canada and this led to a decline the number of children being sent abroad by workhouses, industrial schools and reformatories. Most child migrants now came from private care institutions.

The initial focus for migration was Canada. [3] Scottish-born evangelist, Annie Macpherson opened her House of Industry in Spitalfields in 1869 to encourage emigration of children from the deprived East End of London. [4] The following year, she escorted her first party of 100 children to a receiving centre at Belleville in Ontario. In 1872, she opened two further Canadian receiving homes at Galt in Ontario and Knowlton in Quebec arranging emigration parties from Barnardo’s, the Orphan Homes of Scotland (founded by William Quarrier) and the Smyly homes of Dublin as well as her own London Homes of Industry. [5] In this she received growing support from Thomas Barnardo who had begun his own work with the poor in London and who, by 1881, had embraced child migration enthusiastically. [6] The Custody of Children Act 1891, largely the work of Barnardo, legalised the work of private emigration societies in what had previously been a grey legal area. The Catholic Church was also involved in child migration that was pioneered by Father Nugent in Liverpool from 1870 but was centralised though the Archdiocese of Westminster’s ‘Crusade of Rescue’ in 1899.

The rhetoric of child migration changed in the early twentieth century and became less religious and more imperial in tone. The National Waifs Association published Emigration schemes for poor law children by Thomas Barnado in 1905 and Thomas Sedgwick wrote Lads for the Empire in 1914. Mrs Elinor Close adopted a new approach when, in 1903, she called for the training of workhouse children in Canadian farm schools before their placement with Canadian farmers. Kingsley Fairbridge popularised the farm school movement with the support of the Oxford-based Child Emigration Society and the offer of land near Perth by the Western Australian government. [7] From 1911 to 1939, the Dreadnought Trust subsidised youth migration to Australia, largely to NSW, with some government assistance. Fairbridge established the first home at Pinjarra, some thirty miles south-east of Perth. [8] The outbreak of war in 1914 ended all emigration from Great Britain but the often tentative approaches to child migration developed since 1900 laid the foundations for post-war developments.

British care societies resumed sending children to Canada in 1920 though on a smaller scale than before the war and increasingly the focus lay in Australia. The Empire Settlement Act in 1923 provided money from central government to assist emigration including child and youth migration. The first Barnardo child migrants arrived in NSW and Kingsley Fairbridge received substantial support from the Overseas Settlement Board in London for his farm school in Pinjarra and although he died the following year, his farm school movement was accepted as a superior approach to child migration. In 1924, Sir Richard Linton founded the Big Brother Movement in Sydney to encourage youth migration on a large scale. Child migration to Canada was ended during the global slump in the 1930s and there was also a significant reduction in the numbers of children going to Australia. Catholic leaders in Australia were also involved in child migration planning a farm school at Tardun that was staffed by the Christian Brothers in the mid-1920s but it was not until 1938 that the first 114 child migrants under Catholic auspices arrived in Western Australia. [9]

The outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 led to the suspension of child and youth migration. The publication of the Curtis Committee Report in 1944 heralded a change in child care principles. Social change meant that few British children were available for child migration and youth migration to Australia was far more popular. In 1952, John Moss, a retired Home Office inspector and member of the Curtis Committee toured Australian child care institutions and his report was sympathetic to child migration for some deprived British citizens. [10] However, a Home Office committee that visited Australia four years later was more critical in its analysis. Its confidential report was highly critical of some Australian care institutions and far less sympathetic to the whole idea of child migration. [11] Child migration had not resumed to Australia until 1947 with most migrants placed in Western Australian institutions and about half of the migrants were from Catholic families. The Big Brother Movement, NSW and Tasmania renewed its youth migration to Australia and during the 1950s brought 400 young men a year. Overall, some 12,500 teenagers came to Australia under the scheme since its inception in 1925 and 1983, when it ceased to sponsor youth migrants. British Catholic care organisations ended child migration in 1956. In 1967, the final nine child migrants came to Australia with the Barnardo organisation. In all, 7,000 child migrants came to Australia between 1947 and 1973 and 1,300 to NZ, Rhodesia and Canada. Child migrants were seen as an appropriate source of cheap labour on Canada’s farms, as a means of boosting Australia’s post-war population and as a way to preserve white, managerial elite in Rhodesia. One of the earlier motives of the schemes had been to maintain the racial unity of Britain’s Empire and certain groups of children were excluded as countries would not accept physically handicapped or black children. [12]

