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South Australia - Event

Child and Youth Migration to South Australia (1850s - c. 1981)

  • Group of 'Barwell Boys'

    Group of 'Barwell Boys', September 1922, courtesy of State Library of South Australia.

c. 1981

Child and youth migration refers to children who were sent to Australia as part of various British child migrant schemes. While the term Child Migrant often refers specifically to children between the ages of 8 and 13, some were considerably younger. Older boys and girls were also brought to Australia as part of these schemes. Research has revealed that quite often limited information was provided to the children about what to expect upon arriving in Australia. Many found the difference in climate and the unrelenting demands of their labour for minimal pay distressing. The lack of support from the government organisers of the schemes, and the sometimes callous attitude of employers, made the situation intolerable for many child migrants.


The earliest programs of child and youth migration to South Australia began in the mid 1800s and included the Earl Grey Pauper Immigration Scheme which ran from 1848 to1851. This scheme brought Irish orphans, predominantly girls, from British workhouses to Australia to work as domestic staff. While most of these girls were over the age of 13 many were still very young and without any form of family support.

Government-run programs of child migration from England began early in the twentieth century. While large numbers of children were sent to other states, most prolifically to Western Australia, smaller numbers of children came to South Australia. In 1913-14, 172 boys between the ages of 15 and 19 years were given assisted passage from England to SA as part of a farm apprenticeship scheme run by the South Australian Government. The scheme, interrupted by the First World War, was revived in early 1922 and named after Liberal Premier Sir Henry Barwell. He aimed to recruit 6,000 farm apprentices to help 'restock' the state after the heavy loss of young lives during the War. By the scheme's end 1,444 'Barwell Boys' had been brought to South Australia. The scheme was stopped in 1924 when the new Labor government came to power.

In 1927, with the return of a Liberal State government, the immigration scheme was reintroduced adopting elements of the NSW and Victorian 'Big Brother' movement. Drought and the Great Depression ended the scheme in 1928 after 125 'Little Brothers' had been brought to SA.

After the Second World War comparatively small numbers of child migrants were brought to SA. In 1947 the Archbishop of Adelaide, Archbishop Beovich, requested that 50 Catholic English girls be brought to Adelaide to be accommodated at the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage. The British and Australian Governments recognised the Orphanage as an 'approved organisation' for the introduction of child migrants in August 1948. Between 1948 and 1950 46 English girls were brought to the orphanage. Eight Maltese girls were also brought to Goodwood in 1954-55.

In the late 1940s, the Methodist Children's Homes at Magill were also granted approval as an organisation for the housing of migrant children. In 1950 a total of 16 children, 11 boys and 5 girls, were brought from England to the Homes at Magill. Plans to take more migrant children at the Homes were put on hold when permission to build new cottages to house the children were rejected.

In 1962 the Fairbridge Foundation, which had been operating farms and institutions for migrant children in other states for decades, opened its last site - Drapers Hall in SA. Drapers Hall catered solely for children who came to Australia as part of Fairbridge's Family Migration scheme. Drapers Hall accommodated up to 20 children at a time and over the course of its existence housed more than 200 children. As these children were accompanied by one or more parent on the journey from England they are often not considered part of the history of Child Migration. However, these children were separated from their parents immediately upon arrival and spent months or sometimes years in the Drapers Hall institution before being reunited with their parents. Drapers Hall closed in 1981.


Journal Articles

  • Grant, Elspeth, 'Latecomers: The Fairbridge Society in South Australia', History Australia: journal of the Australian Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 48-68. Details


Online Resources


South Australia - The Wheat and Garden State - Opportunity for Boys to Become Farmers
South Australia - The Wheat and Garden State - Opportunity for Boys to Become Farmers
The Commissioner of Crown lands and Immigration


Group of 'Barwell Boys'
Group of 'Barwell Boys'
September 1922
State Library of South Australia


Sources used to compile this entry: Hard Labour, Video and transcript of a segment on the ABC's Landline program, relating to the 1920s 'Barwell Boys' farm apprenticeship scheme. It features readings of historical documents and interviews with a number of decendants of 'Barwell Boys', including Lydia McLean who wrote a book based on her father's experiences., 22 June 2008,; South Australia's British Farm Aprentices 1913-14, Website concerning the SA Farm Apprenticeship Scheme of 1913-14. It includes a downloadable index to Farm Apprentices created using Immigration Department files held at the State Records of South Australia., 2010,; Grant, Elspeth, 'Latecomers: The Fairbridge Society in South Australia', History Australia: journal of the Australian Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 48-68; Earl Grey's Scheme and its impact, Proformat News, May 2012,; Rosser, Debra, 'Child and Youth Migration (1913-1968)', in Find & Connect web resource, Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2012,

Prepared by: Gary George and Karen George