After 50 years, the 'lost innocents' shipped from home win apology

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

150,000 orphan and poor children taken to colonies as 'white stock' suffered years of institutional brutality

Thousands of British children sent to populate Australia in what was later described as "one of the most disgraceful periods in post-war politics" will be given an official apology from Kevin Rudd, the country's Prime Minister, in Canberra today. Gordon Brown will also try to make amends to the Britons who were shipped to several former colonies, including Canada.

Britain's Prime Minister is expected to stop short of an official apology, say Downing Street sources, but will indicate that talks will be held with groups representing the victims with a view to an official apology later.

Today's Canberra statement will be delivered to more than 7,000 child migrants who suffered widespread abuse and neglect in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr Rudd will also say sorry to more than 500,000 so-called "forgotten Australians", many of whom suffered similarly in state care.

The director of the Child Migrants' Trust, Margaret Humphries, which offers specialist counselling and family-reunion services, described the apology as "really welcome". She indicated that she hoped the next step would be financial compensation.

Until now, child migrants who were sent to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, have had no access to redress. Jenny Macklin, the Federal Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, described today's ceremony as a "chance for all of us together – all Australians – to say that we are sorry it happened ... and we will never let this happen again".

As many as 150,000 British children aged between three and 14 are believed to have been sent overseas in the post-war years to populate the colonies with what was described at the time as "good white stock". Many came from broken or poverty-stricken homes and were told they would enjoy a much better lifestyle overseas. In truth, they were often abused, treated as second-class citizens and forced to live in poor and over-crowded accommodation. In 2007, the harsh reality of conditions was exposed in the BBC documentary, Children of the Empire, which catalogued six decades of suffering.

The practice of sending the children to Australia in this way continued until 1970. Many were told their parents were dead when they were still alive. Parents were not told their children had gone to Australia.

Many leading charities such as Barnardo's, the Fairbridge Society and The National Children's Homes were said to have known of the appalling living conditions at the time but did little. The Christian Brothers, later accused of sexually abusing and undernourishing their charges was singled out for particular criticism.

Among the "lost innocents" who fell victim to this post-war tyranny was Margaret Gallagher, who was transferred from a Barnardo's home in Britain to Sydney in 1955 when she was 12. She was used as slave labour in several isolated Australian institutions run by religious orders and charities.

Mrs Gallagher, now 66 and living in Woy Woy, north of Sydney, said she hoped today's ceremony would remind all Australians what child migrants suffered. Another young Briton who made the sad passage Down Under, John Hennessy, later became the Deputy Mayor of Campbelltown, on the outskirts of Sydney. He was among 147 boys and girls who set sail from England on the SS Asturias in 1947. Several weeks and 12,000 miles later, he disembarked at Fremantle in Western Australia and was sent to a Christian Brothers institution called Bindoon. Mr Hennessy still remembers every word of the speech by the Archibishop of Perth at the time. "He said, 'Welcome you to Australia. We need you for white stock'."

Bindoon was really a labour camp. Set in the sweltering bush, it was run by a white-haired Irishman whose ambition was to build Western Australia's largest Catholic institution. Brother Francis Keaney set the boys to work from sunrise to sunset. When they pled for respite they were flogged. Beatings were regular, with many boys stripped naked before whipping. Years later, the Christian Brothers officially apologised and paid compensation totalling more than £1m to 250 child migrants who had been abused.

But the money meant little to those whose young lives had been ruined by insensitive governments on opposite sides of the world. Today, an apology in Parliament House, Canberra, may go some way in expunging that lack of care.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us