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Thread: British Home Children

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    Default British Home Children

    Home Children is a common term used to refer to the child migration scheme founded by Annie Macpherson in 1869, under which more than 100,000 children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa from the United Kingdom.

    History of British child migration:

    The practice of sending poor or orphaned children to British settler colonies, to help alleviate the shortage of labour, began in 1618, with the rounding-up and transportation of 100 vagrant children to the Virginia Colony.[1] Labour shortages in the British colonies also encouraged the kidnapping of children for work in the Americas, and large numbers of children were forciblly emigrated, mostly from Scotland. This practice continued until it was exposed in 1757, following a civil action against Aberdeen businessmen and magistrates for their involvement in the trade.[2]

    The Children’s Friend Society was founded in London in 1830, as "The Society for the Suppression of Juvenile Vagrancy, through the reformation and emigration of children". The first group of children was sent to the Cape Colony in South Africa and the Swan River Colony in Australia in 1832 and in August 1833, 230 children were shipped to Toronto and New Brunswick, Canada.[2]

    The main pioneers of child migration in the nineteenth century were the Scottish Evangelical Christian, Annie McPherson, her sister Louisa Birt, and Londoner, Maria Rye. Whilst working with poor children in London in the late 1860s McPherson was appalled by the child slavery of the matchbox industry and resolved to devote her life to these children. In 1870 she bought a large workshop and turned it into the "Home of Industry", where poor children could work and be fed and educated.[3] She later became convinced that the real solution for these children lay in emigration to a country of opportunity and started an emigration fund. In the first year of the fund's operation, 500 children, trained in the London homes, were shipped to Canada.[3] McPherson opened distribution homes in Canada in the towns of Belleville and Galt in Ontario and persuaded her sister, Louisa, to open a third home in the village of Knowlton, seventy miles from Montreal. This was the beginning of a massive operation which sought to find homes and careers for 14,000 of Britain's needy children.[3]

    Maria Rye also worked amongst the poor in London and had arrived in Ontario with 68 chilldren (50 of whom were from Liverpool) some months earlier than McPherson, with the blessing of The Archbishop of Canterbury and The Times newspaper.[5] Rye, who had been placing women emigrants in Canada since 1867, opened her home at Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1869, and by the turn of the century had settled some 5,000 children, mostly girls, in Ontario.[5]

    The emigration schemes were not without their critics and there were many rumours of ill-treatment of the children by their employers and of profiteering by the organisers of the schemes, particularly Maria Rye.[6] In 1874 The London Board of Governors decided to send a representative, named Andrew Doyle, to Canada to visit the homes and the children to see how they were faring.[6] Doyle's report praised the women and their staff, especially McPherson, saying that they were inspired by the highest motives, but condemned almost everything else about the enterprise.[7] He said that the attitude of the women in grouping together children from the workhouses, who he said were mostly of good reputation, with street children, who he considered mostly thieves, was naive and had caused nothing but trouble in Canada.[7] He was also critical of the checks made on the children after they were placed with settlers, which in Rye's case were mostly non-existent, and said that:

    Because of Miss Rye's carelessness and Miss MvPherson's limited resources, thousands of British children, already in painful circumstances, were cast adrift to be overworked or mistreated by the settlers of early Canada who, were generally honest but often hard taskmasters.[8]

    The Canadian House of Commons subsequently set up a select committee to examine Doyle's findings and there was much controversy generated by his report in Britain, but the schemes continued with some changes[9] and were copied in other countries of the British Empire.[10]

    In 1909, South African born Kingsley Fairbridge founded the "Society for the Furtherance of Child Emigration to the Colonies" which was later incorporated as the Child Emigration Society. The purpose of the society, which later became the Fairbridge Foundation, was to educate orphaned and neglected children and train them in farming practices at farm schools located throughout the British Empire. Fairbridge emigrated to Australia in 1912, where his ideas received support and encouragement.[11]

    According to the British House of Commons Child Migrant's Trust Report, "it is estimated that some 150,000 children were dispatched over a period of 350 years—the earliest recorded child migrants left Britain for the Virginia Colony in 1618, and the process did not finally end until the late 1960s." Though it was widely believed that all of these children were orphans, it is now known that most had living parents, some of whom had no idea what had happened to their children after they were left in care homes, with some led to believe that their children had been adopted somewhere in Britain.[12]

