Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish philanthropist and founder and director of homes for poor children. From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1867 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 60,000 children had been taken in.
Barnardo was born in Dublin in 1845. In the 1860s, Barnardo opened a school in the East End of London to care for and educate children of the area left orphaned and destitute by a recent cholera outbreak. In 1870 he founded a boys’ orphanage at 18 Stepney Causeway and later opened a girls’ home. By the time of his death in 1905, Barnardo’s institutions cared for over 8,500 children in 96 locations. His work was carried on by his many supporters under the name Dr Barnardo’s Homes. Following societal changes in the mid-20th century, the charity changed its focus from the direct care of children to fostering and adoption, renaming itself Dr Barnardo’s. Following the closure of its last traditional orphanage in 1989, it took the still simpler name of Barnardo’s. The official mascot of Barnardo’s is a bear called Barney. H.M. Queen Elizabeth II is the current patron of Barnardo’s. Its chief executive is Javed Khan.
There was controversy early on with Barnardo’s work. Specifically, he was accused of kidnapping children without parents’ permission and of falsifying photographs of children to make the distinction between the period before they were rescued by Barnardo’s and afterwards seem more dramatic. He openly confessed to the former of these charges, describing it as ‘philanthropic abduction’ and basing his defence on the idea that the ends justified the means. In all, he was taken to court on 88 occasions, largely on the charge of kidnapping. However, being a charismatic speaker and popular figure, he rode through these scandals unscathed. Other charges brought against him included presenting staged images of children for Barnardo’s ‘before and after’ cards and neglecting basic hygiene for the children under his care.
Barnardo died of angina pectoris in London on 19 September 1905, and was buried in front of Cairns House, Barkingside, Essex. After Barnardo’s death, a national memorial was instituted to form a fund of £250,000 to relieve the various institutions of all financial liability and to place the entire work on a permanent basis. Thomas Barnardo was the author of 192 books dealing with the charitable work to which he devoted his life.
At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area were suspected. Barnardo was named a possible suspect long after his death. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorised that due to Barnardo’s lonely childhood he had anger which led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no solid evidence he committed the murders. Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance did not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.