Who were these children?


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Some were orphans, some were deserted and some were sent by parents who were unable to provide for them.  The children started their journey from the Workhouses, Industrial Schools, Reformatories and Ragged Schools in Bristol and also the Bristol Emigration Home for Girls.  Some had brothers and sisters, others were on their own; all were emigrated without family or friends to start a new life in Canada.

All the cities of Great Britain were facing problems of housing a large population, in certain areas houses with multi occupancy had become slum housing and it seemed that the streets were full of children, dirty, ragged and quick to steal food or goods that could be sold.  They were stunted in growth, deformed by rickets and plagued by infections which affected their faces and bodies.  Much of the labouring work was found on a daily basis, a man might get two days work in a week which would not be enough to feed his family.  Mothers also worked; children were left to look after each other while parents were out, it was a very fine balance which would upset if a parent fell ill or even died.  Families sold furniture to buy food and when that was all gone they sold what clothes they possessed so even if offered free schooling, the children were unable to go because they lacked clothing.  When Mary Carpenter left Red Lodge Reformatory to walk from Lower Park Row, down Christmas Steps through Lewins Mead and into the narrow lane called St James Back, where she set up her ragged school, she was passing through a slum area bordering onto the docks.  The children were left to run wild on the streets, they camped in dark doorways, made alleys their homes and lived on what food they could find.  

In 1884 "The Bristol Mercury published a series of articles entitled "The Homes of the Bristol Poor".

The Bristol police brought many of these children before the magistrates, they were sentenced in the Petty Sessions Court, vagrants and petty offenders were sent to the Industrial Schools, persistent truants were sent to the Truant School in Kingsdown, the Boards of Guardians were asked to take some children.  Many of the street children were eventually sent to the workhouse where they were settled into school buildings.  The workhouses became full and as it was cheaper to send a child to Canada than keep him or her until they were 16 years of age, emigration was sought as an alternative.  It was the considered opinion of many people that the fresh air and good farm food of Canada would give the children a fresh start in life.

In the early years of this emigration movement some of the Bristol children sailed on the ships of the Great Western Steamship Company, their offices being at the Grove in Bristol and owned by Mark Whitwill, a Bristol philanthropist.  The company owned several small steam ships which were named after the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucester and Bristol.  The children boarded these ships at the ports of Newport, Swansea and Bristol.  Mark Whitwill was actively involved in supporting the emigration of the "street children".

In later years the Bristol children sailed

on the ships of the Allan Line and the

Dominion Line.  Ships with names like

the "Prussian", "Peruvian",

"Lake Champlain", "Dominion",

"Sarnia", "Lake Magantic", "Scotsman",

"Ruaphen", "Vancouver", "Labrador"

and "Arawa" were used to transport the

children to Canada



The Aragon sailed from Bristol during the years of 1875-1880 carrying passengers and freight across the Atlantic to Canada and The States. The Great Western Steamship Company anxious to develop the emigration trade had sold some of their smaller ships which had become too small for the flourishing Atlantic trade, and bought this vessel.

Link to Bristol & Avon Family History Society Website

  Shirley Hodgson 2006