Two million historic Freemason records published online

Newly digitised collection offers fascinating insight into one of world’s most intriguing organisations 

More than two million historic Freemason membership records have been published online for the first time, revealing the names of some of the most famous and well-connected men in British history. 

Digitised by Ancestry, the world’s largest family history resource, the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 span 190 years and offer fascinating insight into the inner workings of one of the world’s most intriguing organisations.

Rich in detail, each record reveals the Freemason’s name, profession, residence, date of initiation or date that they joined the organisation, age at initiation and lodge location. Accordingly, this collection will be of vital significance for anybody looking to locate, or find out more about, a Freemason ancestor.

The records also feature numerous famous Freemasons, including: 

Oscar Wilde – Following his initiation on the 23 February 1875, Irish-born Wilde is listed as a member of the Apollo University Lodge, Cambridge. A novelist, essayist, and one of the most popular playwrights of his time, his novels The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest remain popular today. 

Sir Henry Wellcome – Scientist, businessman, philanthropist, archaeologist and collector, Wellcome is best known for his pioneering approach to medical research. His legacy, the Wellcome Trust, continues to provide grants to pharmacology departments to educate and train young researchers.

Winston Churchill – Appearing in the records at the age of 26, Churchill was initiated into Studholme Lodge on the 26 May 1901. He went on to become a British statesman, orator, author and eventually prime minister across the years 1940–45 and 1951–55. Many credit ‘British Bulldog’ Churchill for leading the country to victory in World War II.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling – Writer, poet, and novelist, Kipling's works of fiction include children’s favourite The Jungle Book and Kim. Born in Bombay, Kipling was initiated in the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance No 782, in Lahore in 1886. 

Novelists and scientists aside, further analysis of the records reveals that engineers, merchants and clerks were the most common professions of English Freemasons. Similarly, in Ireland, farmers, clerks and engineers make up the top three most frequently occurring member roles. A plethora of other professions also appear, not least 14,882 ‘Gentleman’, and even a solitary ‘Cloth Shrinker’. 

'As freemasonry approaches its 300th birthday in 2017, we are pleased to be able to provide access to details of past members. The records demonstrate the extensive involvement which Freemasons have had in British society at national and local level and I hope that they will provide a fascinating insight.' - Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments: 'We’re delighted to be able to offer people an online window into a relatively unknown organisation. Whilst we can’t reveal the inner workings of Freemason ceremonies, what we can tell you is the details of over two million historic members. So, if you want to find out more about a Freemason ancestor or locate a famous member, now is the perfect time to get online and start your search.'

To search the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 and more than 16 billion historical records worldwide, visit 

A part of the launch, Sir Tony Robinson took a tour of Freemasons' Hall with Dr James Campbell who was able to debunk some of the common myths surrounding Freemasonry



Published in More News

Historic: a man of solid foundations

The remarkable career of scientist, philanthropist and Freemason, Henry S. Wellcome, is revealed by Yasha Beresiner

Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936) was a remarkable man with many facets to his complex character: a scientist, businessman, philanthropist, archaeologist, collector and Freemason. He left behind a legacy that has immortalised his name in each of the fields in which he excelled with equal success. 

His philanthropy is manifest in The Wellcome Trust, established as an independent research-funding charity, as required in his will, on his death on 25 July 1936. Two years earlier he had witnessed the opening of the present Wellcome Building in Euston Road, London, much of it designed to his own specifications. 

In business, as recently as March 1995, Glaxo took over Wellcome for the staggering sum of £9.4 billion, in what was then the biggest merger in UK corporate history. And in January 2000, Glaxo Wellcome announced its merger with SmithKline Beecham to form the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. 

All this began in 1880 when Henry Wellcome, then just 27, left the United States to join his college friend Silas Burroughs in London and form the pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome. The firm flourished from the start, marketing and later manufacturing American compressed tablets. 

Burroughs was a Freemason, initiated in Clapham Lodge No. 1818, but more importantly, he had employed as an accountant an English Freemason of standing and ability, Robert Clay Sadlow, whose subsequent life-long friendship with Henry Wellcome is the catalyst that brought Wellcome into Freemasonry. 

