Home / Resources / Sending Agencies & Organizations / Catholic Child Immigration from England and Liverpool

Catholic Child Immigration from England and Liverpool

Cardinal Wiseman

The restoration of the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church in 1850 under Cardinal Wiseman, was a significant turning point in the way the church performed many duties.

Cardinal Wiseman considered the care of the poor to be a Christian responsibility and education to be a means to raise them from the poverty they were born into. He was well aware of the conditions that prevailed in his area of Westminster, London and was sympathetic to other areas in England at that time. His successor, Cardinal Manning, was an even greater advocate and played an active role in several significant movements.

Cardinal Manning

Manning moved to establish suitable accommodations for boys and girls in the area, as well as further afield in other parts of England. He encouraged the distribution of funds to support the efforts to care for and educate the children. The reformatory that had been established in Hammersmith was now an industrial school for boys and a similar school for girls was started in Queen’s Square known as St. Margaret’s. Several other schools of note were established in the southern counties surrounding London. Efforts were made to minister to Catholic children in workhouses but this made those children’s lives difficult because of the attention they were given. This led to a situation where workhouses were able to give up Catholic children to Catholic schools.

Manning also worked vigorously to have all Catholic children in Dr. Barnardo’s care handed over to him. Dr. Barnardo refused to hand over those already in his care but despite his hatred of Catholicism and the fact that his homes being overloaded, he did agree to the release of any further Catholic children.

Father Nugent – photo courtesy of Nugent Care

Following in these footsteps in the Liverpool area was a Father James Nugent. Father Nugent recognised the load on the system that the sudden influx of poor Irish people into the Liverpool area had on the limited Catholic resources, and he estimated that there were as many as 23,000 impoverished Catholic children living on the streets dock area of Liverpool as a result of this. Nugent worked hard against a lot of resistance for compulsory education. This task was made more difficult because many of the children were from illiterate families that were in need of food.

He was the first to escort a group of twenty-five Catholic children to Canada in 1870. All were placed within days and he took the opportunity to visit many groups in Canada and the United States to discuss opportunities available for future parties of similar children.

Later, Father Nugent was joined by Mrs. Elizabeth Hudson and Mrs. Margaret Lacy who also escorted small groups of children to Canada under the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protection Society. The Society was established in 1881 to rescue Catholic children from misery and crime by finding them homes and employment in Canada. Mrs. Lacy placed children in a large area from Ottawa to Windsor. She was assisted by the Sister of St. Joseph in Guelph in the counties of Waterloo and Wellington. Many children were taken to Providence House in Kingston and Hamilton.  The Sisters of the Church in Toronto and the Sisters of St. Josephs in St. Catharines also placed children but without any records being kept. Some children were sent as far as Sudbury and even into the U.S. Later, the group sent children to St. Anne’s home in Montreal.

photograph of large group of boys on the deck of a ship. Most are looking over the side and waving and some have climbed up the rigging to get a better view
Some of Nugent Care’s children leaving Liverpool for a new life in the new world in the 1920s. Father Nugent took the first group of 24 children to Canada on 18 August 1870 on the SS Austrian. Photograph courtesy of the Nugent Care Society.

Migration of Catholic children to Canada begins, partly as a response to the cost of looking after children in the homes. Of approximately 50,000 children sent from English institutions up to the 1920s, 5,000 were Catholic.

 In 1895, the New Orpington Lodge was opened at Hintonburgh, near Ottawa eventually replacing St. Anne’s in Montreal which was used up to that time. The New Orpington Lodge was renamed St. George’s Home and was taken over by the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul. Some of these children were sent to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to the St. Patrick’s Orphanage, for placement.

By the early 1900s Father Hudson was bringing children from his home in Birmingham (prior to that is was Father Rossell) and others were brought from Father Berry’s Homes in Liverpool. The Catholic Church united all of their emigration work in 1899 under the Crusade of Rescue and all work was moved to St. George’s in Ottawa. St. George’s was closed in 1935

 In 1874, Rev. Thomas Seddon, secretary to Cardinal Manning, started sending children to Canada. In the following ten years, he sent 463 children to Ontario and Quebec. As with most of the Catholic children, the older ones were housed with a church organisation until suitable work could be found and the younger ones were adopted by Catholic families. In 1898, it was recorded that Rev. Seddon died at sea while escorting a party of 31 children to Canada and was buried in Quebec on September 26th . The children that he brought to Canada were distributed in many parts of Quebec and Ontario.

Older teenage boys were not included in Rev. Seddon’s parties but a Father Edward St. John was interested in doing something for the older boys and he brought several groups across. This was not as successful as had been hoped for. The older boys would be replaced by younger boys in any employment at the age of 18 because of the difference in wages paid. Some of these older boys managed to return to England on cattle boats and the practice was stopped.

By 1893, there were many independent Catholic organisations involved in moving children out of England and several had been sent by similar orders from Ireland. There was a union of all the various interest groups under the banner of the Catholic Emigration Committee an organisation started by Rev. Seddon. The organisation modeled itself on that of the Barnardo’s homes and they were able to place children in Manitoba Saskatchewan and the eastern provinces.

In 1904, the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protective Society and the Canadian Catholic Emigration Society were taken over by the Catholic Emigrating Association. Receiving homes were maintained in Ontario and Quebec however the following year the two homes were amalgamated in Hintonburg Ontario and the Montreal facility was closed. The wages of the children were sent directly to the home and saved for the day the child left the home’s care at 18 years of age. The children were visited annually and if there were complaints they were moved to a new employer. Several other amalgamations took place over the years and local priests were active in selecting suitable homes and reporting on the children’s welfare. In the late 1920s, emigration slowed until in 1932 the last child arrived and the home in Ontario was closed in 1934. Sadly, most of the records of the children were destroyed after they were transferred. However, there are several thousand available in the National Archives of Canada.  

Contact: Catholic children’s society of England: www.cathchild.org.uk  

Receiving or Distribution Homes in Canada: Catholic Children’s Society: St. George’s Home for Boys in Ottawa, ON; the St. Vincent’s Home for Girls, 11 St. Thomas Street, in Montreal, Quebec and  the Providence House at the Hotel Dieu in Kingston, Ontario, and girls were sent to the Sisters of the Church, 90 York Street, and to the Church Orphanage, 69 Baldwin Street, Toronto.