UK Child migrants

 British officials have been involved in a “top level cover-up” over the forced migration of vulnerable children

Child migration is the migration of children, without their parents, to another country or region. In many cases this has involved the forced migration of children in care, to be used as child labour.

Thousands of children were forcibly migrated to Australia under assisted child migration schemes. The vast majority of children were migrated from the UK, with a small number from Malta. Child migrants were adopted or brought up in children’s homes, institutions, orphanages or foster care. Many of these children experienced neglect and abuse while in institutional care.

The philanthropists who sent Britain’s “orphans” thousands of miles overseas to farms in Australia and Canada believed they were performing a charitable deed.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s as many as 150,000 young children were despatched to institutions and foster homes abroad so that they might begin happier lives in the under-populated Commonwealth.

Charities including Barnardo’s, the Catholic church, the salvation army and local authorities helped organise the emigration of youngsters aged between three and 14. So the children could make a clean start, they were usually told their parents had died and birth certificates were destroyed

The children involved lost their real identities and were told they were orphans going on holiday to a place where the sun always shines. It was cheaper to send children to Australia than care for them on British soil. It cost £5 a day to care in the UK but only 10 shillings in Australian institutions.

 Fairbridge Farm School in Molong, New South Wales

In reality, many were children of single mothers who had been forced to give them up for adoption in an era when their solitary status constituted a grave social stigma.

The fresh beginning the children were promised degenerated into years of servitude and hard labour on remote farms and at state orphanages. They were often subjected to physical and sexual abuse, separated from their siblings and taunted for being “the sons of whores”.

The official Child Migrants Programme, which ended 40 years ago, ruined the lives of the most vulnerable. It has taken decades for the harm and emotional damage to be acknowledged. Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys uncovered the scandal, an has helped thousands retrace their relatives

In November 2009 Australian Prime MinisterKevin Rudd formally apologized to “Forgotten Australians” and child migrants on behalf of the nation. “Forgotten Australians” is a term the Australian Senate has used to describe children who were brought up in orphanages, children’s homes, institutions or foster care in Australia. Child migrants are a specific group of “Forgotten Australians”. In February 2010 British Prime MinisterGordon Brown issued an official apology for the ‘shameful’ child resettlement programme and announced a £6 million fund designed to compensate the families affected by the “misguided” programme.

On their own – Britain’s child migrants

Australia party on board ship at Tilbury Dock 1920s

From the 1860s, children were sent from Britain to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries through child migration schemes.

Few were orphans; many came from families who were unable to care for them. With the belief that the lives of these children would improve, charitable and religious organisations sent them overseas. They were supported by governments for which these schemes supplied much needed population and labour.

 St Joseph’s Orphanage, Subiaco

The lives of these children changed dramatically and fortunes varied. Some succeeded in creating new futures. Others suffered lonely, brutal childhoods. All experienced disruption and separation from family and homeland.

Child migration schemes received criticism from the outset yet continued until the 1960s. Many former child migrants and their families are still coming to terms with their experiences.

The voyage

Barnardo’s party on ‘SS Sicilian’ in about 1920

The voyage for many of the children was a time of fear but also of excitement and adventure; new friends were made, new sights seen and new places found to explore.

While the separation from home and family was hard, many children had left behind a life of hardship and neglect. The ceremony of departure inspired expectation and hope for their future.

Bindoon boys town – Evil destroyed the young migrants lives – Paedophilia, slave labour and beatings

Those who suffered the harshest treatment were the boys sent to Bindoon, an isolated institution north of Perth. 

The Catholic Christian Brothers ran it. Children built it. British children were forced to do hard labour until they were 16-years-old. Some of them had unimaginable abuse inflicted on them, sexual, physical and mental.

Bindoon Boys Town: it sounded like an adventure camp to the pale-faced youngsters who emerged blinking into the sunlight at Fremantle, in Western Australia, after their six-month voyage from Southampton. Among them was Laurie Humphreys, looking forward to his new life in the “land of milk and honey”, where food was plentiful and children rode to school on horses, so he had been told.

