The promise made by UK governments to the poor and destitute British children who had been taken from their families over the past century and sent thousands of miles away to Britain’s colonies was simple: they would have a better life.
Lured by the promise of “education and opportunity”, tens of thousands of young people thus “migrated” to “school farms” and other institutions run by colonial governments, charities and religious institutions.
The reality was radically different: many suffered horrific emotional, physical and sexual abuse, were forced to live in cramped conditions and subsist on meager rations. It was an experience that would damage many of them beyond repair, and a scandal that would not be fully recognized until this century.
The Fairbridge Society was one of the most prominent operators of the British child migration programme. It was formed in 1909 and was an enthusiastic—and well-connected—sponsor of programs which it believed would free young people from internal poverty while re-establishing the Empire’s white population. Will save from corruption.
Among her early supporters was the then Prince of Wales – later King Edward VIII – who donated £1,000 to Fairbridge in 1934, declaring: “It’s not a charity. It’s a royal investment. Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II donated £2,000 of her wedding present to Fairbridge in 1948.
After World War II allegations of abuse and mistreatment began to emerge at Fairbridge as well as at other homes and schools for migrant children. The UK Home Office attempted to blacklist some of these schools in the mid-1950s, although their plans were scrapped following pressure from powerful figures including His Majesty the Duke of Gloucester, who was then president of the society .
Migrant children’s programs gradually fell out of favor, although some continued to operate until the 1980s. One migrant child, David Hill – who was sent to Fairbridge School Farm, New South Wales, Australia in 1959 – published a book called The Forgotten Children in 2007, in which he interviewed many of his fellow survivors.
Hill, the former head of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, told The Guardian in 2016: “I was ill-treated and publicly assaulted … but I was not sexually abused like so many other people. Those abuses were horrific and They broke your heart. Girls and boys as young as five and six who were routinely abused, and who have suffered irreparable damage.
In 2017, the full scale of the scandal was already widely known when former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a UK independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, describing child migration programs as “government-induced trafficking”. , and they were successful in obtaining many victims. Compensation from states and national governments.
Many survivors of the programs are now elderly and in poor health, and the latest episode in their fight for compensation and justice – this time with the Prince’s Trust, which merged with Fairbridge in 2012 – may be among the last acts of their struggle. Be one