Britain's child migrants

archive photo of four young children carrying suitcases

Child migrants from Fairbridge setting out for Australia in 1938. Source, Molong Historical Society.

Between 1869 and 1967 Britain sent more than 100,000 children to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. Most came from workhouses, children's homes and orphanages, but some were sent by parents wanting better lives for their children. It was believed that they would have greater opportunities working in the clean expanses of the British Empire, building the population and providing labour.

Liverpool and Glasgow were the main departure ports for children sailing to Canada. Liverpool's Allan Line carried almost half of Canada's child migrants on its ships.

Siblings and friends were split up on arrival and left isolated, facing long hard days of labour in extremes of climate. This isolation often let to a lonely, brutal childhood.

Canada became resistant to the schemes which effectively ended by 1939. Australia encouraged schemes in its post-war immigration policy and, despite the increased focus on children's welfare, they continued until 1967.

Follow these links to watch videos and read about the experiences of William Kelly, a child migrant from Liverpool featured in the display.

This display accompanies the exhibition On their own - Britain's child migrants, which opened at the Australian National Maritime Museum before touring Australia. To find out more about the history of Britain's child migration schemes visit the On their own - Britain's child migrants exhibition website.

archive photo of large group of girls onthe deck of a ship

Barnardo's girls party sailing to Canada, 1909. Reproduced courtesy of Barnardo's.