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Trunk Tells of the Leaving of Liverpool; New Acquisition a Reminder of Child Migrant Story
William Kelly trunk.

LIVERPOOL.- It’s just a tiny trunk but for orphaned William Kelly, 15, it contained his whole world: some clothes, boots, handkerchiefs, needle, thread and a bible.

In 1925 William was sent from Liverpool aboard SS Athenia to a new life in Canada. The trunk was typical of those given to child migrants who left their homes, families and friends forever.

Liverpool is linking up with Australia to tell the emotional story of child and youth migration. And the small trunk belonging to William has now gone on show at Merseyside Maritime Museum.

From 1860 until the 1960s migration schemes saw youngsters and teenagers separated from families and sent to the ends of the earth to begin new lives. Many were orphaned or had come from poor families who could no longer look after them and it was felt Australia and Canada provided better opportunities and a standard of life. Children sailed from Liverpool, Glasgow, London and Southampton. While many found happiness, others suffered abuse and exploitation.

An exhibition developed in partnership between Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Australian National Maritime Museum opened in Sydney on November 10. Liverpool stories and artefacts form part of On their own - Britain’s child migrants exhibition.

A website went live on 10 November - – for people to share their memories and experiences of child migration. The site is an online version of the exhibition in Sydney and contains moving oral histories and a message board for people to leave their memories of child migration.

Rachel Mulhearn, director Merseyside Maritime Museum, said: “From the late 19th century Britain sent more than 100,000 children to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. It was believed they would have a better life working in the clean expanses of the British Empire where they were the source of much-needed labour. While many had happy experiences and began new lives, the separation for some from the homes and families often led to a lonely, brutal childhood. Today many former child migrants and their families are still coming to terms with their dislocation.”

In November 2009 the Australian Government issued an apology to children who suffered in institutional care. The British Government also apologised to former child migrants in 2010.

William Kelly was born in Liverpool in 1909. His mother died when he was just three. His dad died in a shipping accident in 1923. Two years later William was placed in the care of the Liverpool Sheltering Homes, which shortly after was taken over by Barnardo's. He was sent out to Kinburn, Ontario to work on a farm of Horace Stevenson. In July 1934 William married and went on to have four children. In the 1950s he was appointed Post Master of the Songis Post Office, a position that he retained until the mail service was changed to a Rural Route in 1964. In the mid 1950s he received a contract to provide transportation for the local school children. He operated and managed both the School Bus business and Rural Mail delivery activities until his retirement shortly before his death in 1980 aged 71. William is buried in Terrace Lawn Cemetery at North Bay Ontario. His trunk was retrieved from a storage building on the Horace Stevenson Farm a year later.

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