    Child emigration was suspended for economic reasons during the Great Depression of the 1930s but was not completely terminated until the 1970s.[12][13]

    As they were compulsorily shipped out of Britain, many of the children were deceived into believing their parents were dead, and that a more abundant life awaited them.[14]

    While many children were welcomed into loving homes, some were exploited as cheap agricultural labour. Many of the home children were denied proper shelter and education and were often not allowed to socialize with native children. It was common for home children to run away, sometimes finding a caring family or better working conditions.

    The Golden Bridge,is an online exbibition created by IRISS which tells the story of child migration to Canada from Scotland. It includes a collection of photographic images from the 1860s depicting children and staff at different stages of the migration journey as well as Quarriers' Narratives of Fact, annual reports which provide detailed accounts of children migrated to Canada.

    I am the granddaughter of a British Home Child. This morning I found a record of her passage from Liverpool to Canada:

    Surname: McGOWAN
    Given Name: Victoria
    Age: 13
    Sex: F
    Ship: Corsican
    Year of Arrival: 1912
    Departure Port: Liverpool
    Departure Date: 26 July 1912
    Arrival Port: Quebec
    Arrival Date: 03 August 1912
    Party: Catholic Emigration Association
    Destination: Ottawa, Ontario
    Comments: 48 girls
    Source: Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothčque et Archives CanadaReference: RG76 C 1 a
    Microfilm: T-4789
    Type of Record: Passenger Lists/Listes de passagers


    It is a humbling experience to be reading about a 13 year old child leaving her world, her family, her life as she knew it, and embarking upon a new life, whatever image of "new life" was painted for her. It is doubly humbling realising that had it not been for my gran crossing the pond, despite the less than stellar circumstances requiring such, I wouldn't even be here today.

    Ossi, I really need to thank so much. I owe you a great debt. After our chat last night, I stayed up all night searching for my gran's passage records. It bothered me that I didn't know the exact reason why she came, although I had suspicions of course. I didn't know about Home Children until today. I won't ever know the exact reasons why she was sent here: out of love and the promise of a different (and possibly better) future or out of sheer lack of caring and the inability of her family to provide for her. I'd rather think positively about this of course and think that such was motivated by love. And I don't know how well her Canadian family treated her. But I am reassured that she wasn't alone: she did have brothers here working at the same farm or at least in the same area.

    By the way, check out the list of names on the ship manifest:

    Surname Given Name Age Sex Ship Year of Arrival

    1. HARRINGTON Annie 15 F Corsican 1912
    2. McDOWELL Annie 13 F Corsican 1912
    3. GARRETT Annie 19 F Corsican 1912
    4. HOLMES Annie 13 F Corsican 1912
    5. RYAN Catherine 11 F Corsican 1912
    6. THOMAS Catherine 13 F Corsican 1912
    7. REID Christina 14 F Corsican 1912
    8. FEARON Edith 14 F Corsican 1912
    9. DUDDIN Elizabeth 15 F Corsican 1912
    10. COTTER Elizabeth 17 F Corsican 1912

    11. KELLY Elizabeth 11 F Corsican 1912
    12. COSTELLO Elizabeth 15 F Corsican 1912
    13. McGUINNESS Ellen 11 F Corsican 1912
    14. SMITH Ellen 14 F Corsican 1912
    15. GLEANON Esther 12 F Corsican 1912
    16. HEMMING Florence 29 F Corsican 1912
    17. DOWLING Gertrude 12 F Corsican 1912
    18. COTTER Isabella 14 F Corsican 1912
    19. HIGGINS Julia 13 F Corsican 1912
    20. COYLE Margaret 13 F Corsican 1912

