Thomas John Barnardo ('the doctor')
Dr. Thomas John Barnardo was what we might now call an extraordinary 'social entrepreneur'. But who was he and what did he achieve? He was well known for his homes and training schemes, but what was his contribution to the development of youth work and social work practice?
Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) is a classically Victorian figure - evangelical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic. His crusade to 'rescue children from the streets' was one the best known social interventions in the last half of the nineteenth century. As Williams (1953: vii) has put it:
But who was Dr Barnardo, what did he achieve in his work with children and young people,, and what is his continuing significance?
Thomas Barnardo - life
Born in Dublin in 1845, the son of a furrier, Thomas John Barnardo's childhood is somewhat blurred. As Rose (1987: 17) reports, as his fame grew, 'so did the anecdotes and legends about him until they became folklore'. She continues, 'much of the early history of his life and of the homes he wrote himself, but where his father's family came from and how he spent his first years in London remains uncertain'. There are hints that his childhood was stormy and far from happy (ibid.: 20). His schooling included Sunday school, parish day school and St Patricks Cathedral Grammar School, Dublin. Thomas (Tom) appears to have had an independent spirit, reading radical writers like Rousseau and Tom Paine. He was seen as a troublemaker (becoming bored quickly with lessons) and was eloquent and argumentative. Tom Barnardo did not pass his public examinations and at the age of 16 was apprenticed to a wine merchant.
Approaching his seventeenth birthday Thomas Barnardo experienced 'conversion' (on May 26, 1862). He became a strongly evangelical Christian 'impatient to convert others, urgent for action' (Rose 1987: 24). Barnardo began teaching Bible classes in a Dublin ragged school and became involved in home visiting. His mother and brothers were already members of the Plymouth Brethren - which Barnardo also joined. He also became a member of the Dublin YMCA - and often gave talks there. His commitment to social work strengthened - and on hearing Hudson Taylor speaking in Dublin about the work of the Inland China Mission, Barnardo believed his future lay in such work. The Brethren provided him with a small allowance, and the plan was to first study medicine at the London Hospital (friends from Dublin YMCA gave him an introduction).
Thomas Barnardo settled close to the hospital in east London (his first lodgings were at 30 Coburn Street, Stepney) in 1866 - although he does not appear to have begun his studies until 1867 (Wagner 1979). He appears to have thrown himself into missionary work in the East End visiting beerhouses, penny gaffs (little theatres), and homes - offering cheap Bibles and the word of Jesus. More than once he was attacked (suffering two broken ribs on one occasion). He also became involved in the Ernest Street ragged school (off Mile End Road) - and appears to have been a charismatic and engaging teacher. One of the stories associated with this period was of Barnardo's first encounters with the 'lays' around Petticoat Lane where children slept. Thomas Barnardo frequently talked about this night, when he was taken by Jim Jarvis, a local lad, after a ragged school to visit the area (see Williams 1953: 54-7 for an account). What Jarvis told Barnardo about his life and the experiences of the other children had a profound effect. One his first steps was to set up a ragged school.
Thomas Barnardo became increasingly torn between his work in east London and his preparation for medical missionary work in China - and wrote about it. As a result, he was offered a significant sum of money to continue his evangelical and children's work in east London. The East End Juvenile Mission was established and in 1870 he started his first 'home' in a rented house in Stepney Causeway. Work converting the building had to be halted temporarily when he ran out of money, but Thomas Barnardo again made use of his Evangelical networks to get practical help and financial support. (His network, by now, included Lord Shaftesbury who was particularly impressed with his work, and Robert Barclay, the banker). He also began to see the urgent need for a home for girls - they were, for example, presenting themselves at the new boys home as in need of accommodation and support (see, for example, Williams 1953: 93-4).
His medical studies had begun to suffer seriously and there was some disquiet among his fellow students about his religious zeal (Williams 1953: 69; 108) (It wasn't until 1876 that he resumed his studies and then sat his final examinations in Edinburgh. He registered as a medical practitioner in London, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh in 1880). Thomas Barnardo had begun to earn a small income from his writing and from preaching. His evangelical efforts also started to be on a large scale. In the summer of 1872 he set up a huge tent (able to seat 3000) outside the Edinburgh Castle public house - and reportedly some 200 people a night would profess conversion. Attendances at the tent affected the numbers using the public house and it was put for sale. Worried that it would re-open as a music hall, and concerned with the impact of drinking upon family life and children's well-being, Thomas Barnardo set about raising money for the house - and was able to open it as a coffee palace and People's Mission Church. It was to become a significant centre for evangelicalism - with revivalists such as D. L. Moody preaching there.