Henry Wellcome’s 17th century ancestors were French Protestants named Bienvenue, who fled religious persecution to seek asylum in England, changing their name to Wellcome. 

They emigrated to New England in 1640, settling in Massachusetts. Solomon Wellcome, Henry’s father, married Mary Curtis in 1850 and Henry Solomon, their second son, was born in a Wisconsin log cabin on 21 August 1853. 

It was almost natural for Henry to adopt England as his mother country. He was nationalised in 1910, received his Knighthood, following on many other honours, in 1934 and he died an octogenarian in London in 1936. His initial partnership with Burroughs unfortunately ran into difficulties within two years of its formation, and litigation ensued culminating in an 1889 court case, which found in favour of Henry Wellcome. 

Notwithstanding the tensions between them, the company continued to prosper. When Burroughs died suddenly from pneumonia in 1895, Wellcome found himself in total control to implement his many whims – scientific and philanthropic – unhindered by financial or other restrictions. 

It is a reflection of Wellcome’s enthusiasm for Freemasonry, that during this troublesome period in his life, he pursued his Masonic activity well beyond its basic needs and principles. He was initiated into Lodge of Fidelity No. 3 on 11 of February 1885, and his passing and raising ceremonies, which were carried out in the same year by Robert Sadlow, was reportedly at Eastes Lodge No. 1965. 

On 19 March 1891, Henry Wellcome was the founding Senior Deacon of Columbia Lodge No. 2397 (he resigned in 1904) and a year later he was serving as Master of his mother Lodge. This is the year that he began his Masonic activities beyond the Craft. 

On 4 April 1892, he was exalted into the Royal Arch at the Old King Arms Chapter No. 28 and advanced in the Mark a year later. He was elected Master of Hiram Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 13 on 25 March 1896, exactly three years after his advancement. He resigned the Mark in 1904. 

On 9 November 1894, he was perfected into Tuscan Chapter No. 129 of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite (Rose Croix), reaching the 30th Degree in that Order in July 1898. Rather unusually, he only became Sovereign eight years later, in August 1906 and resigned from this Order, too, in 1920. 

He was also installed a Knights Templar in 1893 and took the Malta Degree in May 1895. By now he had become Master of the Columbia Lodge, in a ceremony again conducted by his good friend Robert Sadlow. This followed on his duties as First Principal of the Old King Arms Chapter, in 1897, the year of the foundation of the Columbia Chapter in which he was Second Principal. 

He was also, in 1890, an honorary member of Savage Club Lodge No. 2190. Notwithstanding all this intense Masonic activity, his enthusiasm and devotion to the Craft during these two decades is most manifest in the extracurricular activities associated with the unattached Clarence Lodge of Instruction in which he was elected Treasurer in 1893, a post that he actively filled until 1904. The Clarence Lodge of Instruction was founded by members of the Bank of England Lodge and was effectively a daughter Lodge to the well-known and long-standing Emulation Lodge of Improvement. 

Toward the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the imagination of Victorian England was captivated by developments in Africa. Henry Wellcome had the flair and the money to do something practical about it. In 1884 he had met, and become close friends with Henry Stanley, the explorer, with whom he had a great deal in common. 

It was his friendship with Stanley that was largely responsible for Wellcome’s great interest in Africa. He was among the first European civilians to visit the Sudan after the Battle of Omdurman in the winter of 1900. He later met Lord Kitchener, an equally enthusiastic and high-ranking Freemason. In November 1899, following the agreement reached between Britain and Egypt, restoring Egyptian rule in Sudan, Kitchener was simultaneously appointed Governor-General of the Sudan and the first District Grand Master of Egypt & the Sudan. 

Sir Francis Reginald Wingate took over the Governorship from Kitchener, and much of Wellcome’s activities were coordinated through the auspices of Wingate. Henry’s first visit left such a strong impression on him that he spent a total of 14 active years in the area establishing the Gordon Memorial College and founding the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories in Khartoum, which placed Sudan in the forefront of tropical diseases research. 

