George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
Our ‘gutter children’

London: W. Tweedie, 1869.

The idea of sending children as young as five to the colonies was one of the more extreme solutions to the problems of urban poverty and crime. Emigration of adult workers was seen by the Victorians as a straightforward process of moving human resources to where they were most needed. The social reformer Maria Rye (1829–1903), however, proposed a scheme involving children aged between five and ten, either orphans or those abandoned by their parents. In practice parents seized the opportunity to be free from maintaining unwanted children. There was opposition to the scheme from those in the colonies, who were no keener than the British to house “gutter children”. In the event Rye escorted about 4,000 children to Canada and settled them with families on the basis that they would be brought up with a view to the families using them as domestic servants, once they were old enough.

Cruikshank shows his great skill as a political caricaturist, depicting the supporters of the emigration scheme “sweeping up the little girls as so much mud out of our gutters and pitching them into a mud cart”. His argument begins as a tirade against the proposed deportation of children, then makes a sideways turn to denounce alcohol as the cause of crime. Cruikshank’s commitment to temperance (the avoidance of alcoholic drink) was clear in his illustrations for The bottle. In Cruikshank’s view, alcoholic drink caused violence and neglect, sometimes insanity and in all cases it was the children who suffered most. Children were particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of crime, and ultimately becoming involved in criminal activity themselves as a means of survival.
Broadsides.B.86.1
Not on display in physical exhibition