In the space of seven years or so, and still not thirty, Thomas Barnardo had exploded onto the philanthropic and evangelical scene. He had established a ragged school, a home (and employment agency), and a mission church. He had acquired more than a dozen properties in east London - and even bought up a children's magazine. The first account of these developments How it All Happened, written by Thomas Barnardo, was published in 1872. A year later he married (Syrie Louise Elmslie - they had met when she had invited him to speak at a meeting in Richmond) and was given the lease on Mossford Lodge, Barkingside for fifteen years as a wedding present. Like Barnardo, Syrie shared a commitment to evangelicalism and philanthropic work - and he saw he now had the opportunity to open a home for girls. They went to live at Mossford Lodge and in October 1873 12 girls came to live in a converted coach house next to the Lodge.
The work continued to develop apace. More hostels were opened and his ambitous plan to create a Village Home for Girls (with a population of over 1000 girls) to replace the home at Mossford Lodge was realized by 1880. Thomas and Syrie Barnardo lived for a while at the Lodge - but then moved to a large house in Hackney (The Cedars) a gift from Syrie's father - and later to Surbiton. (As Thomas and Syrie began to have children, Syrie's father was concerned about the surroundings in which they would be raised). The expansion of the work was made possible by Barnardo's ability to market his projects. Of special significance here was his decision in 1874 to open a Photographic Department in the Stepney Boys' Home. Over the next thirty years or so every child who entered one of the homes had their picture taken. Children were photographed when they arrived and then again several months. This was the origin of Barnardo's famous 'before' and 'after' cards. These cards were sold in packs of twenty for 5 shillings or singly for 6d. each with titles such as 'Once a little vagrant' - 'Now a little workman'. A new organization was set up to manage the homes (it was later incorporated as the National Incorporated Association for the Reclamation of Destitute Waif Children otherwise known as Dr. Barnardo Homes). The Committee of the Barnardo Homes included veterans from the boys club and ragged school movement (like T.H.W. Pelham and Arthur Kinnaird), financiers and religious figures.
Further initiatives included the development of 'boarding out' (placing children with families in more rural settings) beginning in 1886/7 and sending children to Canada initially to homes and then to be 'boarded out'. The latter of these afforded some controversy at the time - and caused suffering to a significant number of the children involved . He also began to set up homes for the 'feeble-minded' (this coincided with the birth of his seventh child who had special needs) and homes for children and young people with disabilities.
The scale of developments, and existing commitments, was such that an ever more complex fund-raising strategy was needed. Dr Barnardo often overran his resources - and there needed to be temporary cutbacks. The new Council of the Barnardo homes set various budgets and limits on the numbers of children, for example, who could be boarded out. However, Thomas Barnardo was not one to put off by such measures. At times he simply ignored them, at others he redoubled his efforts to raise funds. In this area there were many innovations. Dr Barnardo was one the first to develop organized mass charity giving - with much of the money for his schemes coming in small amounts from a large number of donors. Of particular note here was his founding of the Young Helpers' League in 1891 - in which more fortunate children were encouraged to give (its membership had grown to over 34,000 when Barnardo died).
All this work took its toll on Thomas Barnardo's health. By the time he was 50 it was clear he had some sort of heart complaint - and he was required to take a period of absolute rest (although he was not emotionally able to do this). He was soon working again at full pressure but by 1903 was in significant difficulties. Despite periods of convalesce he died on 19th September, 1905. As Williams (1953: 209) reported, on that day:
When Dr Thomas Barnardo died, there were nearly 8,000 children in the 96 residential homes he had set up. Around 1300 of these children had disabilities. More than 4,000 children were boarded out, and 18,000 had been sent to Canada and Australia.
Thomas Barnardo and ragged schools
Barnardo's first independent effort was to raise money via an article in The Revival to hold a large tea meeting service for children. His ability to present work to gain funding was already in place - he soon got donations - and held his first meeting in November 1867 (with a remarkable 2347 children attending). Within a few months, Thomas Barnardo had rented two cottages in Hope Place, Stepney - opening a school house for boys in one and for girls in the other. In later life, Thomas Barnardo was to contribute to all sorts of myths about this work - but it does appear to involved a number of elements common to other ragged school initiatives including a penny bank and a shoeblack brigade. He was well acquainted with ragged school work, as we have already seen, having worked in schools in Dublin and east London.
