Child migration

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918, Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: The British Empire

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about attitudes towards child migration in the nineteenth century? What was the role of the individuals like Maria Rye, Annie Macpherson, and Thomas Barnardo?

Potential activities: Students explore the theme of child migration to Australia by Kingsley Fairbridge and Dr Barnardo.

Why were children sent to Canada in 1869-1913?

Old Bailey records reveal that thousands of children were transported to Australia as criminals between 1787 and 1868.

However, from 1869-1930, 80,000 children were forced to migrate to Canada. Behind this forced migration were individuals such as Maria Rye, Annie Macpherson, and Thomas Barnardo, and institutions such as the poor law unions, local government board, and the Home Office.

Use this lesson to find out why children were sent abroad in the period 1869-1913.  What was the justification for doing this?


Tasks

Look at Source 1a.

A cartoon from a pamphlet on a proposal to send poor children to the colonies. The large image on the front shows a clergyman piling urchins into a cart with a shovel, an elderly gentleman and a lady assisting him by sweeping little girls towards him, Miss Rye standing by the cart with a whip held in her hand, and the glass windows and ornate pillars of a gin palace beyond. 1869 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • Why are people sweeping up children from the street in this cartoon?
  • How has the cartoonist used different elements in the picture to attack the work of Maria Rye and her supporters? Comment on: the size/position of the figures, as well as the cart,  whip, shovel, brushes, and language used in speech bubbles.
  • Why do you think a ‘Gin Palace’ is shown in the picture?
  • How is Christianity used to justify gathering up these children in the 3rd speech bubble from the left?
  • What were the advantages for workhouse authorities and rate-payers if these ‘gutter children’ were removed from the streets?
  • What is the meaning and significance of the title of the cartoon: ‘Our gutter children’?

Look at Source 1b.

Extracts from an article by George Cruickshank that appeared in a pamphlet accompanying the ‘Our Gutter Children’ cartoon, 1869 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • What was Miss Maria Rye’s plan for child emigration, according this article?
  • How had she tried to get support for it?
  • How did she justify her proposal?
  • Why did she only intend to send girls to Canada?
  • What difficulties could these children face as a result of forced migration to Canada, according to the author of this article?
  • What is George Cruickshank’s opinion of the work of Maria Rye?
  • Why do you think Cruickshank chose to express his views in the form of a cartoon as well?

Look at Source 2.

Extracts from a report entitled: ‘Report as to the Children sent to Canada by the Bristol Incorporation of the Poor to Canada, under the protection of Miss Macpherson’, 1874. Catalogue ref: MH 32/20

  • What do these extracts infer about the experience of children in Canada?
  • How were girls and boys expected to behave and what can we learn about attitudes towards them?
  • Are these attitudes and behaviours towards children different today?
  • How valuable are comments from the foster families recorded here?
  • What do the extracts suggest about the way Annie Macpherson ran her business?

Look at Source 3a.

Extracts from a Report of the Proceedings of the Committee of the House of Commons on Immigration and Colonisation, 1874 Catalogue ref:  MH 32/20.

  • Who is Andrew Doyle?
  • What is the subject of his report?
  • Who has received this report?
  • What is the attitude of the Canadian Government to the findings of the report?

Look at Source 3b.

Extracts from a Report of the Proceeding of the Committee of the House of Commons on Immigration and Colonisation, 1874, Catalogue ref:  MH 32/20.

  • What 4 criticisms did Andrew Doyle make concerning Maria Rye and Annie Macpherson?
  • Does he think that adopted children have benefited from the schemes?
  • Doyle investigated 400 cases for his report. What was the total number of children brought to Canada by Rye and Macpherson?

Look at Source 3c.

Extracts from a Report of the Proceeding of the Committee of the House of Commons on Immigration and Colonisation, 1874, Catalogue ref:  MH 32/20.

This extract suggests that Doyle feels that these women were making money from their scheme. [Note: l means pounds, s means shillings, d means pence, stg means sterling, British money.]

  • How does Doyle explain that Rye and MacPherson’s schemes profited from migrating pauper children to Canada?
  • What does Doyle feel about child migration according to this extract?

Look at Source 4.

A poster from the Poplar Poor Law Union in London listing children proposed for emigration to Canada, 12th September 1884, Catalogue ref: MH 12/7698.

  • Why is it proposed that these children should be sent to Canada?
  • Why does the poster display their names and ages?
  • What is the age of the youngest child in the list?
  • Why did Poplar Workhouse Union authorities support child migration?
  • Why might rate payers support this scheme?
  • What would be the disadvantages for the children facing emigration to Canada as result of this plan?
  • Look at the date of this source, what does it reveal about child migration since criticisms made by Andrew Doyle referred to Source 3b & c?

