Thomas John Barnardo (1845—1905), English philanthropist, and founder and director of homes for destitute children, was born at Dublin, Ireland, in 1845. His father was of Spanish origin, his mother being an Englishwoman. With the intention of qualifying for medical missionary work in China, he studied medicine at the London hospital, and later at Paris and Edinburgh, where he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
His medical work in the east end of London during the epidemic of cholera in 1865 first drew his attention to the great numbers of homeless and destitute children in the cities of England. Encouraged by the support of the seventh earl of Shaftesbury and the first Earl dairns, he gave up his early ambition of foreign missionary labour, and began what was to prove his life’s work. The first of the "Dr Barnardo’s Homes" was opened in 1867 in Stepney Causeway, London. From that time the work steadily increased until, at the time of the founder’s death, in 1905, there were established 112 district "Homes," besides mission branches, throughout the United Kingdom.
The object for which these institutions were started was to search for and to receive waifs and strays, to feed, clothe, educate, and, where possible, to give an industrial training suitable to each child. The principle adopted was that of free and immediate admission; there were no restrictions of age or sex, religion or nationality; the physically robust and the incurably diseased were alike received, the one necessary qualification being destitution. The system under which the institution was carried on is broadly as follows:—the infants and younger girls and boys are chiefly "boarded out" in rural districts; girls above fourteen years of age are sent to the industrial training homes, to be taught useful domestic occupations; boys above seventeen years of age are first tested in labour homes and then placed in employment at home, sent to sea or emigrated; boys of between thirteen and seventeen years of age are trained for the various trades for which they may be mentally or physically fitted. Besides the various branches necessary for the foregoing work, there were also, among others, the following institutions:—a rescue home for girls in danger, a convalescent seaside home, and a hospital for the sick.
In 1872 was founded the girls village home at Barkingside, near Ilford, with its own church and sanatorium, and between sixty and seventy cottage homes, forming a real "garden city"; and there Barnardo himself was buried. In 1901, through the generosity of Mr E. H. Watts, a naval school was started at North Elmham, near Norwich, to which boys were drafted from the homes to be trained for the navy and the mercantile marine. What was considered the most useful of all the varied work instituted by Barnardo was the emigration system, by which means thousands of boys and girls have been sent to British colonies, chiefly to Canada, where there were distributing centres at Toronto and Winnipeg, and an industrial farm of some 8000 acres near Russell in Manitoba. The fact that in Canada less than 2% of the children sent out proved failures confirmed Barnardo’s conviction that "if the children of the slums can be removed from their surroundings early enough, and can be kept sufficiently long under training, heredity counts for little, environment for almost everything."
In 1899 the various institutions and organizations were legally incorporated under the title of "The National Association for the reclamation of Destitute Waif Children", but the institution has always been familiarly known as "Dr Barnardo’s Homes." Barnardo laid great stress on the religious teaching of the children under his care. Each child was brought up under the influence and teaching of the denomination of the parents. The homes were divided into two sections for religious teaching, Church of England and Nonconformists; children of Jewish and Roman Catholic parentage are, where possible, handed over to the care of the Jewish Board of Guardians in London, and to Roman Catholic institutions, respectively.
From the foundation of the homes in 1867 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 60,000 children. had been rescued, trained and placed out in life. Barnardo died of angina pectoris in London on the 19th of September 1905. A national memorial was instituted to form a fund of £250,000 to relieve the various institutions of all financial liability and to place the entire work on a permanent basis. Dr William Baker, formerly the chairman of the council, was selected to succeed the founder of the homes as director. Barnardo was the author of many books dealing with the charitable work to which he devoted his life.
The work of Thomas Barnardo is continued today by the charity Barnardo's.