A Visit to Queen’s Orphans School New Town (Tasmania) 1853 – In Four Letters

First published in The Courier (Hobart), 1 February 1853.

31st January, 1853.

I will now proceed to give you the particulars of my inspection of the female and infant departments of the Queen’s Orphan Schools, through the whole of which I was taken by the excellent matron, Mrs. Smythe. I will commence my account by stating my gratification at seeing such excellent “quarters” have been provided for the officers of the institution. By studying the comfort and domestic happiness of that too much neglects class, teachers, the first move will be made towards the great educational desideratim of the island, namely, a superior grade of persons to fill the high office of training the young idea, and of implanting in the minds of children, when they are most susceptible of receiving them, the seeds of good.

We proceeded first to the school-room, which was of similar proportions to that of the boys, but differently arranged as to the furniture and fittings. One half of the room is completely empty, the other half contains on each side of it short desks and forms. Upon my expressing surprise at the peculiarity of the arrangement, I was informed that it was owing to the monitorial system being in use, by which system the girls are taught standing round a monitor in semicircles; a broad aisle runs up the middle of the room to folding doors at the top, which, when thrown open, display a pretty little altar. This room is the one appropriated every Sunday to the Roman Catholics for the celebration of their worship.

At each end of the apartment is one of those patent ventilators first brought into use and found so successful at the Milbank Penitentiary, London: I was disappointed at seeing no maps round the walls, but Mrs. Smyth said they had been taken down for the holidays. As the whole of the female and infant parts of the building rivalled that of the boys in cleanliness, I shall conclude my remarks upon that great necessity in institutions of the kind I am describing, by agreeing in the observation Sir William Denison is reported to have made while going over these schools, that if “cleanliness is next to godliness, the Orphan Schools must be very near to Heaven.” After the school-room we visited the dining-room: I should have much liked to have seen the children assembled here to notice how the “gastronomical lecture” was administered, but unfortunately my visit was badly timed, being just after one meal.

We then mounted to the dormitories. These rooms are upon exactly the same scale as those of the boys, but instead of hammocks the girls sleep upon iron bedsteads, each of which is furnished with a hair mattress, two sheets, two blankets, and a rug; each girl above twelve years of age has a bedstead to herself, under that age they sleep in couples. There are three dormitories, two devoted to Roman Catholics and one to the Protestants. At the end of the dormitories is a press for each girl, with her name written upon it, and in which she is expected to have her clothes neatly folded and placed.

The storeroom was next paid a visit. Here are the provisions and clothes used in the establishment: I must praise those of both kinds which I saw. I tasted some rice as white as milk; the sugar was likewise of an excellent quality. I saw no meat, but I trust that whatever is consumed by those young children is of a better quality than that which I saw hanging up in the boys’ department. The clothes all appeared homelyand good; the flannel was of a superior texture and warm. From the storeroom we wended our way to the kitchen, where I observed some yards of currant pudding being put into immense boilers, with which the children were to be regaled as a consolation for the postponement of the awarding of the prizes.

The next place I visited afforded me more pleasure than anything I had yet seen in the establishment; I allude to the bath-room. Here are two baths, one hot and one cold, and in those every girl in the school receives a thorough ablution twice a week, under the superintendence of the industrial mistress. No wonder disease so seldom visits the institution — no wonder not a single death has occurred in the Queen’s Orphan Schools during the last half-year. In addition to the bath-rooms, there is a lavatory for daily use, to which the children descend from the dormitories: around the sides of the lavatory are a great number of small tanks, into which the water is continually passing and repassing. The floor of this room is composed of bricks, and its four sides incline to a grating in the middle, through which the water ought to pass; but owing to something wrong in the pipes, the water does not drain off as fast as it should, consequently the bricks are always wet. It will be seen at once how standing upon damp bricks, especially in cold weather, must certainly produce those dreadful plagues to children, chilblains; and I am afraid the constitutions of the girls must suffer severe injury from these repeated wet feet. I earnestly urge upon the authorities to have a wooden grating made: this would counteract all the evil consequences of the water not flowing off quick enough.

