Child Migrants and Adoption



These are the children sent from Britain and Ireland to colonies and former colonies with the express intention of helping to culturally swamp the native peoples by increasing the white population.

The practice began in 1618 with a shipment of children to Virginia, and did not stop until 1967. The shameful history of the practice was almost forgotten until recently, when Margaret Humphreys and the Child Migrants' Trust began investigating and trying to reunite surviving children with their parents.

The 1930s to 50s were the period of greatest activity, when the primary destinations were Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. The children were usually aged between five and 12 years. Mainly they were taken from children's homes and orphanages. Children were told that their parents were dead or had abandoned them (often a deliberate lie, as most in fact still had parents); the parents were seldom consulted: their children simply disappeared. The children were shipped overseas and usually housed in large children's homes instead of being fostered or adopted. This compares unfavorably with the treatment of the children on the US Orphan Trains.

Investigations over recent years have revealed large-scale physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the destination institutions, with children being used as virtual slaves before being shoved out the doors when they were considered old enough to fend for themselves. Boys were usually apprenticed to tradesmen or sent as farm laborers; girls were raised to be farmers' wives or domestic servants. A large percentage of the children have as adults deep emotional scars and an abiding hatred for the British government, for the charities which sanctioned their forced emigration and did virtually nothing to secure their humane treatment in their new countries, and for the receiving institutions where they were abused.

Both the British and colonial charities involved deliberately lied to the children and their parents, often destroyed and falsified birth records to make tracing impossible, and many are now still failing to co-operate effectively with the migrants in trying to reconstruct their pasts or heal the wounds they caused.

A few of these children have managed to become successful as adults and are listed here, including David Hill, Desmond McDaid, Albert Stanhope, and George Wilkins.


Boseley, Sarah. "Child Slaves of Bindoon," The Guardian [London], 30 August 1995, pp. 2-3 Davey, Gwenda. A Strange Place to Go: Child Migrants to Australia: A Resource Book. (Melbourne: Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, 1986) Humphreys, Margaret. Empty Cradles. New edition. (London: Corgi Books, 1995) Kohli, Marjorie P. "Young Immigrants to Canada." Available at: "Services for Adopted People and Others Formerly in Our Care, Including Child Migrants." Available at: Windows: Rhodesia Fairbridge Memorial College Autobiographies, edited by David Calcutt. (Christchurch: Fairbridge Marketing Co., 2001) "Other Orphan Movements." Available at: