THE WELFARE OF FORMER BRITISH CHILD MIGRANTS
10. The background to British child migration policy
is summarised in the DoH's principal memorandum to us, printed
with the Minutes of Evidence.
Further details are given in several books published in the 1980s
and 1990s. A concise
history of child migration to Western Australia is contained in
the Interim Report of the Select Committee into Child Migration
of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, published in
11. Although the origins of British child migration
as a settled and publicly promoted policy can be traced back to
the reign of James I, the peak of child migration appears to have
occurred at about the turn of the Twentieth Century. It is estimated
that between 1868 and 1925, 80,000 British boys and girls were
sent unaccompanied to Canada, to work under indentures as agricultural
labourers and domestic servants.
Although estimates are very unreliable, the DoH cites figures
of about 150,000 child migrants from Britain overall, of whom
about 100,000 went to Canada, and the remainder to Australia,
New Zealand, Rhodesia and other British dominions or colonies,
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Child Migrants' Trust describes child migrants as "children
generally between the ages of three and fourteen; the majority
being between seven and ten".
12. Child migrants in Canada were "entrusted
to the care of farmers often without sufficient preparation or
and large the children involved were destined to fill menial occupations
and were very cheap or free labour.
Canadian witnesses laid great stress on the stigma which attached
to being a 'Home Child', and told us that many former child migrants
hid this fact even from their wives and children for many years,
because of the shame which had been inculcated in them.
It has been claimed that 11% per cent of Canada's population is
descended from British child migrants.
This figure is supported by Home Children Canada,
who also claim that 67% of the children sent to Canada were abused.
In 1925 a Canadian Order in Council banned child migrants aged
under 14. Child migration
from Britain to Canada was not resumed after the Second World
13. Exact number of child migrants to Australia
and New Zealand are not known, but it is thought that during the
final period in which the migration policy operated, from 1947
to 1967, between 7,000 and 10,000 children were sent to Australia.
These children were placed in large, often isolated, institutions
and were often subjected to harsh, sometimes intentionally brutal,
regimes of work and discipline, unmodified by any real nurturing
or encouragement. The institutions were inadequately supervised,
monitored and inspected. During the same period 549 children were
sent to New Zealand, mainly to pre-arranged foster homes
which often proved impermanent, and were also inadequately monitored.
14. Child migration took place within a framework
of legislation enacted by Parliament. Full details of the relevant
Acts and regulations are set out in the Minutes of Evidence.
A particular milestone was the Empire Settlement Act 1922, which
provided authority for the British Government to act in association
with dominion governments and with approved private organisations
in operating migration schemes through assisted passages, initial
allowances, and special training.
It was under this Act that the Fairbridge Farm Schemefounded
by Kingsley Fairbridge to train orphaned and poor children in
schools of agriculture in the Coloniesand the Christian
Brothers schemes in Western Australia operated. The Children Act
1948 also provided for the emigration of children, subject to
certain conditions. Voluntary agencies such as Barnardo's, the
Children's Society, the Christian Brothers (and other Catholic
agencies), Fairbridge, the National Children's Home (now NCH Action
for Children) and the Royal Over-Seas League had direct charge
of most of the migrant children either at the recruitment stage,
during their passage, or after their arrival in the receiving
countries. In this work the voluntary agencies received the
encouragement and financial backing of successive British governments
and of successive governments of the receiving countries.
15. The motivation underlying child migration policy
was mixed. On the one hand, there was a genuine philanthropic
desire to rescue children from destitution and neglect in Britain
and send them to a better life in the Colonies. This went hand
in hand with a wish to protect children from 'moral danger' arising
from their home circumstancesfor instance, if their mothers
were prostitutes. In 1870, Thomas Barnardo wrote that "to
behold young men and women crowded together in pestilential rookeries
without the least provision for decency and in such conditions
of abominable filth, atmospheric impurity and immoral associationship
as to make the maintenance of virtue impossible, is almost enough
to fill the bravest reformer with despair".
Within a generation, the agency founded by Dr Barnardo would be
sending 1,000 children a year to Canada to escape such conditions.
Britain in 1870 was however a very different place from Britain
in the 1950s and 1960s. The prevailing conditions in the 1950s
and 1960s would not justify the description we have cited from
16. Child migration was also seen to be of economic
benefit both to Britain (because it relieved the burden on public
finances of looking after these children) and to the receiving
countries (because child migrants were seen as being potential
members of a healthy and well-trained workforce). Evidence shows
that they were actually used as cheap labour. Demand for child
labour in Canada and Australia often exceeded supply. Mr Tom Luce
of the DoH told us:
overseas were still at a relatively early stage of their development
and, in particular, Canada and Australia. They were fighting very
hard to develop their countries and their economies against a
background where they faced enormous challenges in bringing successful
agriculture into their lands with a very small and scattered population.
So they wanted both to increase the population of their countries
and they also wanted, it must I think be recognised, more pairs
of hands for the labour force, including young pairs of hands."
17. The economic benefits of child migration were
described by Canon Christopher Fisher, Chairman of the Catholic
Child Welfare Council. He told us that in the 1930s and 1940s:
"The child care system
in England was largely run by voluntary organisations and we were
the ones with bulging, inadequately-provided for children's homes.
With the greatest respect for the Government at the timeand
I am not sure what colour they werethe funding of child
care in England was not of a high amount and I would suspect that
at the time it was seen to be quite a good financial decision
to actually unload some children elsewhere into another responsibility."
