Archive insight: A dream of a new life overseas

Archives insight: A dream of a new life overseas

19 June 2023

Have you been watching the BBC's latest historical drama 'Ten Pound Poms'? This image from our archives shows a family about to embark on the scheme that saw over a million people try and make their homes in Australia.

This photograph was taken on 16 August 1949 and shows members of the Chapple family of Erith Avenue in Camel’s Head leaving for a trip. The description that accompanies the photo makes it clear this wasn’t any ordinary trip. In fact, they were probably leaving the UK to depart on the £10 Emigration Scheme to Australia, also known as the Assisted Passage Scheme.

Negotiations about the scheme between the British and Australian governments, both of whom subsidised it, began in 1944. It was one of the largest planned mass migrations of the last century. Australia was looking for population to help rebuild its post-war economy. People from the British Isles were looking for a chance to escape the rationing and housing shortage that existed in the wake of the Second World War.

A woman, man and three sons walking with suitcases

The dream of a modern British way of life in the sun proved alluring to many. In the first year alone, more than 400,000 people applied to migrate. In total over one million of them left for Australia, seduced by the offer of a £10 ticket. These people became known as the ‘Ten Pound Poms’. In the years that followed Australia launched similar schemes to assist selected migrants from countries such as Holland, Italy, Greece, West Germany and Turkey. The Government of New Zealand also introduced a scheme of its own.

It was not without its controversies. For the first few years, applications were only open to white people. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they were opened up to other races. Arthur Calwell, Australia’s Minister for Immigration often had to appear on government propaganda films to help manage public perception. The scheme came to an end in 1972.

For some, the dream of a new life was not as sold. Many Australian towns and cities were much less developed than in Britain. Migrants without savings were housed in former Army barracks and jobs weren’t always available. People had to stay for at least two years or repay their fare. Once these two years were up those who were homesick or felt they had been misled returned. In total a quarter of a million migrants headed for home. Half of these then ended up going back to Australia however. They became known as ‘Boomerang Poms’.

We don't know what became of the Chapple family - whether they stayed and made a completely different life for themselves on the other side of the world or if they eventually came home - but we do hope they were happy with whatever they decided to do.

You can watch all six episodes of 'Ten Pound Poms' on BBCiPlayer.