Who Were the British Home Children?

Hi Friends, Many of you may be familiar with the Orphan Trains that took impoverished children from large cities in the East to live with families in small towns and on farms in the Midwest. But did you know that during that same time period more than 100,000 poor and orphaned British children were sent from England to Canada as British Home Children? This child emigration scheme was carried out to clear the streets, children’s homes, and workhouses of orphaned and abandoned children. They were promised a better life in Canada, but sadly that was not the case for all of them.

Most of them were not adopted and welcomed into families. Instead, the boys were taken in as indentured farm laborers and the girls worked as household servants called domestics, even at very young ages. Those who took them in simply filled out a form and paid a small fee. There was little screening and often no follow up. Because of this, and prevailing attitudes of the time, many of these children suffered neglect and mistreatment. They also suffered the pain of rejection and felt like outcasts and misfits because of social prejudice against home children.

When I learned more about child emigration and read true accounts of what happened to these children I was deeply touched, and I knew I needed to share their experiences and honor their memory by writing a novel focused on British Home Children.

My novel, No Ocean Too Wide, released this week and weaves actual accounts of what happened to British Home Children into the fictional McAlister family. When their widowed mother becomes seriously ill, three of the four children area taken into a children’s home and soon sent to Canada without their mother’s knowledge or permission. The oldest sibling, Laura, searches for them, following them all the way to Canada to try and rescue the children and reunite the family. She soon realizes she needs the legal help of a wealthy young solicitor, and the two join forces to confront the injustice of child emigration.

If you’d like to learn more about British Home Children, I hope you’ll purchase your copy of No Ocean Too Wide. Click on the cover for easy order links. You can also find out more about child emigration through the British Home Children’s Advocacy and Research Association website. You’ll find helpful articles and online tools to search for relatives who might have come to Canada in this way.

Have you every heard of child emigration and British Home Children? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Update: The winner of the giveaway was Stephanie Jenkins! Thanks for leaving your comments, especially those who shared their family stories! Those were so touching. I hope you’ll enjoy reading No Ocean Too Wide!

Until Next Time – Happy Reading,


48 thoughts on “Who Were the British Home Children?

    • The research for this novel and reading and hearing the children’s stories was very moving for me. I hope No Ocean Too Wide will help spread the word about British Home Children and honor their memory.

      • Thanks for writing this book, I am going to get a copy. My Grandfather and three of his sisters were sent over to Canada after their Mother died after childbirth. They eventually found each other but makes me sad, but happy too, as if he had not come here and met my Grandmother, I would not be here as they likely would not have met. love and peace Judy Hillman.

    • Carrie
      I am looking forward to reading your book. I had never heard of British Home Children, till about 2 years ago my great uncle (only remaining of my nanny’s siblings) was telling me some family history and his father (my great-grandfather) was a BHC. It sparked so much interest. I had to know more.

      During my search I have found so much and will still contact Barnardos for his files. My GGF and his 3 siblings were sent to Barnardos when their father died in 1902. Their mother could not care for all 5 children. She kept the youngest with her. Over the course of the next 5 years all of the young children made their way to Canada. The 2 girls went to Hazelbrea in Peterborough, 1 Boy to southwestern Ontario and my GGF to the Georgian Bay Area of Tiny Town Ship.
      I did find that their mother, in England, remarried and had another child. And wasted no time on the search for her other children. Her and her new family arrived in Canada in late 1909.
      1911 Canada Census I found her reunited with one daughter. Eventually they were all united.
      My GGF always donated to Barnardos and went into social work as a career.
      We are a fortunate story of a family who was torn apart but then reunited. I have so many gaps to fill in also.
      I have also discovered that my GGF aunt (mother’s sister) also had to give up her children. She was never reunited with her children. I have been blessed with connecting with her descendants and I look forward to exchanging photos and stories. ❤️

      • Thank you for sharing your family’s story! I’m so happy to hear they were reunited! That seems to be very rare. Their mother was very brave to leave England and come to Canada to find them. I hope you enjoy reading No Ocean Too Wide!

  1. Carrie, I had not heard of it until I read your book, which I loved. What a sad and heartbreaking time for those children and their families.
    Blessings, Tina

    • Thank you, Tina. Yes, many of the children really suffered because of this child emigration scheme. Some of those who started it had good intentions, but I think it just became so huge that it was impossible to oversee all the children and make sure they had good situations. I’m glad you enjoyed reading No Ocean Too Wide!