    21. LATCHFORD Margaret 17 F Corsican 1912
    22. HAGAN Margaret 11 F Corsican 1912
    23. LOWERY Margaret 13 F Corsican 1912
    24. PRINCE Maria 11 F Corsican 1912
    25. WEIGHILL Maria 11 F Corsican 1912
    26. GOULDING Mary 12 F Corsican 1912
    27. BROWN Mary 16 F Corsican 1912
    28. AMOS Mary 14 F Corsican 1912
    29. JUDGE Mary 13 F Corsican 1912
    30. LYONS Mary 13 F Corsican 1912

    31. AMOS Mary 14 F Corsican 1912
    32. JUDGE Mary 13 F Corsican 1912
    33. LYONS Mary 13 F Corsican 1912
    34. O'DOWD Mary 11 F Corsican 1912
    35. SWEENEY Mary 11 F Corsican 1912
    36. KELLSHER Mary 11 F Corsican 1912
    37. INGRAM Maud 15 F Corsican 1912
    38. HEATON Rose 13 F Corsican 1912
    39. BEAKSON Sarah 15 F Corsican 1912
    40. CAIN Sarah 11 F Corsican 1912

    41. DEVINE Sarah 11 F Corsican 1912
    42. DUNN Sarah 13 F Corsican 1912
    43. McANDREW Sarah 11 F Corsican 1912
    44. McGOWAN Victoria 13 F Corsican 1912
    45. HARRINGTON Violet 11 F Corsican 1912
    46. BURKE Winifred 13 F Corsican 1912
    47. SHERRY Winifred 14 F Corsican 1912
    48. BLAKE Winifred 13 F Corsican 1912


    It seems that the Costellos and the McGowans stuck together. I'm now suspecting that this Elizabeth Costello might have been my gran's good friend, Mrs Butler. According to family stories, Mrs. Butler was on the ship with her coming across the pond and they were life-long friends.

    Anyway, there's some great online stuff out there on this part of England's history for anybody who is interested. I just subscribed to this website today:

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    Another online website/article I found on the subject from Home Children Canada:

    Why were they sent here?

    In 1618, 200 English boys were sent to Richmond, Virginia, to work on plantations. And so began Britain's history of ridding itself of surplus population-including children-by rescuing them from family, the streets, and workhouses, then shipping them to established colonies or planters' outposts in the New World. Many were exported to penal colonies for perceived misdemeanors such as stealing food. The Industrial Revolution did not help; even more people were locked out of the workforce. And when slavery was abolished a new demand was created for the cheapest alternative labour force-children. The Great Famine that swept all of Europe but was particularly severe in Ireland exacerbated matters. Hundreds of thousands flocked to England's industrial centres which were ill-prepared to accommodate them. Slums and their attendant problems grew at a rapid rate. Child migration was seen as the cheapest way of saving children while lessening a costly social economic, political and moral problem. Some think that the approaching new millennium was also a factor and that philanthropists and believing politicians felt they need take only stop-gap measures and not really address the problem of poverty because the Lord's second coming would rectify matters completely.

    There were pull as well as push factors. The prevailing philosophy of the day held that hard work and open spaces--both hard to come by in Britain's industrial urban areas where most poor people lived--made for good citizens. On the other hand seventy-five percent or more of Ontario's population was rural and the farmers had space and a great need for cheap labour. The Wars of 1812-1814 were a factor; they made Canada West [Ontario] uneasy; the province needed more good loyal citizens of the Crown. Besides, an increase in population would counterbalance the larger French factor in Canada East [Quebec]. There were economic factors too; ships bringing Canadian cattle to Britain were returning empty to the Dominion; cheap one-way fares were available for human ballast. When the Home Children Movement into Canada started officially in 1869 responsibility for Immigration was under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture. That government agency willingly sold the child migration scheme abroad and even offered 2 pounds Sterling for every child exported to our shores. The amount seems like a pittance today, until one considers that one-way passage across the ocean at the time cost 12 Pounds.

    Who are the Home Children?

    One 19th century government official noted that the problem was "that there were too many children in the streets of London" and elsewhere. There was no free education or meaningful intervention by the government of the day to assist the poor. (It must be admitted, however, that the Workhouses or Poorhouses, politicians set up to tend the poor at legislated sub-poverty levels were the first steps taken by government to do anything at all.)

