A new PhD project explores black lives and the Foundling Hospital in the eighteenth century.

This PhD project is a Collaborative Doctoral Award jointly developed and co-supervised by the Foundling Museum, the University of Warwick and Midlands4Cities. Research will be conducted across a four-year period, having begun in October 2019. It will focus on the history of the Foundling Hospital in the eighteenth century, in relation to the institution’s links with trade, the English colonies and slavery during this period.

Firstly, the project aims to uncover the lives of children of colour who were received into the Foundling Hospital. During research into other areas of the Foundling Hospital’s history some references have been discovered which suggest several foundlings were of African or Asian descent. However, as the ethnicity of a child was not recorded on entry into the Hospital, these references are incidental notations scattered throughout the extensive records created by Foundling Hospital officials. Therefore, this project will undertake a systematic examination of Foundling Hospital documents to identify and trace the lives of children of colour admitted to the Hospital during the eighteenth century. This will include gathering information on the types of apprenticeships they entered and investigating the economic contributions made by foundlings which supported Imperial ambitions of the nation at this time.

The other main objective of the project is to examine the lives of governors, patrons and benefactors, and in doing so pinpoint sources of financial support given to the charity for its establishment and maintenance. The backgrounds of some donors are already known, such as that of Thomas Emerson, a sugar refiner who was made a governor of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 and who left £12,000 to the institution on his death. The project provides the opportunity for further research into individuals such as this, exploring their connections to international trade.  In turn, this will enable the investigation of links between the Foundling Hospital, private sources of funding and colonial possessions, including slave ownership.

Overall, this research aims to broaden the historical narrative of the Foundling Hospital by creating a more accurate reflection of the lives and experiences of all foundlings cared for during this period. Likewise, the examination of philanthropic individuals and sources of funding should prove significant for understanding and analysing the impact of an imperial society upon the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital.