Over the past few days you will have seen news reports on the Australian government’s apology for its role in the British child migration programme (you can see the PM’s apology on the BBC website). The British government is expected to follow suit shortly.
From the late 19th century Britain operated schemes which sent more than 100,000 children to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. These children did not travel with mothers or fathers but alone, in groups. Taken from poverty and disadvantage it was believed that they would have a better life working in the clean expanses of the British Empire, where they were a source of much-needed labour.
The children’s experiences varied. While some were orphaned, many left families behind, and separation from their homeland often led to a lonely, brutal childhood. Some found happiness with new families, while for others it was a disastrous move. They were made to work long hard hours on farms. Some were abused. Many ended up in institutions. Some were told their parents had died, only to discover years later that this wasn’t the case.
The repercussions are still being felt. Many former child migrants and their families are still coming to terms with their dislocation. It’s been difficult to watch some of the displaced people on news reports; their sorrow and anger is so clear. Their lives were obviously shattered by their experiences.
It’s now recognised that the forced removal of children from their homeland was a bad idea, and one which caused more harm than good, hence the Australian government’s apology.
Coincidentally we are currently planning an exhibition on this very subject. ‘On their own – Britain’s child migrants’ is being organised in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum. It opens in Sydney in November 2010 then comes to Liverpool in summer 2011 before being toured to other museums around the country. It will focus primarily on the 1860s to 1960s and the children who travelled to Canada and Australia. Along with Glasgow, London and Southampton, Liverpool was one of the main embarkation ports for children so it’s fitting that the Maritime Museum will be hosting the exhibition.
We’ll be launching a website in spring next year and will be looking for the reminiscences of people affected by the programme. If you were involved we’d be keen to hear from you.
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