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Reconciling British child deportation to Australia 1913-1970: apologies, memorials, and family reunions

Baker, James


James Baker



In 1986, Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, received a letter from a former child migrant called Mary, who had been deported to Australia at the age of six. Mary pleaded with Humphreys to help her be reunited with her birth family. Many other former child migrants subsequently came forward asking for help with tracing their ancestries, prompting Humphreys to establish the Child Migrants Trust the following year. The ensuing media coverage of her work raised significant questions about the historic maltreatment of these British children, and the need for national governments to address these institutional errors. Discussions surrounding the future of the reconciliation process have played a peripheral role within scholarly discourses of apology studies and the shameful legacies of British colonialism, something this study addresses.
This thesis considers how both the UK and Australian Federal Governments have used apologies, memorials, and family tracing programmes as a means of reconciling their involvement in the deportation of approximately 7,000 mostly British children between the years 1913 to 1970. Through this analysis, alongside investigations into governmental inquiries that facilitated their implementation, it maps out how these reparations sought to recover the previously marginalised narratives of former child migrants and the extent to which these measures accepted that the deportation of children was a failure of government. These issues are of contemporary significance due to increasing abundance of academic debates concerning the legacies of British imperialism, the advancing age of former child migrants, and their role within recent inquiries concerning the institutional abuse of children conducted in both nations. This thesis argues that governmental efforts to reconcile the deportation of British children to Australia have not adequately addressed the class, racial, and imperial motivations behind these programmes, with narratives concerning the successes of former child migrants in adulthood detracting from many of the wrongdoings perpetrated by these respective sovereign states and agencies operating under their direction. While former child migrants continued to be considered a distinct group of care-leavers within the context of the UK, the apology offered by the Australian Federal Government was also aimed at the Forgotten Australians, resulting in their once distinct histories to increasingly become entwined. Ultimately, measures remedying institutional and national wrongs have been severely limited by their late implementation, meaning that many former child migrants did not live to have their personal histories validated, nor their personal identities fully reconciled.


Baker, J. (2023). Reconciling British child deportation to Australia 1913-1970: apologies, memorials, and family reunions. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jan 5, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jan 18, 2024
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History
University of Hull
Award Date Dec 19, 2023


Thesis (3.9 Mb)

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© 2023 James Baker. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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