The boy in the lifebuoy

Article Featured Image
old group photo of boys on the deck of a ship

Child emigrants on the ship Rangitoto, on their way from England to New Zealand in 1951

When you look at old photos like the one above in museum displays, do you ever wonder what happened to the people in the picture? Curator of Maritime Collections, Ellie Moffat, has spent a lot of time researching their stories. This has led to an international exhibition and a special visitor to Merseyside Maritime Museum last week, as she explains: "Last week I was delighted to finally meet up with Tony Chambers, a gentleman I have been in touch with since working on our exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants. The exhibition was a collaborative venture between us and the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, bringing in to focus the experiences of many thousands of British children who were sent to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries between 1869 and 1967. It opened in Sydney in November 2010 and is currently touring various museums around Australia. Unfortunately it is unlikely to go on display in the UK, but we developed an accompanying website which reflects all the content – so do have a look if you haven’t already done so. The message board has received a tremendous response, with many people sharing personal stories. Tony himself is a former child migrant; he was sent to New Zealand in 1951, aged 9. He was one of the luckier ones as he was adopted by a loving family who provided him with a full and happy life. In 1965 he travelled back to Britain and had an emotional reunion with his birth mother. During his stay he met and married Maria, and in 1967 they embarked from Liverpool to travel the world, before settling back in New Zealand. In 1994 they returned to Britain and moved to Hemel Hempstead, the town of his birth, where they have been ever since. Tony has written about his life and a few years ago he was interviewed for a documentary 'The boy in the lifebuoy', produced by Sejal Deshpande. The film, in which Tony reflects on his early life, can be viewed on the Oral histories page of the exhibition website. He is currently busy working on a book in which he will tell his story, alongside experiences of other child migrants that he has asked to contribute. 'The boy in the lifebuoy' is a phrase of great significance for Tony and stems from his journey to New Zealand when he was 9 years old. A photograph was taken of Tony and the other children in his group on the deck of the ship Rangitoto. In it you can see Tony sitting holding the lifebuoy, in which his face is framed. This holds a special symbolism for Tony to this day, as you can see in the photo below that he sent me following our meeting. To coincide with the exhibition, we also added a small display about Britain's child migrants to our permanent Emigrants to a New World gallery. The display includes archive material and features a trunk that belonged to William Kelly, a child migrant from Liverpool, who sailed to Canada in 1925, aged 15. The trunk was donated to us in 2010. You can find out more about William Kelly on our website." man standing by a life buoy in the Albert DockTony Chambers visiting Liverpool in 2012