  2. My mom-in-law was 15 years old when she went to Barnardo’s Receiving House in Stepney Causeway, East London in 1921. She spent some time in the HM Hospital before returning to the Receiving House. In 1922 she was moved to the Girls Village Home. In Sept. 1923 she left England for Canada (at her choice of destinations) and arrived in Quebec. She went to the Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough and then was sent to a Private residence in St. Catharines ON a home of a prominent lawyer as house help, which she stayed for 2 years and then was transferred to a home in Toronto as a cook for one year and then back to St. Catharines in 1926 and ended up getting married in 1928. She had 5 children and she died in 2008 at the age of 103. She never once spoke of her childhood or past and wanted it all left behind. She was in contact by letters with her mother in Wales until her mom died in 1931. She had no contact with any of her siblings which were 11 and 12 years younger than her. She was the oldest living of her parents and siblings. I found out much information after her death though BHC. It was a very sad story and she carried this burden alone, all her life. She was the most precious person I have ever met and I loved her dearly (as she loved me as a daughter) and for me… she was and always will be, my second Mother!

    • Hi Judy, thanks so much for sharing the story of your mother-in-law. That’s amazing to hear that she lived to 103, yet she never saw her siblings again. I’m glad you were able to learn more about his life through BHC. The members there have been so helpful to me as I researched my novel, No Ocean Too Wide. I hope it will honor the memory of your mother-in-law and all the BHC who came to start new lives in Canada.

      • Thank you very much Carrie. In the end (because of her age) she had a much better life than thousands of very young BHC that were sent to Canada in the early 1900’s. But the wars did not help and many families were forced to do what they had to do to survive and they were under the understanding this was the best solution for their children’s welfare. It was extremely sad what many had to endure on farms, etc once sent away on ships. I feel that Dr. Barnardo and his wife tried their best to help the poor. Looking forward to reading your new book!

  3. My Father was put in the care of Dr. Bernardo’s at 6 months of age when his Mother was recovering from a bad burn. She checked on him regularly and when she returned to arrange pick 3 months later up they told her he was gone to Canada, which he had not. She did not authorize them to send his away. At the age of 11 he was sent off to Canada to work on farms until he was of age. We always told him to write a book on his life and his many experiences.

    • Thank you, Marsha for sharing your father’s story! Barnardo’s and other children’s homes had the legal right to send the children who were in their care away without the parent’s permission. Very sad, but true. That is the situation I show in my novel No Ocean Too Wide. All the home had to do was send a “sailing notice” after they left for Canada. I hope my novel will help more people learn about British Home Children and honor their memory.

    • Does the book have a list of recieving homes I wonder which one George Podesta was sent to when he arrived in Ottowa, Ontarion in June 1898. I still have not been able to find him.

      • Hi John, I don’t include a list of receiving homes in this book. The best way you might find more information is asking in the British Home Children Facebook group. There are many people where who will offer helpful ideas and some even look up the child and share that info with you. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Britishhomechildren/ They also have a website that details how to search for info. Best wishes for finding this info.

  4. My grandmother Bertha Bates and her sister Lucy were both home children. They arrived in Halifax in March 1911, Bertha was 9 and Lucy was 14. Our family has been trying to piece together their story. They came over through the Barnado Home and were sent to Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough. My sister was able to obtain some records from Barnado. The girls were shuffled from home to home. Unfortunately they were not placed together. Lucy wrote letters to the home when she was old enough to leave requesting the monies owed to her but was told that any money was used to cover the cost of her clothing. The back story that we have been able to find is that the girls father abandoned them and their mother was in one of the work houses. Their is correspondence from their mother asking them if they would like to come to Canada. Once Lucy and Bertha arrived in Canada there was no contact with their mother Margaret Bates (nee Robert). There other sister Jessie came over to Canada with the help of the Salvation Army when she turned 18. All the girls married and settled in the Hamilton area. My grandmother wasn’t a warm person and didn’t seem to like to many people, but since learning of her history, I can’t help but wonder if it was easier to keep people at a distance than to let your guard down. They were both in over 10 different homes

    • Thank you, Linda, for sharing your grandmother’s story. Moving to that many different homes had to have a huge impact on her. It makes sense that those events would make her hold back from relationships with people to protect herself. In No Ocean Too Wide the two sisters are separated, and that was very painful for them, much like your grandmother and great aunt’s story. I hope you enjoy reading the book!

