Thomas Barnardo, the son of a furrier, was born in Dublin on the 4th July 1845. He worked as a clerk until converted to Evangelical Christianity in 1862. After a period preaching in the slums of Dublin, Barnardo moved to London where he studied medicine. Barnardo's plan was to become a medical missionary with the China Inland Mission.
While a student at the London Hospital, Barnardo opened his own Ragged School in Stepney and established Band of Hope meetings for the children. Barnardo soon discovered the plight of homeless children in the city. Barnardo, a powerful orator, made a speech about the problem at a Missionary Conference in 1867. Lord Shaftesbury was in the audience and he was so moved by what he heard that he offered Barnardo help to establish homes for these children. The banker, Robert Barclay also agreed to support the cause and on 2nd March, 1868, Barnardo had raised enough money to open his first home for destitute children.
Barnardo was also active in the Temperance Society and used to erect mission tents outside public houses. In 1872 Barnardo purchased the Edinburgh Castle, a well-known Gin Palace in London, and converted it into the People's Mission Church and the country's first Coffee Palace.
In 1874 Dr. Barnardo opened a Photographic Department in his Stepney Boys' Home. Over the next thirty years every child who entered one of Barnardo's homes had their photograph taken. Children were photographed when they first arrived and again several months later after they had recovered from their experiences of living on the streets. These 'before' and 'after' cards were then sold in packs of twenty for 5 shillings or singly for 6d. each. This enabled Barnardo to publicize his work and raise money for his charitable work.
By 1878 he had established fifty orphanages in London. This included his Village Home for Girls in Ilford. It was a complete community with seventy cottages, its own school, a laundry and church, and had a population of over 1,000 children.
Barnardo also developed a scheme for sending children to Canada. Between 1882 and 1901 he sent 8,046 children, which meant that one-third of one per cent of the Canadian population had come from a Barnardo Home.
By the timeThomas Barnardo died on 19th September, 1905, there were nearly 8,000 children in his residential homes, more than 4,000 were boarded out, and 18,000 had been sent to Canada and Australia.