Alone across the world

Media release: Tuesday, 27 November 2012

From the 1860s to the 1970s, more than 100,000 British children – some as young as three – travelled alone across the world to face new lives. While some succeeded in creating bright new futures, others suffered lonely, brutal childhoods.

On their own: Britain's child migrants – now on display at the National Archives in Canberra – tells the emotional story of British child migration.

The exhibition explores the government endorsed schemes and the motivations behind them. Through detailed case studies, visitors meet a number of former child migrants and learn about their experiences.

While children left under different schemes and at different times, they shared powerful experiences: separation from family and country, boarding a ship, facing an uncertain future, meeting new friends on board and visiting foreign ports.

Few of the children were orphans. Many came from poor families who could no longer look after them. Sending them overseas, it was thought, would improve their lives, while increasing the population of 'good British stock' and labour in the colonies.

On arriving in Australia, the reality of their new lives set in. Children were separated from siblings and friends and sent to remote farm training schools and religious institutions. Boys were expected to become farmers and girls were expected to become domestics. There was little education, instead children faced long days of hard work and discipline.

In November 2009 the Australian Government issued an apology to the children who suffered in institutional care. And the British Government apologised in 2010 for the shameful child resettlement programs. Recordings of these apologies are featured in the exhibition.

On their own: Britain's child migrants is a travelling exhibition from the Australian National Maritime Museum, in association with national Museums Liverpool UK.

High res images can be downloaded.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
  • Shaun Rohrlach (Director, Communications and Programs)
    t (02) 6212 3990 m 0434 664 621 e shaun.rohrlach@naa.gov.au
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017