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.