On their own - Britain's child migrants

Did you know... that children were sent overseas as early as 1618?

old handwritten letter
Letter from King James I to Sir Thomas Smyth relating to the transportation of children to Virginia 13 January 1618. Reproduced courtesy City of London, London Metropolitan Archives.

The earliest recorded case of sending children overseas was in 1618 when the Virginia Company took 100 destitute children to Virginia, to boost the population and supply labour to plantation owners. London was awash with waifs and orphans and this was the City’s answer to dealing with these unwanted children.

Many were ‘spirited’ away illegally and this continued even when an ordnance against the practice was passed. This use of child labour continued sporadically over the next two centuries.

Alongside this was the policy of transportation, which exiled prisoners overseas. Male, female and child convicts were shipped out to America and later to Australia, South Africa and Canada. Children over the age of seven were seen as adults so were punished in the same way. This practice came to an end in the mid 19th century.

 

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