Saturday, 17 June 2017

Digging deeper in to the policy of migration .......... the story of one charity

Now I haven’t changed my basic position on the migration of young people to Canada in the late 19th century.

Leaving for Canada, on the steps of Manchester Town Hall, 1897
It was a policy criticised at the time not only because it sidestepped the issue of why there were so many children in need of help, but also because by migrating young people it excused the authorities from offering solutions to the root cause of poverty, child destitution and abuse.

But as ever the deeper you probe the more you realize that there is plenty more, ranging from the genuine belief that Canada was a route out of the cycle of poverty and that it did indeed offer a better environment which chimed in with those reactions to industrialization and urbanization reflected in William Morris’s advocacy of the craft movement, the Garden City schemes and the growth in model rural communities.

Not that this is to ignore the abuse, and neglect suffered by some young people who were sent, or the long lasting effects on being wrenched from their homes, or the cynical approach of the Guardians who totted up the costs of migration as against retaining children in British institutions and concluded migration was cheaper.

And if we are taking a swipe we shouldn’t leave out those in Canada who saw migration as a cheap form of labour.

But, and there is always a but, as I burrow deeper into the records of the Manchester and Salford children’s charity the picture becomes more messy.

This was the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which is now the Together Trust.

They migrated fewer than some of the charities and stopped in 1914 and never returned to the policy after the Great War.

Phillip on admission to the Refuge
Their records show that their inspection and reporting was rigorous and there are plenty of success stories.

And while they accepted those cost arguments they also pointed out the need for alternative approaches in Britain.

These included  Mrs Archibald Mackirdy who while acknowledging the policy of migrating some children to Canada was “sorry that so many had to be sent away” commenting it “would be better if they could have homes and parents in England.”

Now this isn’t the first time I have made these observations, but as the research for the new book on the history of the charity proceeds it is very clear that there is much more to discover ranging from the opinions of those that made the decisions to those that went.*

I don’t think it will change my general opinion of the policy but it is clear that as the devil is always in the detail the study of one migrating society challenge basic assumptions and prejudices.

Well we shall see.

Thomas Bowers, a success story
But it has already thrown up one interesting observations including  that in the 1880's many of the children making a living on the streets were not destitute,  but had homes, went to school and cited their parents as the reason why they worked selling matches, newspapers and fuses from the late afternoon till the late hours.

Added to which some of those admitted to the Refuge 1870 left of their own volition while the records and their own letters show many went on to happy and productive lives.

At the same time our charity had expanded into providing vocational training, argued for legislation to protect children trading on the streets and took abusive and neglectful parents to court, all of which offers up a more comprehensive picture of child care at the time.

As they say watch this space.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust

*A new book on the Together Trust,

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