Thursday, 29 October 2015

Sending our children to Canada ..........Miss Maria Rye, Avenue House on Hanover Park and my great uncle

It never ceases to amaze me how the past twists and turns and confronts you with a little bit of your own personal history in a way you least expect.

Avenue House 1872
When I was growing up in Lausanne Road I was totally unaware that just over a century earlier Miss Maria Rye had been migrating young people from her establishment off Hanover Park.

This was Avenue House which she had bought in 1869 and used as a base for the onward migration of young people to Canada.

Nor was she alone in this enterprise, a number of philanthropists and charities had also begun “rescuing” young people many of whom were found destitute on the streets of our cities or in orphanages and workhouses.

The grand plan was to settle them on the other side of the Atlantic offering a fresh start in a new land.
These were the British Home Children and one of them was my great uncle sent over in 1914 with he Middlemore charity.

Their story is one that is close to me and one that I have written about extensively.*

But it is a story not so well known in Britain although there is a growing understanding of the importance of this bit of history in Canada.

After all over 100,000 children were sent between 1870 and 1930 and perhaps 10% of all Canadians are descended from a British Home Child.

Like all stories theirs was a mixed bag.  Some found that new life, while others were exploited, abused and used as cheap labour.

The later migration of children to Australia only stopped in the 1970s and featured in an important book and film.

Now this is a story I shall return to but for now I will just close with an extract from Miss Rye herself on the young people she took into her care written in 1872

“The children vary in age from 3 to 13 years; are all Protestants, and nearly all absolute Orphans; are bound (when not adopted) till they are 18 years old, on the following terms, viz: Up to 15 years old they are to be fed, clothed and sent to Sunday School. From 15 to 17 they are not clothed, but paid $3 a month wages, and $4 a month from 17 to 18.

If through any unforseen circumstances, it is necessary for a child to be returned to the Home, due notice of the same must be given in writing, one month before the child is removed; and if the child has been away from the Home six months, her clothes must be returned new and whole, and in the same number as they left the Home. 

In no case can a child be passed on to another family without first consulting Miss Rye, and in case of the death of persons (husband or wife) taking children, it is particularly requested that an immediate notice of the fact be sent to the Home.
Miss Rye reserves to herself the right of removing any child with whose treatment she is not satisfied.


Hon Secretary 

N.B. Only children under nine years of age can be adopted.”

Picture; Avenue House, High Street, Peckham, from the OS map of London, 1862-72, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

And a thank you to Gail Collins, who found the extract.

*British Home Children,

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