    • in reply to Linda Weaver Corriveau…At the Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough there is a very large memorial monument with the name of very person that was at that Home. I found my M-in-Law’s name on the monument. Perhaps you could check it out at https://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com……..under Hazelbrae Memorial……….YES, I found their names under 1911 …Bertha & Lucy A. Bates…

  5. As a child growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, I always wondered why my Dad’s parents spoke with a British accent. I was told they had been sent here by Middlemore Home to work on farms. As an adult, I decided to look for answers to the mystery of our English roots and discovered much of the family history of both my grandparents. Twin boys, Bert and Ted, were born to an unwed mother named Jane in Birmingham. Her mother and sister looked after the boys while Jane worked as a cook. By the time the boys were 11, their grandmother had grown too feeble to continue caring for them so their mother was advised to place her sons at Middlemore Home. She understood they could be sent to Canada, but was told she could get them back if her circumstances improved. Jane got married the following year, but the Home refused to return her sons. The twins had been separated and placed on farms, where they were forced to work long hours in harsh conditions. At the age of 18, the boys were allowed to leave their placements and make a life for themselves, which Ted was all too eager to do. Bert stayed on at the farm to work for wages. The farmer and his wife had requested a young girl to help around the house, so a 12-year-old orphan girl was sent to them. Bert kept a close eye on the new English girl, named Mary, and they eventually got married when her term of service had ended. They raised five children together, four of whom are still living. Bert and Ted’s mother had kept in touch with them until her death, and the twins remained close to each other all their lives. Bert passed away just before his 101st birthday. In spite of all the hardships and heartaches experienced by so many British Home Children, including my grandparents, I believe our family’s story is just one example of how God can take the tangled threads of our lives and weave them into a beautiful tapestry.

    • Thank you for sharing your family story, Norma! I’m so glad we connected and you were able to read an early copy of No Ocean Too Wide. It’s fun that there are twins you the book and in your real family story. Some of the elements in your family story are reflected in the second book. I’ll look forward to sharing that with you next year.

  6. I really enjoyed your book, Carrie, and learning more about the BHC. The stories posted here are so interesting and fascinating. Some good experiences and some not so good–just like in your book. I was surprised that there are so many of your readers that have ancestors that were in the BHC programs.

    • Hi Winnie, I have connected with some of the British Home Children’s descendants groups on Facebook. They are excited about the book and coming over to share their family stories.

  7. This is another piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, as to why families are dysfunctional in many instances. Passing down feelings of insecurity, abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse to the next generation could very well have happened from some of these sad true stories.

    • Nancy, this is so true. Such insecurities and somewhat dysfunctional families evolved from the treatment these children had to endure and “keep inside” because they were thought of as “misfits, rejects, not fit for society, waifs and strays…it was a horrible life for many of these children. My Mom-in-law was a lucky one and came to Canada in 1923 at the age of 17 and was put into a nice home as a house /children helper. She ended up marrying in 1928 and had 5 children but we all never knew until she was 101 that she was a BHC and never would talk about anything! She wanted the past to stay in the Past! She died in 2008 at the age of 103. And took so much of her past with her. She was never in contact with any of her family except her mother who would write now and again. She died in 1931 at the age of 55. I just found out and received information for the Barnardo’s Home in April 2019 so that answered alot of questions. Really a very sad story.

      • Thanks for sharing a bit more of your story. I agree, the treatment the children received had a huge impact on them later in life.

      • Oh my! Such a lot of history went with your mother, but I understand, how she preferred to keep silent about it. What’s Barnardo’s home?