Wellcome was an enthusiastic collector and a keen archaeologist. His interests in the Sudan and Egypt extended to archaeological digs, most famously at Jebel Moya in the Sudan, where he hired over 4,000 people to excavate over a period of several years. Notwithstanding some controversy as to his treatment of the native workers, he was popularly known as Al Pasha by the local inhabitants. 

His main collecting passion, however, was for medically related artefacts. He acquired a vast collection of scientific and other books and instruments – many of which are now on display in the Wellcome Gallery of London’s Science Museum or the Wellcome Institute Library. The Wellcome collection is vast, as Henry bought everything in sight that had anything whatsoever to do with medicine. 

The collection includes, for instance, Napoleon Bonaparte’s toothbrush, Charles Darwin’s walking stick and Florence Nightingale’s slippers. In 1936, at the time of his death, the total Wellcome collection consisted of over one million objects of which some 125,000 items were medically related and formed part of the permanent collection. 

The remainder of the items, including his Masonic possessions, were dispersed after his death by gift to other Museums and by auction. In one instance, on 21 March 1938, Harrods, Allsop & Co auctioned ‘by order of the trustees of the late Sir Henry Wellcome’ a total of nearly 200 books on Freemasonry in 11 lots (numbers 95 to 106). 

These included a first edition of Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, a 1745 edition of the French Exposure Ordre Des Franc-Maçon Trahi, a 1691 edition of a Knights Templar volume, among many other classical works. They were all purchased by a buyer identified only as Marks, for £4.10s. 

It was in Khartoum in 1901 that Henry Wellcome met the beautiful, if somewhat impulsive, Gwendoline Maud Syrie and almost immediately fell in love with her. She was travelling with her father, Dr Thomas Barnardo (see MQ, issue 20), the famous founder of homes for orphan children and an old friend of Henry’s. Queenie, as she later became popularly known, was 21 and 27 years Henry’s junior. They married very soon thereafter and had one child, Henry Mounteney. 

Initially all was well but their interests, emphasised by the difference in age, were at opposite ends of the social spectrum. Henry was energetic and enjoyed sport and travel, whilst Syrie preferred sedentary socialising in London’s sophisticated parlours and drawing-rooms. Their son, who lived into his eighties, was born with mild brain-damage and had a learning disability that kept him apart from his family from the age of three for most of his childhood. 

Unable to identify with her husband’s work and activities and unhappy travelling with him, Syrie was soon having affairs, which included, though with scant evidence, the American-born magnate of the department store fame, Harry G Selfridge. In 1909, following a major quarrel, Henry and Syrie decided to separate. Syrie left for New York and they never saw each other again. 

In an attempt to keep scandal out of the press, Henry agreed to a generous financial settlement. He was, however, outraged by Syrie’s relationship with the homosexual writer William Somerset Maugham. Syrie bore Maugham’s child in Rome, named Mary Elizabeth and nicknamed Liza, after Liza of Lambeth, the heroine of Maugham’s first book, written before she was born, giving her Wellcome’s surname. 

Henry commenced proceedings, culminating in a divorce in February 1916, citing Maugham as co-respondent. The case was uncontested and Syrie gained custody of the child. Within three months she was secretly married to Somerset Maugham in New Jersey on 16 May 1916. They divorced in 1928. 

A great deal of publicity brought intimate details into public attention. Syrie had claimed that Henry treated her with brutality, neglecting her with his endless travelling and his excessive Masonic activities. It was not surprising that he left her nothing in his estate, although he gave £500 to Dr. Barnardo’s homes for children. 

In line with his impulsive, even if resolute nature, Wellcome’s Masonic interests waned after the highly concentrated period in which he had been so intensely active. 

It is thought that a specific incident may have triggered something in his sensitive nature to cause his gradual resignation from specific Lodges and general withdrawal from the Craft. There is, however, one last gesture on his part, of lasting Masonic consequence. It is his gift of the impressive life-size painting of George Washington to the United Grand Lodge of England. It hangs in the first floor Lounge at Freemasons’ Hall in London. 

