Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia

Dr Barnardo's Homes

Thomas Barnardo was born and raised in Dublin. As a young man he experienced a strong religious conversion and became an evangelical Christian. In 1867, he arrived in London at the age of twenty to train as a missionary with the China Inland Mission. However, despite his ardour, its directors suggested he should train as a doctor before going further. It was a time of grim economic depression in the East End and while still a medical student Barnardo commenced work in a Ragged School in that part of the capital. The plight of the children touched his conscience and within two years he had established his first home for destitute and abandoned youngsters.

Other evangelicals, Annie Macpherson and William Booth among them, were immersed in the same work and for some church workers emigration seemed the only way to break the tragic cycle of grinding poverty. In this desperate situation, Annie Macpherson and Maria Rye pioneered child migration to Canada in 1869. Barnardo began to send children to Canada as early as 1872 through Macpherson's organisation. By 1881, he decided to throw himself wholeheartedly into child emigration and visited Canada to meet government officials and others interested in this work. He established a receiving home in Toronto for boys and increased numbers of young children were sent. Another home was later acquired at Peterborough, Ontario, called Hazlebrae and used mainly for girls.

Over the next twenty years, Dr Barnardo became the towering child care personality of the age and by the termination of most child migration to Canada in 1930, his organisation had sent 20 000 youngsters to the dominion. By comparison, Barnardo's involvement with Australia was small-scale. In 1871 a family of three children who had spent time with Barnardo after rescue from the London slums came to live on a sheep station in Australia. Seventeen years later, to show their appreciation, they sent twelve frozen sheep carcasses to Dr Barnardo's Stepney home. In 1883, an unofficial group of older Barnardo's boys arrived in Fremantle aboard the sailing vessel Charlotte Padbury but details of their later lives in Australia are sketchy.

Barnardo's Homes extended their field to Australia in a systematic way after World War I under the auspices of the Millions Club in Sydney whose president was Sir Arthur Rickard. The first meeting of the NSW branch of the association was held on 11 April 1921 under the Presidency of Lord Forster, the Governor-General. The work was organised similarly to that in Canada. A home at Ashfield was purchased as a receiving centre, a temporary residence for boys on arrival or as a convalescent home for any whom became sick or unemployed. It was named 'Barnardo House'. At this stage the boys and girls who arrived were older teenagers but their numbers were small – by comparison with the association's Canadian operation. In 1921, 47 children came; in 1922, 50; in 1923, 106; in the following year, 155; and over the next four years another 523 children arrived in Australia.

There was no problem placing the children as, for example, in 1928 – before the onset of the Depression – twenty farmers applied for each boy available and forty homes offered for each girl graduating as a domestic servant.

In 1927, the President of Barnardo's Homes in the United Kingdom, the Duke of York, visited New South Wales. It was decided to establish a training home for children under fourteen years of age. The Minister for Labour approved and the society purchased Mowbray Park near Picton, one hundred kilometres south of Sydney, the following year. The property was somewhat isolated, but was purchased on the contemporary view that the children should have beautiful surroundings to compensate for the squalor of the urban slums and their lack of family life. When they came to establish homes of their own, this would give them an ideal to which to aspire.

Mowbray Park was opened in 1929 by the Governor of New South Wales. The boys were to be trained as farm labourers, the girls as domestic servants, while accommodation was on the cottage principle, with six cottages constructed to accommodate around two hundred children. This was close to best contemporary child care practice. In spite of the virtual cessation of migration during the Depression, Barnardo's Homes was permitted to bring children to Mowbray Park to keep its Australian care viable.

As with other juvenile immigration, World War II ended arrivals for the duration. Seven years later, in 1946, in preparation for a renewal of child migration, the clause requiring boys to work on the land and girls to be placed in domestic service, was removed from the Barnardo's charter. All children were given a free choice of occupation within their vocational skills and interests. In 1947 the first postwar party of Barnardo's Homes children arrived in New South Wales, to be followed soon after by a tour of inspection by Mr W Kirkpatrick, the General Superintendent of Homes (UK), to see that standards were appropriate. There had been some criticism of child migration in the British press.

