“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Children Of The Empire.

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The recent news of forced migration of children to the colonies will come as a surprise to most people, particularly the British, who probably haven’t heard of this appalling practice until now.

The Australian Prime Minister’s apology, after much external pressure, is also soliciting change within the British government.

Despite the fact that forced migration had gone on for some three and a half centuries the British government adopted William Pitt’s maxim, let sleeping dogs lie.

Notwithstanding the horrendous ramifications for the people concerned, nothing much was said. Until the politician’s arm was forced up their back and even then they dragged their feet.

The Common’s Select Committee on Health reported on this issue in 1998, 11 years ago, and here’s a small extract :


1. “It was barbaric; it was dreadful. We look back on it in our organisation with shock and horror.”[1] This was the comment on the child migration programmes made by the Chief Executive of Barnardo’s when he, along with representatives of other sending agencies, gave evidence to us on 11 June 1998. Child migration was a feature of British social policy for many years. Legislation allowed children in the care of voluntary organisations to be transported to Commonwealth countries. In total it is estimated that some 150,000 children were dispatched over a period of 350 years—the earliest recorded child migrants left Britain for the Virginia Colony in 1618, and the process did not finally end until the late 1960s.[2] Exact statistics are difficult to come by. Today many former child migrants continue to face serious difficulties in establishing their actual identities and contacting members of their natural families who are still alive. The absence of a medical history is also a significant problem for some. In many cases child migrants suffered emotional and physical hardship and abuse, of a kind which has had damaging consequences for their health and well-being for the remainder of their lives.

2. Responsibility within the British Government for matters relating to the welfare of former British child migrants now rests with the Department of Health (DoH). This is therefore an issue which falls within the Health Committee’s order of reference. At our first meeting in the present Parliament, in July 1997, we decided to inquire into aspects of child migration, a subject which until recent years has received shamefully little attention. One explanation for this seeming disregard is that until the advent of the Child Migrants’ Trust in 1987, individual former child migrants had no organisation to represent their interests or co-ordinate their activities. They were, and are, widely dispersed across Australia and other Commonwealth countries, and often lack any ready means of gaining access to opinion-formers or to the media. Mr Tom Luce, Division Head of the Social Care Group at the DoH, commented that:

“We have a very strong impression that before the middle to late 1980s there were very few inquiries, complaints, applications for records”.[3]

The agencies involved in child migration appear at this time to have been less than co-operative in dealing with requests for information. Former child migrants were a group whose fate had largely been forgotten.

So next time someone talks about British greatness and the Empire, remind them of the real history, the real Empire, and what it consciously did to small children.

Update 1: The Child Migrants Trust is a useful resource.

Update 2: BBC radio covered this issue in 2003, their programmes are available (as Real media), Programme One – Children of the Empire, Programme Two – Good British Stock, Programme Three – Nobody to Trust and Programme Four – Searching for Identity.

Update 3: Again from the Beeb:

“Australia’s Roman Catholic Church publicly apologised on Thursday to British and Maltese child migrants who suffered abuse including rape, whippings and slave labour in religious institutions.”

Update 4: From 1999,

“British officials have been involved in a “top level cover-up” over the forced migration of vulnerable children, a Labour MP claimed on Wednesday.
David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, told the House of Commons that 150,000 children in care had been shipped to Australia and New Zealand as part of an experiment in child migration which he called “Britain’s most shameful secret”.

The practice of shipping orphans to Britain’s former colonies began in 1618 and only ended in 1967.”

Update 5: From the Australia’s Parliamentary Library, ‘Forgotten Australians’ and ‘Lost Innocents’: child migrants and children in institutional care in Australia.

“Under the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 and 1937, the British Government assisted private organisations to help people who wanted to settle in ‘His Majesty’s Overseas Dominions.’ Although not specifically aimed at assisting child migrants, this legislation allowed non-government organisations to send child migrants to various parts of the British Empire. The scheme intensified after the war when child migrants were sent under the Children’s Act 1948. Although non-government organisations had direct charge of most of the children at the recruitment stage, during their passage, or after their arrival in the receiving countries, they received encouragement and financial backing from British governments and governments in receiving countries. About 150 000 children with an average age of eight years and nine months emigrated from the United Kingdom, the majority to Canada, until the scheme ended in 1967.[4] A key motivation for child migration was to maintain the racial unity of the Empire and populate the Dominions of Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia, with ‘good white stock’.”

Update 6: The Torygraph, 2001 “The Roman Catholic Church in Australia apologised yesterday to British child migrants who were sexually abused… “

Written by modernityblog

15/11/2009 at 22:14

One Response

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  1. The movie ‘Oranges and Sunshine’ by Jim Loach will be screened in the UK from April,2011 and Australia from June. It is based on the book ‘Empty Cradles’ written by Margaret Humphreys of the Child Migrants Trust.It will provoke further debate and awareness of this child care scandal.


    04/04/2011 at 22:38

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