On their own - Britain's child migrants

Past Event: 13 October 2011 to 6 May 2012

Stewart Lee
In 1955 four-year-old Stewart Lee was sent to Australia by the Fairbridge Society.
Source: Sydney Lee

During the late 19th century Britain sent over 100,000 child migrants across the British Empire.

This exhibition reveals a largely untold chapter of migration history – that of British children who were sent to Australia and other Commonwealth countries under government-endorsed child migration schemes.

From the 1860s, more than 100,000 children were sent from Britain across the British Empire and as many as 7,500 children came to Australia. They were sent by charitable and religious organisations with government support in the belief that their lives would improve and to increase the population of ‘good British stock’ and labour in the colonies.

Child migration schemes changed the lives of these children and their families dramatically and many former child migrants are still coming to terms with their past and are attempting to move forward and to heal their lives.

Child migration schemes are now largely recognised as flawed social policy and were officially ended in Australia in 1967. Both the British and Australian governments have formally apologised for their roles in the schemes.

A collaboration between the Australian National Maritime Museum and National Museums Liverpool, UK.

This exhibition is supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to the national collections for all Australians.

Visit www.britainschildmigrants.com and share your memories on the exhibition message board.

Sponsored by:
Australian National Maritime Museum
National Museums Liverpool

Comments (27)

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Carole Santin 1 September, 2011 11:05
I'm a researcher working on the Dhurringile child migrant scheme in Victoria. Happy to supply photographic, written material for upcoming exhibition if required. Carole Santin
Janet Gibbs 10 June, 2014 12:54
Hi Carole My dad was on the Cheshire as a child migrant and sent to Dhurringile. Would you be able to send me any information you have? His name was Doug McHugh. Thanks Janet
Lyn Clark 25 September, 2011 14:40
My mother is one of the 4 children in the photo of them carrying their large suitcases as they got off the boat. I have photos and Mum's autograph book if you would like them for your display. Mum aged 8, was in the first shipment of girls to arrive in Australia bound for Fairbridge at Molong in 1938.
Annika 3 October, 2011 22:11
Hi, I'm a pupil from Germany and just writing a skilled work with the topic " 'Lost innocents': Child migrants in Australia" I would be very pleased if someone would be willing to help me a little - just because I'm still searching some 'lectors'. It would be great if you could comment if you're interested!
Caroline Downes 7 October, 2011 13:15
My grandfather is a child immigrant who came over in WW2, he and my grandmother are going to love this!
Lynda 12 October, 2011 10:24
The boy in the picture and I were in the same party that came out in 1955. We went to Fairbridge Farm in Molong
kenneth morrish now living in plymouth england. 15 October, 2011 06:00
i was one of many sent to fairbridge farm school in pinjarra western austrilia.it was not a happy place .far from it.
joanne isaacs 16 October, 2011 08:00
My grandfather came on a boat at age 11 in 1921 from London to Sydney. His name was Cyril Trevor Reid. I feel for him so much. I have yet to find out exactly what happened to him. I am hoping this exhibition will shed some light.
Allly Reid 16 October, 2012 23:07
Hi Joanne my great great uncle was William Reid and his youngest son was Cyril Trevor Reid, who was born in Kent in 1910. William and his wife Jessie died in 1914 and 1916, so I guess that might explain why Cyril (now without parents) ended up in Australia (if we have the same person), he had various brothers and sisters, if you would like to get back to me I can give you access to my ancestry tree and maybe you can let me know about your side of the family as I haven't been able to trace many Reid's so far. Looking forward to hearing from you. Kind regards Ally Reid
Allyson Reid 1 April, 2015 15:38
Hi Joanne, your grandfather is related to me, he was my fathers great uncle. I can tell you quite a bit about his family, if you would like to contact me and we can catch up. Kind regards Allyson Reid
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Denise Lord Dempsey 16 October, 2011 19:59
It is a very emotional experience for me to see my father in one of the photographs that you have used in the exhibition. This photograph has been used for over the last 20 years as promotional material for many TV documentarys on national television. My father passed away 4 years ago but his history will live on because of his relocation to a new but hard life a new world but for this I am grateful. He deserves to be in this small part of the migrants story.
William Henry Clarke 10 November, 2011 17:54
The Clarke family came from Birmingham, England
Adelaide 21 November, 2011 23:14
Such an emotional exhibit. Some of the stories were just so heart wrenching. It's really a side of Australia that I think more people need to know about, especially the younger generations. I know I was never taught anything about it and I'm only three years out of high school. It's definitely worth seeing this exhibit.
Julie McNeill 23 November, 2011 17:57
Yes, it must be in the National curriculum- I have been writing about my mum's child migrant story at www.julie-mcneill.blogspot.com/2010/10/boomerang.html just so herstory will not be forgotten - and the kind of policies and protections that the Government can make which has a generational effect, not all good.
Vicki Doherty 21 December, 2011 11:25
Many child migrants came to Australia on the SS Asturias. Passenger lists for their voyages, memorabilia and stories can be seen at my website www.ssasturias.net
Malcolm Smith 28 December, 2011 16:26
I was the older of 3 brothers sent to Australia & would be one of the boys in Your 2nd photo. We were sent to Bindoon.Our Migration were not signed by our parents who at the time were still alive.
Ms Margaret Scott 18 January, 2012 20:24
My father was the Superintendant of Dhurringile for 12 months during the 1950's.I have a collection of photographs from that time.
Myrna Gretton 29 February, 2012 21:11
Have not long finished reading Margaret Humphries book 'Oanges & Sunshine'and what a great read but some of the saddest stories of little lost kids. Margaret was wonderful in re-uniting many of the grown up kids with their families back in England & other countries.
Shirley 24 March, 2012 09:48
a very moving exhibition. I saw it yesterday and will go again before it finishes. does anyone have a list of titles/authors of the four books on display - biographies only one of which was for sale in the shop. I would like to try and find the other three to read.
Discovery Centre 25 March, 2012 12:06

