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Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Pioneers, Ploughs, and Politics: New Brunswick Planned Settlements

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Dominion-Provincial Conferences on Immigration Colonization Schemes of the 1870s

Miss Rye's Pauper Children

Following the implementation of the Dominion-Provincial immigration policy, New Brunswick witnessed a flurry of immigration activity. Among the early arrivals were several dozen juvenile immigrants brought out from Great Britain by charity worker, Maria Susan Rye. Rye and her assistant, Annie Macpherson, were convinced that the British Dominions held out employment opportunities for Britain's pauper and neglected children which were beyond their reach at home. Indeed, these children, aged six to 14 years, were eagerly sought after in Canada as domestic servants and labourers, with families applying to take them well in advance of their arrival.

On 15 July 1870, Miss Rye and 120 orphan girls from British workhouses and industrial schools left England for Canada aboard the steamship Prussian. Forty of the children were destined for New Brunswick and the others for Ontario and Québec. From Québec City, the party travelled by steamer and railway to Saint John. Robert Shives, New Brunswick's immigration agent at the port city, wrote Provincial Secretary John A. Beckwith, on 21 July, stating that "there are twenty-two applicants for orphan girls, over and above the number Miss Rye is bringing with her."

Given such keen interest, the New Brunswick government agreed to take another "batch" of Miss Rye's charges. This group of 38 girls debarked at Saint John on 9 November 1870. They, along with a third "lot" of 41 children, who arrived at Halifax aboard the Nestorian in 1871, were distributed among applicants living in various parts of New Brunswick. Possibly other children arrived in the province over the next couple of years.

Some of Miss Rye's girls and boys were treated well by their Canadian employers; others found their new lives disappointing and difficult. Over time other organizations became involved in this "rescue work" which resulted in thousands of children being brought to Canada between the 1870s and 1940s. By the time she retired in 1896, Rye alone had brought more than 5,000 children to Canada.