Migration scheme was viewed as money well spent, abuse inquiry told

Christine Smith QC
Christine Smith QC

The “disposal” of children by emigration to Australia produced substantial savings, according to a 1928 report by Northern Ireland’s Government.

Support for the migration schemes was broadly due to concern for the child and concern for the community and the religious and moral welfare of the young person, the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry heard.

Removal also allayed the danger posed by remaining at an unsuitable home or in an institution.

Britain and Northern Ireland was over-populated whereas the colonies were under-populated.

Christine Smith QC, lawyer to the inquiry, said: “There was a need to build up the Empire and ensure the Empire was of white common British stock.”

Emigrants would have a chance to better themselves and make room in overcrowded workhouses and orphanages.

Ms Smith added: “Therefore the fare to Australia would be money well spent.

“It was reckoned that it would be cheaper to send a child abroad than to keep it for several years in a workhouse.”

In Australia they could find farm or domestic work. Official thinking was that relieving unemployment at home, sending children to a healthy outdoor life in Australia far from the slums and evil influences and institutional life would do more for the children.

The barrister added: “Children could become strong and stocky and efficient citizens, able to play their part in developing the vast resources of Australia.”

The Catholic church stressed the need for the children to be brought up in the “correct” religion, was concerned for the “Catholicisation” of Australia, and sent many children to Queensland which was perceived to be more Catholic.

An inspector in the 1950s urged a regular flow of children and said it would help in a small way to increase the English-born population of Australia.

A 1928 report by an official for Stormont’s Home Affairs Ministry said there were benefits closer to home.

“In the majority of cases the disposal of a child by emigration will effect a substantial saving.”

He added: “Owing to the present prevalence of unemployment in this country, it is difficult to ensure a means of livelihood for young persons on discharge in certified schools and it sometimes happens that in such cases young persons after discharge from the school drift back to a life of crime, a result which may have been avoided had they been enabled to obtain work in the colonies.”