It was September 1947, and the SS Asturias had just docked in Fremantle with 147 boys and girls, the first to arrive under a post-war plan to empty overflowing British orphanages and repopulate the former colonies with “good white stock”. Humphreys and other boys were dispatched to Bindoon, an isolated institution 60 miles north of Perth, run by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic lay order.

The first shock was the desolate landscape; the second was the place itself, an abandoned farm property. It was the boys who were to build Bindoon, and children as young as 10 were set to work, constructing schools, dormitories and kitchens. They hacked at the ground with picks and shovels, and mixed concrete by hand in the blazing heat. Those unable to cope with the back-breaking labour were flogged, sometimes until their bones were fractured.

Construction of the administration building at Bindoon, 1952

But the routine thrashings – meted out for “offences” as trivial as bed-wetting or stealing fruit to supplement a miserable diet consisting mainly of bread and dripping – were not the worst of it. Sexual abuse was rife at Bindoon, and the boys dubbed their religious guardians the “Christian Buggers”. This grim regime was presided over by Brother Francis Keaney, 6ft tall and 17 stone. “I guess you could call him a sadist,” says Humphreys, one of an estimated 10,000 British children sent to Australia between 1947 and 1967.

An inquiry by the Australian Senate in 2001 heard stories of rape, abuse and cruelty, including children scrambling for breadcrumbs on the floor and a boy being forced to shoot and skin a horse he considered his only friend.

Almost as shocking was the deceit that had been practised on children who had been robbed of their country, roots and identity. “We were told we were orphans, that we had no one,” says Mick Snell, who has bleak memories of Dalmar House in Sydney, managed by the Methodist Wesley Mission. In fact, Snell had been given up as a baby because he was illegitimate. Other children were placed in care by impoverished families


Many former child migrants, who were as young as three when they were transported to the other side of the world, are still profoundly affected. Some never formed adult relationships; others are alcoholics. John Hennessy, a former Bindoon boy, speaks with a stutter – a legacy, he says, of being stripped naked and publicly flogged. “A lot are starting to top themselves,” says Snell, who admits he found it hard to show affection to his six children. In recent years, Snell has been afflicted by nightmares. “I sleep in a separate bedroom because I’m afraid I’m going to swing out and maybe hurt my wife. I dream I’m back there and I’m locked up, being verbally abused and whacked. I wake up in a cold sweat.”

Life at Bindoon, run by the Catholic Church’s Christian Brothers, was a catalogue of cruelty, where beatings and sexual assaults were daily events.

”Bindoon was nothing more than a paedophile ring,” Hennessey says. ”Most of the brothers were into raping and molesting little boys, sometimes sharing their favourites with each other.”

The boys were put to work building the series of grand buildings that Bindoon became. ”It was slave labour,” says Hennessey. Many of them are now deaf or partially deaf because they were constantly bashed around the head.

He recalls children resorting to stealing food from the pigs they tended – because the pigs were better fed. Brother Francis Keaney, the head of Bindoon, would eat bacon and eggs in front of boys who were fed porridge mixed with bran from the chicken feed. The boys would raid the bins for his scraps.

Hennessey was the leader of a group of hungry boys who raided Keaney’s vineyard one night. The next day the 193-centimetre tall, 108-kilogram priest stripped him naked in front of the others and beat him viciously with his fists and walking stick. Then, as Hennessey lay bleeding on the floor, the priest kicked him out the door with heavy boots. Hennessey has had a pronounced stutter ever since.

When he found a little boy crying because he had been molested, he took him to Keaney for counsel. ”He went into a rage, whacked me across the head, whacked the kid across the head and said, ‘Don’t you ever come into this office and tell me lies.”’