In 1950, Greenwood, an eleven acre property at Normanhurst with four large buildings, was purchased as a hostel closer to Sydney. Boys and girls were to be trained on the same property, a departure from previous practice. In 1956, the arrival of the British Fact-Finding Mission – opposed to child migration – inspected, but its reports, both public and confidential did not particularly criticise Barnardo's, but pressured the association to continue modernising its regime.

In 1957, Karingal at Lindfield was opened as a small transitional home for working girls while they became established in employment. Thereafter, development was vigorous. The first family branch home, Tarana, was established at Belmont near Newcastle two years later. It was agreed to dispense with large institutional homes and replace them with smaller, mixed family group accommodation. A number of family group homes were opened: Hartwell House in Kiama for boys and girls; Ladd House for older girls and Fairfax House for older boys on the Normanhurst property.

In 1960, the Mowbray Park Picton property was sold and another large farm near Scone, Tooloogan Vale was purchased to establish a farm training school for immigrant boys of post-school age. Lindfield became a family group home. By 1962, additional family group homes were opened at Cronulla and West Ryde.

Since Barnardo's Homes executives knew their Australian care arrangements were state-of-the-art they continued child migration when other organisations abandoned the practice. The British Catholic 'Rescue Societies' ceased sending children to Australia in 1956 and there were few, if any, children coming through the Protestant churches. However, in 1967 the last party of seven child migrants under Barnardo's Homes auspices arrived in Sydney by air. It was the last phase of a policy which had its origins in the early seventeenth century.

Series: A1
Quantity: 337.14 metres
Recorded by: 1916–28: Department of Home and Territories (CA 15); 1928–32: Department of Home Affairs [II] (CA 24); 1932–38: Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27)
Barnardo Boys, 1921–34 [c.300 pages]

Sir Arthur Rickard at the Millions Club took the initiative to get Barnardo's Homes established in New South Wales as early as 21 November 1920. Barnardo's Homes offered to place 50 boys (8 to 12 years old), as an experiment. As the scheme developed in its early years, the boys who came were somewhat older and could be placed on farms immediately. Rickard attempted to arrange for the Commonwealth to pay the fares; Gullett at Immigration refused. Immigration was still, in practice, largely a state issue and there was widespread prejudice against Barnardo's boys. In order to make the boys more acceptable it was stressed that they were 'soldiers' orphans'. The Oversea Settlement Committee was to pay the fares. Rickard had asked the Canadian Immigration Agent in London, J Obed Smith, for his advice. Smith's reply is in the file as are numerous photos of Barnardo's activities. On their arrival in Perth, en route, the first group was entertained by members of the Young Australia League. There is a copy of the 16-page, Canadian document: Smart, G P Juvenile Immigration, 1919–20: Report of the Chief Inspector of British Immigrant Children and Receiving Homes, Thomas Mulvey, Ottawa, 1921. By early 1922, tensions arose between Barnardo's, UK and the Sydney Committee, which was wound up in August 1922 and there is much correspondence on this theme. It was at this stage that the original proposals were changed and older Barnardo children, girls as well, were to be brought. With government there were also tensions, behind which lay financial problems: the Director of Immigration wrote in one letter, 6 April 1923:

There is no money for idealistic immigration schemes.

Years passed, and by 1927 there is material around the argument over the 'quality' of the children arriving in Australia. Barnardo's Homes found the numbers from its own UK homes, but arranged for some to come from other Industrial Schools and orphanages; and some to come direct from their parents' homes. Mowbray Park, Picton was acquired in 1930 and Barnardo's Homes gradually moved from 'youth' to 'child' migration. There is a break of three years in the file, 1930–33, and there is more discussion over appropriate standards in terms of health and intelligence which the children should possess.

