British Home Children 8

Between 1869 and the Great Depression, over 100,000 children were sent to Canada from Great Britain. The idea behind this scheme was to alleviate the number of poor and destitute children who were living in workhouses where they were separated from their families. These youngsters were transferred from the workhouses to Children's Homes and from there, were sent to Canada to work on farms as indentured servants. The girls worked as domestic servants and the boys as farm labourers. The very young children (infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers) were often adopted out to families in Canada while children as young as 6 were sent to work on the farms. Siblings were generally separated from one another.

The first people to pioneer this idea of child migration were Scottish Evangelical Christians Annie MacPherson and her sister Louisa Birt. In 1870, MacPherson bought a large workshop which she turned it into a "Home of Industry". Here the poor and destitute children could work, be fed, and be educated. MacPherson soon became convinced the real solution for these children was for them to emigrate to Canada where they would have more opportunities for a better life. MacPherson, while the first, was not the only person exporting children to farms in Canada.

Two other entrepreneurs of benevolence were William Quarrier and Thomas Barnardo. William Quarrier, a shoe retailer in Glasgow, built the Orphan Homes of Scotland at Bridge of Weir. This community which included 34 cottages, a school, a church, and a fire station quickly became known as Quarrier's Village. Between 800 to 1500 children lived at Quarrier's Village at a time during the 1890s.

The Orphan Homes of Scotland participated in a relocation programme which sent more than 7,000 young people to new homes in Ontario, Canada where they were employed, in the main, as farm labourers. These are the British Home Children.

Thomas Barnardo started his charity homes for children in London in the 1870s. The homes were originally for children who had been left abandoned or destitute as a result of the cholera outbreaks in the country. Barnardo eventually had 96 homes spread throughout the UK. The majority of these were in England, but his homes also expanded into Scotland.

These vulnerable young children were sent not only to Canada, but also to Australia where they were part of the Child Migrant Scheme. Many of the children who went to Australia were deemed orphans, even though many of them still had parents in the UK. Often these children were adopted to families in Australia. Older children were indentured farm workers or domestic servants. Many had their names and dates of birth changed.

Child emigration was largely suspended for economic reasons during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Library and Archives Canada has an extensive database of immigration and  census records for children who arrived as British Home Children.  This is a free website.

In addition, the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa has a database of British Home Children and a query to them can provide assistance in gaining access to the records that are privately held by the sending agencies/organizations.

About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland ( and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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8 thoughts on “British Home Children

  • Kelly McDonnell

    In 1884 my Irish great grand father who was 6 years old was shipped to Canada. In his own words ” I was shipped to Canada by the Nuns to work as a slave on a farm in Canada” It appears he was sent from Ireland to England then to Peterborough Canada. After 30 years of record searches and hiring researchers I still have not been able to find his information prior to 1900 marriage in Canada.
    James Wilbert McDonnell / McDonald parents as per marriage certificate Patrick McDonnell Rose Ann McCraghan. Born Dublin Ireland.

  • Kay

    I sent away for my husband’s grandfathers file from Dr. Barnardos and they sent a great write up with a photo of him and the orphanage itself. In the report was a write up about all the visits they did with him in Canada. The report cost $200 (a bit pricey) but well worth it as it answered a lot of questions that we had as his grandfather rarely talked about his parents. Now we know that his father died of TB and his mother remarried only to get TB herself a short time later at which time her new husband gave up the children. In his circumstance he was lucky and got a good home (farm) in Canada but the three brothers were separated. One got a good placement the other not so good. At least they could still keep in touch with one another and the older siblings that were still in England. I have read books on the subject and it seems a lot of the children didn’t have such good lives. However, everyone was dying of TB and in such dire poverty in England that in his case being a Home Child probably saved his life.

  • Heather

    Are there more agencies not mentioned here? My great great grandmother and her brother Harriet 9 and Frederick 5 Jobson- assume they were brother and sister were sent to Canada were sent NY the Middlemore Home. 1884. Wish they had better records or intake photos.

    • Christine Woodcock Post author

      Heather the records for the Middlemore Homes are in the archives at the Birmingham Library. They do have some photos, but later than the timeframe you are looking at. However, they also have intake books (very minimal information), the annual record from the inspector (index card sized) and then the discharge report. The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa has extensive records from Middlemore. It would certainly be worth getting in touch with them. That’s where I was able to get the records of two of my four BHC.