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Archives In Brief 91 - 20th century child and youth migration

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This Archives in Brief provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to child and youth migration.

Background to child and youth migration

Child migrants were school age children in care institutions in the United Kingdom. They were usually from eight to thirteen years of age on arrival, although some were younger. Youth migrants were usually young men aged 15-19 years of age who had left school and had made their own decision to migrate.

Before World War II child migration schemes provided farm training for boys and domestic skills for girls. Post-World War II emphasis was placed on increasing Australia's population. Prior to 1946 child migration was administered largely by the State governments. The first youth migrants to New South Wales were the Dreadnought Boys, aged 16-19 years, brought out by the Dreadnought Trust in 1911 under an agreement with the New South Wales Government.

The main care agencies involved in child migration were Barnados, Fairbridge, Catholic Church agencies and some Protestant Churches. The Big Brother Movement encouraged youth migration. Child and youth migration to New South Wales ceased in 1967.

Brief chronology of child and youth migration

1911 First Dreadnought Boys brought out by the Dreadnought Trust (April 1911)
1923 First Barnado's child migrants sent to New South Wales
1925 Big Brother Movement (Sydney) founded by Sir Richard Linton
1930 Barnado's children sent to Mowbray Park, Picton, New South Wales
1937 Fairbridge Farm school at Molong established. Migration under the Big Brother Movement and the Dreadnought Trust recommenced following the Depression
1938 First Catholic children sent to Australia
1939 Suspension of child and youth migration schemes due to WWII
1940 577 children sent to Australia as evacuees from Britain
1945 End of WWII. No ships available to send migrants to Australia for two years
1947 British child migrants sent to Australia. Big Brother Movement renewed its youth migration to Australia (1950s)
1956 British Catholic care institutions cease sending further children to Australia
1957 Few child migrants sent to Australia, some arrived under Barnado's and Fairbridge schemes
1967 Abolition of child migration from England, with last group of Barnado's children sent to Australia (by air)
1998 United Kingdom. Parliamentary Select Committee for Health into the Welfare of Former Child Migrants enquiry
2001 Australia. Parliament. Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee enquiry on child migration. Lost innocents: righting the record: report on child migration
2009 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to child migrants
2010 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised to child migrants sent from Britain under the Child Migrant Program

Select list of records

Chief Secretary's Department, Immigration Division

NRS 1211, Immigration files, 1946-74 [8/2426]
These files contain correspondence between Commonwealth Departments, relevant Charitable institutions and State Government Departments. The subjects dealt with are child immigration to Australia and the funding of the hostels to house them.

Department of Community Services, Licensing Branch

NRS 14782, Immigrant children's files, 1947-76 [7/2036A-2049B, 10/37264-74, 3/7829-50, 19/8455.3, 7/8652.2-8655]
These files relate to young people entering the country who are under twenty-one years of age and have no parent or blood relative responsible for them in Australia. The files include medical reports, reports on the immigrant child and correspondence relating to the placement of the person in question. These migrants, sponsored by organizations such as the Big Brother Movement, Dr Barnado's Homes and Fairbridge were supervised by Child Welfare Officers when they were placed in the community.  
The files are arranged by file number.

NRS 14783, Registers of the arrival and discharge of immigrant children, 1953-56, 1960-64 [18/1238.1]
These registers record monthly arrivals and discharges of immigrant children. The arrival entries give names, ages and whether the child was nominated by an individual or sponsored by an organization such as Fairbridge, Big Brother or Dr Barnardo. The discharge entries give name, age, type of nomination, and reason for discharge from guardianship.

NRS 14784, Miscellaneous correspondence files relating to immigrant children, 1971-74 [18/1238.2]
Two files concern correspondence with officials of the Big Brother and Dr. Barnado schemes, the former containing information about immigration regulations and procedures. The third file relates to a District Officer's investigation of a complaint by a child sponsored by the Big Brother scheme.

NRS 14785, Files concerning the arrival of immigrant children sponsored by the Big Brother Scheme, 1965-73 [18/1238.4-1240]
These files relate to the arrival of 'Little Brothers' in New South Wales. The files contain a notification from the New South Wales Immigration Division of the boys' impending arrival, giving date, flight number or ship's name, and names and ages of the boys. The results of later medical examinations are included.

NRS 14786, Returns of employment changes made by young persons sponsored by the Fairbridge Farm Scheme, 1968-69 [18/1238.3]
Weekly returns that include name; date of new employment; category of wages and home address.

NRS 14787, Depots, homes and hostel files, 1970-73 [3/1735-37, 8/2314-15, 8/2242]
These files concern applications for licenses to conduct a depot, home or hostel. Full details of facilities offered, staff and their qualifications, proposed alterations to premises, etc are included. Correspondence regarding the application and correspondence from the individuals concerned is also included.

NRS 14789, Immigrant children's index, n.d. [19/14974-77]
This index, arranged by name of child, records the name of the child, place and date of birth, religion, date and means of arrival in Australia, sponsor, details of parents, and particulars of placements and movements.

NRS 14790, Immigration nomination (Minor "E") files, 1962-76 [10/37275-76, 7/2050A-20654B, 3/7778-7828, 19/8455.2, 7/8651-8652.1]
These files relate to the nomination of immigrants, who are under 21 years of age, by sponsors who were resident in New South Wales. The files refer to such matters as the accommodation provided by the sponsor and the general welfare of the immigrant after arrival.