A1, 1936/3667
Mowbray Park Farm, New South Wales, Dr Barnardo's Homes, 1930–31 [4 pages]
This has the copies of two agreements made under the Empire Settlement Act and sent from London, 27 March 1931: (a) an agreement, dated 22 December 1930, with His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia… to provide for assisted passages to suitable (Barnardo's) migrants; and (b) an Agreement, dated 2 December 1930, with Dr Barnardo's Homes… to provide for the utilisation of Mowbray Park Farm in the State of New South Wales for children from the United Kingdom.
A1, 1932/7863
The Millions Club of NSW, Permission for Dr Woolnough to Address Club, 1935 A1, 1935/6117
Series: A2
Quantity: 30.06 metres
Recorded by: 1911–20: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Immigration – Proposals by the Millions Club, 1915 A2, 1915/1803
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–50: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Immigration – Barnardo Boys, 1921–44 [173 pages]
This contains copies of agreements with governments, Hansard extracts, newspaper cuttings, letters on maintenance subsidies by the Commonwealth for Barnardo children and group nominations for boys for Mowbray Park Farm School. Correspondence involves the Prime Minister's Department, the High Commission, the Commonwealth Immigration Office, the Development and Migration Commission, the Department of Labour and Industry (NSW), the Department of Transport and the Premier's Department (NSW). Material is also included on the withdrawal of financial assistance during the Depression and resumption of assisted migration of Barnardo's children in October 1936. The children's standards debate is featured and a small number were repatriated to the UK. New standards of intelligence, ie higher IQ levels, and personal adaptability were imposed.
A461, H349/1/7
Immigration – Barnardo's Boys, 1934–38 [3 pages]
Newspaper cutting, c.1934 on 'Child Migration: Advantages to Australia. Work of Dr Barnardo's Homes' prompted a letter to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (copy to Prime Minister J A Lyons) from Miss I M Brown, from Hobart, protesting against 'the white slave traffic' as she viewed child migration.
A461, A349/1/7 part 1
Series: A463
Quantity: 701.38 metres
Recorded by: 1956–71: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Visit of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Visit to Dr Barnardo's Home, Downer, Canberra, 4 April 1966
The Queen Mother was patron of the National Incorporated Association, Dr Barnardo's Homes and 1966 was the centenary of Thomas Barnardo's first involvement in child care. There had been discussion the previous year of the Queen Mother visiting a Barnardo's Home during her 1966 visit to Australia. There is a letter from Sir Martin Gilliatt, Principal Private Secretary to the Queen Mother to Sir Alfred Owen, Chair of the Council, 22 June 1965, that the Queen Mother would be delighted to visit. Of interest are the extraordinarily detailed plans for a twenty-minute call, including curricula vitae of all those to be presented to the Queen Mother.
A463, 1966/66
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.5 metres
Recorded by: 1951–55: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Dr Barnardo's Children's Homes, NSW, 1938–48 [186 pages]
Mostly covers the postwar period. There is correspondence relating to the termination of passage assistance for Barnardo children during the war, although maintenance grants to those up to 14 years of age and already in Australia was continued. There are press cuttings on the homes, details of maintenance payments for 1938 and a copy of the 1937 Supplementary Agreement under the Empire Settlement Act.
A445, 133/2/115
Dr Barnardo Children's Homes, NSW, Part 3, 1949–52 [c.300 pages]

This file is very large and much of it is not available to the public since it concerns problems at Barnardo's Homes Picton in 1951. Includes a copy of the minutes of an important conference, 15 February 1949, between NSW representatives of the Big Brother Movement, Barnardo's Homes, the Child Welfare and the Commonwealth Department of Immigration. The background was the sense in some voluntary organisations, especially the Big Brother Movement, that they were being subjected to increasing and unnecessary control by the State Child Welfare Department led by Mr R Hicks. There is a cutting from the Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 1949, photo and comment on the arrival of 25 Barnardo boys on the Chitral and destined for Mowbray Park Picton. There follows correspondence and statements regarding a fracas and its aftermath between some of the boys and the Superintendent of the orphanage in January 1951. There is a detailed account of the events by Dr R Green, the NSW Secretary for Barnardo's Homes in a letter to R H Wheeler at the Immigration Department, 8 March 1951. Afterwards, Hicks commented to Heyes in Canberra, 14 February 1951:

… the organisations are inadequately equipped to handle appropriately a number of children sponsored by them.