As the centenary of the death of Washington in 1799 was approaching, Henry Wellcome offered Grand Lodge the portrait, which was gladly accepted. There was a delay due to the low quality of the first painting, and Wellcome commissioned the well-known American portrait artist Robert Gordon Hardie (1854-1904), writing to him on December 2nd 1901, as follows: 

I feel that by changing my original plan you will have much greater scope in painting a really masterful picture, which I am sure you will take great pride in doing. If you think it desirable to introduce Washington’s coat of arms (which contain the stars and stripes) you might do so. 

There are a great many portraits of Washington, which are excessively bad, and make him look more like George III than the true Washington. What is wanted in this picture is the type of Washington which you and I have known all our lives – our ideal! The great, wise and highly spiritual Washington – the true father of our country. 

The painting was formally unveiled on 8 August 1902 by the American Ambassador, Joseph H Choate, in the presence of the Earl of Warwick, Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and a small gathering of Brethren in the library of Freemasons’ Hall. Among others present were J R Robertson, Past Grand Master of Canada, Sir J Puleston, Alderman F Trehawke, Col Daly, District Grand Master of British Guiana as well as Henry Sadler, the Grand Tyler and Clay Sadlow and Henry Wellcome himself. 

The portrait of George Washington is in the dress of the period with full Masonic regalia and, as requested, in the corner are the arms of the Washington family, which are the origin of the American stars and stripes. It is a permanent reminder and memorial to Wellcome’s remarkable life, his generosity and close involvement with the Craft. 

Bibliography and Credits 

Adeel, Ahmed: Henry Solomon Wellcome and the Sudan (On Line), September 2000 

Church, Roy & Tansey, E M: Burroughs Wellcome & Co – Knowledge, Trust and Profit and the Transformation of the British Pharmaceutical Industry 1880–1940, Crucible Books, Lancaster, 2007 

Sadler, Henry: Illustrated History of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, London 1904 

Sutton, Michael (On Line): Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, ne1 8st. 

I also extend my appreciation to Ross MacFarlane, Archivist of the Wellcome Foundation Papers, who so readily assisted me with his vast knowledge of the subject. 

Published in Features

Historic: suffer little children

Dr Barnardo's name is synonymous with helping destitute children, but he was also a Freemason, as Yasha Beresiner reveals

Dr Thomas John Barnardo (1845–1905), nicknamed ‘The Doctor’, was a leading reformer of the 19th century on a par with Sir Robert Peel, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale. Single-handed, over a period of four decades, he improved the life of hundreds of thousands of destitute children. His first home opened in the East End of London in 1870. At his death, in September 1905, there were nearly 8,000 children in 96 of his residential homes. Some 1,300 had disabilities and 4,000 were ‘boarded out’, namely placed with foster parents. An additional 18,000 children, controversially, had been sent to Canada and Australia. 

Relatively late in his busy philanthropic career, in November 1889, Thomas Barnardo became a Freemason in London at the mature age of 44, being initiated into Shadwell Clerke Lodge No. 1910 at the Hotel Cecil in the Strand. The Lodge, warranted on 22 April 1881, was founded in November 1882 in honour of Colonel Shadwell H. Clerke, who had been appointed Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England two and half years earlier. 

Barnardo’s progress through the three Degrees took place in the old-fashioned way: one degree a year. He was passed on 23 June 1890 and raised on 8 October 1891. Barnardo did not take office, although he continued his full membership to his dying day. 

It is interesting to speculate as to what may have induced him to become a Freemason. In his youth he had been an avid reader of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), the positive Swiss-born French [only from 1741 onwards, before moving to Luxembourg in 1757, fleeing to Switzerland in 1762 and then to England and back to Paris in 1767, but died insane] philosopher and writer and of Thomas Paine (1737–1809), the English intellectual, political and religious thinker. 

