Some were orphans, some were deserted and some were sent by their own parents, all who sent them believed that the children would have a better start in life if they went to live in Canada. The children were sent from the workhouses, the industrial schools, the reformatories, also the Bristol Emigration Home for Little Girls, organised by Annie Macpherson. Poster Dominion CanadaSome had brothers or sisters with them, others were on their own; all were emigrated without family or friends to start a new life in Canada.

All the cities of Great Britain were facing problems of housing a large population, in certain areas houses with multi occupancy had become slum housing and it seemed that the streets were full of children, dirty, ragged and quick to steal food to eat or goods that could be sold. They were stunted in growth, deformed by rickets and plagued by infections which affected their faces and bodies. For a man trying to support his family he must go out to get work every day. If there was a financial crisis in the country, then work was hard to find and wages were low. Mothers also worked; children were left to look after each other while their parents were working. It was a very fine balance and if another baby came along or an elderly parent had to be supported then the family was in trouble. Families sold furniture to buy food and when that was all gone they sold what clothes they possessed, children unable to go to school because they lacked clothing. The children were left to run wild on the streets, they camped in dark doorways, made alleyways their homes and lived like beggars and lived with beggars.

In 1884 “The Bristol Mercury” published a series of articles entitled “The Homes of the Bristol Poor”

Steep Street

The Bristol police brought many of these street children before the magistrates; the charge was “being with being without a home”, perhaps “being without proper guardianship” and they were sent to stay in the workhouse until inquiries were made about their home circumstances. Usually these children were then sentenced to live in an Industrial School until they were sixteen years of age. Many abandoned children were eventually sent to the workhouse by a Receiving Officer where they lived and went to school or sometimes sent to a Home run by the Guardians. The workhouses became full, and as it was cheaper to send a child to Canada than keep him or her until they were 16 years of age, emigration was sought as an alternative. It was the considered opinion of many people that the fresh air and good farm food of Canada would give the children a fresh start in life.


Cartoon Black & White

Maria Rye is saying, ” I thank you good Christian people for setting the children aboard the cart so I may drive off to take the little dears aboard a ship and take them thousands of miles away from their native land so they may never see any of their relatives again”.

Not all people agreed with emigration, this cartoon was drawn by George Cruickshank who thought that the emigration of children was a disgrace to the Christian world.

In the early years of this emigration movement many of the Bristol children sailed on the ships of the Great Western Steamship Company, which was owned by Mark Whitwill, a Bristol philanthropist. The company owned several small steam ships which were named after the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucester and Bristol. The children boarded these ships at the ports of Newport, Swansea and Bristol. Many children sailed on the Allan Line ships from Liverpool. The captains enjoyed taking the children and allowed the crew to set up games on board during the voyage.

Part of Alan Line advert#

Mark Whitwill was actively involved in supporting the emigration of the “street children”. He was responsible for persuading the Barton Regis Board of Guardians to start the emigration process again in 1884 personally pledging that he would be responsible for informing the Guardians about the progress of their children. He took a very active role in the Bristol Emigration Society, working with Margaret Forster, to persuade the Guardians and the industrial schools to send children to Canada. He had business interests in New York so also took some children to the “Home for Little Wanderers” New York which was run by Rev. Van Meter.

Photo of M Whitwill#



Children also sailed on the Aragon which sailed from Bristol during the years of 1875—1880 carrying passengers and freight across the Atlantic to Canada and The States. The Great Western Steamship Company anxious to develop the emigration trade had sold some of their smaller ships which had become too small for the flourishing Atlantic trade, and bought this vessel.

Aragon Postcard#

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