Hi Shirley, the other three books are

  • A Chip off the Old Block, a child migrants tale, by Laurie Humphreys (ISBN 9780646471778)
  • Fairbridge Kid, by John Lane, published by Fairbridge Western Australia
  • Goodbye, Mummy Darling, by Susan Tickner (ISBN 0954129008)

And thank you for the great feedback about the exhibition.


The George Alexander Foundation 29 March, 2012 14:01
George Alexander (1910 - 2008) came to Australia as a child migrant in 1923 as part of the Big Brother scheme. His life story is a tale of achievement in the face of great odds. In 1972, George established a philanthropic foundation that has now given $7.7 million to support Australian education and environment programs, particularly scholarships. www.georgealexander.org.au
Roslyn Gelle 5 April, 2012 14:36
My father-in-law arrived without paperwork at age 13, we are now trying to find out where he came from and whether he was British. In my opinion Empty Cradles was a more informative book than Sunshine and Oranges, very interesting and harrowing.
Barbara Powell 6 April, 2012 15:54
My father, Bertie (Albert) Powell is one of the boys in the photo above taken outside his cottage Raleigh. Sadly, we aren't able to correctly identify him although we take a guess. He arrived at Fairbridge Farm, Pinjarra from Liverpool in January 1928, aged 8. He'd come from a private orphanage in the South of London. Little boy lost, but for what he missed in ancestors, he made up with descendants. My father is gone now. He never knew his parents or his heritage, not even his date of birth. The search to solve his identity has taken me on a journey of more than thirty years research. This has recently resulted in a positive DNA that provides further clues. The search to prove Bertie's and his family's heritage continues.
Shae 16 April, 2012 14:53
It is a greatt storie I was amazed when i read it
Leanne 19 April, 2012 20:13
Hi, I just wanted to check the exhibition is still open on the 6th May.
Discovery Centre 21 April, 2012 13:41

Hello Leanne,

Yes, the On their own will be open on the 6th of May - this is the final day of the exhibition.


Sharon Noble 22 April, 2012 02:15
My husband and I recently visited your museum (March 28th, 2012) while visiting Melbourne. We were both moved by this exhibit and have spent time since returning home reading about the migration of children to commonwealth countries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Extremely well done!!!!