A Motherly Concern for Children: Invocations of Queen Victoria in Imperial Child Rescue Literature

  • Shurlee Swain
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series (PSHC)


This invocation, published first in a newspaper in San Francisco, and so widely circulated that it was reprinted in a newspaper in regional New South Wales, captures precisely the way in which, by the end of her reign, the narrative which Hugh Cunningham has called the ‘heroic story of child rescue’ became attached to the body and person of the Queen.2 It was a sentiment that resonated across the Empire, reaching its apotheosis in 1897, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Declaring it ‘strange that the world had been Christian for so long yet no law had been passed to protect women and children’, a New Zealand newspaper reassured its readers that ‘all that had been stopped by Act of Parliament during Victoria’s reign’.3 The local magistrate in Bunbury, Western Australia, went one step further, personally crediting the Queen with the changes that had occurred. Addressing local school children at the jubilee demonstration, Mr W.H. Timberley asserted that:

the Queen and her Government had taken the children out of those mines and factories and sent them to school…because they desired that children should have the advantages of education in order that they might be trained to be good and loyal men and women…and had created hospitals and homes in the United Kingdom and in various parts of the Australian colonies where children found homeless were taken in and brought up to be respectable men and women.4


Child Labour Street Child Local Magistrate Child Rescue Statute Book 
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© Shurlee Swain 2016

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  • Shurlee Swain

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