October 27, 2021

Child Migrant Sources

As Australia apologised to child migrants yesterday I thought I’d have a look at the subject and see where you could find sources for further research.

Although the recent news articles have concentrated on post-war child migrants from England to Australia, the practice actually began in 1618 when one hundred “vagrant children” were rounded up and shipped to the Virginia Colony. The policy of forced child migration only ended after the last group of children landed in Australia in 1967.

In the post war period between 1947 and 1967 approximately 7000 children were shipped to Australia, other countries participating in the scheme were New Zealand, Rhodesia and Canada and it is these that the recent publicity has concentrated on.  However, the Goverment has records for at least 150,000 child migrants aged 3 to 14 dating from around 1870 to 1967.

The policy was sanctioned and supported by the governments of the participating countries but was organised by independant “sending agencies”. The main agencies involved between the years 1920 and 1967 were Dr Barnados, The Fairbridge Society, various Catholic agencies the Children’s Friend Society, The Children’s Society, National Children’s Homes, Middlemore, The Salvation Army, Fegan’s Child and Family Care and Quarriers (formerly The orphan Homes of Scotland).

Several excellent books have been written on the subject if you would like more background:

Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker who eventually set up The Child Migrants Trust.

The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and Its Betrayal of Britain’s Child Migrants to Australia by David Hill who was a child migrant in 1959.

New Lives for Old: The Story of Britain’s child migrants: The Story of Britain’s Home Children by Roger Kershaw and Janet Sacks. Roger Kershaw is Head of Records Knowledge at The National Archives and this book is based on historical evidence from the archives.

So where should you look for records if you know or suspect a relative of yours may have been among these children? Well an excellent start is The Child Migrants Trust who will be able to give you some advice. The Department of Health have a document entitled “Information for former British child migrants” which can be downloaded from this page, this gives some background and contact details for the sending agencies. Passenger lists are available at Find My Past which show passengers leaving the UK from 1890 to 1960, the original records are also available at The National Archives in record series BT27.


  1. Anthony Chambers says

    A am a former British child migrant sent to New Zealand in the early fifties at nine years old.
    I was one of the very few really lucky ones.
    See my 20 minute documentary film: The Boy in the Lifebuoy.
    http://vimeo.com/6249351 I now live back in England in my birth town.
    I am soon to have my full memoir’s written in a book with other child migrant and associated stories to the wider subject.
    Thanking you for your interest..
    Tony: Anthony Chambers.

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