    And so, well-intentioned philanthropists, empowered by law, literally exported as many as 100,000 Home Children to Canada between 1869 and the Great Depression to serve as cheap labour. Most were between 7 and 14; many were younger, some older. Contrary to popular belief the majority were not orphans; nor were they all "Barnardo Children", in fact, 70,000 were not. Nor were they all the children of paupers; at least one agency list shows many were "non-paupers". Still others had their room and board paid at the "home" in the U.K. and were not shipped out until their benefactor died or stopped payment. It is a fact that many were rescued from evil surroundings, that "there was no room left in the house (heart?) after a breaved parent remarried. Some were even "philanthropically abducted" by a zealot who wanted to save them from a fate worse than death--the wrong religion. Others were put in "homes" abroad simply because they were sick and the homes offered the only free medical care; they were "gone" when the parents came to collect them. Others were put in by widowed or sick parents or by families who had fallen on hard times because there was no state social net to assist them. Some were sent over by parents who saw no hope for their offspring in Britain or simply could find no room for them at home. Some homeless street children even gave themselves up to the security of the "homes".

    Children from the "homes", which were operated by as many as 50 UK agencies, were generally sent to Canada without the knowledge or permission of their parents, a move made legal by the British Parliament. Boys came as farm laborurers, the girls as mother's helpers. While it is true that many were treated well, Home Children were generally denied affection because they were "just hired hands". Studies show that over two-thirds--over 66,000-were abused by their patrons in Canada. Given what we know today of the nature of child abuse, those figures should not shock us and may even be conservative.

    In the child migration process, Home Children were separated from country, culture, family, and friends. They were effectively cut out of wills and denied even photographs, family mementos, and medical histories, as well as legal papers, such as birth certificates. Some were sent to homes where no English was spoken. Few got the schooling promised them and many were even denied the pittance they were to receive for their labour. During the Great Depression, the movement to Canada petered out. Farmers could no longer afford the pittance required to pay the children. The agencies closed their receiving-distribution homes and took the children's personal records [and in some cases their bank accounts] back to England. Home Children were left with no one to champion their cause. Canadian authorities seemed not to have been informed or given any responsibility for them. The Child Migrants Canadians call Home Children simply fell through the cracks of two social systems.

    It is a wonder that so many survived. Yet survive they did and many are still with us today! It has been estimated that Home Children and their descendants make up 11.5 percent of Canada's population.

    The Stigma--Overcoming a Silent Shame and Trauma

    All Home Children share one common trait whether they were sent to good homes or bad. Traditionally they have not, until recently, talked of their past, even to family, because to the stigma that most felt was attached to them "in the old country" and in Canada. It is sad, but perhaps inevitable, that some Home Children should have perceived themselves as "discards" or "rejects" from the British Isles. It is sadder still that this feeling was seldom erased in Canada. Indeed, it was reinforced by proponents of the then-fashionable belief in eugenics. This pseudo-science equated mental, physical, and moral deficiencies or aberrations with certain races and occupations, as well as with the lower classes of society [read "Home Children"] and held that the defects would be passed on through heredity. Scholars only now are revealing that when "do-gooders"-including influential "social workers" such as Charlotte Whitton- urged Canada to pass a law in 1925 to stop the importing of Home Children under age 14, their motives were not just to prevent the abuses to which such children had been subjected. Some wanted to ensure that the children did not further contaminate good Canadian blood lines.

    The Child Migration Movement to Canada petered out during the Great Depression. Agencies in the U.K. continued to send children over age 14 until 1939 when the last Distribution Home in Toronto was closed. Ironically, that same year, child evacuees started to arrive. These new waves of British children were placed in the British country side and in colonies abroad to escape the anticipated Nazi bombing. It is a paradox that these children were welcomed with open arms, although some have informed us that they too suffered the sad fate of some Home Children.

    That virtually all of the 100,000 Home Children sent to Canada--alone and separated from others, as they were--should have reacted to their fate the same way, withdrawing into themselves, and remaining silent about their past--"building a wall around themselves", as one Home Girl put it-- is bitter and conclusive proof of the severity of their trauma. It is also sad evidence that the Child Migration Scheme, however well-intentioned, was seriously flawed. The Home Children's silent shame is Canada's and Britain's too!.

