Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Child Migration: the Peckham connection

Last week Gordon Brown formally apologised on behalf of the British government for the practice of child migration. This was indeed a shameful episode in history by which over a period lasting more than 100 years, tens of thousands children from poor backgrounds were shipped off to British colonies, often without their consent or that of their parents. Behind the charitable rhetoric of agencies like the Salvation Army and Barnardo's there was often a racist undercurrent (shoring up numbers of White British settlers in the colonies), and many of the children faced sexual abuse and exploitation as forced labour. A salutary lesson that the wealthy and powerful cannot be trusted with the welfare of the poor, even when they claim to act for philanthropic motives.

Peckham was a starting point in the journey of some of these unfortunate children. The Penny Illustrated Paper, June 22 1872, mentions the efforts of a Mrs Maria Rye, thanks to whom 'more than 600 hundred orphans or deserted children have been rescued from an irregular vagabond life, fed, clothes, trained, and taken to Canada... Through the liberality of a friend of the charity, who placed £500 at her disposal, Miss Rye has opened a home at Avenue House, High-street, Peckham, where ten children, lately taken from the streets, are now being fed, clothed, and prepared for a better course of life in the New World. Their ages range from eight to thirteen. Such a charity is certainly deserving of support'.

The same paper reported a year later that Miss Rye had received a donation 'in aid of her Emigration Home for Destitute Little Girls at Peckham' (May 17 1873). The 1896 map below shows that its location was South of the High Street and East of Rye Lane, approximately where the supermarket car park is now situated.

Some people may argue that it is anachronistic to criticise the past by modern standards, but in fact the practice was criticised at the time. Specifically in the case of Maria Rye, in 1874 the Local Government Board sent one of its inspectors to investigate conditions for workhouse children emigrating to Canada with a particular focus on the former jail in Niagara where children were sent on to from the Peckham home. He found that 'Many who were sent into service suffered hardship, ill-treatment and deprivation' and as a result of this and other criticisms, the Local Government Board stopped the emigration of children from workhouses the following year. Unfortunately, after a couple of years Maria Rye was able to start up again (source: The home, with its related emigration scheme, seems to have remained open until 1915. At its peak it housed up to 80 girls at a time (source).


Anonymous said...

Tories say we shouldnt apologies


not for child migration or slavery

Andrew Simpson said...

A nice piece of writing. As someone who grew up just a little distance away on Lausanne Road I would like to just congratulate you on the story and the blog. The degree of concern and downright opposition to the policy of sending children from Britain was quite extensive and extended from the 1870s into the next century.
Here the three socialist Guardians on the Chorlton Union which administrated the poor law across South Manchester repeatedly raised the issue of the poor treatment of children, the lack of sufficient supervision of the young people in Canada, and the exploitative way the system worked while arguing that this was not the way to solve either the issue of destitute children or child poverty and neglect.
As someone descended from a British Home Child I written about the policy both from how it worked here and in Canada. and if I may to an excellent site from Canada which is a treasure trove of information on British Home Children,
It is 48 years since I left Lausanne Road, and 46 since I finished at Samuel Pepys Secondary Modern School for Boys but I have never quite lost the pull of the area and so having only written a few posts about the place I think I must return to the topic and in the meantime will follow your blog.
Thank you
Good afternoon from Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Unknown said...

Nice post. My great grandma, who was the sweetest and happiest person I ever knew, was a British Home Child, from Yorkshire, but out of the Peckham Home in 1884,indentured to a druggist in Meaford, Ontario, she ran away--we don't know why--married and had a baby, my grandmother, in New York, was widowed and married again in Los Angeles, a marriage that lasted 50 years, drove over the Tioga Pass to Lake Tahoe in a Model-T, lived in Las Vegas in the 1920s, raised her second husband's orphaned twin nephews. She loved the feel of sand on her feet when she no longer had to wear stockings to the beach, sweets, children, gloves, and Easter hats. Her last remembered words, on her deathbed in Capitola, California were, "Well, I suppose it's just another case of how-do-you-do and good-bye." Then she died, at 98, with a smile. Her sister, another British Home Child survived her. We knew and loved her too.

Should it have happened? No, but let's let it go now. Many good as well as bad things came of it.

Rick Atkinson said...

I'm going to take this story into another realm and away from the practical. I'll keep it as short as poss and stick to the main details. In my 20's I was into a mixture of meditation and self hypnosis. During a nice deep self induced trance I found myself walking up a path towards a large house I was about 8-9 years old and carrying a kind of satchel. There was a type of round pond/fountain. I went to the door (which was ajar) and stepped inside. I walked along a short hall and found a kind gentle speaking lady behind a small built in Foyer. She either knew me or was expecting me. she gave me a bed pack and told me that my dorm was at the top of the stairs to the left. I made my way up to the room followed by the lady who pointed out my bed by the Hanover park lane facing window. There were 2 other single beds in the room. I spent a short time looking out of the window and saw the victorian type houses on both sides of Hanover park lane. I recognised the view although the surroundings were different there was no bus garage (amongst other things missing). I could tell the the other beds were being slept in but the house seemed to be empty for some reason. Once I finished unpacking my bed clothes from the pack I made my way downstairs and spoke to the lady. She pointed towards a door down a long corridor so I went towards it. I opened the door and stepped out onto a cobbled street (which I now know was old bull yard/Red bull yard.) It was very busy with very well dressed horsemen and horses and carriages. There were men grooming the horses and tending to their needs. it was very Hustle and bustle with people doing various work along the cobbles. I walked around the corner and found myself approaching the busy Peckham high street. I stood there and just looked for a few seconds. I knew where i was but it was much more old fashioned kind of Victorian. Just as I took my first step onto the high street..My dog started barking at someone loudly knocking at my front door and I was Back in my bedroom in Nunhead 1996. The whole episode was crystal clear in my head and I was intrigued. I wrote everything down and even drew pictures of my room and it's decor and contents. my mother suggested we look for the history of the area so we went to southwark local studies library in the Borough. Embarrassed I told my story to the librarian and he immediately started digging out old survey maps of Peckham dating back to the 18th century up to present day. We discovered that there was a house in the very same spot. He then dug out a book which had some details about the house. It was once called Avenue house and Hanover House. And was once a children's home/orphanage and a home for destitute little girls. We even noticed the round structure in front of the house on the old maps. And the door at the end of the corridor lead to the cobbled Old bull yard. Until the age of 10 I lived on Raul road (adjacent to Hanover park) And I used to play on that particular corner of the bus garage roof where my bedroom/dorm would have been. I used to walk to Peckham park school every day along Mckerrell road which passed along the side of the bus garage. One day (when I was 9 yrs old) I noticed an Albatross squawking whilst flapping his enormous wings( Seeing as I had never even heard of an Albatross I thought it was a Giant seagull). It was on the spot where I used to play. It scared the life out of me, I froze and just stared at it for a couple of minutes whilst trying to make sense of what i was looking at. Seagulls were always hanging about the bus garage but never an albatross. I mean lets face it has anyone ever seen a real life albatross ?? let alone seeing one in Peckham. My teacher told me they only live on seaside cliffs because they need the rising air currents to take off due to their huge eight foot wing span.

Rick Atkinson said...


Anyway my point is this. Did I have this detailed vision about me and the house because I played up there on the bus garage roof as a kid? Or did I play on the BG roof in the corner where my room would have been because of my past life? And what significance is the (very real) Albatross in all this?