Look at Source 5a.

These are extracts from publicity material produced by the charity Dr Barnardo’s. The material covers the emigration of girls and boys to Canada, 1913, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118 pgs. 2, 11.

  • What does Dr Barnardos claim to achieve for boys like Jack in this source?
  • How is the page design and layout used to show the aims and values of Dr Barnardos?
  • Why do you think this source was produced?
  • Who would be the audience for this source?

Look at Source 5b.

These are extracts from publicity material produced by the charity Dr Barnardo’s. The material covers the emigration of girls and boys to Canada, 1913, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118 pgs. 2, 11.

  • What reason does Dr Barnardo’s give for emigrating these girls and boys?
  • How are they prepared for a life abroad?
  • Why are these children described as possible ‘Empire Builders’? [Also see image at the top of web page.]
  • Comment on the language and tone used in Sources 5a & b.
  • How different are attitudes today from this source towards:

(a) Education of girls and boys?

(b) Ideas around the term ‘Empire’?

Look at Source 6.

Letter from George Code, Honorary Secretary for Dr Barnardo’s Children’s Homes, Stepney, London to Mr. Rowe concerning his two daughters, 20 January 1911, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118/203442

  • Why has Mr. Rowe been sent this letter?
  • What is the justification for the decision concerning Mr Rowe’s daughters?
  • What assumptions are made in the letter about how Mr Rowe might feel?
  • Is there anything that shocks or surprises you about the tone of this letter?
  • Why do you think letter is held in the Home Office collection at The National Archives?

Look at Source 7.

Mr. Rowe to Dr Barnardo’s about the plan to send his daughters to Canada, 22 January, 1911. Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118/203442

  • Why does Mr Rowe not agree with this plan to send his daughters to Canada?
  • What steps has he taken to try and prevent it?
  • Why do you think he writes that ‘I consider myself to have been punished quite enough’?
  • Why do you think Mr Rowe was not raising his children?
  • Can you use 4 words to describe the tone of his letter?

Background

For thirty years from 1869 onwards, Maria Rye’s agency brought 3,623 girls to Canada. The children were first sent to a reception centre in a converted court-house and jail at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, later called ‘Our Western Home’. The children sent there were called ‘Home children’. They were fostered by farming families, where they were destined to become domestic servants and farm workers. Some children were adopted within these families.

Out of the 1,100 girls Rye brought to Canada before 1875, 900 came from English poor-law unions, which sponsored their emigration. Workhouse girls had some form of education and were not the ‘gutter children’ she is pictured gathering up in the cartoon shown in this lesson.

For twenty years, Rye brought girls to Canada supported by Lord Shaftesbury and the public. She retired in 1895, after which her reception centres in Peckham (London) and Niagara were run by ‘Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays’, known today as the Children’s Society.

Another philanthropist, Annie Macpherson, set up her Home of Industry in Spitalfields, London, in 1869. It provided shelter, work, education and religious instruction to children. From this home she took groups to Canada who were first received at Bellville and others at Knowlton or Galt. Again, these children were later placed with families to work on farms and become domestic servants. According to information provided to the Canadian government, Macpherson brought out 2,000 children from 1870 onwards. Out of that total, 300 were girls and 1,700 were boys. This represented ‘350 from various workhouses and 1,650 from distressed and orphaned families or waifs gathered from the streets of London or other large cities’.

Andrew Doyle, a Local Government Board inspector, inquired into the Canadian migration schemes for workhouse children in 1874. His report, ‘Boarded out to Canada: Report on Child migrants in 1874’, concluded that they merely provided cheap labour for farmers in Canada. He was particularly disapproving of how children were placed in families and the lack of aftercare given by Rye’s scheme. The Canadian Government justified their position and rejected the findings of Andrew Doyle.

Dr Thomas Barnardo also became a crucial figure in child migration. 30,000 children were sent to Canada from 1882 to 1939 from his homes. He saw it as an opportunity to help grow the population of the Empire. These children would settle, marry and have their own children thus contributing to the labour market and economy. However, the numbers sent to Canada declined with the impact of losses caused by First World War accompanying a fall in the birth rate.

It seems incredibly sad that the actual feelings of these child migrants were not considered at the time. They were taken away from all that was familiar and placed in a harsh physical environment, away from any family or people they knew. It is hard for us today to contemplate their reality. However, the letters used in this lesson that concerned the case of Mr Rowe and his daughters give us a glimpse into this world.

Both of Mr Rowe’s children were placed in Dr Barnardo’s Girls Village Home in Ilford in 1907 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1904. Their mother had died and their father had been sent to prison for neglecting his daughters on two occasions. His heartfelt plea failed to prevent their migration to Canada from Southampton in June 1911.


