Thomas Barnardo – Irish founder of Barnardo’s charity

Thomas John Barnardo - Irish founder of Barnardo's charity

Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish doctor who set up the world famous Barnardo’s charity providing help and care for homeless children across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

He began the charity in 1866 and it has since grown into a multi-million pound project providing more than 900 services for vulnerable young people in Britain.

Barnardo  was born on 4 July in Dublin in 1845. He was the son of German immigrant from Hamburg and an English mother.

He studied medicine at London, Paris and Edinburgh and planned to move to China to work as a missionary.

Thomas John Barnardo - Irish founder of Barnardo's charity

However, while studying in London, Barnardo became aware of the suffering going on around him. He dedicated his spare time to helping homeless children in and around the city. He decided that rather than move to China to help people, he would do it nearer home in Britain.

The first Dr Barnardo’s Children’s Home was opened in 1870 at 18 Stepney Causeway, London.

Barnardo’s work involved finding homeless children and young people and giving them a bed. They were fed and clothed and once settled, Barnardo would arrange for them receive an education or training that most suited their requirements.

For example, younger children were found fosterers or adoptive parents who could give them a loving home. Girls aged over 14 were taught domestic skills such a sewing and cooking, so that they would be capable of running a home.

Boys were taught practical skills that would give them a chance of finding employment.

Barnardo also set up a home for girls in serious danger, and a hospital for those who were ill. A seaside home was purchased to use as a place of sanctuary and recovery for children who had endured particularly traumatic experiences.

Barnardo was given a house in Barkingside as a wedding gift when he married. He turned the property and its surrounding land into a village, with several homes for children. The site had a school and all the children were given a basic education.

During his lifetime, Barnardo and his organisation helped more than 60,000 children by giving them a loving home, an education and a chance of a bright future.

When he died on 19 September, 1905, there were 96 Barnardo’s Children’s Homes caring for more than 8,000 children.

Thomas John Barnardo - Irish founder of Barnardo's charity

A memorial fund was set up that raised £250,000 from donors across the country. The money was used to secure the future of all of the homes in place at that time.

The charity is still going today, with 5,000 full-time employees and a further 17,000 volunteers. It still has its main focus on helping vulnerable children and has an annual revenue of nearly £250m.

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