'Solving an Empire Problem': The Salvation Army and British Juvenile Migration to Australia

By Daniel, Esther | History of Education Review, January 2007 | Go to article overview

'Solving an Empire Problem': The Salvation Army and British Juvenile Migration to Australia


Daniel, Esther, History of Education Review


The history of British juvenile migration dates from 1618 when the first group was sent to Richmond, Virginia. Thereafter, juveniles were sent to other parts of the world including North America, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Officially, British child migration ended in 1967 when the last group of children was sent to Australia. During the twentieth century Australia became the main destination for British juvenile migrants. Organisations which implemented British juvenile migration programmes included the Salvation Army, the Big Brother Movement, Fairbridge, and the Church of England. These organisations claimed they could offer Australia the 'ideal' migrants to protect, develop and strengthen white British Australia, aims which were consistent with the White Australia Policy. The British juveniles were to assist in the development of the rural economy and white British occupation of the land. It was claimed they could be easily trained (at minimal cost) and sent where there was a need for labour, particularly in rural areas. British juvenile migration to Australia was viewed in terms of its economic benefit, especially in being a supply of cheap white labour. The youths were mainly needed as agricultural labourers and the girls were employed as domestic servants, and were also wanted as wives. The juveniles were considered to be ideal migrants. They were of white British stock and did not pose an immediate economic threat since they were placed in areas in which there was a need for labour. (1)

This article provides a discussion of the unaccompanied British juvenile migration programme to Australia by the Salvation Army (henceforth, the Army) within the context of the imperialist ideas of William Booth and the racist White Australia Policy, as well as Booth's ideas regarding the 'training' of children. The programme was complex in character and diversity, particularly in relation to its philosophy, aims and objectives. One of the central themes of the Army's programme was support for British imperialism and expansion of the British Empire by populating its Dominions with large numbers of white British migrants: hence it was referred to as 'emigration and colonisation'. Such migration was regarded as vital to generate economic growth and a strong defence of the Empire. The Army claimed that its migration programme would be of national benefit as it could provide Australia with migrants with significant economic potential. (2)

At the time of its formation in 1865 the Army was concerned with the problem of 'overcrowding' in Britain, and the plight of the increasing multitude of unemployed, poor, destitute adults and juveniles who faced a bleak future with little chance of ameliorating their dismal existence. Booth introduced an elaborate social scheme which included a large-scale emigration programme to transfer some of these people to the British Dominions as a panacea for those who endured economic and social hardship. It was perceived to offer adults and juveniles a chance for a decent life, and provide the Dominions with a much needed supply of labour. (3)

The Army's programme for Australia combined complex motives including the protection of white British Australia, British imperialism, and economic, social and religious themes that were predominantly enunciated by Booth. Two books written by Booth in the late nineteenth century were the basis for the programme. In Darkest England and The Way Out (1890) is based on Booth's social scheme of caring for the poor, destitute and unemployed in England. It is from this book that the Army's emigration scheme originated as a panacea for alleviating poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Training of Children: or How to Make Children into Saints and Soldiers of Jesus Christ (1888) is based on Booth's guidelines regarding how children must be 'trained'; that is, as 'soldiers of Christ to prepare them for the Kingdom of God'. …

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