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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

2.5 The Royal Overseas League (the League)

1. The League[1] was founded in 1910. It is a non-profit private members’ club for men and women dedicated to propagating social and cultural links throughout the Commonwealth and promoting interest in the Empire (Porter 13 July 2017, 93-94). Its Patron is Her Majesty The Queen and its Vice-Patron is HRH Princess Alexandra. It has branches in London, Edinburgh, in the UK and overseas. The League’s corporate witness was its then director-general, Major General Roderick Porter.

2.5.1 What was the League’s role in child migration?

2. The League was engaged in child migration to New Zealand, Canada and Australia from the 1930s, and in the 1970s continued to provide financial assistance to the Fairbridge Society in Australia. In 1955, the League claimed to be responsible in the post-War period for sending 804 child migrants overseas: 194 to Australia, not including 18 to Dhurringile in Victoria; 530[2] to New Zealand, and a scattering of others to other destinations. The League also claimed to have received 485 more applications to its New Zealand scheme than were actually approved.[3] There is incomplete information before the Inquiry about the League’s rationale for child migration, although it was characterised in the 1929 Annual Report as “constructive Empire work”.[4] 

3. Major General Porter explained that there are virtually no records of its migration activities, apart from its annual reports, still in existence, and that there is no record of where any records were kept, whether they were disposed of and why.[5] We agree with the experts that it seems “remarkable” that no records were maintained and that there is no institutional memory of what happened to any records.[6] This has hampered not only this Inquiry, but the ability of former child migrants to learn about their past.

4. Pre-War, the League had sent some children to Fairbridge schools in Australia. It appears to have resumed migration to Australia in 1947, but without Government approval.

5. Although the evidence suggests that the League’s Cyril Bavin indicated that its child migration work from 1947 was simply concerned with resettlement of the children who had come back to the UK with the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB),[7] and who now wanted to go back permanently to Australia, this was not the case. Some children were designated as being a “CORB party”, but in fact very few if any were CORB children, and the League was asked by Australian officials to stop using the CORB designation for non-CORB children.[8] 

6. HMG had reservations about the League being approved as a sending organisation for child migration; first, because the League lacked the expertise to undertake the selection of children; and secondly, because the League did not have structures in place to provide reports on the welfare of the children they had sent overseas.[9] Mr Tasman Heyes, the Secretary of the Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration, sent a long letter to the UK High Commission requesting approval of the League. He noted several factors in support of child migration, including that many sending agencies did not yet have childcare expertise, that approval by the Home Office and supervision of selection by Australia House would act as safeguards, and that there had already been substantial capital investment in receiving institutions such as Dhurringile. However, no post-migration monitoring was proposed. Some months later, on 19 October 1953, the UK High Commission replied to say that approval had been given to the League, but this was six years after the League had started recruiting and migrating children.[10] 

7. In New Zealand, children migrated by the League would become wards of the New Zealand state, and were placed in foster homes.[11] In Australia, some children migrated by the League were sent to Fairbridge schools and Dhurringile,[12] but the evidence beyond that is unclear.

8. During Part 1, we heard an account of serious sexual and physical abuse from Michael Hawes, who had been migrated by the League to Dhurringile.[13] In addition, certain allegations were made at the International Congress on Child Migration in New Orleans, 27 October 2002, which we consider further below. Our table of further accounts includes one additional allegation of sexual abuse at Dhurringile.[14]

2.5.2 What did the League know about alleged sexual abuse of its child migrants?

9. There is no evidence that the League had actual knowledge of allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of its child migrants during the migration era.[15] However, the Inquiry has been presented with very little evidence overall in relation to the League’s involvement in child migration: for example, the League was not able to find any information concerning Michael Hawes or his participation in the child migration scheme.

We cannot reach a definitive conclusion on the “actual knowledge” issue as far as the League is concerned.

If in fact the League had no knowledge of any sexual abuse issues, this may well have been due to the lack of a monitoring system for child migrants and the lack of information recorded about them. 

More generally, we find that children were exposed to a risk of sexual abuse, which ought to have been appreciated by the League.

Had the League operated a process for monitoring the welfare of those children it migrated, it might have known more about specific allegations of sexual abuse and about the risk of sexual abuse more generally.

A more robust system of monitoring was more likely to have reduced that risk by triggering interventions to protect children from sexual abuse, and other harm.