The worst thing about Dalmar House, which was infested with rats, and where he got up before 4am to milk the cows and worked until dark, six days a week, was the loneliness. “You had no one to turn to,” he says. No one showed the children any affection – unless you count the outsiders who turned up to take the younger boys out for the day. Snell remarks: “I know for a fact they were rock spiders [paedophiles]. The kids that were involved, they didn’t like talking about it.”

At Bindoon, the threat of violence was ever present. The brothers carried a strap consisting of four pieces of leather stitched together and a metal weight. Humphreys recalls one particularly vindictive man who “gave me one hell of a hiding” after he tried to protect a younger boy.

There was no teaching at Bindoon, and he knows several former inmates who still cannot read or write. Aged 14, he worked as a truck driver. All that sustained the children was each other. “You had good mates, and we were all in the hardship game together. And you knew nothing better. You knew nothing of love and affection. I can’t recall being given a Christmas or birthday present until I was married.”

The Child Migrants Trust

Tracking down relatives after so much time and with little information can be a difficult task. A former Nottinghamshire social worker, Margaret Humphries, set up The Child Migrants Trust in 1987 after being approached to help track down a former child migrant’s family. It has since helped to locate the relatives of many former child migrants and reunite families.

Oranges and Sunshine – The child migrant movie

Paedophile’s years of abuse – Fairbridge Farm School

One of WA’s most notorious paedophiles was secretly preying on boys at Fairbridge Farm School more than a decade before his first arrest on sexual abuse charges, a victim has revealed.

Robert Ernest Excell, who attained notoriety for spending 37 years in WA prisons after a string of sex crimes against children as young as seven, can now be shown to have begun a lifetime of child rape earlier than ever suspected.

Revelations about his unpunished, early crimes against young children have emerged along with evidence Excell was himself a victim of sexual abuse at Fairbridge.

Documentation obtained by The West Australian, including an unpublished manuscript the sex offender wrote in prison, shows Excell was forcibly sent to the Fairbridge Farm School as a child migrant where he says he was sexually abused by staff during the 1950s.

The serial sex fiend’s previously hidden reign of terror at the farm school is the latest bombshell to rock the ailing Fairbridge reputation, after _The Weekend West _revealed that more than 200 child migrants forcibly sent to the institution have been awarded more than $1.1 million in ex-gratia payments by the WA Government for sexual, psychological and physical abuse they suffered there while in State care.

A child migrant, who asked not to be named, has spoken out about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Excell.

He said he was one of several children who were molested by Excell in the 1950s when the paedophile was a teenager.

A group of children pose on the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, near Perth, Australia

The child migrant said he was too afraid to report the incident to Fairbridge staff at the time.

“This bloke (Excell), he threatened us,” he said. “I was a young bloke and he was near enough to being as big as a full-sized man. When you’ve got a bloke like that you just shut up.”

_The West Australian _has sighted the Redress WA application in which the victim detailed Excell’s abuse.

The WA Government, which accepted the victim’s claim, awarded him just over $10,000.

Alarmingly, the child migrant said he believed the extent of Excell’s sex crimes against Fairbridge children could be much more widespread, because after leaving the institution staff allowed him to return and “help out, with the kids.”

In a 99-year-old registry book – missing for decades until it was anonymously dropped off at the farm school last year – Excell is listed as having arrived at Fairbridge on June 24, 1950, at age 11.

Excell, who says he was first molested as a boy in Britain, wrote that he was raped by a staff member at Fairbridge.

In his prison manuscript, Excell wrote that his abuser was still working at Fairbridge and molesting children there when he returned at age 21. He said the children had asked him if he was aware this staff member was a predator.

“I said I knew that from when I was a kid, they said he had a couple of regulars and kept them in money.”

Excell also chillingly wrote of the sickening thoughts going through his tortured mind when he took children on unsupervised outings.

“They all went in swimming. In my mind was to ask them if the sex stuff still went on in the cottages – right at that moment I felt like holding one of them.”

