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No. 115
The child emigrant from Great Britain:
the experience of Middlemore Homes

by Judi Cumming
Archives Development and Preservation

C-86484 : Young workers cooling off

Refreshments for the Workers.
Library and Archives Canada,

The Industrial Revolution began its transformation of Great Britain in the late eighteenth century and profoundly altered the organization of labour in that country. Moving from the realm of the family and the manor to public enterprise, Britain's labouring population experienced major social and economic change throughout the nineteenth century. Persons and families caught in the upheaval had no social safety net to fall back on when destitution loomed — no widow's pensions, no family allowances, no health benefits and no unemployment insurance. At great risk were the children of working class families in the overpopulated slums of the great cities. Children caught in wrongdoing were sent to prison or reformatory schools. The Poor Law amendments of 1834 provided for "workhouse schools" for the unfortunate children and allowed for their separation from the adult prison population.

By the 1860s, local authorities in Britain were seeking voluntary institutions to help with the problem of child welfare. Many philanthropic organizations emerged, some of which sought to pluck deprived children from harmful environments and place them in different places where they might have a chance at a decent life. One such avenue was to arrange for the immigration of children to Canada in the belief that a more healthful way of life could be found, particularly in rural areas of the country. From 1869 to the end of the 1920s, thousands of children were sent to Canada. Only during World War I was the flow of children temporarily halted. The pace of emigration of these unaccompanied children slowed down after 1924 when the Canadian government legislated a ban on the emigration of children under the age of 14. Thereafter, Britain sought to send more and more of its immigration boys and girls to Australia where they were received with alacrity.