Oranges and Sunshine, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Also published as Empty Cradles. In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, investigated a woman's claim that, aged four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government.

At first incredulous, Margaret discovered that this was just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Up to 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, had been deported from children's homes in Britain and shipped off to a 'new life' in distant parts of the Empire, right up until as recently as 1970.

Many were told that their parents were dead, and parents often believed that their children had been adopted in Britain.

In fact, for many children it was to be a life of horrendous physical and sexual abuse far away from everything they knew.

Margaret reveals how she unravelled this shocking secret and how it became her mission to reunite these innocent and unwilling exiles with their families in Britain before it was too late.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Social & cultural history
  • ISBN: 9780552163354

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This book was originally released under the title Empty Cradles but has been re-released as Oranges and Sunshine to coincide with the release of the film, starring Emily Watson. This book had me from the get-go. I absolutely devoured it and polished it off in 24 hours flat. My secret vice is family history. I love digging through archives, electoral rolls, reading wills and ordering certificates, all the while imagining what ancestors' lives would have been like and putting their lives in the context of the history of the day. There has been hardship of course and children on both sides of the family ended up in orphanages. This was largely due to their mothers' deaths and their fathers being unable to work and care for their children at the same time. It was usually during a depression of some sort when other family members could not afford to feed extra mouths. On my mother's side, my grandmother and her twin sister were admitted at the age of 3 together with their older sister aged 4 and their older brother aged 6. Their father re-married and his second wife insisted he fetch the children and bring them home - seven years later. They were the lucky ones.This book tells the tale of others not so lucky. Of children who were placed into the care of the state by their parents, often as a stop gap measure until they could afford to bring them home. Or put up for adoption by their parents who never imagined they would be shipped 12,000 miles away. Let alone to other orphanages and for many, to suffer the most shameful, cowardly and despicable abuse. The author, Margaret Humphreys, has been awarded the Order of Australia medal for her work in helping reunite long lost family members. Margaret, a social worker from Nottingham, is a woman who left no stone unturned in her efforts to discover family for these children, now adults. Ultimately this book is the story of one woman's amazing perseverance in the face of, not one, but many heartless bureaucracies. She is an inspiration to us all.