Thomas John Barnardo

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Thomas John Barnardo
An old photograph of a man, wearing spectacles, writing at a desk.
Thomas John Barnardo, circa 1868
Born (1845-07-04)4 July 1845
Dublin, Ireland
Died 19 September 1905(1905-09-19) (aged 60)
London, England
Citizenship United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Organization Barnardo's
Known for Founder of homes for poor children
Denomination Protestant
Spouse(s) Sara Louise Elmslie (Syrie) (m. 1873–1905)
Children Syrie Maugham, Marjorie, and 5 others

Thomas John Barnardo (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) was an Irish philanthropist and founder and director of homes for poor children. From the foundation of the first Barnardo's home in 1867 to the date of Barnardo's death, nearly 60,000 children had been taken in.

Early life[edit]

Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1845. He was the fourth of five children (one died in childbirth) of John Michaelis Barnardo, a furrier, and his second wife, Abigail,[1] an Englishwoman and member of the Plymouth Brethren.

In the early 1840s, John emigrated from Hamburg to Dublin, where he established a business; he married twice and fathered seven children. The Barnardo origins are uncertain; the family "traced its origin to Venice, followed by conversion to the Lutheran Church in the sixteenth century", but others have claimed German Jewish roots for them.[2]

Dr Barnardo's Homes[edit]

With the intention of qualifying for medical missionary work in China, Barnardo studied medicine at the London Hospital, and later at Paris and Edinburgh, where he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.[3]

The evangelical work he carried on alongside his medical studies in London served to make him aware of the great numbers of homeless and destitute children adrift in the cities of England. Encouraged by the support of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and the 1st Earl Cairns, he gave up his early ambition to lead a missionary's life in China, and began what was to prove his life's work. The first of the "Dr Barnardo's Homes" was opened in 1867 at 18 Stepney Causeway, London. From then on the workload of his humanitarian venture steadily increased until, at the time of his death in 1905, he had established 112 district homes, besides mission branches, throughout the United Kingdom.[3]

The object for which these institutions were started was to search for and to receive waifs and strays, to feed, clothe and educate them.[3] The system under which the institution was carried on is broadly as follows: the infants and younger girls and boys were chiefly "boarded out" in rural districts; girls above fourteen years of age were sent to the industrial training homes, to be taught useful domestic occupations; boys above seventeen years of age were first tested in labour homes and then placed in employment at home, sent to sea, or emigrated; boys of between thirteen and seventeen years of age were trained for the various trades for which they might be mentally or physically fitted. Besides the various branches necessary for the foregoing work, there were also, among others, the following institutions: a rescue home for girls in serious danger, a convalescent seaside home and a hospital for the terribly sick.[3]

Barnardo and his wife, Syrie, were given a home in Barkingside as a wedding gift. There he created a 60-acre (24 ha) rural retreat, with the vision of creating a way of life for destitute children that resembled growing up in a village.[4] On 9 July 1876, The Girls' Village Home was officially opened with 12 cottages by the then Lord Cairns. In the same year, a modern steam laundry was opened. Over the years, the number of cottages grew to a total of 66 in 1906, housing some 1,300 girls. The cottages were spread over three village greens next to Mossford Lodge at Barkingside, Ilford, Essex, that had been opened in 1873. By 1894, a multi-denominational Children's Church was dedicated,[citation needed] and The Girls' Village Home had become a real "garden city".[3]

In 1899, the various institutions and organizations were legally incorporated under the title of "The National Association for the Reclamation of Destitute Waif Children", but the institution was always familiarly known as "Dr Barnardo's Homes." Barnardo laid great stress on the religious teaching of the children under his care. By 1911 it was reported that each child was brought up under the influence and teaching of the denomination of the parents.[3]

The homes were divided into two sections for religious teaching, Church of England and Nonconformists; children of Jewish and Roman Catholic parentage were, where possible, handed over to the care of the Jewish Board of Guardians in London, and to Roman Catholic institutions, respectively.[3] In 1877, Barnardo was the resident physician at the Smedley Hydro Hotel in Southport. He also opened a children's school in Birkdale while he resided in Southport.[5]

Barnardo was also a member of the Orange Order in Dublin.[6]

Marriage and family[edit]

In June 1873, Barnardo married Sara Louise Elmslie (1842–1944), known as Syrie, the daughter of an underwriter for Lloyd's of London. Syrie shared her husband's interests in evangelism and social work. The couple settled at Mossford Lodge, Essex, where they had seven children, three of whom died in early childhood. Another child, Marjorie, appears to have had some form of intellectual disability, though details are unknown.[7]

Another daughter, Gwendolyn Maud Syrie (1879–1955), known as Syrie like her mother, was married to wealthy businessman Henry Wellcome, and later to the writer Somerset Maugham, and became a socially prominent London interior designer.


Barnardo died of angina pectoris in London on 19 September 1905,[3][8] and was buried in front of Cairns House, Barkingside, Essex. The house is now the head office of the children's charity he founded, Barnardo's.[4]

After Barnardo's death, a national memorial was instituted to form a fund of £250,000 to relieve the various institutions of all financial liability and to place the entire work on a permanent basis. William Baker, formerly the chairman of the council, was selected to succeed the founder of the homes as Honorary Director.Thomas Barnardo was the author of 192 books dealing with the charitable work to which he devoted his life.[3]

From the foundation of the homes in 1867 to the date of Barnardo's death, nearly 60,000 children had been rescued, trained and placed out in life.[3] At the time of his death, his charity was caring for over 8,500 children in 96 homes.[9]

Not a Jack the Ripper suspect[edit]

At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area were suspected. Barnardo was named a possible suspect long after his death. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorized that due to Barnardo's lonely childhood he had anger which led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no solid evidence he committed the murders.[10] Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance did not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wagner, Gillian (2004). "Barnardo, Thomas John (1845–1905)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (September 2010 online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 November 2011.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ Rogal, Samuel J. (1997). "Barnardo, John Michaelis". A William Somerset Maugham encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-313-29916-2. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ a b Wrightman, Sara (June 2008). "The birthplace of Barnardo's". Essex Life. Archant. pp. 88–89. Retrieved 3 February 2009.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ Manning, Danielle (8 October 2010). "Heritage Open Days offer an insight into the history of Smedley Hydro". Southport Visiter. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "F.A.Q.'s". Dublin and Wicklow Loyal Orange Lodge 1313. 2010. Archived from the original on 5 September 2010. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Rogal, Samuel J. (1997). "Barnardo, Sara Louise (Syrie) Elmslie". A William Somerset Maugham encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-313-29916-2. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "The Public Funeral". The Goldonian Web. Goldings The William Baker Memorial Technical School for Boys. 2003. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  9. ^ "The history of Barnardo's". Barnardo's. 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Dr. Thomas Barnardo". Casebook. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  11. ^ Eddleston, John J. (2001). Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 197. ISBN 1-57607-414-5



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