Underage “Builders of Great Britain”: Child Migration in the British Empire

Underage “Builders of Great Britain”: Child Migration in the British Empire

Olga V. Yablonskaya
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The article is devoted to British child migration in the 19th – first half of the 20th century. The reasons, conditions for moving, the importance attached to the resettlement of young people on the periphery of the British world are investigated. It is shown that philanthropic, socio-economic factors as well as imperialist, national, and racial reasons influenced migration policy. The emphasis changed over time. Until the middle of the 19th century the resettlement was caused by a desire to help poor children or to deport unnecessary and dangerous residents from the metropolis; in the second half of the 19th century migrants began to be seen as an instrument of imperial policy. Migration was consistent with the doctrine of social imperialism. It made it possible to solve the social problems of the metropolis, relieved tension in society that were associated with mass unemployment, and opened up new opportunities for the economic growth of the entire Empire. The youth made up for the shortage of labor resources in the dominions, cultivated undeveloped lands, spread European values and technologies, consolidated disparate residents into single Great Britain with its global British identity. The resettlement of minors from dirty and cramped cities to rural areas was believed to offer an opportunity to preserve a healthy generation and the strength of the Anglo-Saxon nation. In the countries of the southern hemisphere, migrants from Albion were seen as defenders of the white race and European civilization. That is why in the late 19th century, the requirements for resettlement were tightened, allowing only the “proper” type of migrant according to racial, social, physiological, and mental criteria. Many migrants achieved success in their new homeland, but some of them faced cruelty, exploitation, and social ostracism. It is concluded that the idea of Great Britain as a global community turned out to be untenable after the Second World War. Imperial goals increasingly contradicted national objectives, which led to the cessation of child migration. Deprived of their homeland and ties with their relatives, unable to adapt to new places, child migrants who turned into adults become an embarrassing reminder of the “dark page” of the imperial past.
Olga V. Yablonskaya
Candidate of Historical Sciences, Associate Professor
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Great Britain, child migration, Canada, Australia, Rhodesia, British Empire, imperialism
For citation:
Yablonskaya, О.V. “Underage ‘Builders of Great Britain’: Child Migration in the British Empire.” Historia Provinciae – the Journal of Regional History, vol. 7, no. 3 (2023): 870–910,

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