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Uprooted: The Shipment of Poor Children to Canada, 1867-1917

Roy Parker
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    Book Description:

    Some 80,000 British children - many of them under the age of ten - were shipped from Britain to Canada by Poor Law authorities and voluntary bodies during the 50 years following Confederation in 1867. How did this come about? What were the motives and methods of the people involved in both countries? Why did it come to an end? What effects did it have on the children involved and what eventually became of them? These are the questions Roy Parker explores in a meticulously researched work that brings together economic, political, social, medical, legal, administrative and religious aspects of the story in Britain and Canada. He concludes with a moving review of evidence from more recent survivors of child migration, discussing the lifelong effects of their experiences with the help of modern psychological insights. His book - humane and highly professional - will capture and hold the interest of many: the academic, the practitioner and the general reader; and they will include the relatives and descendants, both in Britain and Canada, of the children around whom this study revolves. CUSTOMERS IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA: Copies of this title are available from UBC Press,

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-290-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Part I: Setting the Scene

    • ONE The Background
      (pp. 3-18)

      While the late 1860s might be taken to mark the start of the child emigration movement, that would be misleading, for there were many earlier examples. The trans-shipment of unwanted pauper children to the plantations of Virginia is reported from the beginning of the seventeenth century and, somewhat later, children were also taken to the West Indies.¹ There is, however, little evidence that these practices continued much into the eighteenth century. This was partly because, by then, the demand for servant and plantation labour was increasingly being met by the spread of black slavery. Even so, prisoners continued to be...

    • TWO Early Initiatives
      (pp. 19-36)

      It was Maria Rye and Annie Macpherson (1824–1904) whose names have been most often associated with the inauguration of child emigration to Canada, although they did not collaborate and were never closely acquainted. Their styles of operation were markedly different. Rye, although subscribing to evangelical sentiments, was a tough-minded entrepreneur with a sharp eye for political opportunities. Macpherson, as Wagner describes her, was a ‘twice-born Christian, a committed evangelical who shunned the secular world’.¹ The depth and pervasiveness of this evangelism is compellingly illustrated in her letters that appear in the ‘record’ of her work written by her helper...

  2. Part II: Setbacks and Anxieties

    • THREE Checks and Balances
      (pp. 39-52)

      It will have become apparent by now that the Local Government Board (LGB) (the successor to the Poor Law Board [PLB] in 1871) was responsible for the oversight and regulation of the activities of local boards of guardians and that this included the emigration of children in their charge. In particular the central authority was required to approve the departure of each child individually. As a result important questions arose, especially about the proper interpretation and application of the law as well as about how policy should be framed.

      In sharp contrast, the activities of the private bodies and individuals...

    • FOUR The Issue of Inspection
      (pp. 53-64)

      Andrew Doyle’s report was sent to the Governor-General of Canada with a request that the Canadian government consider it. As its House of Commons’ Select Committee on Immigration and Colonisation was sitting at the time, the matter was referred to them. When John Lowe, the Deputy Minister in the Department of Agriculture, appeared before the Committee he was asked how Doyle’s allegations should be met. His view was that a general statement about the condition of the children would be insufficient. What was needed, he believed, was ‘a detailed report based upon a full inspection’.¹ It was agreed that an...

  3. Part III: The Field Expands

    • FIVE The Second Wave of Organised Protestant Child Emigration
      (pp. 67-90)

      More has been written about Thomas John Barnardo (1845–1905) and his organisation than about any other child welfare society in Britain.¹ It is therefore unnecessary to dwell on his biographical details or the rather tempestuous history of the organisation in the nineteenth century. However, Barnardos sent more children to Canada than any other agency – altogether 24,854 children (70 per cent of them boys) were reportedly emigrated under its auspices between 1882 and 1915, the peak years being after the turn of the century.² Given the size of the organisation’s contribution to juvenile emigration to Canada it is important...

    • SIX The Catholic Response
      (pp. 91-110)

      We have seen in chapter 2 that Father Nugent’s early initiatives in the emigration of Catholic children from Liverpool sprang not only from a concern to save them from the ‘ravages of destitution’ but also from an anxiety about a ‘leakage from the faith’. One of the reasons why this was considered difficult to withstand was because of the Church’s limited resources. On the one hand, there were heavy concentrations of poor Catholics in the densely populated urban areas and on the other, there was the class composition of Catholicism in Britain. At the lowest end of the social scale...

    • SEVEN The ‘Unorganised’ Emigrationists
      (pp. 111-126)

      Sooner or later most of the child emigration ventures became organisations in the sense that their conduct was subject to a measure of control by a management committee, their finances were scrutinised and certain formal posts created. That said, however, their founders frequently continued to exercise considerable influence and tended only reluctantly to relinquish the reins of power. Nevertheless, there was a clear evolution from individual initiative to incorporated agency and thus to the continuation of the organisation after the retirement or death of the originator. However, there were some schemes that did not follow this course and which, until...

