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Official apology to Britain’s former child migrants

24 February 2010 by Sam

You may remember that last year the Australian government apologised for its role in Britain’s child migration programme. Today the UK government has also made an official apology to former child migrants from Britain. You can watch a video of Prime Minister Gordon Brown making the apology on the BBC News website.

More than 100,000 British children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds were sent to live in Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries from the late 19th century onwards. Some were orphans but many were separated from their families and sent halfway across the world. 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.  

While some did find happiness with new families, 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. Their lives were obviously shattered by their experiences.

The largely unknown story of Britain’s child migrants will finally be told in a new exhibition ‘On their own: Britain’s child migrants’ currently being prepared by National Museums Liverpool and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Opening in Sydney in November 2010, the exhibition comes to Merseyside Maritime Museum 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 exhibition’s UK tour will open here.

We’ll be launching the exhibition website later this 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.

Rachel Mulhearn, the director of Merseyside Maritime Museum, said;

“The exhibition ‘On their own: Britain’s child migrants’ will present a really important history about child welfare, emigration and Britain’s empire-building. While this history is well known in Canada and Australia, within the UK it isn’t. This touring exhibition aims to correct this through telling the personal stories of those involved.”

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