THE TRUTH BEHIND BRISTOL’S PAUPER CHILDREN
A little-known chapter from Bristol’s past has been brought to life in a fascinating new book which explores the plight of the city’s Victorian vagrant children.
An estimated 60,000 Canadians are believed to be descended from more than 1,500 orphaned, destitute and abandoned children who were sent to Canada in the belief they would have a better life.
The Bristol children were among around 100,000 child immigrants sent across the Atlantic between 1869 and 1939 from all over the UK; it’s estimated that 12% of present-day Canadians are descended from these “British Home Children”.
The trials and tribulations faced by these poverty-stricken children is uncovered in a revealing new book, Bristol’s Pauper Children, which will be officially launched on Saturday 7th October by Bristol Books.
Author Shirley Hodgson’s working life was devoted to the care and education of children across Bristol, where she worked in various schools, ending her career with a ten-year stint as head of Victoria Park Junior School in Bristol until she retired in 1992.
She was introduced to the story of the British Home Children sent to Canada during a lecture in Exeter given by Dr Moira Martin of the University of the West of England.
Little was known about the Bristol pauper children who were part of this exodus, so Shirley started investigating the organisations and individuals who played key parts in the education and emigration of the city’s street children.
Bristol’s Pauper Children is the result of Shirley’s painstaking research and its pages reveal a tragic, little-known chapter in the city’s history.
Some of Bristol’s pauper children were lucky; they were fed, clothed, educated and taught skills by church and charitable organisations, workhouses, reformatories and industrial schools, run mostly be well-meaning people like Mary Carpenter, Maria Rye and Annie Macpherson, with philanthropic intentions.
When these institutions started to struggle to cope with the number of children in their care, emigration to Canada was considered the best option for some of these children.
Many of them were sent to Canada to work as agricultural labourers or domestic servants, but far from the better life promised, many suffered loneliness and despair.
In many cases the children were sent abroad without the consent of their parents and were separated from their siblings, prompting then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make a statement in the House of Commons in 2010 in which he said these children had been “robbed of their childhoods.”
He said the UK had turned its back on them instead of caring for them, and had ignored their cries for help.
Now, however, their story is being told in full, through Shirley’s touching tale, which was officially launched on Saturday 7th October - you can buy a copy of the book throuigh our website shop.