Both men, although not Freemasons, advocated philosophies with which Masonic thinking, fashionable in the 1880s, not least because of Royal patronage, would be in sympathy. Indeed, Thomas Paine published his own theory on the origins of Freemasonry, which today remains only of interest as an historical curiosity. 

More importantly, however, a greater influence on Barnardo to become a Freemason may have emanated from his friendship with Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936) the American-born British pharmaceutical entrepreneur. Here was a dedicated and very active Freemason, whose closeness to Barnardo was, at a later stage, greatly enhanced when, in 1901, Wellcome married Gwendolin Maud Syrie, Barnardo’s daughter. 

Curiously, Henry Wellcome’s excessive Masonic activities, inter alia, were cited by his wife as to the cause of the separation between the two, which ended in a divorce in 1915, with W. Somerset Maugham being named as a co-respondent…but that is another story!

The Lodge records show that at a Lodge of Emergency held on 6 September 1889 at the Masonic Hall, Red Lion Square, London, Thomas John Barnardo, Esq, MRCS, aged forty [sic] was proposed by the Lodge Secretary, W Bro C.F. Matier and seconded by the Senior Warden, Bro W.C. Gilles. Bro Matier later became Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons (1889–1914) as well as Great Vice-Chancellor in the Great Priory of Knights Templar (1896–1914). Barnardo was balloted for and elected. 

At the same meeting, Douglas Heron Marrable was also elected. Rather unusually, the Initiation, which took place at the next meeting on 25 November 1889, was an Installation meeting. RW Bro Major-General Lord John Henry Taylour PJGW (1831–1890), was in the Chair as Master and immediately following the Initiation ceremony, Barnardo’s seconder, Bro William Charles Gilles, was installed as Master. 

The visitors included VW Bro Colonel Shadwell H. Clerke himself, RW Bro The Rt Hon the Earl of Euston, Provincial Grand Master of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, RW Bro General I.W. Laurie, District Grand Master of Nova Scotia, Canada, VW Bro Frederick Adolphus Philbrick QC, Grand Registrar and Great Chancellor of Knights Templar and 32° in the Ancient & Accepted Rite and a well-known philatelist, among others. There is no record of Douglas Marrable, who had been elected with Barnardo. 

At this meeting it was decided that the Lodge would move from the Masonic Hall, Red Lion Square to Mark Masons’ Hall at Great Queen Street, where the next regular meeting was held on 23 June 1890. It was W Bro William Charles Gilles’s first meeting in the Chair and a busy one – with five candidates for the Fellowcraft Degree. Bro Barnardo was passed to the Second Degree together with the following additional Brethren: Bros H.F. Matthews, J.L. Grossmith and Bros Newton, South and Savory, who were Passed at the request of the Master of the Grafton Lodge No. 2347. 

Barnardo’s Raising coincided with a tragic event, the death of the newly elected Master of the Lodge, W Bro James MacDonald, who was killed on a railway line on 15 August 1891. A Lodge of Emergency was held on 8 October 1891 at Mark Masons’ Hall and Bro Barnardo was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason by the Immediate Past Master, W Bro W.C. Gilles, together with Bros Pirie, Cummins and Fullilove. 

The only other mention of Bro Thomas Barnardo in the Lodge records is a resolution recorded for 25 September 1905 in which: The W.M. proposed and W Bro H.F. Matthews seconded that a letter of condolence and sympathy be sent to Mrs Barnardo on the loss of her husband, our Brother Dr. Barnardo. This was unanimously agreed.’ 

Tom Barnardo was born in Dublin, the son of a furrier. Little detail of his unhappy childhood has emerged. His reports from St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School in Dublin show him to have been rebellious and an agitator, easily bored by lessons, and whilst talented with eloquence, he appears to have been confrontational and argumentative. 

He was unsuccessful with his public school exams and, at 16, chose to cease his studies in favour of a short-lived apprenticeship to a wine merchant. A year later, in May 1862, Barnardo converted to become an Evangelical Christian and took to his newly acquired persuasion with zest and passion. He became impatient to convert others, teaching Bible classes in a Dublin ragged school and getting involved in home visiting. 