Dr Barbara Kahan, OBE, who was a Children's Officer
in charge of Oxfordshire County Council Children's Department
in the 1950s, and who subsequently became Chair of the National
Children's Bureau, wrote to tell us of her memories of local government
decision-making in respect of child migration:
"it was clear from discussion
in Parliament around that time (the early 1950s) that the emigration
scheme was seen as cost-cutting. When Children's Departments were
set up in 1948 the intention was to achieve drastic reform of
a dreadful system. Inevitably this led to more expenditure and
more children in care because need was much greater than Public
Assistance had ever recognised. In 1950 ... a Select Committee
on Estimates report pointed out that they were costing more than
anticipated. One of the consequences was that great pressure was
put on Children's Officers to board children out ... there was
a debate in the House of Commons when certain MPs urged the Government
to put pressure on 'these sticky-fingered Children's Officers'
who were reluctant to emigrate their children. ... The emigration
schemes were, in my opinion, a shameful, disgraceful policy and
in my memory the financial motivation was quite overt in the early
18. A further motive was racist: the importation
of "good white stock" was seen as a desirable policy
objective in the developing British Colonies. One of our witnesses,
Mr John Hennessey, a former child migrant, told us how on arrival
in Fremantle he and the other children were greeted by a senior
clergyman, who said, "'It's nice to see you children here.
Australia needs you. We need white stock. We need this country
to be populated by white stock because we are terrified of the
Likewise, according to the Child Migrants' Trust, "child
migrants were used as a way to preserve a white managerial elite
in the former Rhodesia."
19. Child migration has never been without its critics.
As long ago as 1875, the Local Government Board sent Andrew Doyle,
Her Majesty's Poor Law Inspector, to Canada to investigate the
conditions in which child migrants were living. Doyle spent six
months in Canada, met 400 children, and concluded that the children
were mistreated, and valued solely as cheap labour.
A report prepared for the Economic and Social Research Council
in 1983 has concluded that
to child emigration ... was located in central government, especially
amongst the ranks of the inspectorate and the senior civil servants.
They disliked the cavalier manner in which many of the philanthropic
agencies operated. They suspected their motives and their charismatic
styles of leadership and, in particular, were conscious of the
likelihood of public scandals".
20. It was the charitable and religious organisations
who maintained the child migration policy, often apparently motivated
by the need to keep the institutions overseas financially viable.
21. In our visits we heard of very few local authorities
as having been responsible for any of the child migrants we met.
This bears out a statement in the Moss Report written in 1952
attached to the DoH memorandum: "local authorities have taken
very little interest in the scheme ... There seems to be a feeling
in some quarters that it is wrong to send a child, for whom a
local authority is responsible, some 10,000 or 12,000 miles away."
Mr Moss regrets this and paints a glowing picture of wonderful
institutionsbut almost all of his reports are closed to
the general public until the years 2027 to 2033.
We have not looked at their extent or compared them with the personal
testimony we receivedbut we consider the local authorities
were correct. This also strongly suggests that it is inadequate
to describe the practice of child migration as simply due to "a
different social climate" as the DoH memorandum does.
22. A recurrent feature of child migration schemes
seems to have been lack of effective monitoring of the children's
welfare by either the British Government or the sending agencies.
The post-War schemes, particularly to Australia, were excessively
permissive. British Government supervision appears to have been
non-existent, except where children in local authority care were
involved; in these cases the consent of the Home Secretary was
required before migration could take place. Even then the doctrine
of 'out of sight, out of mind' quickly reasserted itself. The
Child Migrants' Trust says that:
selection documents contained scant information and, at times,
incorrect factual details about the child. ... At times, children's
names and birthdays were changed for administrative convenience.
... Brothers and sisters were not always cared for together or
even sent to the same country."
Although evidence on these matters is of necessity
largely anecdotal, we heard many first-hand testimonies from former
child migrants during our visit to New Zealand and Australia,
which confirmed these claims by the Child Migrants' Trust.
4 CM 129. Back
See Gillian Wagner, Children of the Empire (London, 1982);
Philip Bean and Joy Melville, Lost Children of the Empire
(London, 1989); Margaret Humphreys, Empty Cradles (London,
1994); and Alan Gill, Orphans of the Empire: The Shocking Story
of Child Migration to Australia (Alexandria, NSW, 1997). Back
See Wagner, ch. 1; CM 129, para 5. Back
We also met a number of Maltese former child migrants. The new
post-War Maltese constitution of 1947 established a Minister for
Emigration within the Maltese Government, which was responsible
for emigration policy. Any concerns on the part of Maltese citizens
who are former child migrants should be taken up with the Maltese
CM 13A. Back
Bean and Melville, p 28. Back
Ibid, p 28. Back
CM 31A. Back
For further details on child migration to Canada, see the written
and oral evidence from the Ellen Foundation and Home Children
CM 129, para 6; CM 13A. Back
CM 180A Back
Ibid., Annex A. Back
Ibid., para 17; CM 143. Back
CM 129B; Bean and Melville, p 28. Back
Wagner, p 102, cited in CM 129, para 15. Back
Wagner, p 104. Back
24 Q219. Back
CM 183. Back
CM 13A. Back
See CM 129, para 12, and Bean and Melville, ch. 5. Back
Report by Roy Parker (1983), cited in CM 129, para 13. Back
John Moss, Child Migration to Australia (Home Office, published
by HMSO, 1953). Detailed reports by Mr Moss on institutions in
Australia are listed in the Minutes of Evidence in an annex to
the DoH memorandum at Ev pp 22 to 25. These reports are currently
held in the Public Record Office but are closed to the general
public until various dates in the next century. The PRO numbers
are 1886, 1887, 1891, 2041, 2042, 2050. Back
CM 13A. Back