Real Lives: Maria Rye’s emigration home for destitute little girls

Historian feature

By Alf Wilkinson, published 8th July 2020

Alf Wilkinson explores the controversial story of Maria Rye, who founded the Female Emigration Society in 1861 in order to take ‘surplus’ young ladies to Australia and New Zealand to work as teachers and governesses. As there was insufficient demand for these, she refocused her work on taking pauper children and ‘gutter children’, mostly girls, to a new life in the Colonies. 

Maria Rye set up the Female Middle Class Emigration Society in 1861. She escorted parties of young ladies and domestic servants to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Later, she turned her attention to helping young girls in the workhouse. She opened a home in Peckham, London. This could accommodate 80 girls. From Peckham the girls sailed via Liverpool to Quebec and then by train on to a reception home in Niagara. She reckoned that the cost of taking a workhouse child to Canada was about £15 per head. In 1869, she appealed for £1,000 to set up her scheme, and 76 children were taken to Canada that September. Between 1869 and 1896, when she retired, Miss Rye took thousands of children to Canada. Many of these were from London workhouses... 

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