Child & youth migration in the 20th century

A chronology of child youth and migration from the United Kingdom and an overview of the related records series.


Child migrants were school age children in care institutions in the United Kingdom. They were usually from eight to thirteen years of age on arrival, although some were younger. Youth migrants were usually young men aged 15-19 years of age who had left school and had made their own decision to migrate.

Before World War II child migration schemes provided farm training for boys and domestic skills for girls. Post-World War II emphasis was placed on increasing Australia's population. Prior to 1946 child migration was administered largely by the State governments. The first youth migrants to New South Wales were the Dreadnought Boys, aged 16-19 years, brought out by the Dreadnought Trust in 1911 under an agreement with the New South Wales Government.

The main care agencies involved in child migration were Barnados, Fairbridge, Catholic Church agencies and some Protestant Churches. The Big Brother Movement encouraged youth migration. Child and youth migration to New South Wales ceased in 1967.

Brief Chronology


First Dreadnought Boys brought out by the Dreadnought Trust (April 1911)


First Barnado's child migrants sent to New South Wales


Big Brother Movement (Sydney) founded by Sir Richard Linton


Barnado's children sent to Mowbray Park, Picton, New South Wales


Fairbridge Farm school at Molong established. Migration under the Big Brother Movement and the Dreadnought Trust recommenced following the Depression


First Catholic children sent to Australia


Suspension of child and youth migration schemes due to WWII


577 children sent to Australia as evacuees from Britain


End of WWII. No ships available to send migrants to Australia for two years


British child migrants sent to Australia. Big Brother Movement renewed its youth migration to Australia (1950s)


British Catholic care institutions cease sending further children to Australia


Few child migrants sent to Australia, some arrived under Barnado's and Fairbridge schemes


Abolition of child migration from England, with last group of Barnado's children sent to Australia (by air)


United Kingdom. Parliamentary Select Committee for Health into the Welfare of Former Child Migrants enquiry


Australia. Parliament. Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee enquiry on child migration. Lost innocents: righting the record: report on child migration


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to child migrants


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised to child migrants sent from Britain under the Child Migrant Program

Select list of records

Chief Secretary's Department, Immigration Division

NRS 1211
Immigration files 
These files contain correspondence between Commonwealth Departments, relevant Charitable institutions and State Government Departments. The subjects dealt with are child immigration to Australia and the funding of the hostels to house them.

Department of Community Services, Licensing Branch

NRS 14782
[7/2036A-2049B, 10/37264-37274, 3/7829-7850, 19/8455.3, 7/8652.2-8655]
Immigrant children's files
These files relate to young people entering the country who are under twenty-one years of age and have no parent or blood relative responsible for them in Australia. The files include medical reports, reports on the immigrant child and correspondence relating to the placement of the person in question. These migrants, sponsored by organizations such as the Big Brother Movement, Dr Barnado's Homes and Fairbridge were supervised by Child Welfare Officers when they were placed in the community. The files are arranged by file number.
NRS 14783
Registers of the arrival and discharge of immigrant children 
These registers record monthly arrivals and discharges of immigrant children. The arrival entries give names, ages and whether the child was nominated by an individual or sponsored by an organization such as Fairbridge, Big Brother or Dr Barnardo. The discharge entries give name, age, type of nomination, and reason for discharge from guardianship.
1953-1956, 1960-1964
NRS 14784
Miscellaneous correspondence files relating to immigrant children 
Two files concern correspondence with officials of the Big Brother and Dr. Barnado schemes, the former containing information about immigration regulations and procedures. The third file relates to a District Officer's investigation of a complaint by a child sponsored by the Big Brother scheme.
NRS 14785
Files concerning the arrival of immigrant children sponsored by the Big Brother Scheme 
These files relate to the arrival of 'Little Brothers' in New South Wales. The files contain a notification from the New South Wales Immigration Division of the boys' impending arrival, giving date, flight number or ship's name, and names and ages of the boys. The results of later medical examinations are included.
NRS 14786
Returns of employment changes made by young persons sponsored by the Fairbridge Farm Scheme 
Weekly returns that include name; date of new employment; category of wages and home address.
NRS 14787
[3/1735-37, 8/2314-15, 8/2242]
Depots, homes and hostel files 
These files concern applications for licenses to conduct a depot, home or hostel. Full details of facilities offered, staff and their qualifications, proposed alterations to premises, etc are included. Correspondence regarding the application and correspondence from the individuals concerned is also included.
NRS 14789
Immigrant children's index 
This index, arranged by name of child, records the name of the child, place and date of birth, religion, date and means of arrival in Australia, sponsor, details of parents, and particulars of placements and movements.
NRS 14790
[10/37275-37276, 7/2050A-20654B, 3/7778-7828, 19/8455.2, 7/8651-8652.1]
Immigration nomination (Minor "E") files 
These files relate to the nomination of immigrants, who are under 21 years of age, by sponsors who were resident in New South Wales. The files refer to such matters as the accommodation provided by the sponsor and the general welfare of the immigrant after arrival.