From the mid-1980s, there had been an intense controversy over child migration and especially the physical and sexual abuse migrants suffered. In 1986, the Child Migrant Trust was established to assist former child migrants find their relatives and reunited them with their families. The publication of Lost Children of the Empire in 1989 publicised child migration and encouraged popular and academic interest in the issue. [13] This was followed by the formation of organisations in Britain and Australia and government enquiries into child migration and legal action for compensation by former residents of Christian Brothers Boys Homes in Western Australia. In August 1998, the Western Australian Legislative Assembly passed a motion apologising to former child migrants for any abuse they had suffered in the state’s institutions during their childhood and In November 2009, Kevin Rudd the Australian Prime Minister apologised to the 500,000 ‘forgotten Australian’ who were abused or neglected in orphanages and children’s homes from 1930 to 1970 and those child migrants taken from Britain to Australia after the war often without their parents’ consent. [14] In February 2010, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the United Kingdom’s ‘shameful’ role in sending more than 130,000 children to former colonies where many suffered abuse. [15]


[1] Shore, Heather, Artful dodgers: youth and crime in early nineteenth-century London, (Royal Historical Society), 1999, Duckworth, Jeannie, Fagin’s Children: Criminal Children in Victorian England, (Hambledon), 2002, and Abbott, Jane, ‘The press and the public visibility of nineteenth-century criminal children’, in Rowbotham, Judith and Stevenson, Kim, (eds.), Criminal conversations: Victorian crimes, social panic, and moral outrage, (Ohio State University Press), 2005, pp. 23-39. See also, Carpenter, Mary, Reformatory schools for the children of the perishing and dangerous classes and for juvenile offenders, (C. Gilpin), 1851, and Adshead, Joseph, ‘On juvenile criminals, reformatories, and the means of rendering the perishing and dangerous classes serviceable to the state’, Transactions of the Manchester Statistical Society, (1855-6), pp. 67-122.

[2] Ibid, Harper, Marjorie, and Constantine, Stephen, Migration and Empire, pp. 247-276, provides an up-to-date analysis of child migration.

[3] Bagnell, Kenneth, The Little Immigrants: The orphans who came to Canada, (Macmillan), 1980, and Parr, Joy, Labouring Children: British immigrant apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924, (Croom Helm), 1980 provide a sound history of the Canadian migrations. See also, Dorbett, Gail H., Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada, (Dundurn Press), 2002, pp. 11-64, and Parker, Roy, Uprooted: The Shipment of Poor Children to Canada, 1867-1917, (The Policy Press), 2010.

[4] Lowe, Clara, M. S., God’s Answers: A Record of Miss Annie Macpherson’s Work at the Home of Industry, Spitalfields, London and in Canada, (Nisbet and Co.), 1882.

[5] Macpherson, Annie, Canadian Homes for London Wanderers, (Morgan, Chase & Scott), 1870, and Summer in Canada, (Morgan & Scott), 1872, furnish Macpherson’s views on child migration while, Christopher, Alfred, M. W., Visits to Miss Macpherson’s three homes for boys and girls in Canada, 1872, provides supportive comment.

[6] Wagner, G. M. M., Barnardo, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), 1979, and Williams, A. E., Barnardo of Stepney: the father of nobody’s children, (Allen and Unwin), 1966.

[7] See, Fairbridge, Kingsley, ‘Child Emigration to British Colonies’, The Child, Vol. 1, (1910), pp. 251-254, and Crane, Denis, John Bull’s Surplus Children: A Plea for Giving Them a Fairer Chgance, (Horce Marshall), 1915.

[8] Sherrington, Geoffrey, and Jeffery, Chris, Fairbridge: Empire and Child Migration, (Woburn Press), 1998, examines the creation of the Fairbridge child migration scheme and its history in Canada and Australia.

[9] Coldrey, D. M., Child Migration, the Australian Government and the Catholic Church, 1926-1966, (Tamanarick Publishing), 1992, remains an important study. See also, Gill, A., Orphans of the Empire: The Shocking Story of Child Migration to Australia, (Random House), 1997.

[10] Moss, John, Child Migration to Australia, (HMSO), 1953.

[11] Child migration to Australia: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, (HMSO), 1956.

[12] On post-war migration see, Paul, Kathleen, ‘Changing Childhoods: Child Emigration since 1945’, in Lawrence, Jon, and Starkey, Pat., (eds.), Child Welfare and Social Action in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: International Perspectives, (Liverpool University Press), 2001, pp. 121-143.

[13] Bean, Philip, and Melville, Joy, Lost Children of the Empire, (Unwin Hyman), 1989.

[14] Pierce, Peter, The Country of Lost Children: An Australian Anxiety, (Cambridge University Press), 1999, traces the ambivalent and disturbing history of the figure of the lost child.

[15] ‘Gordon Brown sorry for ‘shameful’ colonial child resettlement programme’, The Times, 25 February 2010.

1 comment:

Mervyn |Humphreys said...

The Child Migrants Trust was established in 1987 by Margaret Humphreys. No modern account of child migration history is complete without some reference to her work.