Thomas Barnardo, the son of a furrier, was born in Dublin on the 4th July 1845. He worked as a clerk until converted to Evangelical Christianity in 1862. After a period preaching in the slums of Dublin, Barnardo moved to London where he studied medicine. Barnardo's plan was to become a medical missionary with the China Inland Mission.
While a student at the London Hospital, Barnardo opened his own Ragged School in Stepney and established Band of Hope meetings for the children. Barnardo soon discovered the plight of homeless children in the city. Barnardo, a powerful orator, made a speech about the problem at a Missionary Conference in 1867. Lord Shaftesbury was in the audience and he was so moved by what he heard that he offered Barnardo help to establish homes for these children. The banker, Robert Barclay also agreed to support the cause and on 2nd March, 1868, Barnardo had raised enough money to open his first home for destitute children.
Barnardo was also active in the Temperance Society and used to erect mission tents outside public houses. In 1872 Barnardo purchased the Edinburgh Castle, a well-known Gin Palace in London, and converted it into the People's Mission Church and the country's first Coffee Palace.
In 1874 Dr. Barnardo opened a Photographic Department in his Stepney Boys' Home. Over the next thirty years every child who entered one of Barnardo's homes had their photograph taken. Children were photographed when they first arrived and again several months later after they had recovered from their experiences of living on the streets. These 'before' and 'after' cards were then sold in packs of twenty for 5 shillings or singly for 6d. each. This enabled Barnardo to publicize his work and raise money for his charitable work.
By 1878 he had established fifty orphanages in London. This included his Village Home for Girls in Ilford. It was a complete community with seventy cottages, its own school, a laundry and church, and had a population of over 1,000 children.
Barnardo also developed a scheme for sending children to Canada. Between 1882 and 1901 he sent 8,046 children, which meant that one-third of one per cent of the Canadian population had come from a Barnardo Home.
By the timeThomas Barnardo died on 19th September, 1905, there were nearly 8,000 children in his residential homes, more than 4,000 were boarded out, and 18,000 had been sent to Canada and Australia.
One evening, the attendants at the Ragged School had met us usual, and at about half past nine o'clock were separating from their homes. A little lad, whom we had noticed listening very attentively during the evening, was amongst the last to leave, and his steps were slow and unwilling.
"Come, my lad, had you better get home? It's very late. Mother will be coming for you."
"Please sir, let me stop! Please let me stay. I won't do no harm."
"Your mother will wonder what kept you so late."
"I ain't got no mother."
"Haven't got a mother, boy? Where do you live?"
"Don't live nowhere."
"Well, but where did you sleep last night?"
"Down in Whitechapel, sir, along the Haymarket in one of them carts as is filled with hay; and I met a chap and he telled me to come here to school, as perhaps you'd let me lie near the fire all night."
Our own three years' experience among poor boys and girls had taught us something of the cruelty with which many of the lowest class treat their children. And in addition to this, we had often met boys who were hungry because their miserable homes afforded them little sustenance; but we knew nothing of the homeless and destitute.
I entered the door. At first I could hardly see who were the occupants. It was long, narrow room, with a bench running all around it on which lads and girls of from fourteen to eighteen years of age were seated; the view was obscured by a cloud of tobacco smoke that completely filled the room.
Advancing into the centre of the room I declared that I came to sell the word of God and announced that I would give the whole Bible for threepence, the New Testament for a penny. "Chuck him out," cried one. For the most part all in the room were under the influence of drink, and although many were girls and boys they were wild and beyond control. I presently found myself on the ground with the flat part of the table pressing upon me, its legs being in the air, whilst several of the biggest lads leaped inside it, dancing a 'devil's tatoo' to my great discomfort.
The Day Schools, where the scholars pay 1d or 2d per week, has 250 children present. Evening schools are free, well attended, conducted by two paid masters and two paid mistresses. Sunday Schools - morning 180 scholars, evening 700 to 800 present. Conducted in separate premises is a Refuge for boys employed in wood chopping. Three houses in Hope Place and one in Commercial Road are used, a fourth in Hope Place is about to be taken. The whole is the energetic work of a young man, Mr. Barnardo, a medical student.