Within a few years the numbers attending the school had grown He rented some canalside warehouses (46 Copperfield Road, Stepney) and converted them into a school. The Copperfield Road Ragged School opened in 1876 and was aimed at children aged five to ten years. It soon became the largest ragged day school in London. By 1896, the records show that there were some 1,075 children attending the day schools and 2,460 attending the Sunday School. As well as receiving an education, children attending the school could have breakfast and dinner. The day school finished in 1908 - when the London County Council condemned the building as unsuitable for schooling, the Sunday School continued until around 1915.
The experience of working with children and young people in the ragged school was a key factor in pushing Barnardo towards setting up a home for homeless boys. This opened at 18 Stepney Causeway in 1870. The first 33 inhabitants were all older youths. Some were respectable lads who could afford to pay for accommodation; unemployed young men who were given work in the home (and taught self-reliance); and destitute boys who were clothed, fed, housed and taught simple trades (Rose 1987: 37). Barnardo set up a small wood chopping business for the lads (which paid them wages and made a small profit for the home). Thomas Barnardo didn't simply open the doors and wait for children and young people to appear - he took to the streets to 'rescue' children and to bring them to the home. There were, inevitably, problems concerning his right to do this. Within a year the income and activity of the home had doubled.
In 1873, as we have already seen, the first home for girls opened at Mossford Lodge. Numbers grew to just over 50 - but this was a good deal less than expected. What is more, the work itself did not achieve what they Barnardo's had sought. Rose (1987: 43) reports that one night he overheard the girls talking and was horrified by their 'vile conversation'. He continued:
They closed the girls home - and instead announced plans for a new Girls Village Home at Barkingside in which girls would be housed in little cottages - each overseen by a 'mother'. Girls of different ages were to be housed in the same cottage. This sort of approach had been tried in France and by Mary Carpenter in England. Within three years the first thirteen cottages were opened, and by 1879 all of the thirty cottages proposed in the original plan had been completed. Eventually there were some 90 cottages. The village had its own school, a laundry and church, and a population of over 1,000 children.
The range of homes that Barnardo founded was wide - and there was later a very significant emphasis on provision for those with special needs and disabilities. To make this possible there was a substantial infrastructure including medical facilities, schemes of training, placement arrangements and so on.
The export of destitute and orphaned children has a long history in Britain - with around 130,000 children being shipped off to various parts of the Empire over some 350 years. The first group was arguably sent in 1618 to Richmond, Virginia in the USA; the last was dispatched to Australia in 1967. The various groups and agencies sending children to Canada, Australia and other countries generally thought they were providing them with a new start:
However, as we get under such arguments, different and rather less high-minded reasons for child migration appear.
Child migration was also a way of populating the colonies with 'British stock' and of providing a source of cheap labour.
Bean and Melville (1989: 40) argue that Dr Barnardo was the most influential figure in the child migration of the last half of the nineteenth century, 'and his organization the most important'. The first party of 50 boys was sent to Canada in 1882; girls' migration began in 1883 (the youngest being just four years old). Cost appears to have been a significant factor in Thomas Barnardo's thinking - but it was another face that was turned to the public.
Having already established his agency in the public's eye, and able to draw upon particular skills of showmanship and propaganda, Dr. Barnardo presented child migration as a much needed policy. He was also able to convince host governments such as that of Canada of its efficacy. Reception homes were established and from them children were placed. Those still at school stayed in the homes until they finished schooling - after which they were fostered with local families. Between 1882 and 1939 the agency sent over 30,000 children to Canada.
Thomas Barnardo was accused of 'spiriting' children away to Canada against the wishes of their parents (Hitchman 1966: 65) - and there were a number of court battles - and considerable concern within the Roman Catholic press that Dr. Barnardo's efforts in this, and other areas, were directed at converting Catholic children. Later he reached an agreement with the Church to refer cases to Catholic care agencies if a child was found to be a member of the Church.
Thomas Barnardo believed that families were generally preferable to institutions as places for bringing up children. For example, a high proportion of children who had been in the workhouse returned there. To deal with this problem Barnardo began to look at the possibilities of 'boarding out'. This practice, of placing children with respectable families, often away from their own parish, had been used as a means of cutting child pauperism in a number of Scottish districts since the sixteenth century. Thomas Barnardo examined continental schemes as well as the Scottish - and decided that if boarding out ('fostering') was to work it had to be well organized and operated to certain minimum standards. The first major scheme began in 1886/1887 when 330 boys were sent to 'good country homes' - well away from the slums and pollution that he believed was so injurious to physical and moral well-being.
Foster parents were paid five shillings per week for each child - but he was also keen to avoid making fostering the central income. He stipulated that foster fees should not be the sole income of widows, for example.
