seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Philanthropist Thomas John Barnardo

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Thomas John Barnardo, philanthropist and founder and director of homes for poor children, dies in London on September 19, 1905. From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1867 to the date of his death, nearly 60,000 children are taken in.

Barnardo is born in Dublin on July 4, 1845. He is the fourth of five children of John Michaelis Barnardo, a furrier who is of Sephardic Jewish descent, and his second wife, Abigail, an Englishwoman and member of the Plymouth Brethren. In the early 1840s, John emigrates from Hamburg to Dublin, where he establishes a business. Barnardo moves to London in 1866. At that time he is interested in becoming a missionary.

Barnardo establishes “Hope Place” ragged school in the East End of London in 1868, his first attempt at aiding the estimated 30,000 ‘destitute’ children in Victorian London. Many of these children are not only impoverished, but orphaned, as the result of a recent cholera outbreak. For those unable to afford private education, the school offers education which, although Christian-based in nature, is not exclusively religion-focused, and works to provide tutelage on various common trades of that time.

In 1870, Barnardo is prompted to form a boys’ orphanage at 18 Stepney Causeway after inspecting the conditions within which London’s orphaned population sleep. This is the first of 122 such establishments, caring for over 8,500 children, founded before his death in 1905. Significant provisions are available to occupants. Infants and younger children are sent to rural districts in attempt to protect them from industrial pollution. Teenagers are trained in skills such as carpentry and metalworking, to provide them a form of basic financial stability.

In June 1873, Barnardo marries Sara Louise Elmslie, known as Syrie, the daughter of an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. She shares her husband’s interests in evangelism and social work. The couple settles at Mossford Lodge, Essex, where they have seven children, three of whom die in early childhood.

Barnardo’s homes do not just accommodate boys. In 1876 the “Girls’ Village Home” is established and by 1905 accommodates 1,300 girls, who are trained for “domestic occupation.” Another establishment, the “rescue home for girls in serious danger,” aims to protect girls from the growing tide of child prostitution.

Barnardo’s work is carried on by his many supporters under the name Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. Following societal changes in the mid-20th century, the charity changes its focus from the direct care of children to fostering and adoption, renaming itself Dr. Barnardo’s. Following the closure of its last traditional orphanage in 1989, it takes the still simpler name of Barnardo’s.

Barnardo dies of angina pectoris in London on September 19, 1905, and is buried in front of Cairn’s House, Barkingside, Essex. The house is now the head office of the children’s charity he founded, Barnardo’s. A memorial stands outside Cairn’s House.

After Barnardo’s death, a national memorial is 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. At the time of his death, his charity is caring for over 8,500 children in 96 homes.

At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area are suspected. Barnardo is named a possible suspect long after his death. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorises that due to Barnardo’s lonely childhood he had anger which may have led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that he committed the murders. Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance do not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.

Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017). I have also served on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, Chairman 2017-2018) and the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board (2015-2020, Secretary 2017-2020).

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