Following in the childrens footprints

In the 1800's, many children from southern Norway were required to travel for work. Stories of child wanderers exist as far back as 1830. The children came from the middle and inner villages of Vest-Agder and migrated to the areas surrounding Kristiansand and the rich farms in Aust-Agder, eg. Landvik, Birkenes and Mykland. In most cases, they walked along old pathways across the moors.

The child wanderers followed several routes, but mainly the trail (The Child Wanderer Path) follows the current tracks of the Southern Railway. The children had specific meeting points where they gathered in flocks, eg. by Konsmo church. The route could be 100 to 150 km long, and they spent many nights in barns along their walk. Historian Gabriel Øidne writes that "the youngest were often no older than 9-10 years old. It even occurred that the 7-year-old joined them”. The children left their homes in April, and often returned as late as in November.

In the 1800s the inner areas of Lister and Mandal experienced an severe poverty. In 1862 Amtmann Vogt wrote that the poverty in these districts was the worst in the country. The growth in the population had previously been solved by dividing the larger farms into smaller units. By the early 1800s, the farms were too small to provide a livelihood for many. The result was hunger, poverty and expropriation. As a result, the children were required to work. Conditions in Aust-Agder were much better. The farms were larger and more prosperous.

Shipping, shipbuilding and ship piloting provided work for many. The need for workers in agriculture was high. Child wanderer workers were primarily sheep herders, but they were also used for housework, wood chopping and water carrying, possibly after the herding was finished for the day. The average wage for a shepherd were 20 - 40 nok (appr. 2-4 euros) plus room and board for the season, some received special occasion clothes instead, eg. for their confirmation. Often, the father came and collect the salary, which often was enough to pay the family's rent for an entire year.

There are many stories about the hardships the shepherds had to undergo. They had to endure hard work, long days and not least the heavy responsibility for the animals. The conditions were especially hard on the youngest and most inexperienced. The worst that could happen was if they lost the livestock they looked after. The cold temperature was a torment and the children were often poorly clothed and shod, and many were given little food. This phenomenon at the south of Norway is probably unique, and lasted until around 1910. Then, the emigration to the USA started.

Source: Kulturminneløypa (