Young Immigrants to Canada

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The Ragged Schools

Schools, to help instruct the poor, are said to have come out of the Sunday School movement in the late 1700s. These schools were often run at night with the object "to teach the children of the lowest poor to read the Word of God, and to understand its simple truths." Because the pupils of these schools were often dressed in rags they became known as Ragged Schools.

Some of these schools were run by groups such as the Society of Friends, who ran Red Cross-street British School in Bristol. Mary Carpenter, along with her parents, also started a Ragged School in Bristol in 1846. Mrs. Carpenter wrote a letter, dated August 7, 1846 about the school, part of which reads:

It is literally a "Ragged School"; none have shoes or stockings, some have no shirt, and no home, sleeping in cases on the quay or on steps, and living, I suppose, by petty depredations; but all appear better fed than the children of the decent poor are. I have furnished the women of the house with towels and soap, and some sort of approach to cleanliness is insisted upon.

In April, 1844, the first organized attempt was made to unite the ragged schools. The Ragged School Union was formed with the objective of establishing "Schools expressly for that destitute and depraved class, in the very localities, courts, and alleys where they abound." By the 1860s it is estimated that some 25,000 pupils were attending the Ragged Schools.

In 1848, the Earl of Shaftesbury tried to have a bill passed in the British Parliament allowing the Union to emigrate some of its pupils with the financial support of the government. Although this failed he did receive financial support in 1849 to send some children to Australia but after that all emigration work was paid for by donations from the public and many student emigrants repaid their fares.

In 1853, due to a gold rush in Australia which made for unsettled conditions there, the first of the Ragged School children were sent to Canada.

The Institutions

Records show that the London Ragged schools sent some 21 youths to Canada in 1859. The immigration report in the Parliamentary Papers for that year states, "The emigration agent states that situations were readily found for these youths, as they are generally stout, active lads, willing and anxious to make themselves useful." In the 1860s more children arrived from these institutions but little information is available on them.

Additional Information can be found at: Ragged School Museum

If you have additional information on the parties sent by these schools, please send it to me. Thank you.


UWInfo | Young Immigrants | 19th Century Immigration | Genealogy | Local History

© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1999-2010
Last updated: October 26, 2010 and maintained by Marj Kohli