Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Child Emigrants to the Cape Colony Part 1

On 11 May 1833 the ship Charles Kerr cast anchor in Table Bay after a three-month voyage from Cowes, England. It wasn’t the vessel’s first visit to the Cape of Good Hope, but on this occasion she was carrying human cargo. No, not slaves in the usual sense of the word, but twenty boys sent out by the Children’s Friend Society and destined for employment in the Colony.

Table Bay

We can imagine the excitement mingled with trepidation among the young emigrants at their first view of the beautiful Bay and its shipping, with Cape Town nestling at the foot of the majestic table-topped mountain. Most of the children had never been farther afield than London and its immediate environs. Their lives had begun in narrow streets and mostly in dingy, crowded tenements. Until a short while previously there’d been little likelihood of a change in these circumstances. Now they’d embarked on an adventure, leaving behind familiar faces and places, and crossing the ocean to a distant land.

Between 1833 and 1840, over thirty ships would follow in the wake of the Charles Kerr, bringing further groups of children, girls as well as boys, to the Cape Colony.

How and why did this come about? What destiny awaited them in the Cape and how did they cope with being uprooted and subsequently transplanted in foreign soil? Could your ancestor have been among them?

17th c London
There was actually nothing new in the idea of sending vagrant or pauper children to Britain’s colonies. As early as 1618, 100 juveniles were despatched from England to Virginia, and a second batch soon followed. The children had no say in the matter. Homeless, unprotected by parents or any charitable authorities, they were rounded up in the streets of London and herded into gaols before being shipped off to enforced exile in the American colony. There they would be bound to unknown masters whose treatment of the young apprentices was not subject to official regulation. Few of these child migrants would ever return to the country of their birth. 

This practice, whether sanctioned by government or carried out illegally, continued for two centuries. It was a means of ridding England of an unwanted surplus population, as well as providing much-needed labour in her colonies.

To be continued


C June Barnes said...

I wonder if you have a source for the dates here? Did the Charles Kerr make two trips to South AFrica - one in 1833 and one in 1835? Do you have a date for the departure from Cowes?

Page 265 of Geoff Blackburn's book "The Children's Friend Society"

Per Ship "Charles Kerr", Captain Brodie, for Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, January 23, 1835
Perhaps an error?

Mole said...

Charles Kerr, Capt Brodie, left Cowes 21 January 1833, arrived at the Cape 11 May 1833. The Charles Kerr may have made another trip; will check.

Mole said...

Further to your comment: from my notes re Brenton: 'Meeting in London offices 10 Jan 1833: ‘the propriety of sending out 20 of the destitute children, now at the asylum at West Ham to the Cape of G H, to be there employed as agric labourers.’Brenton had prev met with Col Sec Lord Goderich and extracted commitment from Govt to pay half the cost of sending the 20 boys to the Cape.
It was decided to send them out on the ‘Charles Kerr’
Times 11 & 22 Jan 1933 ‘the boys were introduced (to the meeting) and they all held up their hands in favour of emigrating.’
'The Charles Kerr dep Cowes 21 Feb 1833 arr Cape Town 11 May 1833.'I do not at present find a reference to another such voyage of the Charles Kerr. By mid-1835 this vessel was on the Australia run.