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Empty Cradles

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  1,385 Ratings  ·  237 Reviews
In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, investigated the case of a woman who claimed that, at the age of four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. Margaret Humphreys soon discovered that as many as 150,000 children had in fact been deported from children's homes in Britian and shipped off to a "new life" in distant parts of th ...more
Paperback, 383 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Transworld Publishers (first published 1994)
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Paul Bryant
Nov 18, 2009 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: social workers - for once the social worker is the hero not the villain
Shelves: modern-life
Rewritten, having just seen the movie from last year.


This is a hell of a story, which has a whole skein of personal connections to me.

In the mid 1980s Margaret Humphreys was your average social worker living about three miles away from where I’m typing this review, in West Bridgford, Nottingham. She got interested in what happens when adopted children try and trace their biological parents, which as we know is an emotional minefield. One day a letter arrived from Australia from someone who thou
Fay Bee
Aug 30, 2012 Fay Bee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction

Sometimes, important emotionally charged true stories are ruined by bad writing.

This non-fiction book is about the dreadful and covered-up history of child migrants. For three decades (1940s - 1967), thousands of English and Irish children were taken from their homes and shipped to Commonwealth countries (namely NZ, Canada, Rhodesia and Australia) to populate the colonies and provide (slave) labour to farms. They were told they were orphans and sometimes their names and birthdates were changed.
Deborah Ideiosepius  omnivorous reader
This was a fascinating and absorbing story clearly narrated and very readable. The detective element of uncovering an almost unbelievably large, organised and hidden abuse of power is well developed and described. I would recommend this book to anyone in Australia.

I actually read it a while back during my criminology degree, I have just been to see the movie based on the book ‘Oranges and sunshine’ which I think is a very credible job of it. Of course a lot is lost in transition to a movie but I
Aug 16, 2012 Mathilda rated it it was amazing
What a shocking story to read....This book is a must read. Normally this is not the genre I will spend time on reading but it was so captivating that I could not put it down and it is still haunting me. I did not have any knowledge of this situation until I read this story. Margaret Humpreys, a social worker in England is also a very brave woman who took on the bureaucracy to help English child migrants also now known as the Lost Children, who were taken to all parts of the then British Empire, ...more
Liza Perrat
Mar 02, 2016 Liza Perrat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Poignant, heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting novel about the child migrant scandal from the UK to Australia post WWII. Very well-written.
Erica T
'Did this really happen? How could this be? Surely we would have heard about it.'

My thoughts exactly. Why have I not heard more about this? I think this book should be required reading for everyone! I highly recommend it to all adult readers.

I actually picked this book up from the library because the title caught my eye. I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was about. This is the true account of Margaret Humphreys, who uncovered and investigated the deportation of up to 150,000 childr
A remarkable book about unspeakable pain inflicted on generations of British children by government policies and volunteer or charitable organisations entrusted with their care. As I read these pages, with the snippets and details of many individual stories, I was reminded of so many people I have met over my years of working in various institutions in Australia where untold stories were ever lurking just below the surface.
It was not just the child migrants sent out from England who were to suf
Darren Gore
Aug 05, 2011 Darren Gore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the mid-1980s, English social worker Margaret Humphreys made a shocking discovery.

For several decades up until the 1960s, over a hundred thousand British children were taken mostly from orphanages under false pretenses and shipped overseas to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada where they were promised happy new lives - but in many cases were instead treated like slave labour, suffered physical and sexual abuse, and forgotten about...except by anguished relatives back in Britain
Jan 04, 2015 Hilary rated it it was amazing
This book was an amazing insight into a long and ill conceived period of social engineering presided over by several governments and many powerful institutions and probably the most absorbing and informative books I have read in a long time.
Child migration is a very emotive subject but for the most part Margaret Humphries writes clearly and factually. It was shocking to realise that Child migration was still happening when I migrated to Australia in the early 1960s and even more so when she desc
Mar 26, 2012 Xanthi rated it really liked it
I work in a university library and have to catalogue hundreds of books. I usually look at the parts of the book I need to to do my job and then I move onto the next book, but this book was different. It grabbed my attention and before I knew what I was doing I had already started reading it. I live in Perth, where some of the largest migration took place and the worst abuses. The author talking about her special uneasiness about Perth, during her many visits. And then there were the death threat ...more
Oct 28, 2010 Graceann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: history
I almost gave this book a "miss" when I first glanced at it, because I thought it would be a rather dry, historical narrative and while the subject has merit, my concern is that it would make for a rather boring read. I am glad to say that I was quite mistaken.

The criminally cruel migrant scheme which removed thousands of British children from everything familiar, including, in some cases, family members who wanted them and were told that they'd died, and plunked them down in foreign countries,
Linda Toft
Oct 01, 2012 Linda Toft rated it really liked it
Wow! There are so many things in HIstory we are not made aware of. I was shocked and appalled to discover during the time of my own childhood, children were still being shipped off, out of England to other places in the world without their consent or the consent of parents and family! Shipped to places like Australia, face life in dire conditions, slave labor, subservient positions, all under the guise of Charity and furthering the United Kingdom in it's colonies! Sounds mid-evil and ...more
Stephanie Jane
Aug 18, 2015 Stephanie Jane rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
I saw the film Oranges And Sunshine, which is based upon Empty Cradles, several years ago so was already aware of the human tragedy at the centre of this book. Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys discovered evidence of a massive resettlement scheme undertaken by the British government together with several then Commonwealth governments that sent thousands and thousands of unaccompanied British children to foster families, children's homes and institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealan ...more
Liza Perrat
Apr 07, 2016 Liza Perrat rated it it was amazing
The author of this shocking non-fiction tale, Margaret Humphries, was originally a Nottingham social worker who, in 1986, began investigating the claim of a woman who stated she’d been transported to Australia on a boat, unaccompanied, at the age of four years old.

