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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. Read more…

Medallion tells of the leaving of Liverpool

23 June 2010 by Sam

two women, one holding a medallion

Ellie Moffat from National Museums Liverpool receives the medallion from Phyllis Clark (niece of William Nevin)

Often objects in museum displays can seem like very ordinary everyday items until you find out the incredible and sometimes very moving stories behind them.

One such item is a small medallion that is being loaned to the upcoming exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants, which opens in the Australian National Maritime Museum later this year before coming to Merseyside Maritime Museum in 2011.

The medallion was awarded to Everton schoolboy William Nevin a century ago, for being a star pupil at Major Lester school. At the age of 14 William left Liverpool for New Zealand in 1911 and never saw his home again. William married, had children and was successful in business, but he never forgot about his Liverpool family. Read more…

Message board for former child migrants launched

7 June 2010 by Sam

actors in period costume on board a ship

Two of the actors with a lifebuoy prop during filming

National Museums Liverpool in partnership with the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney are developing a new exhibition, On their own – Britain’s child migrants. The exhibition, which opens in Sydney this November before coming to Liverpool, will tell the story of child migration from Britain to Commonwealth countries. Here’s the latest news about the development of the exhibition from curator Ellie Moffat:


“From the late 19th century up until the 1960s Britain sent more than 100,000 children to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. They all had very different experiences along the way and many former migrants are still coming to terms with what happened to them.

Those involved thought that the children would receive a better start in life in the ‘New World’, where there was also a demand for labour. They were ‘seeding’ the British Empire with ‘good British stock’. These children, some as young as 3 years old, were sent off in groups on their own. Some were orphans but many were separated from families and this often led to a lonely and brutal childhood.

Today we are launching our message board about the child migration movement. If you are a former child migrant or someone in your family was affected then we would like to hear from you. You can upload your memories and photographs to this message board. On the website you can also find links to organisations connected with child migration. Read more…

From the deep

4 May 2010 by stepheng

model of a large sailing ship

Indian Queen ship model

I find sea mysteries completely absorbing because of their finality – a ship disappearing without trace always leaves so many unanswered questions.

I only learnt about this particular disappearance recently and was fascinated by the way the sea gave up its secret after so many years.

It was a mystery that took 135 years to solve – the disappearance of the emigrant paddle steamer Pacific and almost 200 passengers and crew on a voyage from Liverpool to New York. One of the largest, fastest and most well-appointed ships of her day she vanished after sailing on 23 January 1856. Read more…

Destination Liverpool

19 April 2010 by stepheng

I think Liverpudlians sometimes overlook the special relationship many people from around the world feel they have with our city – even if they’ve never visited us.

The port is historically a romantic place in the widest sense of the word – a point of departure and loss because people set off for new lives from its docks and quaysides. Our music is also known virtually everywhere, adding to the potent emotional mix.

Liverpool has a place in the family histories of countless millions of people scattered across the globe. Many feel that this spot saw the beginning of new lives.   Read more…

Mimosa migration

12 April 2010 by stepheng

archive photo of a group of people

Settlers in Patagonia, including some of the original Mimosa emigrants, 28 July 1890.

I like the idea of moving en masse to a distant country and setting up a community just as the Pilgrim Fathers did to found America.

Most emigrants settle as individuals or small groups in existing communities and become part of their adopted countries while retaining their cultural links. It is more unusual for large numbers to leave together, travel together and settle together.  

A group of Welsh people sailed into the unknown to found a successful settlement thousands of miles away in South America where their descendants continue to live today. Read more…

Emigrant lodgings

14 December 2009 by stepheng

drawing of people queuing outside an office

Print depicting a 1850 government medical inspectors office. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

The more I learn about travel in the past, the more I am convinced that our ancestors were a much tougher lot than us. They may have had to put up with more disease and hunger but they certainly had great reserves of strength and stamina – just look how they spread across the globe.

Emigrating in the 19th century was a hard and demanding process with lots of hurdles to jump before you even went to sea. Read more…

Benares innocents

30 November 2009 by stepheng

Black and white photo of boys being carried by sailors

Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I am particularly moved by this story which graphically demonstrates the caring nature of people placed in extreme danger. We cannot comprehend what the victims of this disaster went through – many died but the surviving children were tenderly cared for as they awaited rescue.

The sinking of the passenger liner City of Benares with the loss of 81 of 100 children on board brought home the ruthlessness of German U-boat submarines to newspaper readers and radio listeners all over the world. Read more…

Child migration exhibition

16 November 2009 by Karen

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. Read more…

New lives

9 November 2009 by stepheng

Black and white photo of an old lady in a public park

Sarah Jane Parsons in Bridlington, 1950. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

Homesickness is like seasickness – you only feel better once you’ve stopped travelling. I have suffered from both and hope I never experience them again.

Longing for home gnaws away at the soul and is almost impossible to eradicate. I found that it was just as much the loss of my cultural roots as the absence of family and friends.

The logistics of moving huge numbers of emigrants through Liverpool involved everything from supplying cabins to the plates they ate off – it was very big business indeed. Read more…

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Welcome to the National Museums Liverpool blog! Written by our staff and volunteers, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our museums and galleries.

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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.