22 March 2013

The British Home Child program

Between 1869 and the early 1930s, as many as 100,000 children were sent to Canada from Great Britain under a well-intended child welfare program that ultimately had very mixed results. It was thought that commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada could provide a chance for a brighter future for the underprivileged thereby sparing overburdened parish resources in the UK and the possibility of a child being put into a workhouse.

Typically, these children were housed and trained in schools, mostly outside London, that were operated by the 50 or so organizations that took part in this huge social experiment. One such school was operated by the Shaftesbury Homes at Bisley, Surrey and that's where my father and his brother ended up after having been orphaned.

According to the 1887 Kelly's Directory of Surrey, the first Bisley Refuge Farm School was "erected in 1868 (likely 1867), for 150 homeless and destitute boys; a second building (the Shaftesbury School) was erected in 1873 for a similar number, total averages 297 boys; the estate comprises about 125 acres, which is mostly cultivated by the boys, who are also taught various useful trades."

By 1900 more than 1000 children were in residential care there. At the time, many farm schools were actually reformatories but the 1901 Census noted that at both schools, "No Convicted Cases Accepted". Although emigration of Shaftesbury children was quite limited compared to some of the other welfare organizations (such as Barnardo Homes), those who ended up in Canada were usually sent to the society's Canadian HQ in Winnipeg although my father went through the Barnardo facility in Toronto. Typically, when Shaftesbury placed children, it paid $4 monthly plus board and lodging. Farmers and others requesting a child would enter into a contract with the organization -- not the government -- which effectively made the child an indentured servant until the age of 18.

Notably, my father joined the Canadian Forces promptly when he reached that age.