She gradually discovered, to her horror, and the horror of the British and Australian public in general, that as many as 150,000 children had been sent (without parent or guardian) from British children’s homes, starting in the 1920s,
Robyn Smith
Mar 28, 2014 Robyn Smith rated it it was amazing
An excellent account of a social worker in England discovering a shocking secret covered up for years by the British and Australian governments. Post war Britain had overflowing orphanages, so the government and "social agencies" decided to pack unwitting children off to the "colonies", Australia, "Rhodesia", South Africa and even New Zealand. Illegitimate children were also sent, often being told their parents were dead. Many of the children were subjected to the most inhumane and brutal treatm ...more
Ruth Lechler
Aug 15, 2015 Ruth Lechler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible! Who would have believed what atrocity happened to children who were sent to other countries as migrant "workers" and enslaved in the countires that they were sent to, told that their parents had either passed away, and in many cases were told that nobody wanted them. Many of the children were abused, both physically and emotionally. And, the parents of the children, when trying to find out what happened to their children, were told that the children had been adopted out.....none of w ...more
Marcia Walker
May 13, 2013 Marcia Walker rated it it was amazing
The story of a woman approached a Nottingham social worker, to tell her that as a child she had been shipped out of a British orphanage to Australia, and what Margaret Humphreys subsequently uncovered - that up to 150,000 children had been shipped out in this manner, many with still living parents who had only temporarily left them at orphanages to overcome short lived financial difficulties.

I couldn't put this book down, my whole life went on hold until I finished it! It was recommended to me b
Lyle Appleyard
Apr 02, 2014 Lyle Appleyard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for my Toastmasters Book Club. This book is also known as Oranges and Sunshine.

This book is a true story. It tells the story of British Child Migrants. These were children that were sent to various places in the empire and commonwealth. These children were, or were suppose to be orphans. There were stories of neglect, abuse and horror.

Although this book is nonfiction, it will make you feel emotions. You will feel sorrow when you hear of the stories of children seperated from the
Feb 18, 2012 Taleisin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book both shocked and inspired me.

It shocked me that as recently as 1967, small children (some as young as 3) were being shipped off to the other side of the world. As is typical with actions such as these, records were falsified, denials were made. In one instance, migrant boys were made to build their own orphanage; often without the tools or clothing necessary.

I was also inspired by Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who refused to give up. The mother of two children,
Caoimhe Ní Mhaicín
Jan 27, 2012 Caoimhe Ní Mhaicín rated it it was amazing
This is a heartbreaking true account of child migrants who left Britain for Australia, Canada, Rhodesia and New Zealand. Many of these children were told that their parents were dead and that a better life awaited them in these countries. Unfortunately this proved not to be the case for many of the children concerned. The courage of the author in tackling this issue head on and dealing so compassionately with the child migrants is truly inspiring, and shows us all that there are people out there ...more
Sep 24, 2012 Miz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm a bit confused about this book as it is an awful historical story that fascinated me, but the execution of the book bored me to tears. I do think that people need to know about the story that is contained between these pages, and I think that's the only reason I was compelled to continue.

So mixed feelings. And now I'm confused as to whether I should take a chill pill about my reading habits if they are based on true stories! But in my world I think that non-fiction stories need to be as well
Jan 26, 2013 Rita rated it liked it
wow where do you start, this book is about the immigrant children that Britain sent to Canada, Australia and parts of Africa, and South America. they were told they had no families in Britain, or that their families no longer wanted them. In many cases the families back in Britain were told that their children had died when in care.
this story was of interest to me because, i found out that my mom's uncle was a British Home Child. we have tried to trace where he ended up and its not far from wher
Betty Tindle
May 06, 2014 Betty Tindle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

is a very sad, and tragic, story about children farmed out from the UK to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Many being told their parents were dead and parents being told the same about their children.
I was shocked and disturbed reading the account of this 50+ years practice.
Be prepared for tears. Well worth the read.
Bobi Tychynski
Feb 16, 2015 Bobi Tychynski rated it it was amazing
This book is compelling. This is the first time that I've read a non-fiction piece like this and had a desire to immediately begin to do my own research. I was so drawn into the story and the heartbreaking tragedy that took place in the lives of child migrants. I think this is an important story that needs to be understood by anyone interested in commonwealth history. It is a huge stain.
Rebecca Lonsdale
such a sad story to read, to know what went on back in the early days and to hear some of the family reunions, it was a mixture. I love reading books like these.
Jun 19, 2016 Tracey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shocking that something so tragic could be allowed to continue for so many years. Wonderfully told by a remarkable woman.
Jul 24, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Got a little hard going at times, but worth the effort. I never knew about all those poor kids who were sent over here!
Anne Scheen
Jan 12, 2013 Anne Scheen rated it it was ok
I really liked parts of this book. But it became tedious after a while.
Mar 12, 2017 Kelley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Starting with the good: this is an amazing and tragic story. Incredibly hard to believe it happened in such numbers, over such time and so relatively recently. Horrific what these children and parents were told (or not told) and how they were labored and abused. Shameful how those responsible, deny, pass the blame, ignore and downplay. And the dedication of this woman is so admirable. She deserves the recognition she has received and more. Really a caring and often times selfless individual. Bra ...more
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“My Dear Mother, Please, Mum, read this letter and give me the chance to get to know you again. Mum, I love you and always will. You have been in my heart for forty years. All I remember was a funeral, then I was taken away. I was told you were dead. I will not forgive them for that. Please, Mum, write to me. Please give me the chance to prove to you that there is no hurt in me towards you.” 1 likes
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