Bound for Australia – Robert Dickson, John McPhee and John Mitchell, May 1913

These three boys were photographed with their wee dog just before they travelled to Liverpool to catch the TSS ‘Belgic’ to Australia and a new life. All three boys were residents of the Whinwell Children’s Home and were just 10 years old when they made the voyage.

Robert Dickson, shown on the right, had been given up by his mother in October 1908. Mary Dickson was 25 years old and could no longer support her son financially. Mary had to work because she was a single mum and in those days, it was not possible to work and care for a child.

When Mary passed her son into the care of the staff at the Home, she was asked to sign a consent form giving up all rights to him. This must have been heart-breaking for parents who were forced to do this because of their circumstances. It was not done lightly. Many single women found themselves in this situation before the creation of the Welfare State and the availability of assistance for working class women who found themselves raising children alone.

Robert was cared for in the Whinwell Home until he was deemed old enough to travel and was then sent to Australia with John McPhee, shown on the left, and John Mitchell, centre, in May 1913.

Many orphaned children and those given up by their parents who were unable to provide for them, were sent from Scotland to Australia and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was arranged by organisations such as the Child Emigration Society.

It was thought that the children would have more opportunities in the new world. We know that some of them prospered but some were taken and used as little better than slave labour on farms. We can only hope that Robert and his companions did well once they reached their new home. We do know that they arrived safely as there is a letter in the file that gives details of their arrival and reception at the Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra, Western Australia, in July 1913.

Robert, John and John were among the second group of 22 boys to arrive at the newly opened Fairbridge School and will have lived in tents to begin with.

You can find out more about the beginnings of the Fairbridge school here. See paragraph ‘Western Australia’ for a description of the beginnings of the School.

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