His membership, with his whole immediate family, of the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian Evangelical religious movement, was to change his life. The movement, begun in Dublin in the 1820s by a group of prominent Christians, included Dr Edward Cronin, a pioneer of homoeopathy, Dr Edward Wilson, George Müller, founder of the Bristol Orphanage, and Anthony Norris, missionary to Baghdad and India, among others. 

They felt that the Established Church had become too involved with the secular state and had abandoned many of the basic truths of Christianity. The movement spread rapidly and in 1831, by which time the membership had swelled to some 1,500, they met in Plymouth, England soon to be nicknamed the ‘Plymouth Brethren’. 

Barnardo’s experiences in the ragged school, his continued preaching and teaching and his exposure to other philanthropists, James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905), the British Protestant Christian missionary, in particular, led him to choose a medical missionary career in China. With the help of his Dublin friends, Barnardo gained introductions and registered as a medical student in the prestigious London Hospital, now the Royal London Hospital, adjoining Whitechapel Road, in 1866. 

Again, there is little information of his early years in London. He found residence in Stepney, close to the hospital, where he continued with his religious activities at the expense of his studies. In his first year as a medical student, in November 1867, he held the first of his many fund-raising meetings, the success of which enabled him to set up his own ragged school – The East End Juvenile Mission. 

Famously, a young boy in the mission by the name of Jim Jarvis took Barnardo around the squalor and devastation of the East End. The images of children sleeping in the gutter and on rooftops so impressed Barnardo, that he decided to forgo his plans of work in China and dedicated himself to the destitute children of London. He walked the streets of the slum district and brought back to the mission destitute boys. 

Within three years he opened the initial home for boys at 18 Stepney Causeway in 1870. The first 33 inhabitants were all older youths. Some could afford to pay, others were given work in the home whilst being taught how to fit into society. All the boys were treated equally, they were fed and clothed and prepared to face better lives. 

In 1872, the year of the publication of his well-received book How It All Happened, he married Sara Louise (Syrie) Elmslie. A year later, with her enthusiastic assistance, he established the first home for girls, which opened at Mossford Lodge in 1873. It reached a peak in 1883 with the Village Home for Girls in Ilford, Essex, which was a complete community with 70 cottages, its own school, laundry, church and a population of over 1,000 children. 

Meanwhile, his medical studies and status in the hospital suffered at the expense of all these extra-curricular activities. Fellow students complained of his religious enthusiasm and it took Barnardo almost a decade to take up and continue his medical career. A letter he wrote to the Justus Liebig-Universität Gießen, the University of Giessen, Germany in 1875, now in the archives of Barnardo’s in Barkingside, Essex, is both revealing and self-explanatory:

I became a medical student at the London Hospital in 1867 and entered Durham University the previous September and registered as a medical student in June 1868. I duly attended all hospital practice, medical and surgical for four years. In July 1869 I passed the first professional examination in anatomy and physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons, England, and hope to go up for the final examination in April next. The reason why I have not proceeded to qualify fully before this is that in 1870 I abandoned the study of medicine and took up the philanthropic work of rescuing destitute children from the streets of our great cities, much of the same character as your own celebrated Dr. Wichern of Hamburg. 

Although I did not proceed with my studies I am generally called Dr. Barnardo and enclose my card … (I) shall be glad to know if you can allow me to be examined by your University early in December … Kindly let me know the subjects of examination. I can give testimonials of my professional knowledge etc., by respectable English medical men, if you will kindly tell me what you require, and I enclose in proof of the truth of my first statements two certificates of registration, which please return when you reply. Also state the amount of fees required…

Nothing appears to have resulted from this appeal and Barnardo continued his studies and obtained his diploma in April 1876 as a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons. He returned to London and registered as a medical practitioner and exactly three years later, on 16 April 1879, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. 

