The name of a child migrant was changed by nuns before he sailed in an effort to ensure he could not be traced, a public inquiry in Northern Ireland has heard.
Seasick children vomited from the decks and cried as they traversed the waves, on their way to a new identity and life in a country they knew nothing about.
One nun said: “I hope that ship sinks on the way out there as punishment for misbehaving.”
The decision to change the name of one child was signed by a senior nun (mother superior) in Northern Ireland on behalf of the Catholic Council for Child Welfare, the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) was told.
He was told not to change it back when he arrived in Australia following the month-long passage from Northern Ireland. A witness statement said he was never asked did he want to go.
“I had no idea where Australia was, my mother was never told about going there.”
The nuns fitted him out with clothes for the trip.
“The last thing they did was change my name.
“I think they wanted to ensure I could not be traced.”
Some participants in the child migration scheme were told they were going on holiday and had no idea how far it was.
Another witness said the first time he met his father was the day before he was transferred from Termonbacca boys’ home in Londonderry. He brought him sweets and ice cream and spent the day with him.
“He told me not to worry as he was going there himself and would look after me.
“Of course that never happened.”
One witness sailed from Southampton in England in 1947 on an old troop ship. The front end had been torpedoed and patched up. On that occasion there was no schooling and boys were able to run around the ship.
One woman transferred the same year was sick the whole “terrible” journey. Nuns travelled on board, teaching the children during school lessons and ensuring they went to Mass.
A boy said he had no chance to say goodbye to his father and was one of eight in a cabin, spending most of the time below deck, with passengers often going up only to be sick.
When he arrived in Fremantle in Western Australia he asked a nun when he would be going home.
“She hit me a clout over the ear.
“We did not realise how far Australia was from Ireland. We did not at any stage realise that we would not be going home.
“We were just orphans in their view and had to do what we were told.”
One witness said he was taken down to what he thought was a crew member’s berth, but could not state categorically whether he was abused.
Once they arrived some children were subjected to sexual and physical abuse by members of the Christian Brothers Catholic religious order at Clontarf in Western Australia.
Afterwards one witness joined the Australian armed forces but was not given proper citizenship or even a real birth certificate for many years, which made applying for jobs difficult.