    Kubler-Ross and others have identified thirteen emotional phases through which children suffering "normal" loss or separation might pass. But Home Children also had to contend with the phases inflicted by the unjust stigma attached to them, and by the physical, mental, sexual, and psychological abuse to which so many of them were exposed.

    It should surprise no one that some Home Children fell by the wayside or in despair committed suicide. Some eventually sought the assistance of Canadian social workers and that is how their plight came to the attention of professionals who even today are shocked that so many had no proof of birth and so did not apply for citizenship and benefits to which they were entitled as contributing members of our society. Within the last few years Home Children Canada has been an advocate [successful, thank goodness] for a Home Child denied entry into the U.S., for the widow of a Home Boy who was denied access to his estate, and for a Home Boy whose wife was told that the insurance money that should have been paid upon his death would not be paid. In all cases it was because the Home Child had "no classification"--no proof of citizenship.

    In the 1970's Phyllis Harrison published excerpts of Home Children letters in THE HOME CHILDREN, THEIR PERSONAL STORIES and Joy Parr completed a doctoral thesis at Yale on the topic of LABOURING CHILDREN. Ken Bagnell followed with THE LITTLE IMMIGRANTS. These books brought the story of the "wee boat people" to the attention of the public in the English-speaking world. And while the plight of home children without records was mentioned and the stigma was hinted at, nothing was really done about either problem. That is why Home Children Canada was formed and how Home Children were finally given a forum to tell their story. Meanwhile most continue to live the quiet lives of unsung heroes, triumphed over adversity, raised loving families, and contributed to the stability of their communities. Some became professionals. Thousands have served in two World Wars for their adopted country, and hundreds- perhaps thousands- gave their lives for it.

    Child Migration from Britain Ends:

    Child Migration to Canada continued for seven decades. From the beginning the system was criticized. It was found severely wanting by British government official Andrew Doyle who submitted his report to parliament in the mid 1870's. Sad to say, the validity of his findings was not recognized until 50 years later.

    And while the Child Migrant Movement to Canada can be said to have officially ended in 1939, (an extra 76 boys were actually sent to Vancouver Island between 1945 and 1948) it boggles the mind to know that Britain continued to literally export children to Australia and South Africa until 1967 and that, in post-war years alone, 10,000 records were deliberately falsified. The children were told both parents were dead; the parents were told that the children had been placed in good British Homes.

    One may question the reasoning that lead to child migration in the beginning and perhaps conclude it was valid. But, if the rationale can be deemed legitimate in 1869, surely it was not equally acceptable in more modern and enlightened(?) times a century later. Nor can the official complicity and duplicity involved stand scrutiny or be deemed acceptable. Which is perhaps why the case is not closed even though, in January 1982, the British Government finally eliminated the loophole that permitted child migration (That is not a typo! The date really is nineteen hundred and eighty-two --short years ago!)

    In August, 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that the British Parliament would look into the country's involvement in the whole process from 1939 on. Home Children Canada immediately asked that his committee also consider what happened in Canada. We also submitted a brief with 29 recommendations and were invited to attend the British House of Commons, at our own expense, in May 1998 to speak to the Health Select Committee investigating the government's role and responsibility vis-a-vis Child Migration. On our return we submitted another 10 suggestions; several of our ideas have been incorporated in the Committee recommendations.

    In July 1998 Home Children Canada was also invited to Liverpool University (again at our own expense) to close the Child Migration section of a 4-day Conference on Child Welfare. This was a profitable experience for all concerned. The international participants for the most part, knew little or nothing of the Canadian story and we learned much about the conditions (Poor Houses, Industrial Schools, etc.) through which our Home children came.

    The word is out. Home Children and their descendants worldwide have good reason to be proud and to rejoice that the British Parliamentary Report was tabled in December 1998. But be advised: the title is a misnomer.

    "The Report into the Welfare of Former Child Migrants" does little to address the Canadian situation and absolutely nothing for those children sent to Rhodesia, Natal, Jamaica, Valparaiso, the USA etc.