He admitted touching at least one child under the guise of “fooling around” and wrote that he wanted the minor to commit sex acts on him.

One child migrant, who did not wished to be named, said there were at least three paedophiles among the Fairbridge staff that preyed on children in the 1950s.

Excell was first jailed in 1965 after he sodomised a seven-year-old boy. In 1973, he raped a nine-year-old boy and in 1977, he raped a 13-year-old boy.

Excell was freed in 1981 but within 18 months was charged with sex crimes against a nine and 10-year-old boy. Excell drove the children to the Fairbridge area where he made them commit indecent acts with each other and with him.

Shipped to Australia and told his parents were dead, a Welsh ‘orphan’ relives a difficult childhood

He was just seven when he was shipped to Australia believing his parents were dead.

Now David Crisp has spoken of falling victim to physical and sexual abuse in Australia having been told by British authorities he was going on holiday.

And he told of learning his parents were still alive and his 30-year search for them.

David was sent from Swansea down under and in 1952 was taken to a children’s home run by the Christian Brothers, who have recently apologised to victims for an “indefensible” record on child sexual abuse.

At 10 he was sent to an orphanage.

“I was there until I was 15 and didn’t find my mum until 1991,” he said.

“I had been chasing for 30 years but had given up because letters were not coming back.”

He was put into the care of nuns at Swansea’s Nazareth House by his grandmother because his mum, Rose Gosling, was a single Catholic mum. That was shortly after he was born.

But when she later came looking for him it was claimed he had been adopted then she was told he had been shipped to Australia.

“I was there the first time but they said I was adopted in London with rich people,” he said.

“That was a lie. The second time they said ‘He’s gone to Australia’.

“No-one knew where we were.”

In 2010 then Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the scandal that saw 130,000 children sent to Britain’s colonies.

Decades after leaving Wales David had a call from the Child Migrants Trust, a charity that helps those sent from Britain as kids.

His mother had been found. He also had a brother, Les, and two sisters, Heather and Frances.

When his mother called on Christmas Day in 1991 he couldn’t understand her because of her accent.

“I was stunned,” said David, 68.

“She said, ‘Dave, this is your mum’. I froze, then I said ‘G’day mum’. I was about 45 I think.

“It was one of the biggest shocks and the best Christmas.

“I will never forget it, it was just amazing.”

At first he could barely understand her.

“Mum had a real Welsh accent,” he said.

“She was Welsh and talked too fast. God, she could talk.

“I had to tell her to slow down. She said ‘Am I talking to fast Dave?’

“I said ‘Yes. It’s bloody hard to hear you.’ She learned to talk slow on the phone.”

The next year Rose and his stepdad Frank came to visit David, who lives in Northam, near Perth, in Western Australia.

He took them to the orphanage where he was raised. Rose was horrified.

“Dave, you were in jail,” she said.

“We were slave kids,” the dad-of-one and grandfather-of-one said.

“But I said to mum ‘We didn’t know any better’.”

Kids were used as live in servants and used for free labour. Beatings and sex abuse were rife in his childhood.

“I was belted for being left handed,” David said.

“They reckoned I had the devil in me.

“People didn’t realise what happened in those places.”

Many child migrants committed suicide. David admitted it was something he had considered.

“The abuse was shocking,” the retired sheep shearer said.

“I don’t care what anyone says.”

David wrote a book – My Life as an Orphan – in 2008 to help him cope with the torment of his past.

“I wrote it to try and get it out of my system,” he said.

“But it is still in my head. People say you write it and get rid of it but it is there all the time.

“Life is so lonely and sometimes I don’t know what to do.”

He still keeps in contact with his brother and sisters in Swansea.

“I ring them and they ring me but they all want me to come home,” he said.

He has visited Wales since his mum – who is now dead – got in touch.

“Coming into Swansea there was the big steelworks [at Port Talbot],” he said.

“I turned to mum and said, ‘Isn’t funny how I remember the steelworks.”