Founded by an Irishman in 1866, Barnardo's release poignant unseen photos of England's first foster children

Founded by an Irishman in 1866, Barnardo's release poignant unseen photos of England's first foster children

PREVIOUSLY unseen photographs of some of England's first foster children have been released by the charity Barnardo's to mark its 150th birthday.

The charity was founded in 1866 by Dublin man Dr Thomas Barnardo who had been severely shocked at the squalid conditions in the East End of London.

The twin ravages of poverty and cholera had blighted the area.

The Dubliner accordingly opened up a school to care for and educate children left orphaned by the cholera epidemic.

One young boy, described as ‘a street urchin called Jim Jarvis’, took Barnardo to his rooftop home in Whitechapel.


The Irishman was shocked to the core to find hundreds of other boys hiding and sheltering there.

In 1870 he founded his first boys’ orphanage at Stepney Causeway, later opening a girls' home.

By 1887 the first large scale programme had sent 320 children, many from the slums of the East End of London, to live with rural villagers across the south and east of England.

When Barnardo first introduced foster care to England in 1887 it was known as “boarding out”.

The Dublin man was inspired by a similar practice already taking place in the Scottish Highlands, Ireland and Scandinavia, where children who couldn’t live with their own parents were placed with families in the same village or town.

The archive records reveal that the first foster children were generally well kept by their carers.

Thilibert Arnold Borsay Adm 2.10.1885 - 6327As the children normally came from desperately overcrowded conditions, Barnardo was keen to make sure they didn’t, if possible, sleep more than two to a double bed.


The Dublin man’s early career in trying to improve the lot of destitute or abused children caused controversy.

He was accused of kidnapping children without parents' permission and of falsifying photographs of children in order to make their plight seem worse than it was.

In all, he was taken to court on 88 occasions.

However, being a very popular figure locally, plus a charismatic speaker (still with a pronounced Dublin accent) his reputation was unscathed and his work continued unhindered

By the time of his death in 1905, Barnardo had established 112 district homes for destitute children throughout Britain and Ireland.

The images which have just been released, date back to the children's charity's early days.

They shed a poignant light on the lives of some of the most deprived children in Victorian society.


Many of these children had experienced abuse and neglect, with archive medical records showing that rickets, ringworm and dental problems were widespread.

Who was Thomas Barnardo?

Thomas Barnardo was born in Dublin in 1845.

As a young boy he attended Sunday School at St Ann’s Church in Dawson Street, Dublin — the same church where fellow Dubliner Bram Stoker was married, as indeed was United Irishman Wolfe Tone.

In his twenties he went to London to study medicine with the object of subsequently travelling to China to carry out humanitarian work.

But the sight of so many destitute children in London made him change his mind and he devoted the rest of his life to destitute or abused children in these islands.

Take a look at the Barnardo's gallery here...