Article type: Original Research

PUBLISHED 1 January 1988

Volume 13 Issue 2

Original Research

Frank Bates LLM.

name here
Frank Bates LLM.


1 University of Newcastle (N.S.W.)

download full pdf


Peter had heard there were in London then, -Still have they being? - workhouse - clearing men Who, undisturbed by feelings just or kind, Would parish-boys to needy tradesmen bind: They in their want a trifling sum would take And toiling slaves of piteous orphans make

(George Crabbe, ‘The Poor of the Borough: Peter Grimes’ Letter 22, The Borough, 1812)

Although these well-known lines from George Crabbe's poem The Borough, refer to the practice of workhouses, in essence, selling children (a similar instance, may of course, be found in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens), it is equally clear that the practice was not confined to the workhouse. Although the workhouse may have been the ultimate Victorian method of dealing with poverty and certain types of dysfunctional family (Henriques, 1979), there can equally be no doubt that the practice was not thereto restricted. It is the purpose of this article to consider, albeit briefly, the more obvious manifestations of children as property in Nineteenth Century social history and to inquire as to how far those attitudes are still pertinent to Anglo-Australian law.

This PDF has been produced for your convenience. Always refer to the live site for the Version of Record.