In late 2009, Perth woman Angelique Baker received an email from a previously unknown cousin, Mac, in England. Mac was researching his family tree and was trying to find someone whose name he thought was Michael May. As a young boy, Michael had spent a short time with Mac and his parents before abruptly leaving in the early 1950s. Mac’s parents told him that Michael had gone to Australia. National Archives staff member Dr Kellie Abbott tells the story of the Archives’ pivotal role in finding Michael.
Angelique told Mac she didn’t know a Michael May. Mac persisted, later sending a photo of the young Michael, whose name he had now learnt was McCarthy – Angelique’s mother’s name.
Some months later, on a whim, Angelique had a tarot card reading. The card reader was adamant that Angelique had a brother. After assuring her that she was an only child, Angelique recalled the little boy who had come to Australia.
A little unsure of what to do next, Angelique chanced on a story about Britain’s child migrants on television. A man was recalling his arrival by ship at Fremantle in 1953.
Angelique began searching online for information on ships. This led her to the Archives’ RecordSearch database, where she searched using the name ‘Michael McCarthy’. She found an entry for a child migrant of that name who had arrived in 1953.
She then contacted the Archives hoping to find more information. Reference officer Gary Billingham viewed the file and phoned Angelique to confirm that it related to the Michael she was looking for. When Gary revealed that the mother’s address was given as Latimer Street in Birmingham, Angelique began to cry – she had lived in this house herself.
However, the file contained little information that might help Angelique find the man she now knew was her half-brother. Further research revealed Michael travelled on the ship New Australia. Gary found the ship’s nominal roll – the administrative file of the voyage – which recorded that Michael had initially gone to St Vincent’s Foundling Home. Gary also suggested that they consult electoral rolls kept on microfiche in the Perth reading room. They found six or seven Michael McCarthys.
Angelique explains: ‘I went home, and just picked up the phone and starting calling people’. After several calls that proved fruitless, she phoned the next name on her list. A woman who answered the phone listened to Angelique’s story, and then said: ‘I think you better speak to Michael’.
‘Well, that was it,’ recalls Angelique, ‘then I just burst into tears’. When Michael came to the phone, they discovered that they had lived and worked within a few kilometres of each other since Angelique arrived in Western Australia in 1982. Michael invited her over and they met for the first time that day.
A child migrant
Michael McCarthy was only five years old when he made the long journey to Australia. He was one of more than 3200 British and Maltese children who were sent under the auspices of philanthropic and religious organisations between 1947 and 1967.
At the time, children were popularly seen as ideal immigrants – they were adaptable, could assimilate more easily and contribute many years of productive labour. Some were orphans; others had been placed in homes because their families were unable to care for them at the time.
While the day-to-day care of the children was the responsibility of the organisations that brought them to Australia, the Australian Government provided some funding towards housing and running costs. Records in the Archives document the Commonwealth’s role in overseeing child migration, but some case files of individual child migrants are also in the collection, such as the file that Angelique found in Perth.
Completing the journey
Michael says he was very fortunate. After spending some time at Castledare Orphanage, he was taken in by a caring foster family – the Gollops – and received a good education. Michael recalls: ‘Dad reviewed classical music and Mum was a cultured woman…loved to read Poirot novels while having a smoke – and she’d read them in four languages’.
It was a complete surprise to receive that phone call from Angelique. He explains: ‘I’ve got to say it’s worked out really well because for me it was better to be found than to go looking. This was the best way for this to happen.’
In finding Michael, Angelique feels that she has closed the circle for her mother, who was only 15 years old and unmarried when he was born.
‘Of course, I had all the compassion for my mother, what a terrible situation. To have let such a little boy go…To have lost him, and then I found him…I felt like I was completing the journey for my mum.’
And Angelique has gone from an only child to a sister and aunt to four nephews and nieces. Her own two children, who live in the United Kingdom, will be meeting their uncle next year.
‘It’s wonderful,’ she comments, ‘It was just me and my two kids, and now I have this wonderful family’. Angelique will also be meeting her cousin, Mac – the man whose questions about a little boy sent to Australia began her search – on a visit to England next year.
The Archives recently held its fourth annual open day for family historians, Shake Your Family Tree. At this event, journalist James Massola spoke of his rich family history, particularly relating to his great-grandfather, as revealed through the Archives’ records.
View Archives records relating to this article:
Research guide – Good British Stock: child and youth migration to Australia
Fact sheet 124 – Child migration to Australia
Fact sheet 147 – Child migrant records held in Sydney
Lean more about family history in Inside History magazine