Teachers' notes

This lesson is designed to introduce pupils to different historical sources concerning child emigration schemes to Canada led by Maria Rye, Annie Macpherson and Thomas Barnardo. Through these records, students can explore the justification of these schemes at the time.

Students are introduced to the philanthropist Maria Rye and her child migration scheme via a cartoon and article extract created and written by satirist George Cruikshank in 1869. It is an opportunity to explore how Rye justified her plan and how Cruikshank opposed it.

The work of Annie Macpherson is examined through a series of extracts recording the experience of several children who were migrated to Canada. These are taken from records created by Macpherson 1872-74 and include notes of visits, short quotes from children’s letters or statements from foster families.

Students can examine extracts from a Canadian Government Report on Immigration and Colonisation from 1874, which references both Rye and Macpherson and their leading critic, Andrew Doyle, a Local Government Board inspector who inquired into the Canadian migration schemes for workhouse children in 1874. The continued involvement of the Poor Law in such schemes is illustrated by a source from ten years later.

Publicity material is used as evidence to explain the activities of Dr Thomas Barnardo. Finally, two letters from Home Office records relating to a particular case of child migration in 1911 by Dr Barnardo are included.

If you wish, you could use the Empire Builder’s image at the top of the web page as a lesson ‘starter’ to introduce and discuss the topic of child migration.

To find out more regarding the social context for these children’s lives you could also ask students to consider other sources. Students can explore some of the pauper letters that reflect life in the workhouse in our Workhouse Voices Collection and sources in Victorian Industrial Towns, a collection of documents that provide information about living conditions for the poorest in society, including newspapers, letters, reports, a census return and photographs.

Students can work in pairs or small groups to study each source and report back to the whole class to discuss the answers to the questions. Alternatively, they can work through the tasks independently. All sources are transcribed and difficult language defined in square brackets or glossaried at the end of the online transcript.

In order to consider the theme of migration over time, students could also discuss the following extension questions relating to other developments:

  • Can you explain the difference between migration and evacuation during the Second World War? (See Evacuation to Canada and Evacuation to Shropshire.)
  • Can you find out about the role of The Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) who evacuated 2,664 British children to protect them from the threat of German invasion and enemy bombing?

Resources

The following two resources help provide context for the lives of migrated children migrated in the 19th century:

This lesson uses sources following the story of child evacuation to Canada during Second World War: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/evacuation-canada/

Further National Archives records on child migration in the 1880s can be found in this blog: https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/too-young-to-cross-the-road/

Podcast from The National Archives on the History of child migration to Canada. Some of the records described in this podcast appear in this lesson. https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/child-emigration-to-canada/

More detail on Andrew Doyle and link to his original report 1874: http://britishhomechild.com/?s=doyle&submit=

Sources

  1. A cartoon and extract from a pamphlet on a proposal to send poor children to 1869, George Cruikshank © The Trustees of the British Museum.
  2. Extracts from a report entitled: ‘Report as to the Children sent to Canada by the Bristol Incorporation of the Poor to Canada, under the protection of Miss Macpherson’, 1874, Catalogue ref: MH 32/20.
  3. Extracts from a Report of the Proceedings of the Committee of the House of Commons on Immigration and Colonisation, 1874 Catalogue ref: MH 32/20.
  4. Poster from the Poplar Poor Law Union in London listing children proposed for emigration to Canada, 12th September 1884, Catalogue ref: MH 12/7698.
  5. Extracts from publicity material produced by the charity Dr Barnardo’s. The material covers emigration of girls and boys to Canada, 1913, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118 pgs. 2, 11.
  6. Letter from George Code, Honorary Secretary for Dr Barnardo’s Children’s Homes, Stepney, London to Mr. Rowe concerning his two daughters, 20 January 1911, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118/203442
  7. Rowe to Dr Barnardo about the plan to send his daughters to Canada, 22 January, 1911, Catalogue ref: HO 144/1118/203442

Curriculum links

AQA GCSE History

Thematic study: Britain: Migration, empires and the people: c790 to the present day

Key stage 3: The development of the British Empire

Key stage 2: Significant People

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918, Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: The British Empire

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about attitudes towards child migration in the nineteenth century? What was the role of the individuals like Maria Rye, Annie Macpherson, and Thomas Barnardo?

Potential activities: Students explore the theme of child migration to Australia by Kingsley Fairbridge and Dr Barnardo.

Related resources

Victorian Industrial Towns

What made them unhealthy?

Workhouse Voices

What did paupers say about the Poor Law?

Evacuation to Canada

How much care was really taken?