        • Thomas John Barnardo (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) was an Irish philanthropist and founder and director of “Homes for poor children”. From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1867 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 60,000 children had been taken in.
          Although Barnardo never finished his studies at the London Hospital, he used the title of ‘doctor’ and later secured a licentiate. In the 1860s, Barnardo opened a school in the East End of London to care for and educate children of the area left orphaned and destitute by a recent cholera outbreak. In 1870 he founded a boys’ orphanage at 18 Stepney Causeway and later opened a girls’ home. By the time of his death in 1905, Barnardo’s institutions cared for over 8,500 children in 96 locations. Most of these children were indentured to places in Canada, mainly farms. Also to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, many without their parents’ consent and even under false claims of death. Although this was a legal scheme, favoured by Government and society, in many cases the children suffered harsh life conditions and many also suffered abuse. This practice went on until the 70’s. Many families were broken apart and siblings never knew where their other siblings went to and many never did find them. Their ancestors are now trying to piece together many of their relatives’ past. You can write to: Mrs. Valerie Smith, Archive & Administration Officer, Barnardo’s – Making Connections , Records at 140 Balaam St., Plaistow, London, England, E13 8RD or email: valerie.smith@barnardos.org.uk
          There is a fee which she will let you know how much. It will take anywhere from 10 months to a year to receive after you pay for them to search your British Home Child relative. You have to supply proof you are a direct descendant of the BHC. I hope this is ok to post Carrie?

  8. Wow, this is so sad, but I am really happy that you wrote a book about it to spread the word about it, Thank you for that! 🙂 Your book sounds awesome and the Cover is Beautiful! Congratulations on your Release day! God Bless you.

  9. My dad James and my Uncle Charles came to Canada in 1900 and 1898 respectively. I don’t have any information about them as Fegans records don’t go back that far. My Uncle settled in Port Hope ON where he married and raised a family. He was killed when his car stalled on a railway crossing and it was hit by a train. My dad served in WW1 (I’m sure my Uncle did too). Dad was with the 48th Highlanders. He was married before he met my mom and had two boys. Many years later he met my mom and together they had my brother Michael and I. Daddy died in 1973. I miss him and mom everyday.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your family’s story with us! No Ocean Too Wide is set very close to that time. I hope you enjoy reading it and gives you more of an idea of what they went through. The next book will tell about what happened to one of the young men after he served in WW1.

  10. Joanne, thank you for sharing your Dad and Uncle’s story! They came close to the same time No Ocean Too Wide is set. I hope reading it will help fill in some of what might have happened to them.

  11. Carrie, thank you for posting the picture of the Newman group, who are my grandmother, Jane (in the white bonnet) and 2 of her 6 siblings (Eleanor & William). Their mother died one year after the birth of her last son and the father was unable to provide for them. The 3 youngest were sent to Dr. Barnardo and 2 of the older boys (Frank & Alfred) were sent to Annie MacPherson’s group. Dr. Barnardo’s group came to Canada in 1897 and Annie MacPherson’s group came in 1892. Three of them had short lives here in Canada, Frank died at age 17, Eleanor at age 31 and William at age 21. William and Alfred had a happy reunion with their Father who emigrated to Canada in 1908, as well as with another daughter, Lucy and her son, homesteading in Saskatchewan. They farmed the area, living close to each other until their deaths. Lucy married and had more children, with descendants still living in Saskatchewan today. Jane also married and had 4 children and many grandchildren. She died in 1970 in Stratford, ON.

  12. Hello, I just received my copy and I can’t wait to begin reading it.
    My father in law was abandoned in 1910 when he was about 8 to 10 months old, he was found on Cosway St in Westminister., his mother and father where never located. The baby was placed in the St.Marylebone workhouse, and he was given the name Stafford Cosway.
    When Stafford was 11 in 1921 he was sent to Canada to work on a farm,as part of the Annie McPherson program.
    Stafford was treated well by the woman who brought him over, the woman died about 2 years after Stafford arrived, so he was sent to live with another family and worked on their farm.
    Again, Stafford was lucky and they were a loving family, they raised Stafford as one of there own.
    When Stafford grew up ,he met his wife who also worked for the family in their bakery.
    When they married and moved away and had children, they continued to come back to visit Grandpa and Grandma, to this day the families still get together for a visit….so not all the stories had a bad ending, some where lucky and Loved.
    Stafford, did spend his whole life trying to find out who his mother was, he was in contact with the Bernardo homes inquiring about any information on his family.
    Stafford passed away in 1999, not knowing who his parents where or what his real name was.
    Through the help of DNA we are hoping to solve this mystery.

    • Hi Dianne, that’s such an interesting story. I’m so glad he was taken in my kind people. I know there are stories like that, and I’m glad you shared yours!

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