Letter: Children sent abroad

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The Independent Online
Sir: Regarding your article (13 July) and the letter of 17 July 'Shipped out to drudgery', the practice of sending out orphans and other 'neglected' children to start a new life abroad had certainly started in Victorian times - but so had investigative journalism.

In August 1872 a local government board inspector, Andrew Doyle, advised the guardians of Merthyr Tydfil workhouse to participate in such a scheme. Despite misgivings they did and sent 17 girls, among them 12-year-old Mary Ford, to Canada between 1872 and 1874.

Doyle had been a newspaper man before he became a civil servant and, when rumours began to circulate that things were going very wrong, he went to investigate. He tracked Mary Ford down to Hamilton, Ontario. A man from whom he asked directions told him: 'I have seen that child flogged worse than a slave.'

Her employer accused Mary of petty theft and lying, but Doyle found her 'an affectionate and impressionable child'. Doyle's report on this and other cases was published as a parliamentary paper (Parliamentary Papers LXIII, 1875, 255). The Local Government Board suspended the sending of workhouse children to Canada in 1875, although it resumed, hopefully with better controls, in 1882.

The post-1945 experience seems to have been a complete rerun of the Victorian one. The idea was arguably good, the organisation and monitoring diabolical. But the Victorians discovered, and tried to correct, the problem much quicker than we did.

Yours sincerely,


University of Wales, Swansea