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Our history

Dr Thomas Barnardo

Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1845. At age 21 he moved to East End of London to undertake medical work, with an intention to then go to China to work as a missionary. Once he saw the level of need that existed in England, he decided to stay and make it his life’s mission to help homeless and destitute children in England’s cities.

Dr Tom opened his first ‘Dr Barnardo’s Home’ when he was just 25 years old. The home, at 18 Stepney Causeway, London, was the first of many. By the time he died in 1905, there were 112 district homes throughout the United Kingdom.

The homes fed, clothed and educated children in need. Younger children were usually sent to stay with families in the countryside, while girls over 14 were sent to industrial training homes to learn domestic occupations. Older boys were also put in training for trades for which they were mentally and physically suited. Dr Tom also ran a rescue home for girls in serious danger and a hospital for the seriously ill.

When Dr Tom married his wife Syrie, they received a home in Barkingside as a wedding gift. He promptly set about creating a 60-acre rural retreat on the grounds, with the vision of creating a village-style way of life for urban destitute children. The Girls’ Village Home opened just after Dr Tom’s 31st birthday. Between then and 1905, the Home blossomed from 12 cottages to 66, housing some 1,300 girls – a bona fide garden city.

When Dr Tom died, he was buried outside his Barkingside home – which is now also the head office of Barnardos UK. Over the course of his life, it’s estimated he saved some 60,000 children from poverty.

Barnardos in New Zealand

In 1867, the first donation was sent from New Zealand to support Dr Tom’s work and this support continued for the next 100 years.

In the 1960s, Barnardos supporters in New Zealand looked closer to home and realised there were Kiwi children whose needs were not being met. In 1969, Barnardos New Zealand was incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957. Three years later, the first local service was opened in Mangere, providing a childcare centre, on-site social workers, and housing for mothers and their children.

From this beginning, we have progressed to providing child and family services, early childhood education and care, and residential and foster care in locations throughout New Zealand.

Founder’s Day

Each year, we celebrate 4 July - Dr Tom’s birthday - as ‘Founder’s Day’. This was a tradition he established himself in the 1880, when he started inviting the old boys and girls of his homes to meet with him. The first formal Founder’s Day celebration was held in 1895 in Stepney, London, and prizes were distributed for length of service and good conduct. When Barnardos hit a fundraising low, old boys and girls from the Barnardos homes were encouraged to send in donations on Founder’s Day. This was shrewd financial planning on Dr Tom’s part as June to October was traditionally the lean season for fundraising donations.

Old boys and girls

Over the years a number of old boys and girls of Barnardos UK have settled in New Zealand. We have supported old boys and girls to get their records of care from Barnardos UK.

We publish a newsletter for old boys and girls, with two editions each year. For more information email us on 

Barnardos around the world

Dr Tom’s work is being continued by Barnardos charities in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Although each is a standalone organisation offering a different range of services, all four organisations work with the most vulnerable children offering support, advice and protection. They tackle issues such as poverty, abuse and neglect and through their work offer new hope for children’s futures. You can find out more at