Medallion tells of the leaving of Liverpool

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two women, one holding a medallion

Ellie Moffat from National Museums Liverpool receives the medallion from Phyllis Clark (niece of William Nevin)

Often objects in museum displays can seem like very ordinary everyday items until you find out the incredible and sometimes very moving stories behind them.

One such item is a small medallion that is being loaned to the upcoming exhibition On their own - Britain's child migrants, which opens in the Australian National Maritime Museum later this year before coming to Merseyside Maritime Museum in 2011.

The medallion was awarded to Everton schoolboy William Nevin a century ago, for being a star pupil at Major Lester school. At the age of 14 William left Liverpool for New Zealand in 1911 and never saw his home again. William married, had children and was successful in business, but he never forgot about his Liverpool family.

William’s niece Phyllis Clark from Woolton, who has loaned the medallion to the exhibition, said:

“Because he was successful at school he was chosen to go to New Zealand. It was seen as an honour. So one day these men arrived in bowler hats from Alfred Holt shipping company and off he went. The family had never even heard of New Zealand – it was like they were taking William to the moon.

We were given the medallion two years ago by William’s family in New Zealand to return to Liverpool. William had died in the 1970s. He’d kept it all his life as a memento of his roots. And in some ways the medallion is one of the reasons why he left Liverpool behind – he excelled at school which is why he was chosen to go.”  

From the late 19th century Britain sent more than 100,000 children like William to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. It was believed they would have a better life working in the clean expanses of the British Empire where they were the source of much-needed labour.

While many had happy experiences and began new lives, for some the separation from the homes and families led to a lonely, brutal childhood. Today many former child migrants and their families are still coming to terms with their dislocation.

The On their own exhibition will tell some of the stories of children who migrated and of their families left behind. National Museums Liverpool and the Australian National Maritime Museum are developing the exhibition in partnership and have launched an online message board for people to share their memories and experiences of child migration.