2.5.3 Did the League take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from sexual abuse?


10. In common with other agencies, the League advertised its migration scheme. We were shown an example of a cartoon which appeared to depict Mr Bavin articulating the benefits of migration.[16] As noted above, the HMG had reservations about the League’s ability to conduct the selection process. We were told that applications for migration were made by parents or guardians and accompanied by a report on the child’s home circumstances by a Migration Officer. The case for migration to New Zealand was then tested by a Magistrate sitting at the Bow Street Police Court, whose authorisation was required, and some applications were turned down at this stage.[17] There is evidence to suggest that this system was not entirely robust, and, for example, that children were told to answer ‘yes’ to questions from the Magistrate, but it nevertheless existed as some kind of check.[18] There was no Magistrate’s Court check in respect of Australia and less is known about how the League secured appropriate consent in those cases.[19]


11. On arrival in New Zealand the children became wards of the Superintendent of Child Welfare, whose child welfare officers were meant to monitor the placements. However, concerns were later raised about the quality of that supervision process; and former child migrants have said that they rarely saw their child welfare officers.[20] There was no systematic monitoring of the children by the League itself, beyond details of their first placement being sent to the League’s General Secretary in New Zealand.[21] Although the child migrants were given junior membership of the League and some were given £50 on their 15th birthday, this did not add any aspect of direct monitoring of their welfare.[22] 

12. Despite Mr Bavin stating, in December 1951, that the reports from New Zealand all referred to the children’s “happy settlement in their new homes” such that the League’s was “one of the most, if not the most, satisfactory child emigration schemes in existence”,[23] in August 1953, the New Zealand Superintendent of Child Welfare reported problems with placement breakdown, and “[f]oster carers volunteering to take children out of a sense of responsibility or enthusiasm ... but then struggling to fulfil the demands of [the scheme]”.[24] The migration scheme stopped soon after that report, apparently to Mr Bavin’s surprise and disappointment.

There appears to have been no proper monitoring, reporting and aftercare of children sent to New Zealand. We were not provided with substantive information concerning an adequate monitoring, reporting and aftercare system for children sent to Australia. Case files for the migrated children no longer exist.[25]

We cannot accept that the failure to preserve migration records was an unwitting oversight. It indicates a failure to have the welfare and needs of the children as priorities. This gives us an additional insight into the care provided for the children at the time of the migration programmes.

On the basis of all the evidence, the League did not take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse.

2.5.4 What has the League done in the post-migration period?

13. At the 2002, International Congress on Child Migration in New Orleans, a former League child migrant alleged that he had been sexually abused.[26] The League does not regard those allegations as having been made to the League itself, and was not invited to respond to that testimony. Major General Porter’s predecessor, Mr Newell, recalled meeting a retired police officer who may have been the same man who made those allegations, but the man had been positive about his Fairbridge experience. The League does not regard itself as having been directly approached with any other allegations of sexual abuse.[27] 

14. The League has never been approached for compensation or redress to any former child migrants for any reason, including for sexual abuse.[28] It is of the view that because it has not faced allegations of sexual abuse directly, there has been no need for a policy on responding to such allegations.[29] There was some reference in the documents to civil litigation having been pursued in New Zealand in relation to child migration, but the experts had not seen any other evidence about this.[30]

The League has not apologised to its former child migrants and has provided no support and reparations to them. 



  1. The “Royal” title was not conferred until 1960 in honour of the League’s Golden Jubilee:
  2. However, according to a letter from the New Zealand International Social Service dated 14 August 2002, 549 children went to New Zealand between 1947 and 1953 under the League-NZ Government Scheme: ROL000013.
  3. Lynch 11 July 2017 80/16-22; EWM000448_012.
  4. Porter 13 July 2017 96/6.
  5. Porter 13 July 2017 94/21-25; 99/4-7; 109/10-25.
  6. Lynch 11 July 2017 81/6-11.
  7. The Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB), was a wartime evacuation programme that removed British children to other Commonwealth countries: Lynch 11 July 2017 70/4-6.
  8. Lynch 11 July 2017 70/4-6; 71/11-20; Porter 13 July 2017 97/4-7; 101/5-11; EWM000448_003; 005-6.
  9. EWM000448_030.
  10. Lynch 11 July 2017 60/9-21; 60-61; 63-65; EWM000402_030.
  11. Porter 13 July 2017 102/13-19.
  12. EWM000448_012.
  13. Hawes 2 March 2017 95-97; 100-108; 115-116; CMT000474_009; CMT000474_003.
  14. INQ001259.
  15. Porter 13 July 2017 108-109.
  16. Porter 13 July 2017 103-104; Lynch 11 July 2017 74-75.
  17. ROL000049_004.
  18. Lynch 10 March 2017 17-23; Lynch 11 July 2017 73/11-14.
  19. EWM000005_009; Porter 13 July 2017 100.
  20. Lynch 11 July 2017 75-76; Porter 13 July 2017 104-105; EWM000448_008.
  21. Lynch 11 July 2017 78-79.
  22. Porter 13 July 2017 105-106.
  23. Lynch 11 July 2017 76-77.
  24. Lynch 11 July 2017 77/11-19; EWM000448_009, [8.5].
  25. Porter 13 July 2017 109-110.
  26. Porter 13 July 2017 110-111; ROL000052_006; ROL000003_005-007.
  27. Porter 13 July 2017 111-112.
  28. Porter 13 July 2017 110/2-7.
  29. Porter 13 July 2017 113/2-7.
  30. Lynch 11 July 2017 80/5-15.
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