Saving Britain’s Cast-offs
Between 1869 and the 1940s thousands of destitute youngsters were plucked from appalling conditions in Britain and sent overseas as Home Children. Canada, Australia and South Africa were major destinations. The object was to remove the children from the horrors of slum life and give them a fresh chance in a new country crying out for immigrants and labour. The children would also supply the Empire with yet more good British stock.
Hardship and Hope
Dozens of child care organizations, such as the Barnardo and Middlemore Homes, oversaw the emigration, collecting the children and sending them out in shiploads. A good many children were not orphans but simply from families that, through poverty, unemployment or death of the breadwinner, could no longer feed them. While the child emigrants were removed from conditions that might very well have killed them, they did not escape painful hardships. Families and siblings were split. Children lost contact with loved ones in Britain. From ages four to fifteen, they could be indentured as farm labourers and domestic servants required to stay until they reached eighteen. In return, they were supposed to receive schooling and a decent home.
Hidden Family Histories
While many youngsters found kindness and a real fresh start, plenty of others suffered exploitation, abuse and ridicule. Even though they went on to become successful, productive citizens, a number felt so ashamed of their status as Home Children that they hid their origins from their own children, sometimes even fabricating a totally different story. Or they considered their past so unimportant they never got around to mentioning it. Many Home Children ran away from their indentured labour in Canada and fled to the United States so a significant number of Americans are also descended from them.
Four Million Modern Descendants in Canada
Canada, alone, received 100,000 Home Children and now has almost four million descendants from these brave little immigrants. Many descendents are only now finding out that there is a Home Child in their family. This is leading to a huge surge of interest in genealogical research to fill the odd gap in the family tree and often discover a tribe of brand new relatives in Britain they never suspected existed.
Year of the Home Child – 2010
The contributions of these children were finally recognized. 2010 was declared the Year of the Home Child and a handsome stamp was issued to honour them. Gail expects to continue the story in subsequent novels set in Canada.