In Canberra, one officer minuted:

I think it is important that the voluntary organisations should realise that their responsibilities do not terminate because a juvenile becomes difficult to control.

The Senior CMO, Mr R U Metcalfe, added that:

… only in special circumstances can children whom they have introduced be placed in state establishments.

At first, Barnardo's Homes had wanted the recalcitrant youths placed in state care.

A445, 133/2/4
Series: A446
Quantity: 3364.4 metres
Recorded by: 1953–74: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Dr Barnardo's Children's Homes, NSW, 1953–61 [c.200 pages]
Focuses on Mowbray Park Farm School, Picton during the 1950s. Numerous newspaper cuttings with photos. In 1953, Sir Tasman Heyes offers departmental assistance in recruiting children and there is correspondence over the arrival of Mr T W Hayton, Barnardo's Homes Publicity Officer, to take the difficult financial situation in hand. The deficit for the year 1953 was £30,000, made good by the parent organisation in the UK. An appeal was launched for funds and there is evidence from the press cuttings that it was widely supported. By 5 April 1954, 247 children had arrived in NSW under Barnardo's Homes auspices. There is mention of the serious car accident, 6 July 1957, in which a number of past students were injured in the Picton area. There is extensive newspaper coverage of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked the farm school in 1958 and which led Barnardo's Homes to close the facility a couple of years later.
A446, 1956/67312
Doctor Barnardo's Homes, NSW – Financial Assistance, 1950–71 A446, 1967/71858
Series: A436
Quantity: 5.04 metres
Recorded by: 1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
Barnardo Children, 1930–37

Includes material on the Millions Club, Barnardo's, Sir Arthur Rickard and the purchase and opening of Mowbray Park, Picton, the former residence of Sir Frederick Waley. The Depression led some to worry that Barnardo boys would take Australian boys' jobs and child migration was a sensitive issue in these circumstances. The British representative, Mr E T Crutchley, wrote in this context to the Secretary, Transport Department, 1 June 1931:

I hope sincerely that your Government will be able to approve the admission of further parties of children necessary to keep the school up to its capacity on the understanding that the cost of the passages is met in England.

In essence, the crux here was political:

Young Australian-born boys were tramping the country looking for work and therefore, were English young people to be brought in – at Government expense – as competitors?

(Senate Hansard, 16 November 1934). There is a great deal of correspondence over the quality of the children sent, their physique and intellectual capacity. Australia House warned on 20 September 1934 that 'the general policy of Barnardo's is only to send overseas those children who are unsuitable for placing in this country' and adds 'it is high time that the State of New South Wales were advised what is going on'. The writer, Mr W J Stables, suggests that medical certificates are being 'doctored' and cites the classic eugenics propaganda that 'subnormals breed more readily'. A special testing of certain Barnardo youngsters was undertaken. Seventeen children were considered 'poor stock', 'degenerates', 'probably mentally-defective', 'very dull' or 'dull': 'a very serious state of affairs which should not be permitted to continue' according to one official. On 4 July 1935, this officer minuted: 'Barnardo's authorities have not been 'playing the game' and said that sixteen children should be repatriated. Each child migrant should be required to have an IQ of 95 minimum. In April 1936, new guidelines for the admission of Barnardo children, and by extension, child migrants in general, were released.

A436, 1945/5/168 part 1
Barnardo's Homes – NSW nominations, 1937–39 [70 pages]

In June 1937, the NSW Immigration and Tourism Minister approved the introduction of 60 juvenile immigrants under Barnardo's Homes auspices. In a letter to Australia House, T H Garrett advised around the same time:

As this is the first batch of Barnardo children to be granted assisted passages for some years, both Commonwealth and State Governments are particularly anxious that the children should be up to the required standard physically and mentally… during 1935, when they were not obliged to submit to Commonwealth selection, some Barnardo children were found to be unfitted for life in Australia.