Alongside the contractual and financial arrangements, Thomas Barnardo appointed a doctor to visit foster homes at irregular intervals (but at least every three months) to report on children's welfare and conditions in the homes. A woman physician, Jane Walker was the first such visitor - and her reports indicate that the scheme was successful -with children avoiding the stigmatization of being 'charity children' - although she did recommend various amendments to the scheme (for example restricting the number of Barnardo children in a single village). There was also local supervision in the form of a committee involving, for example, the local minister, and 'worthies').
By 1893 there were more than 2000 children boarded out. It was a more effective practice than homes in many respects - but it was difficult to raise funds for. It was far easier to get money for something very visible like the Village Home than for the sorts of regular payments due to foster parents. Further developments included a scheme to board out illegitimate babies close to their mothers (provided that the girl was otherwise of 'good character' and pregnancy was a 'lapse') (see Williams 1953: 124-5). The mother would then go into service with an approved employer - and in her time off (half a day a week usually) would visit the child. He also sought to make the father, where this was possible, contribute towards the cost of maintenance. This scheme met with a certain amount of criticism and resistance. Many charities refused to offer help to such mothers as it was a seen as rewarding immorality.
Dr Thomas Barnardo and controversy
Thomas Barnardo shared a number of qualities with other charismatic founders of philanthropic organizations - a belief in the rightness of his actions and his analysis; the ability to network and to present work in ways that opened purse strings; the facility to graft and work hard; and an ever-changing list of possible projects and plans. As one project got under way another one was starting. As Rose (1987: 47) comments with 'his great talent for publicizing his work and the grandiose plans he unveiled, it was inevitable that he would provoke gossip and speculation'.
A range of accusations were thrown at Barnardo. These included that:
The scale and range of the charges was such that Barnardo called upon his Trustees to examine the situation. But this examination did not satisfy criticism and with the publication of a booklet Dr Barnardo's Homes: Startling revelations it was clear that stronger action was needed. Thomas Barnardo was opposed to instituting an action for libel and instead opted for arbitration under an Order of Court. In October 1877, the Arbitrators issued a substantial document which stated that they were unanimous in their decision that there was no evidence to support the serious charges laid against him. They were critical, however, of his methods in some areas - and of the fact that at that time he had no proper Committee overseeing his work and that of the homes. However, as we have seen, even though he then organized a committee, there were times when he run roughshod over its decisions.
Barnardo also believed that significant aspects of the laws surrounding children were wrong - and, as a result, flagrantly broke them. He argued that the highest law was that of compassion:
There were significant dangers in this orientation - especially in its lack of regard for what parents or the children themselves might think. A disposition to the right rather than the correct is a necessary part of a calling in this area - but the notion of the 'good' involved, while individual, has to be shared. It is the extent to which Thomas Barnardo was an autocrat - and imposed his thinking upon others - that are, and were, matters of great concern.
What is the significance of all this for practitioners of social work and youth work today? The entrepreneurialism of Dr Thomas Barnardo finds an echo in many youth, community and voluntary organizations in which informal educators function. His methods - the use of outreach, the emphasis on education and training, and upon creating an environment where the well-being of the child or young person comes into focus are also familiar. He also professed a concern for the whole person (although just how he interpreted it is a matter of some debate). His fundraising activities raised the profile of work with children and young people. His organizing skills brought about a significant extension of practice. As we have seen, there are significant questions around some of his practices (especially with the benefit of hindsight) and around some of his personal characteristics - but Dr Thomas Barnardo left an indelible mark on the development of social care and practice with children and young people.
Further reading and references
Bean, P. and Melville, J. (1989) Lost Children of the Empire. The untold story of Britain's child migrants, London: Unwin Hyman. 177 pages. Rightly angry account of the child migration and of the work of the Child Migrants Trust.
Hitchman, J. (1966) They Carried the Sword. The Barnardo story, London: Victor Gollancz. 160 pages. An account of Dr Barnardo and the homes etc. written by ex-Barnardo girl.
Rose, J. (1987) For the Sake of the Children. Inside Dr Barnardo's. 120 years of caring for children, London: Hodder and Stoughton. 335 pages. Using official sources plus interviews from former Barnardo 'boys and girls' Rose provides a good overview of the history of the organization and its work. She includes material on the impact of the mass emigration policies pursued by Barnardos.
Wagner, G. (1979) Barnardo, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Wagner, G. (1982) Children of the Empire, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Williams, A. E. (1943, 1953) Barnardo of Stepney. The father of nobody's children, London: George Allen and Unwin. 233 + xii pages. Williams was Barnardo's secretary for seven years - and provides an insightful 'insider's' account of the man and his work.
© Mark K. Smith 2002