English Orphan Transports: Fairbridge Foundation

Figure 1.--These English Children are prepared to begin their journey to a Fairbridge Farm School in Australia. The photograph was taken in 1932.

The Fairbridge Foundation was one of the groups responsible for transporting indigent British children to the Empire Dominion countries, Australia, Canada, and Rhodesia. We are not sure at this time just how many children were transported. Nor are we sure just how important the Fairbridge Foundation was in this process. Ir appears to have been one of the more important groups involved in this undertaking.

Kingsley Fairbridge (1885-1925?)

Kingsley Ogilvie Fairbridge was born in South Aftrica during 1885. His father was Rhys Seymour Fairbridge of Port Elizabeth. He was employed by the British South Africa Company in 1891 to survey the Beira-Mashonaland railway. He subsequently planned modern Umtali and participated in the fighting in Rhodesia during 1893 and 96. Fairbridge was often accompanied by his son Kingsley on his surveying assignment in the Eastern Districts in the Umtali. As a result, Kingley grew up in Rhodesia and became very familiar with the countryside. Kingsley would also make expeditions, often lasting several days, onto the veld accompanied only by his African friend Jack and his bloved dog Vic. Impressed by what he saw as the vast emptiness of the Veld, he thought of populating the Empire with the landless poor of Britain's cities. "Some day I will bring farmers here." As a teenager, Kingsley visited England. As a child he had invisioned England as a prosperous, rich country. He was profoundly shocked when he saw the wreched poverty in England's teeming cities. Most shocking of all was the indigent street children. He was profoundly disturbed by the many homeless and orphaned children. Orphanages for destitute children were ruled like army barracks and even very poor children would avoid them. He was also depressed by the prospects of working-class children who had their parents. They were locked into lives of low wage subsistence factory jobs and lives in crowded, unhealthy tenements. Fairbridge returned to England in 1908 to study at Exeter College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. He developed a plan to help these children which he proposed at the Oxford University Colonial Club. . He founded the "Society for the Furtherance of Child Emigration to the Colonies" in 1909 while still a student at Exter. It was afterwards incorporated as the Child Emigration Society (CES). The purpose of the Society was to educate orphaned and neglected children at farm schools located throughout the Empire where the children could be educated and trained for modern farming. He was unable to conince the British South Africa Company to support his project which he initially planned for his native Rhodesia. Kingsley Fairbridge in 1912 emigrated to Australia where his ideas received support and encouragement.

Fairbridge Foundation

Kingsley Fairbridge founded the Child Emigration Society in 1909 which evolved into the Fairbridge Foundation to sponsor projects to send indigent British children to farm schools in the Empire. We have few details on the Foundation at this time. We note projects in Australia, Canada, and Rhodesia. The transports to Australiaere paeticularly important.


Kingley Fairbridge received support in Australia for his project of shipping indigent Britih childten to farm schools. The CES raised 2,000 and in 1913 the first Fairbridge "farm school" was opened in Western Australia. Another training farm (supported by grants from the British and Australian governments as well as private donations) was later opened in New South Wales. We have few details about the Fairbridge Farm school in Australia. The photogrph here shows boys arriving in the 1930s (figure 1). The vast majority of the English children transported to the Doiminions were transported to Australia. I'm not sure at this time just how many children were transported to Australia under the Fairbridge scheme.


Fairbridge's first Canadian project failed, even though the government of Newfoundland agreed to provide the needed land. Fairbridge's asociates in 1924 began working on a farm school in British Columbia at Duncan on Vancouver Island. The farm was a 1,000 acre tract about 40 miles north of Victoria, the provincial capital. The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School was opened in 1935 and in September the first children began arriving. The children were from Tyneside, Birmingham and London sections of England. The plan was to send children 6-16 years of age. The farm school was designed for about 150 children. The children lived in cottages, each housing about 12 children. The children received a basic education and were trained in modern farming practices. The farm school operated until 1948. Fairbridge also sponsored projects to send children to Australia and Rhodesia.


Kingley Fairbridge at first envisioned tansporting English children to Rodesia to help settle the Veld. This was an essentially racist scheme. Although I am unsure to what extent racism played into Fairbridge's thinking. We do know that humanitarian concerns over the plight of the indigent English children motivated him. Of course there were native peoples in both Rhodesia and South Africa that had claim to the land. Through a variety of legal subtrfuges, during the colonial era, the native peoples lost their claims to the land. Colonial officials at first were not interested in the Fairbreidge transport scheme. The first party of 18 Fairbridge boys sailed from Southampton on November 18, 1946 on the Carnarvon Castle and arrived in Cape Town, South Africa on December 4. Where they traveled on to Fairbridge Memorial College in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. I am not sure when Fairbridge College was founded. Nor do we know at this time how many British children were eventually transported to Rhodesia.


Bean, Philip and Joy Melvile. Lost Children of Empire (Unwin Hyman: London, Sydney, Wellington, 1989).


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Created: November 22, 2003
Last update: November 22, 2003