  4. Part IV: The Canadian Dimension

    • EIGHT Canadian Demand for Child Labour
      (pp. 129-150)

      There was considerable Canadian demand for British child immigrants throughout the 50 years after Confederation, and it remained at a high level even during periods of economic recession. In order to appreciate why these demands were so insistent it is necessary to explore the nature of the Canadian farm family economy.

      Most British immigrant children were placed in rural areas and overwhelmingly on farms. This is explained by the persistent shortages of farm labour that were endlessly reported by the immigration agents stationed across the country. What most farmers wanted was a ready supply of cheap casual labour that could...

    • NINE Canadian Opposition to Child Immigration
      (pp. 151-170)

      Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century there had been an undercurrent of opposition in Canada to certain classes of immigrants. Soon after Confederation, however, legislation specified particular categories that could be denied entry altogether. They were: the dependent, the criminal, the diseased, and those, like confirmed paupers, who were expected to become a liability. Unaccompanied children constituted an interesting group in this respect since although the younger ones were dependent on arrival their dependency could be expected to decline. In fact they could be regarded as an investment, both nationally and by individual employers. However, from the 1880s...

    • TEN The Management of the Opposition in Canada
      (pp. 171-186)

      While it is difficult to follow the different ways in which the Canadian government and the emigration societies dealt with the growing volume of opposition to child immigration that developed during the 1880s and 1890s, the nature of these responses becomes more apparent if the pattern is reconstructed for a limited period when the opposition was at its height, namely, during the months of May and June 1888.

      The Select Standing Committee on Agriculture and Colonisation, whose deliberations were discussed in chapter 9, met at the beginning of May 1888. It was inevitable that the sensational character of some of...

  5. Part V: The Ambiguities and Obfuscation

    • ELEVEN The Reformatories and Industrial Schools
      (pp. 189-206)

      Some of the children who were sent to Canada came from the British reformatories and industrial schools. This was always a sensitive issue since Canadian legislation debarred the entry of anyone with a criminal record, and public opinion could easily be inflamed by the claim that this prohibition had been evaded. In fact, it was only those who had been committed to a reformatory who were specifically precluded from entering the country, but even then there was the disputed question of whether an exception could be made in the case of those who had been fully discharged rather than released...

  6. Part VI: The Children and their Parents

    • TWELVE What Befell the Children
      (pp. 209-234)

      Most of the previous chapters have included some details of what happened to certain children. Without repeating these examples it is time to assemble some of the other evidence about what happened to individual children and to draw some conclusions. It must be emphasised, however, that hard evidence is meagre, and much of what there is concerns cases that caused disquiet. As a result it often reflects the worst side of child emigration. Nonetheless, it is likely that for every child about whom such evidence still exists there were others whose circumstances were similar but which were ignored or unknown....

    • THIRTEEN Parents’ Rights, Consent and Legislation
      (pp. 235-250)

      We have seen that the children who were emigrated enjoyed few rights; but in the nineteenth century this was the case for children generally. The rights that did exist were the result of the gradual curtailment of a father’s historic right to do whatever he liked with his children. These limitations arose with the increasing involvement of the state in securing the education, health and protection of children. However, it was the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early years of the next that witnessed the emergence of more far-reaching interventions whereby, under certain circumstances, a child could...

  7. Part VII: A Chapter Closes

    • FOURTEEN Into the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 253-270)

      By 1887 it seemed as if the differences between the British authorities and the Dominion government concerning the proper supervision of Poor Law children in Canada had been resolved. Yet a nagging dissatisfaction remained among the LGB’s officers that led to renewed efforts to persuade the Dominion to provide more frequent inspection and to continue it up to the age of 16. One of those who was most outspoken in his criticism of the prevailing arrangements was W.E. Knollys, the chief inspector. In 1895 he appeared before the Poor Law Schools Committee to give evidence on a range of matters...

  8. Part VIII: A Review

    • FIFTEEN Explanation and Assessment
      (pp. 273-294)

      How best is this episode in the history of British children to be explained? Previous chapters have demonstrated the interwoven nature of the factors that shaped it, but there is no single or simple explanation. Nevertheless, it behoves the commentator to offer a view of the major elements in this complicated and involved emigration saga.

      The existence of profound poverty in Britain during the years 1867–1917 must be recognised as an important predisposing condition. It was exacerbated by insecure employment (or none at all), by low wages and by single parenthood, in particular that caused by widowhood and desertion....