One day, while doing research, I came upon this passenger’s manifest of a ship bound for Quebec, Canada, from Liverpool, England.
I’ve underlined information pertaining to George Casbon, age 15. His last address in the United Kingdom is listed as “c/o Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, Myrtle St,L’pool.” Note also that many of the names above his come from “c/o Catholic Emigration, Coleshill,B’ham.” Under column 6, George’s occupation is listed as “farming.”
My curiosity aroused, I consulted my old friend Google, to see what I could find out about Dr Barnardo’s Homes. This search revealed a very interesting and troubling chapter in England’s social history.
Barnardo’s is a charitable organization founded by Thomas John Barnardo in 1866. Barnardo initially started a home for destitute boys in London. Over time, he opened residential homes throughout the United Kingdom. Children were taken in for variety of reasons; they might be orphans, victims of abuse, illegitimate, or just the children of families who could not afford to care for them. The charity is still in operation, and reputed to be the UK’s largest children’s charity.
The controversial and troubling part of Barnardo’s history is its role in the emigration of children to other British Commonwealth countries. A law was passed in 1850 allowing children in workhouses to be sent to Canada. Eventually, 130,000 children were sent to Commonwealth countries, the majority going to Canada. These children are now known as British Home Children. One website claims that more than 10 percent of Canada’s population today is descended from British Home Children.
Barnardo’s was only one of many organizations – including the Salvation Army and the Church of England (and “Catholic Emigration,” as noted in the passenger list above)—that participated in the child migration program. Although based largely on good intentions, i.e., to give the children “a better life,” the program was also a convenient solution to the strain on resources caused by vast numbers of children receiving support from these charitable organizations. From a social policy standpoint, it was similar to the practice of transporting convicted criminals to Commonwealth lands.
Children were sent to households and farms throughout Canada. While many of the children developed lasting relationships with their new families, others were treated as cheap labor, or were subject to abuse. They were often stigmatized by the local communities. Sometimes children were sent from the UK without their parents’ knowledge or consent, and upon arrival siblings were often separated.
After being told fanciful tales of travel to the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’, where children ride to school on horseback, child migrants were sent abroad without passports, social histories or even basic documents such as a full birth certificate. Brothers and sisters were frequently separated for most of their childhood; some were loaded onto trucks for long journeys to remote institutions, only to be put to work as labourers the next day. Many felt an extreme sense of rejection by their family and country of origin. Others felt like characters from Kafka’s novels; their punishment was obvious—exile from their family and homeland—but the nature of their crime was a complete mystery.
The emigration program began to taper off in Canada after the Second World War, but continued in Australia into the 1970s. Many of the participating agencies and countries now recognize the suffering and negative consequences endured by large numbers of children, and have expressed regret or offered official apologies to the victims.
What was George Casbon’s experience? There really isn’t enough information to know. I have very few records to go by. Perhaps it’s appropriate that he is “unconnected” in my family tree, meaning I don’t know who his parents are or how he is related to the other Casbon branches.
This is the Canadian immigration record of George’s arrival. Under the title for column 7, Country and Place of Birth, is typed “Dr. Barnardos Party.” In George’s entry for the same column, “London” has been lined through and replaced with “Penge.” Penge is a suburb of south-east London. Using George’s age, I was able to find an entry for George Casbon’s birth during the second quarter (April-June) of 1914, registered in Croydon, Surrey. Penge was included in the Croydon Registration District at that time, so this is almost certainly the same George Casbon.
The birth index lists his mother’s last name as “Casbon,” suggesting that she was unwed at the time of his birth. This might explain the reason George came to be one of “Dr. Barnardo’s children.” I don’t know the mother’s first name, although I have located at least one candidate in my records who was unmarried, of childbearing age, and who lived in Croydon her entire life. I would need to obtain the actual birth record (not the index) to (possibly) confirm her name.
Column 19 of the immigration record tells us that George intended to follow the occupation of “Farming” in Canada. In Column 21 the words “Mother, (address unknown)” are lined through and replaced with what looks like “Myrtle Liverpool.” At first I thought this meant George’s mother’s name was Myrtle and that she lived in Liverpool. However, I remembered that this is simply his last address in the UK, noted in the ship’s manifest at the top of this post. There was a Barnardo’s Home on Myrtle Street in Liverpool. Here is an image of the building as it looks today, from Google Street View™.
The Canadian offices of Dr. Barnardo’s Homes used to publish a quarterly magazine titled Ups and Downs. The magazine sometimes highlighted children who had recently arrived from the UK. George was mentioned in the January, 1930 edition.
“George Casbon records his first impression of his farm life:—
I was met at the station when I arrived by the farmer, and another Barnardo boy. He took me to a fowl supper, then he took me to his house. The following Sunday he took me to a duck roast. He is giving me good education on farming. I like this place very much and I should like to stay here. 
After his arrival, George’s workplaces were visited periodically by Immigration officials, who kept a “report card” of his status. Here is George’s card.
This card gives a lot of useful information. His birth date is given as “11/6/14.” In British English, this means June 11th, 1914 (not November 6th, as we would read it in the U.S.). This date gives further confirmation that he is the same George Casbon whose birth was registered at Croydon in 1914. The report card gives the dates of inspections; grades for “Character of Home”, “Health”, “Satisfaction Given” and “Child’s Character”; “Terms” (what George was being paid); and the name and address of his employer. The record goes from February, 1930 to September, 1933. On the latter date, he was listed as “not here … address unknown … completed … presumed to have left for Toronto.” It is evident that he had a number of different employers who were generally satisfied with his character and performance.
This is the last record that I can link to George with certainty. I’ve been able to find later entries for George Casbon listed at one point as a farmer and at another as a lorry driver. I’ve also found a cemetery record for George William Casbon, born in England, date unknown, and died September 24, 1966 in Toronto. I think it’s very likely these are all the same person, but don’t have the records to confirm it. It would be great if I could link him up to the family tree at some point. If any of his descendants should happen to read this, please contact me.