Department of Education and Communities

Index to Schools and related records 1876-1979
The school files and related records are listed by the name of the school in our online index.
NRS 3829, School files, 1879-1979 [5/14584-85, 5/14593-18303, 14/7241-962]
We hold School files for Fairbridge Farm.
Pupil records
We hold admission registers and punishment books as well as program and lesson registers and visitors books for Fairbridge Farm School. Punishment books are closed to public access for 50 years.

Industrial Relations, Migration Branch

NRS 5543, Dreadnought contribution register, 1922-24 [X1911]
A register of moneys paid to the Department and moneys paid out on account of Dreadnought migrants. The register shows surname; Christian names; moneys paid to the Department — private moneys, repayments of loan, and Trustees' contributions; moneys paid out by the Department — private moneys, and repaid to Federal Department on account of loan for passage, and for training farm; and remarks.

Industrial Relations

NRS 5529, Photographs of Scheyville Training Farm, c. 1926-23 Jun 1946
The photographs show views of the Training Farm, interiors and exteriors of buildings, an architect's perspective sketch dated 1928 and farm workers engaged in agricultural and livestock related activities. Images are accessible through Photo Investigator.

Department of Labour and Industry, NSW Immigration Division

The card indexes listed below are open to public access with the exception of the index to unsatisfactory migrants which is closed for 70 years.

Card index to assisted immigrants, 1919–26 [11/23045-23054, 11/23056-23065]
Card index to assisted immigrants, 1925-39 [6/994-1000, 11/23066-23074]
Card index to nominations/inspections, c. 1947 [11/23075-23085]
Card index to migrants transferred from other States, 1923-45 [11/23086-23090.1]
Place index, 1922-40 [11/23091-23092.1]
Arranged by main railway line, then by towns on the line and then by name of migrant, forming a list of migrants by most recent address.
Card index to enquiries re settlement, 1945-48 [11/23092.2]
Card index to the deaths of Dreadnought immigrants, 1924-38 [11/23092.3]
Card index to nominators, 1930-39 [11/23093.1]
Card index to immigrants under youth group schemes, c. 1930-46 [11/23093.2]
Indexes youths assisted under the Big Brother Movement, The Dreadnought Trust Fund, the Salvation Army and the Church of England (Council of Empire Settlement).
Card index to migrant passport clearances issued, 1924-40 [11/23094]
Appears to be an index to immigrants brought out under the Dreadnought Trust Fund who returned to England. The index is incomplete (Abbott-Myson only).
Unidentified card index to immigrants, 1921-47 [11/23095-23100]
Appears to index immigrants under the age of 21 who probably arrived under the Dreadnought Trust Fund.
Card index to unsatisfactory migrants, c.1925-49 [11/23101] Closed for 70 years.


Records of the Department of Community Services

The Department of Community Services controls most New South Wales records relating to child and youth migrants.

Records relating to individuals, such as case files and correspondence are CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS for 100 years.

Records such as registers and indexes are CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS for 80 years.

All requests for information should be directed to the following address:

Department of Community Services
164-174 Liverpool Road
Ashfield NSW 2131
Telephone: (02) 9716 2668

Find and Connect Australia website

This is a national website that links resources to eight State or Territory websites. The State and Territory websites provide 'historical information about past and present providers of out of home care, details of where personal records are held, where to access them and links to support services and other resources for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.

Support Groups

There are several support groups for child and youth migrants, both in the United Kingdom and in Australia.

Child Migrants Trust Inc.
169 Riversdale Road
Hawthorn  VIC  3122
Telephone: (03) 9815 2022
Freecall: 1800 040 509

Child Migrants Trust Inc.
8 Sunbury Road
Victoria Park WA 6100
Telephone: 08 9472 7582
Freecall: 1800 040 509

Child Migrants Trust
124 Musters Road
West Bridgford
Nottingham NG2 7PW
Telephone: 0115 982 2811
Fax: 0115 981 7168

Dreadnought Association
7 Elliott Avenue
Alstonville NSW 2477
Contact: Mr Gordon King

Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN)
PO Box 164
Georges Hall NSW 2198

Information for former British child migrants: UK Department of Health

The UK Department of Health website provides contact details for tracing former British child migrants, support groups and the various measures that have been set up to assist people.

Researchers can also email the Department at

(October 2004).

Further Reading

There are a number of useful publications on child and youth migration.

Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities, Child Migrants: Accessing records held by Commonwealth and State Archives (online), URL of website (cited December 2004)

Parliament of Australia. Senate. Lost innocents: righting the record: report on child migration. Commonwealth of Australia, 2001. PDF available online at (cited January 2005)

Barry Coldrey. Good British stock: child and youth migration to Australia. Canberra: National Archives of Australia, 1999. Available online at www./

Ann Howard. C'mon over: the phenomenon of child migration from Tilbury to Sydney from 1921-1965. Dangar Island, NSW: Tarka Publishing, 2002. [Barnado Scheme]

Philip Bean and Joy Melville. Lost children of the empire. Sydney: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

Olwen King (compiler and editor), They passed this way: stories of the Dreadnought boys. [Alstonville, NSW?]: Dreadnought Association, Far North Coast, c1998.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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