When General Charles Gordon lived at Gravesend in the 1860s, he turned himself into a child rescuer. This book contributes to understandings of both contemporary child welfare practices and the complex dynamics of empire. It analyses the construction and transmission of nineteenth-century British child rescue ideology. The book aims to explain the mentality which allowed the child removal policy to flourish. The disseminated publications by four influential English child rescue organisations: Dr. Barnardo's (DBH), the National Children's Homes (NCH), the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society (WSS) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), are discussed. The gospel of child rescue was a discursive creation, the impact of which would be felt for generations to come. The body of the child was placed within a familiar environment, rendered threatening by the new social, religious and moral meanings ascribed to it. Ontario's 1888 Children's Protection Act required local authorities to assume maintenance costs of wards and facilitated the use of foster care. Changing trends in publishing have created an opportunity for the survivors of out-of-home care to tell their stories. The book shows how the vulnerable body of the child at risk came to be reconstituted as central to the survival of nation, race and empire. The shocking testimony that official enquiries into the treatment of children in out-of-home 'care' held in Britain, Ireland, Australia and Canada imply that there was no guarantee that the rescued child would be protected from further harm.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book aims to explore and explain the mentality which allowed child removal policy to flourish. It studies the emergence of this mentality through the publications disseminated by four influential English child rescue organisations, founded in the second half of the nineteenth century. The four organisations include Dr. Barnardo's (DBH), the National Children's Homes (NCH), the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society (WSS) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). By the middle of the nineteenth century, the potential of the child as citizen had been clearly articulated, although that status had still to be secured in law. The development of more specialised services for children, and, in particular, the introduction of board schools in most urban areas, addressed many of the needs which the Union had seen as its own.
The gospel of child rescue was a discursive creation, the impact of which would be felt for generations to come. The child rescue movement was largely coincident with the reign of Queen Victoria, and used her jubilees and death to reflect on its achievements with pride. The child rescue message was developed in so-called 'waif novels', the most famous of which was Hesba Stretton's Jessica's Last Prayer. The plight of childhood was a familiar topic, embraced by popular novelists and writers producing material specifically for children. The childhood of Christ as detailed in the gospels, and the special attention he paid to children during his ministry, also provided valuable material. The child rescue magazines provided the child rescuers with an outlet through which they could define and redefine the services they were delivering.
The fictional Gladys's selfish complaint points to one of the key strategies of child rescue. Like Gladys's mother, writers had to provide the 'ghastly details' in order to create the strong visual images that would haunt the reader. Central to such visual images was a focus on the body which functioned in the literature as the site of both diagnosis and transformation. Child cruelty, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) argued, was not a function of poverty. The child body, the Society argued, needed as much protection as the animal body, adding: 'It is better today to be the pig of an English brute than to be his child. If the law indeed allowed the parent to 'do what I like with my own', then the law had to be changed.
The body of the child was placed within a familiar environment, rendered threatening by the new social, religious and moral meanings ascribed to it. In transposing the threat from the personal to the national, the literature rendered support for the child rescue movement a patriotic act. Rescue was thus constituted a 'wise and patriotic, as well as a benevolent act', providing the individual with 'self-respect' and the nation with a 'prosperous and productive' workforce in the future. Child rescuers developed a taxonomy of space in which geography determined destiny. The relationship drawn between the nation and the child enabled child rescuers to articulate a new concept of children's rights, creating a direct claim to citizenship which bypassed the property rights of the parent. The work begun by Dr Barnardo, Thomas Bowman Stephenson, Edward de Montjoie Rudolf and Benjamin Waugh was now recognised as essential for national survival.
Race was central to the supposedly mission adventure story, 'The Little Savages of Nodlon'. The twofold duty of the English race, Sir Charles Lucas argued, was to replenish and subdue the earth and to rule and administer native races. The racialised discourse of child rescue created an inner city in which race, class and tribe were intertwined, embellished with such negative, even threatening descriptors as 'feeble and famished', 'ragged' and 'predatory'. The Darkest England / Darkest Africa comparison was as much a reference to race as to geography. In the colonies, the settler population was aware of the 'savage within', the Indigenous population that they had displaced. In Natal Dr.Stephenson observed, 'outcast London' could contribute to 'the salvation of this colony from the ominous consequences of undue disparity between the white and black populations'.
A lack of concern about child-life, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) warned, could be the first indication of an empire sinking into decline. Child rescue, as an imperial endeavour, involved the transportation of ideas as well as children, establishing new norms for both the definition and the solution of the problems of child abuse and neglect across Britain and the colonies. Rescued children, in this discourse, were transformed from a liability to a resource. Race was deployed by advocates of emigration in both the sending and receiving countries. Maria Rye's shock points to the justification offered for child migration programmes: the contribution they made to the salvation of the race. The magazines of the child rescue organisations circulated across the empire, and subscription lists show a readiness of British settlers abroad to support the work at 'home'.
J.J. Kelso shared with his fellow child rescuers the belief that all contact between the child and its parents should be brought to an end. However, increasingly, this orthodoxy came to be challenged both from poor law officials and the institutions, which had always created a greater space for parents to continue to take some responsibility for their children. Kelso insisted that his Children's Aid Societies followed a similar practice of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC), aiming to preserve the home wherever possible. Ontario's first response to Kelso's agitation was the 1888 Children's Protection Act, which required local authorities to assume maintenance costs of wards and facilitated the use of foster care. By the early years of the twentieth century local authorities were setting standards in child care which voluntary societies struggled to meet.
The struggle to reconcile the narratives of darkness and light that surround child rescue has bedevilled many of the recent enquiries into the legacy of out-of-home care. Changing trends in publishing have, from the latter part of the twentieth century, created an opportunity for the survivors of out-of-home care to tell their stories. The image of the 'proper family' haunts many survivor accounts. Despite their adherence to the family model, few settings were able to reproduce the affective ties that the children were seeking. Child rescue's emphasis on the need for discipline added to the harshness of institutional life. The disclosure of widespread institutional abuse has led to some caution amongst child welfare authorities, but it has done little to suppress the urge to rescue amongst a public confronted with stories of family dysfunction.