There is a cutting from the Sydney Morning Herald, 30 December 1937, which announced the arrival of 50 British children for Mowbray Park Picton, the largest party to arrive in NSW for five years. The Senior Escort, Captain R D Rees remarked:

NSW has been selected as the best state for the work because of the better prospects of securing employment for the children when their training is completed and because of the interest shown in the work by the State Government.

The fourth folio is an apparently unrelated memorandum by the Port Medical Officer on medical checks on children arriving at Sydney.

A436, 1946/5/7
Series: D1976
Quantity: 16.5 metres
Recorded by: 1939–51: Australian Customs Service, Adelaide (CA 802)
Enquiry regarding the admission to Australia of orphans from the UK – Barnardo Homes, 1940 D1976, SB1940/555
Series: A3934
Quantity: 1.62 metres
Recorded by: 1926: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Sir Arthur Rickard – Appointment as Delegate, League Conference, 1926 A3934, SC28/1
Series: C443
Quantity: 2 metres
Recorded by: 1946: Investigation Branch NSW, Security Section (CA 904)
Sir Arthur Rickard, Box 4, 1932–40 C443/P1, J34
Series: CP815/1
Quantity: 8.63 metres
Recorded by: 1944–50: Department of Information (CA 34)
Immigration Articles for Millions Club Journal, 1947–48 CP815/1, bundle 33/021/118
Series: A5954
Quantity: 109.9 metres
Recorded by: 1937–39: Department of Defence (II) (CA 19)
Impressions of a Trip Abroad. An Address Delivered to the Millions Club Sydney, Australia by Mr Hudson Fysh, 1939 A5954, 192/50
Series: A444
Quantity: 5.25 metres
Recorded by: 1951–52: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Millions Club of NSW, 1939–51 A444, 1951/16/3089
Series: A6680
Quantity: 3.66 metres
Recorded by: 1926: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12); 1927: Director of the Royal Tou (CA 1052)
Millions Club Sydney – Request for representation at Canberra ceremony, 1926–27 A6680, DY16/22
Millions Club – Desire to entertain His Royal Highness, 1926 A6680, DY19/10
Address of Welcome – The Millions Club of NSW, 1927 A6680, DY57/9
Series: A2880
Quantity: 62.28 metres
Recorded by: 1945–75: Governor-General (CA 1)
Associations, Societies, etc. – Patronage – Dr Barnardo's Homes Young Helpers League, 1938 [12 pages]
This concerns correspondence between Marjorie Beaumont, Australian Warden for the Young Helpers League of Dr Barnardo's Homes and the Secretary to Lady Gowrie, wife of the Governor-General. Mrs Beaumont wrote, 10 March 1938, to request vice-regal patronage for the Young Helpers League. She explained that the League was composed of friends and children from 'happy homes all over the world' to provide for the support and assistance of the children in Dr Barnardo's Homes, especially the hospitals for sick children. HRH Princess Beatrice was President of the League which was founded in 1892. There is a copy of the booklet of the League which claims a membership of 85 000 'Companions' organised into 2000 'Habitations' or groups. The League had raised £1,000,000 for Barnardo's Homes over the years. Lady Gowrie's secretary replied that the League was not long enough established in Australia to be considered for vice-regal patronage.
A2880, 20/6/86
Series: C3939
Quantity: 38.7 metres
Recorded by: 1952–74: Department of Immigration, NSW Branch (CA957); 1974–75: Department of Labor and Immigration NSW (CA 1995); 1975–77: Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs [I] NSW (CA 1968)
Visit by Mr P L Hartley, Deputy General Superintendent of Dr Barnardo's Homes, 1952–77 C3939, N1963/75248


Chapter 3
Guide to the Records