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On their own – Britain’s child migrants

9 November 2010 by Sam

archive photo of 4 young children carrying suitcases

Four children bound for Fairbridge Farm School, Molong 1938. Reproduced courtesy of Molong Historical Society.

This week two museums at opposite ends of the world are unveiling the results of a major collaborative project about child migration schemes from Britain to the Commonwealth. Curator Ellie Moffat from the Merseyside Maritime Museum explains:

“Over the last couple of years we have been developing an exhibition in partnership with the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) in Sydney. Tomorrow that exhibition, ‘On their own – Britain’s child migrants‘, opens at ANMM.

ANMM approached us a few years ago about collaborating on a project looking at the history of Britain’s child migrants, and this exhibition is the culmination of that work. The partnership has been very productive and engaging – if sometimes challenging due to the distance and time differences!

‘On their own – Britain’s child migrants’ traces the history of child migration schemes, concentrating on the mass migration movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. It will be on display at ANMM until May 2011, before touring other venues across Australia. The original plan had been for the exhibition to come to Merseyside Maritime Museum next November and then tour the UK. However due to central government cuts to our funding we have been forced to cancel plans for hosting the exhibition.

To accompany the exhibition we have developed the On their own – Britain’s child migrants website which has just gone live. It contains much of the exhibition content, including oral histories of former child migrants and personal stories to compare and contrast the varying experiences that these children had when they were sent away to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as part of the child migration schemes.

I hope that many of you will visit the exhibition website to at least experience it virtually.

To coincide with the exhibition opening in Australia we have organised a new Child migration display within our Emigrants to a New World gallery in the basement of Merseyside Maritime Museum. We felt it was important to represent the story of child migration in some form, even though we cannot host the main exhibition. The story is such an important one and is part of the wider history of emigration that we already tell.

The display features William Kelly; a local boy who was taken into care by the Liverpool Sheltering Homes in 1925 and sent out to Canada with Barnardo’s shortly after. His son has recently donated his child migrant trunk to us which is a very special addition to our collection.

The display has also given us the opportunity to screen some short films that were developed for the exhibition; Children – building blocks of Empire, and Two Voyages as well as show some archives related to child migration.”

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