From the lavatory we proceeded to the laundry, where two or three hundred pieces are washed and mangled every week. Here are employed two professional laundresses, assisted by six of the orphan girls; here all the washing required by the inmates of the institution is done, with the exception of bedclothes, these are sent out to the Cascades. In the laundry is kept ready day and night a boiler full of hot water, in case any child should have a fit or other ailment which might require immediate immersion in a hot bath: too great praise cannot be bestowed upon this forethought and constant care for the health of the children.

The hospital was the last apartments of the female school I visited, and I was agreeably surprised to find that out of so large a number of children, many of whom must be of delicate constitutions, there was not a single case of serious illness. The hospital contained ten little inmates, but they were all sitting up, and appeared cheerful and happy. Mrs. Smyth called to one little afflicted creature of about five years of age to show how nicely she could walk, and it was affecting to see the pride expressed in the face of the poor little child at the praise of the good lady for the performance. I was told she was malformed about the hips, but that great hopes are entertained by Dr. Bedford, the physician to the institution, that she will be ultimately cured. I saw no other case severer than a cold in the hospital. The children sent in here are visited regularly by Dr. Bedford, who orders them every comfort with an unsparing hand, and they are never sent into the other parts of the building without his certificate that they are perfectly cured.

From the hospital we passed to the fine large play-ground, ornamented with swings, roundabouts, &c. I was pleased at seeing these accessories to health so liberally bestowed upon these poor orphans; everybody knows the good effect of the roundabout in strengthening the arms. At the end of the playground is a part covered in for bad weather. I might here notice that I remarked no instance of fighting or quarrelling, although our visit was quite unexpected amongst the children, the greater portion of whom were not aware of our presence: this speaks volumes for the excellence of the management.

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I returned to the schoolroom to view the books used in this department, and also the copybooks. The former I recognised as mostly belonging to those presented to the world by the Irish National School Commissioners; the latter were generally well written, partaking greatly of the style of the lady who set the copies in them. Considering the ages of the writers, from what I saw I should say that the Orphan Schools are particularly forward in the important branch of primary education — writing. I am glad to see that Mulhauser’s system of writing is in use here: I have often wondered it has not been taken more advantage of.

The diet of the girls is precisely similar to that of the boys. The younger children can always obtain a piece of bread when they are hungry. The girls’ time is spent as follows:- At 5.40 dressing and saying morning prayers; 6 to 7 washing; 7 to 7.30 minute inspection by the matron as respects health, cleanness and neatness; 7.30 to 8 breakfast; 8 to 8.30 recreation, with exception of those employed in domestic duties; 8.30 to 9 religious instruction; 9 to 12 school: 12 to 12.30 recreation, with exception of those employed in preparing dinner; 12.30, to 1 dinner; 1 to 2 recreation; 2 to 4 school; 4 to 5.30 recreation; 5.30 to 6 tea; 6 to bed-time recreation. I asked Mrs. Smyth if the report was correct that the girls were taught embroidery, knitting, netting, &c., instead of the much more useful plain needlework? She assured me it was incorrect; that the girls have never been taught any kind of fine needlework, but were obliged during the time set apart for work to make their clothes; and that between 2000 and 3000 garments per annum were made by them. Upon enquiring how much time was set apart for needlework, judge of my surprise at being told one hour! This is undoubtedly after religious instruction, and reading and writing, the most important branch of female education; and girls who are being educated by charity to make them working men’s wives, or servants in families, have one hour set apart for learning the principal part of their calling. Upon referring back to the day table, I find six hours thirty-minutes devoted to recreation: surely, if none of the time set apart for work can be spared, it would be better to subtract another hour or two from recreation, than let them leave the school, as they must do at present, quite ignorant of every kind of needlework but the commonest. This is radically wrong.

The girls have three complete suits of clothing per annum and six pairs of strong shoes: they change all their under clothing twice a week. The Infant school is equally well conducted with those departments I have described. The little children are taught by means of pictures, which hang round the walls of their school-room; there is a large playground for them, and three nurses are always with them. Upon the whole, the Institution is as excellently carried on as it was philanthropically founded, and it reflects the greatest credit upon every officer connected with it.

Source: VISIT TO THE QUEEN’S ORPHAN SCHOOL. (1853, February 1). The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), p. 3. 

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