    Meanwhile our own Canadian Foreign Affairs Department has taken a Pontius Pilate stance and said it would not "inject itself into the British system." It remains to be seen how effectively the government recommendations will be implemented in the "Mother country". Still, there is greater hope than ever before that something will at last be done. The report has also drawn the attention of the media to a period in our history that has been all too often overlooked, forgotten, denied or suppressed or even repressed.

    It is interesting to note that when Home Children and their descendants at a Renfrew Ontario Reunion were told of the legal action being taken by individuals and groups "down under" a spontaneous motion was made from the floor. It stated that:

    Whereas we Home Children and descendants are proud to be Canadians, and

    Whereas we are glad to be here and love this land dearly.

    Therefore be it resolved that we will never ask for restitution, retribution of any kind, damages, or even an apology for any ills we may have suffered. All we ask is speedier access to personal records.

    That motion--the only one ever made at a Home Children Reunion -- passed unanimously.

    Replacing the Stigma with Pride:

    Home Children Canada's founder has been researching the topic since his Home Child father died in 1965. Since January 1991 he and his wife have met, corresponded with, and interviewed thousands of Home Children and their descendants from coast to coast in Canada. Our experience has taught us that the dark stigma imposed on Home Children, however cruel and unjust, can be eliminated today simply by exposing it to the bright light of truth--by telling the Home Children story as it really happened. As the French say: "Tout savoir, c'est tour pardonner." (If we know everything we can at least accept why things happened.) Meanwhile catharsis grows as one knows more and more about the problem. That is why, after knowing a Home Child's story, we must also see child migration against its historical background. Even more critical for individuals concerned is getting personal files and having them interpreted in the context of the times. Only then can one truly appreciate the grit and inner-strength of character most home children needed to face the hurdles that they met.

    Researchers, however, are warned that getting the records and learning the truth can sometimes be very painful at first. Personal records sometimes shatter more innocent pre-conceptions; they can be hurtful.

    Nevertheless, when hundreds of Canadian Home Children and descendants were interviewed in 1996 and 1997, they were 100% unanimous in telling social workers from the largest child welfare agency in Britain that they would rather have the records--and the bad news that might be in them--than not. They felt the hurt from full disclosure was not as great as the hurt of not knowing. They also expressed their satisfaction in the fact that someone has cared enough to keep their records all these years and that the people in the sending agencies were empathetic and eager to make amends for the actions of their predecessors decades ago.

    Home Children in particular may be surprised to know that in the mid-1850's, fifteen years before Britain officially started sending children to Canada, the founder of the New York Children's Aid Society began sending that city's "surplus children" west by train.

    Home Children Canada's founders are honorary life members of the OTHSA-the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America. We have talked to their four day convention in Arkansas on the The Ties that Bind and rejoice with them that we share a common chapter-albeit not officially recognized-in our history. Their Train Riders, like our Home Children, survived an "ill-conceived system" that did "irreparable and irrevocable harm."

    Thanks to Dave Lorente of Home Children Canada for the above information.

    Copyright © 2000 Home Children Canada (Pacific). All rights reserved.
    Revised: May 01, 2000

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    Sad to say, but a lot of the ones who got shipped out had a better life than those left behind. Not to diminish the trauma of such an uprooting. I think the mistreatment of the working class children is (was) rooted in the The English class system, viewing the children of the working and lower classes as having no value, and socially acceptable to mistreat them.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    A hurrier, also sometimes called a coal drawer or coal thruster, was a child or woman employed by a collier to transport the coal that they had mined. Women would normally get the children to help them because of the difficulty of carrying the coal. Common particularly in the early 19th century, the hurrier pulled a corf (baskets or small wagons) full of coal along roadways as small as 16 inches in height. They would often work 12 hour shifts, making several runs down to the coal face and back to the surface again.

    Some children came from the workhouses and were apprenticed to the colliers. Adults could not easily do the job because of the size of the roadways, which were limited on the grounds of cost and structural integrity. Hurriers were equipped with a "gurl" belt – a leather belt with a swivel chain linked to the corf. They were also given candles as it was too expensive to light the whole mine.

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