He now dedicated himself with full vigour to the establishment of his homes and training schemes. He had initially rented canal-side warehouses and converted them to schools, later acquiring numerous properties in East London. He established an Evangelical mission church, set up facilities and provided for the disabled and those with special needs. 

His commitments had become such that he needed ever more innovative methods to raise funds, often overrunning available resources. Here is where his particular expertise came into play. His great success relied on his capacity to organise mass charity events and raise funds for his projects. Much of the money for his schemes came, in small amounts, from a large number of donors, including children. They were encouraged to give through an organisation he founded in 1891 called The Young Helpers’ League. 

At the time of Barnardo’s death, nearly 15 years later, the membership of the enterprise had grown to 34,000. Barnardo knew how to present his schemes and plans and gained important support in doing so. 

A powerful and persuasive orator, he had already gained the support of Lord Shaftesbury (1801–1885) and of the banker, Robert Barclay (1843–1921). Shaftesbury Avenue, in the West End of London, was completed in 1886, and named in his memory. While using the course of existing streets, it demolished some of the worst slums, which Lord Shaftsbury had campaigned to eliminate from the area. 

Thomas Barnardo was a controversial character by any standards. Some dispute his right to have used the term ‘Doctor’. He tended to ignore the various bodies and councils who set financial budgets and limits on the number of children to be cared for or ‘boarded out’. Boarding out was a fostering scheme started in 1887 when 330 boys aged between five and nine were sent to ‘good country homes’ far from the slums and parishes in which they had lived. In 1893 there were more than 2,000 children boarded out. 

Barnardo was criticised for his lack of regard for what parents and the children themselves thought. He was an autocrat and imposed his thinking upon others. Another scheme, which was criticised and even resisted, was his plan to ‘board out’ illegitimate babies with their mothers, who were encouraged to go into service with an approved employer. Many charities refused to offer help to such mothers as it was seen as rewarding immorality. 

A very important scheme of great concern and much criticised was that of child migration. Between 1882 and 1939 the agency sent over 30,000 children to Canada. The attitude of the agencies sending children to Canada, Australia and other countries was that they were providing them with a new start as they had no prospects in Britain and their families were seen as failing to provide adequate care for them. 

Arguments were put forward that Dr Barnardo was the most influential figure in the child migration of the last half of the 19th century and he was accused of ‘spiriting’ children away to Canada against the wishes of their parents. This was emphasised by a number of court battles. Several more accusations were directed at Barnardo, many with no justification whatever: that the homes were badly managed; that the boys were cruelly treated; that there was no religious or moral training and that published photographs were falsified and intended to deceive the public. 

Barnardo was also personally attacked and charged with improperly appropriating funds for his own benefit. At one stage Barnardo decided to go to arbitration under an Order of Court. In October 1877, the Arbitrators vindicated Barnardo, stating that there was no evidence to support any of the charges laid against him. 

Thomas Barnardo was a great and charismatic philanthropist. He believed in what he did. He had huge abilities, especially to network and to present his work in a way that opened purse strings. He was a hard worker, with infinite projects and plans. And most importantly, he was exceedingly successful. It was inevitable that he would provoke gossip, speculation and even antagonism. His lifestyle took its toll and by the age of fifty Barnardo had some heart complaint. He ignored doctor’s orders to take a period of absolute rest and died on 19 September 1905 having spent a busy day and settled in an easy chair by the fireside. 

The good he did lives after him. 


Barnardo’s stopped running homes for orphans over 30 years ago, but the work today is based on the same set of values on which the charity was first founded. Since 1867 the services provided have changed and they will continue to do so in order to meet the needs of children and young people of today. However, the aim of helping children and young people in the greatest need, stays the same. 

Selected biography and acknowledgements

Barnardo’s on-line: and
David Foster, secretary, Shadwell Clerke Lodge No. 1910, for special efforts.
John Hart, long-standing friend and mentor.
Bruce Hogg, for able and professional advice and proof-reading.
Hitchman, J. They Carried the Sword. The Barnardo story, Gollancz, London (1966).
Wymer, Norman. Father of Nobody’s Children, Longmans, London (1962) 


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