Barnardo’s experiences in the ragged school, his
continued preaching and teaching and his exposure to
other philanthropists, James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905),
the British Protestant Christian missionary, in particular, led
him to choose a medical missionary career in China. With
the help of his Dublin friends, Barnardo gained introductions
and registered as a medical student in the prestigious London
Hospital, now the Royal London Hospital, adjoining
Whitechapel Road, in 1866.
Again, there is little information of his early years in
London. He found residence in Stepney, close to the hospital,
where he continued with his religious activities at the
expense of his studies. In his first year as a medical student,
in November 1867, he held the first of his many fund-raising
meetings, the success of which enabled him to set up his own
ragged school – The East End Juvenile Mission.
Famously, a young boy in the mission by the name of Jim
Jarvis took Barnardo around the squalor and devastation of the
East End. The images of children sleeping in the gutter and on
rooftops so impressed Barnardo, that he decided to forgo his
plans of work in China and dedicated himself to the destitute
children of London. He walked the streets of the slum district
and brought back to the mission destitute boys.
Within three years he opened the initial home for boys at
18 Stepney Causeway in 1870. The first 33 inhabitants were
all older youths. Some could afford to pay, others were given
work in the home whilst being taught how to fit into society.
All the boys were treated equally, they were fed and clothed
and prepared to face better lives.
In 1872, the year of the publication of his well-received
book How It All Happened, he married Sara Louise (Syrie)
Elmslie. A year later, with her enthusiastic assistance, he
established the first home for girls, which opened at Mossford
Lodge in 1873. It reached a peak in 1883 with the Village
Home for Girls in Ilford, Essex, which was a complete
community with 70 cottages, its own school, laundry,
church and a population of over 1,000 children.
Meanwhile, his medical studies and status in the hospital
suffered at the expense of all these extra-curricular activities.
Fellow students complained of his religious enthusiasm and
it took Barnardo almost a decade to take up and continue
his medical career. A letter he wrote to the Justus Liebig-Universität Gießen, the University of Giessen, Germany
in 1875, now in the archives of Barnardo’s in Barkingside,
Essex, is both revealing and self-explanatory:
I became a medical student at the London Hospital in 1867 and
entered Durham University the previous September and registered
as a medical student in June 1868. I duly attended all hospital
practice, medical and surgical for four years. In July 1869 I passed
the first professional examination in anatomy and physiology at the
Royal College of Surgeons, England, and hope to go up for the final
examination in April next. The reason why I have not proceeded to
qualify fully before this is that in 1870 I abandoned the study of
medicine and took up the philanthropic work of rescuing destitute
children from the streets of our great cities, much of the same character
as your own celebrated Dr. Wichern of Hamburg.
Nothing appears to have resulted from this appeal and
Barnardo continued his studies and obtained his diploma in
April 1876 as a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons.
He returned to London and registered as a medical practitioner
and exactly three years later, on 16 April 1879, he was elected
a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Although I did not proceed with my studies I am generally
called Dr. Barnardo and enclose my card … (I) shall be glad to
know if you can allow me to be examined by your University early
in December … Kindly let me know the subjects of examination.
I can give testimonials of my professional knowledge etc., by
respectable English medical men, if you will kindly tell me what
you require, and I enclose in proof of the truth of my first
statements two certificates of registration, which please return
when you reply. Also state the amount of fees required…
He now dedicated himself with full vigour to the
establishment of his homes and training schemes. He had
initially rented canal-side warehouses and converted them to
schools, later acquiring numerous properties in East London.
He established an Evangelical mission church, set up facilities
and provided for the disabled and those with special needs.
His commitments had become such that he needed ever
more innovative methods to raise funds, often overrunning
available resources. Here is where his particular expertise
came into play. His great success relied on his capacity to
organise mass charity events and raise funds for his projects.
Much of the money for his schemes came, in small amounts,
from a large number of donors, including children.
They were encouraged to give through an organisation
he founded in 1891 called The Young Helpers’ League.
At the time of Barnardo’s death, nearly 15 years later, the
membership of the enterprise had grown to 34,000. Barnardo
knew how to present his schemes and plans and gained
important support in doing so.
A powerful and persuasive orator, he had already gained
the support of Lord Shaftesbury (1801–1885) and of the
banker, Robert Barclay (1843–1921). Shaftesbury Avenue,
in the West End of London, was completed in 1886, and
named in his memory. While using the course of existing
streets, it demolished some of the worst slums, which Lord
Shaftsbury had campaigned to eliminate from the area.
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