Department of Education and Communities

School Files
The school files and related records are listed by the name of the school in the online Index to Schools and Related Records.
- Fairbridge Farm School: we hold school files, admission registers and punishment books as well as program and lesson registers and visitors books. These are listed in the index.  Please note: Punishment Books are Closed to Public Access (CPA) for 50 years

Industrial Relations, Migration Branch

Dreadnought contribution register 
A register of moneys paid to the Department and moneys paid out on account of Dreadnought migrants. The register shows surname; Christian names; moneys paid to the Department — private moneys, repayments of loan, and Trustees' contributions; moneys paid out by the Department — private moneys, and repaid to Federal Department on account of loan for passage, and for training farm; and remarks.

Industrial Relations

NRS 5529 (Photos)
Photographs of Scheyville Training Farm, c. 1926-23 Jun 1946
The photographs (examples above) show views of the Training Farm, interiors and exteriors of buildings, an architect's perspective sketch dated 1928 and farm workers engaged in agricultural and livestock related activities.
c.1926-23 Jun 1946

Department of Labour and Industry, NSW Immigration Division

The card indexes listed below are open to public access with the exception of the index to unsatisfactory migrants which is closed for 70 years.

Card index to assisted immigrants [11/23045-23054, 11/23056-23065]
Card index to assisted immigrants [6/994-1000, 11/23066-23074]
Card index to nominations/inspections [11/23075-23085]
Card index to migrants transferred from other States [11/23086-23090.1]
Place index [11/23091-23092.1]
Arranged by main railway line, then by towns on the line and then by name of migrant, forming a list of migrants by most recent address.
Card index to enquiries re settlement [11/23092.2]
Card index to the deaths of Dreadnought immigrants [11/23092.3]
Card index to nominators [11/23093.1]
Card index to immigrants under youth group schemes [11/23093.2]
Indexes youths assisted under the Big Brother Movement, The Dreadnought Trust Fund, the Salvation Army and the Church of England (Council of Empire Settlement).
Card index to migrant passport clearances issued [11/23094]
Appears to be an index to immigrants brought out under the Dreadnought Trust Fund who returned to England. The index is incomplete (Abbott-Myson only).
Unidentified card index to immigrants [11/23095-23100]
Appears to index immigrants under the age of 21 who probably arrived under the Dreadnought Trust Fund.
Card index to unsatisfactory migrants [11/23101]
Closed for 70 years.


Records of the Department of Communities & Justice

Records relating to individuals, such as case files and correspondence, are CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS for 100 years.

Records such as registers and indexes are CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS for 80 years.

All requests for information should be directed to the following address:

Department of Communities & Justice

Care Leaver Records Access unit

Phone: 1300 137 160 or (02) 9716 2500



Find and Connect Australia website

The Find and Connect website brings together resources relating to institutional care across Australia. The website provides information about children’s Homes including images, location of and how to access records as well as details of support groups and services in each State/territory. The Find and Connect web resource induction pack provides a quick introduction to features of the Find and Connect website to users.

Support Groups

There are several support groups for child and youth migrants, both in the United Kingdom and in Australia.

Big Brother Movement (BBM)BBM maintains an archive and historical records of the Little Brothers arriving in Australia from 1925 to 1982.Level 45, 680 George St
Sydney NSW 2000

Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN)
PO Box 164
Georges Hall NSW 2198

Child Migrants Trust
169 Riversdale Road
Hawthorn VIC 3122
Telephone: (03) 9815 2022

Child Migrants Trust
28A Musters Road
West Bridgford
Nottingham NG2 7PL
Telephone (International): +44 115 9822811

Dreadnought Association
The Dreadnought Association of NSW was wound up in 2018. Contact the Alstonville Plateau Historical Society for more information. 
Telephone: 02 6628 1829

Information for former British child migrants

The UK Department of Health website provides contact details for tracing former British child migrants, support groups and the various measures that have been set up to assist people.

Researchers can also email the Department at

(October 2004).

Further Reading

There are a number of useful publications on child and youth migration.

Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities, Child Migrants: Accessing records held by Commonwealth and State Archives (online), URL of website (cited December 2004)

Parliament of Australia. Senate. Lost innocents: righting the record: report on child migration. Commonwealth of Australia, 2001. PDF available online at (cited January 2005)

Barry Coldrey. Good British stock: child and youth migration to Australia. Canberra: National Archives of Australia, 1999. Available online at

Ann Howard. C'mon over: the phenomenon of child migration from Tilbury to Sydney from 1921-1965. Dangar Island, NSW: Tarka Publishing, 2002. [Barnado Scheme]

Philip Bean and Joy Melville. Lost children of the empire. Sydney: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

Olwen King (compiler and editor), They passed this way: stories of the Dreadnought boys. [Alstonville, NSW?]: Dreadnought Association, Far North Coast, c1998.