TRINITY COLLEGE ARCHIVES
Relocating Orphan Children to Rural Canada in 1870 from London
How would you feel if you were an orphaned child of 14 years old who was sent to a new country you knew nothing about to work on a farm? In a letter dated in 1870 and sent from London, England to Paris, Ontario, Eliza Crisp writes that she is sending 30 orphaned boys to Canada to give them a better future living with adoptive families and working on farms.
First page of letter written by Eliza Crisp dated March 12, 1870. Source: Graeme Patterson Fonds, Trinity College Archives, University of Toronto.
During the period of British History known as the Industrial Revolution, factories were prevalent and demanded a large labour force. Children were the ideal employees as they were cheap sources of labour and their size enabled agile maneuvering around the massive machine equipment inside of the factories. Working conditions were extremely dangerous and unlike today, few labour laws protected employees. Children worked long hours and developed health problems because of poor working conditions. Impoverished families, who often had many children, sent their children to work as it provided the family with an extra source of income. The overwork and poor sanitation left many children orphaned and they lived in the streets of London or in orphanages.
I believe that Eliza saw herself as a benevolent woman who felt morally compelled to send children who were of impoverished families to Canada. Eliza is optimistic in her writing and speaks highly of the children. She believes she is sending “really good lads” and the “right sort of boys” that they should “prove alright in their future lives” working as “good servants on the farms” in Canada. Eliza describes the plan to send the boys by ships “approximately 18 or 20 in each vessel” which they will then be sent by train from Montreal to Hamilton or by Lake Steamer, a steam ship that travels within the Great Lakes. I believe that because Eliza’s father was a Non-Conformist English minister who worked as a missionary in India, Eliza felt a strong religious conviction to help the poor children of London and made it her personal ‘mission’ to ensure the boys were given a future. I also believe that she, like many before her, saw Canada as a golden land of opportunity.
Disembarking in Canada
Unfortunately, upon arriving in Canada, many of the children were abused and neglected. These children often ran away and had difficulty adjusting to the culture and geography of Canada. Children were sent in the thousands to rural areas across Canada and only few were fortunate in their relocation. The children who were sent from England had little to no agency in their emigration to Canada. While it would be satisfying to believe that the children were all given a wonderful future upon their arrival, many children struggled to adjust. I believe that despite the difficulty to acclimatize, the children had a better chance for survival in Canada than they would have had if they remained in England.
Jessica Baptista is an alumna of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with an Honorary Bachelors of Arts degree in History (2016). She is currently completing her Masters of Museum Studies graduate degree at the University of Toronto (anticipated completion 2018). Her interests in Museum Studies include collections management and object preservation. Jessica has travelled to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, England, France, Portugal and Spain. She has also visited Chicago and New York in the United States.
 Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/child-labor-during-the-british-industrial-revolution/
 Harrison, Phyllis. (Eds.). (2003). The Home Children: Their Personal Stories. Winnipeg: Gordon Shillingford Pub.
 Fickling, Ben and Sylvia Lassam. (pending, spring 2017). “Good Hands to Good Homes”: A File in the Graeme Patterson Fonds at the Trinity College Archives. Ontario History. Trinity Archives, University of Toronto.
Children were sent in the thousands to rural areas across Canada and only few were fortunate in their relocation. The children who were sent from England had little to no agency in their emigration to Canada.