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Former child migrant and teacher, Lionel Pearce (1920-2001), spent time kinship care, a children’s homes, and foster care before being adopted.

Lionel was born in Lancashire, England. He was ‘illegitimate’ and his family was desperate to be rid of the embarrassment after his mother died when Lionel was four. The boy went, briefly, into kinship care with an aunt, but was soon put into an institution, where he felt well cared for, before he was taken to London and put into foster care.

Lionel was adopted by a middle-class family when he was about five years of age but was not treated well by his adoptive parents. Because of constant criticisms by his adoptive mother, Lionel became highly self-conscious.

I was not the little prince my mother wanted her adopted son to be, but a displaced peasant…I was an imposter, not because of language but because of dress and manners. My working-class honesty and roughness simmered beneath the pretty clothes and dumbness (Pearce, 45).

Sometimes his mother beat him wildly, too, especially after his adoptive sisters had gone to boarding school and there were no witnesses. 

Lionel was also physically punished by his father, beginning when he stole some chocolates from his sister. He describes a sense of intimacy that came with these beatings; it was the only time he was touched or held by his father. 

Lionel left England at the age of twelve as part of the Child Migration scheme and spent two years at Fairbridge Farm in Western Australia. At fourteen, Lionel was sent out to work with Fairbridge operating as a labour exchange. He gained a strong work ethic from the example of other farmworkers and became an autodidact, reading philosophy—and eventually fiction—at night for as long as he could get away with keeping the light on. 

Lionel had a taste of an alternative life when he was sent to Perth to have a broken arm set and needed to stay on for an extended period. In Perth, he met a kind woman, a doctor, who treated the boy as an equal and inspired him to take up that profession. From then he added medical books to his nightly reading but he felt too far behind in his education to do anything but return to Fairbridge and his next work placement.

World War II provided Lionel Pearce with a way out of labouring work. He joined the army and after he left, he joined the Public Service. Eventually, he gave up work to return to school and in 1947, Lionel enrolled at the University of Sydney. 

I enjoyed attending lectures at the university, the accommodating atmosphere, working out problems in science together. In my send year there I met the girl who became my wife; she was an art student…Later I taught zoology and botany. My wife and I had a large family, and some of my happiest moments were spent watching the children, each so different from the other, playing together harmoniously (Pearce, 199).

Despite his successful life, Lionel Pearce was still grieving the loss of his mother many years after her death.  


“Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra (1913 – 1981).” Find & Connect, 2021. 

Pearce, Lionel. Feathers of the snow angel: memories of a child in exile. Fremantle Arts Centre Press., 2002.