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Child Emigration starting by Train


To Canada and Elsewhere. . . . . . .



Paddington station circa 1901. The carriage board reads “DOCTOR BARNARDO’S CANADIAN EMIGRATION PARTY LONDON TO LIVERPOOL”. The woman in the middle is believed to be Mrs Barnardo.

From 1887 onwards, 16,000 children in the care of the Barnardo’s charity for vulnerable children had already been sent to Canada by 1906. Their journeys often started at Paddington station, and Euston, St Pancras and Waterloo were also used at times. An account from 1901 tells of the buses and brakes for an emigrant group being loaded at the children’s home in East London for the first stage of their westward journey. The Homes Band accompanied them as usual. The special train to Birkenhead was timed to leave Paddington at 9.10 a.m.


The account mentions that “utmost credit is due to the authorities of the Great Western Railway (GWR) for the excellence of all their arrangements on each occasion we have travelled from London to Liverpool.” The approach to the platform from which the special train was due to leave was placarded with large printed labels “Dr Barnardo’s Party For Canada”. Space had been reserved at the end of the platform for the unloading of the children’s trunks from the vehicles and marshalling of the party. The account continues, “the platform had been cleared for a grand march past. This was accomplished in first-rate style, the band leading, the smallest boys in front of the column, the big lads from the Labour House, 30 in number, bringing up the rear. It certainly looked a formidable array, and as we reviewed it and noted the large percentage of very small children, some little more than babies, and when we reflected upon the long journey and possible contingencies before us, we realised that we had no light responsibility on our hands.” Two assistants crossing with the children joined the party at Paddington. In their train they rejoiced in what was described as “an abundance of comfortable seating space”. It was noted that the train made very fast time, reaching considerably over 60 mph and making two stops only in the entire distance.



GWR express motive power of the time, “Saint” class number 2905 “Lady Macbeth” built in 1906. Photo: Mike Peart’s collection.

On 11th October 1906 the GWR put on one of its “Barnardo Special” trains from Paddington to Birkenhead for a sailing to Canada. This train was for 105 boys and around 100 girls from Barnardo’s Homes across the country. Before they left, on this occasion the children were assembled in the GWR Paddington boardroom where a director of Barnardo’s gave a speech in which he urged the children to be a credit to their Homes. He wanted the Canadians to be able to say, as they had done for other children, that this party would be straightforward, honest, honourable and hard-working. As the train left Paddington, the Homes Band played “Auld Lang Syne”. At Birkenhead, the children were taken to Woodside stage to board a tender to take them to their ship moored in the River Mersey. In 1906, the cost to the charity was £10 a head for the passage and a trunk with basic clothing.


Another occasion was reported in March 1908 when the GWR ran a “Barnardo Special”, again from Paddington to Birkenhead. They were due to board the Dominion Line ship “S.S. Dominion” to sail from Liverpool to Montreal. Dr Thomas Barnardo had opened many homes during his lifetime. When he died in 1905, the charity already had 96 homes caring for more than 8,500 children. Emigration for some boys and girls was policy at the time, and the practice carried on for many more years before it was stopped. Between 1887 and 1921, Barnardo’s had sent 27,000 children to the Commonwealth countries, mainly Canada, where they were received by “distributing homes” and placed across the country. By 1921, the cost to the organisation was £20 per head. In 2010, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the United Kingdom government to those affected by the “misguided” large-scale emigration of orphaned children – “We are truly sorry: they were let down”. It was said that over 130,000 children aged between 3 and 14 had been sent to Commonwealth countries.


Not only children started new lives at London’s termini. Later in March 1908, the GWR ran three special trains to Birkenhead for the Salvation Army with emigrant passengers for the Dominion Line ship “S.S. Kensington”. They were to sail to Montreal to live and work in rural Canada. This was part of the Salvation Army’s work of taking “The landless man to the manless land” as it was promoted at the time. Throughout the Edwardian period, the Salvation Army specialised in assisted passages for five classes of people: wives and children going out to settlers who had established themselves; widows; young agricultural labourers; boys in danger of drifting into blind-alley occupations; and young children with poor prospects. The Salvation Army was the United Kingdom’s largest voluntary migration society in the first half of the 20th century, helping around 250,000 people to emigrate from the British Isles to the Commonwealth.


Mike Peart


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