Thomas Barnardo was a controversial character by any
standards. Some dispute his right to have used the term
‘Doctor’. He tended to ignore the various bodies and councils
who set financial budgets and limits on the number of
children to be cared for or ‘boarded out’. Boarding out was
a fostering scheme started in 1887 when 330 boys aged
between five and nine were sent to ‘good country homes’
far from the slums and parishes in which they had lived.
In 1893 there were more than 2,000 children boarded out.
Barnardo was criticised for his lack of regard for what parents
and the children themselves thought. He was an autocrat and
imposed his thinking upon others. Another scheme, which
was criticised and even resisted, was his plan to ‘board out’
illegitimate babies with their mothers, who were encouraged
to go into service with an approved employer. Many charities
refused to offer help to such mothers as it was seen as
A very important scheme of great concern and much
criticised was that of child migration. Between 1882 and 1939
the agency sent over 30,000 children to Canada. The attitude
of the agencies sending children to Canada, Australia and
other countries was that they were providing them with a
new start as they had no prospects in Britain and their families
were seen as failing to provide adequate care for them.
Arguments were put forward that Dr Barnardo was the
most influential figure in the child migration of the last half
of the 19th century and he was accused of ‘spiriting’ children
away to Canada against the wishes of their parents. This was
emphasised by a number of court battles. Several more
accusations were directed at Barnardo, many with no
justification whatever: that the homes were badly managed;
that the boys were cruelly treated; that there was no religious
or moral training and that published photographs were
falsified and intended to deceive the public.
Barnardo was also personally attacked and charged with
improperly appropriating funds for his own benefit. At one
stage Barnardo decided to go to arbitration under an Order of
Court. In October 1877, the Arbitrators vindicated Barnardo,
stating that there was no evidence to support any of the
charges laid against him.
Thomas Barnardo was a great and charismatic
philanthropist. He believed in what he did. He had huge
abilities, especially to network and to present his work in a
way that opened purse strings. He was a hard worker, with
infinite projects and plans. And most importantly, he was
exceedingly successful. It was inevitable that he would
provoke gossip, speculation and even antagonism. His lifestyle
took its toll and by the age of fifty Barnardo had some
heart complaint. He ignored doctor’s orders to take a period
of absolute rest and died on 19 September 1905 having spent
a busy day and settled in an easy chair by the fireside.
The good he did lives after him.
Barnardo’s stopped running homes for orphans over 30 years ago, but the work
today is based on the same set of values on which the charity was first founded.
Since 1867 the services provided have changed and they will continue to do so
in order to meet the needs of children and young people of today. However, the
aim of helping children and young people in the greatest need, stays the same.
Selected biography and acknowledgements
Barnardo’s on-line: www.goldonian.org and www.infed.org
David Foster, secretary, Shadwell Clerke Lodge No. 1910, for special efforts.
John Hart, long-standing friend and mentor.
Bruce Hogg, for able and professional advice and proof-reading.
Hitchman, J. They Carried the Sword. The Barnardo story, Gollancz, London (1966).
Wymer, Norman. Father of Nobody’s Children, Longmans, London (1962)
A group of children at a
Barnardo’s orphanage in
Liverpool have their luggage
inspected before their
emigration to Canada.
Web site created by Mark Griffin