Research by a University of Warwick academic has resulted in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum, examining the history of African and Asian foundling children in the Georgian Era.
Tiny Traces: African & Asian Children at London’s Foundling Hospital, which runs until 19th February at the museum in Bloomsbury, London, explores the stories of these children. It presents a history of London life across this period.
Hannah Dennett, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Warwick, has carried out the research behind the exhibition.
Tiny Traces dives into a largely unexamined part of the history of London, and the nation, detailing the stories of over a dozen children from African or Asia who were taken into the care of the Foundling Hospital between 1739 - 1820.
It is estimated that up to 15,000 African people were living in Britain at the time, as well as a growing Asian population. Empire and migration meant these communities were expanding, particularly in London.
Some of the women in these communities, as well as white women engaged in relationships with African or Asian men, sought help from the Foundling Hospital after falling pregnant. Many were often unable to provide for children due to social or economic issues, and so turned to the Foundling Hospital.
Hannah’s research, done by examining personal letters, employment notes, court reports and the Hospital records, means the exhibition can detail the personal stories of some of these children.
Tiny Traces tracks these stories, including that of foundling Fanny Kenyon, whose story can be traced as she struggles through her time in the Hospital, as well as apprenticeship, poverty, crime, and destitution.
Fanny was given to the Hospital in infancy, with her mother alone and unable to support her. Records show she grew up there, eventually beginning a series of apprenticeships around age nine.
Around 18, Fanny left one of these apprenticeships after only five weeks, with her former employer then discovering she had stolen purses from him. After a spell in prison, Fanny is seen in the Refuge for the Destitute in Hackney, struggling to find work on account of her criminal convictions. Here the trail goes cold, and Fanny is not seen again.
Hannah commented: “I’m delighted that this exhibition has given us the chance to make more people aware of these children, and the wider history of African and Asian people in Georgian Britain.
“The stories of these children are unique and fascinating, with the exhibition aiming to shed light on the lived reality of a children of colour in this era”.
Museum Curator, Kathleen Palmer, commented: “This new research enables us to make a significant step forward in telling a more complete story of the
Foundling Hospital, its place in eighteenth-century London and the wider world.
“It has taken us from tantalising glimpses to a far richer understanding of the presence and experience of Black and Asian children in the institution. We are thrilled that our collaboration with the University of Warwick’s Centre for Global History and Culture has enabled Hannah Dennett’s ground-breaking work.”
To find out more about the exhibition click here.