The Asylum for Destitute Children, Randwick (NSW) – A Short History 1852-1868

THE Asylum at Randwick, of which an engraving is here given, is the result of a movement which was begun in 1852 by a number of gentlemen who had observed with sorrow the large number of children left without protection or friends to grow up in wretchedness and vice. 

On the 23rd February, 1852, a meeting was held at the house of the late Dr. Henry Grattan Douglass, to consider what steps should be taken in this matter. There were present: George Allen, Esq. (chairman), Archdeacon McEneroe, Assistant Commissary General Owen Mr. T. Cowlishaw, Captain McLerie, Dr. Douglass, and the Rev. A. H. Stephen. By these it was resolved that an Asylum should be established for the reception of destitute children, of both sexes, under the age of eight years; and those present, together with Mr. James Comrie, were constituted a committee to carry out the design. The Hon. E. Deas Thomson, then Colonial Secretary, zealously co-operated with them. Messrs. Thomas Barber, J. S. Dowling, Gilbert Elliott, G. K. Holden, Rev. Dr. Ross, and Revs. Messrs. “W.B. Boyce and T. Druitt, were added to the committee. Mr. James Comrie was appointed honorary treasurer, and Rev. A. H. Stephen, honorary secretary. On the 25th March this committee published an appeal, setting forth the nature of the design to rescue destitute children from want and vice, and to train them to habits of industry in an asylum. The response to this appeal was so liberal and prompt, that on the 1st June, 1852, the preliminary arrangements were complete, and the Asylum was opened at Ormonde House, Paddington. During the first year the society received subscriptions and donations to the amount of £1242 6s. 3d., including a bequest of £250 by the late Mrs. Birnie, to which the Government added £1000. After paying rent £100 and all the necessary expenses of supporting and teaching the children, there remained a balance of over £500 at the end of the year. During the year 93 children were received. In reference to these children the report of the directors says — 

“As far as can be ascertained, the parents of these children, from whose demoralising influence they are thus effectually removed, are chiefly drunken dissolute characters, who have left their children in scenes of vice and misery — deprived not unfrequently of the necessaries of life. Not a few of them have a mother in gaol and a father at the diggings, with no intention probably of ever returning.” 

Before long a great change was effected in these children. When admitted only eight of them could read. In a few months thirty were able to read and sixteen to write. They received instruction in religion from the master, and from ministers of religion who visited the asylum. The boys were instructed in gardening and other outdoor employments. The girls were trained to serve in the laundry and kitchen, and to make their own clothes. 

The first year’s experience proved the necessity of more systematic and comprehensive exertions. An Act of Council was required to enable magistrates to send children in certain cases to the asylum; and a larger building and premises were found necessary. During the next year Dr. Cuthill, who had with great zeal fulfilled the duties of medical attendant at the asylum, and contributed liberally for the supply of the children’s wants, was mortally wounded by a lunatic, and on his death-bed bequeathed the bulk of his fortune, amounting to more than £11,000, to the institution. Mr. Alfred Roberts was appointed Dr. Cuthill’s successor. At the annual meeting in August, 1854, Sir Alfred Stephen, C. J., in the chair, the management of the institution was vested in a board of directors, with his Excellency the Governor patron, and the Hon. E. Deas Thomson president. The resources and the usefulness of the institution greatly increased. The Government granted £1500; Miss Catherine Hayes gave a donation of £800; and Mr. Edward Knox £603. There wore 149 children at the asylum in July, 1855, under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. Layton, the master and matron of the asylum. It was reported at the annual meeting that sixty acres of land had been selected at Randwick for the institution, and that the directors were about to apply to the Legislature for an Act of Incorporation.

On the 8th May, 1856, the corner stone of the now building at Randwick was laid by his Excellency Sir William Denison. The treasurer’s report for this year contained three separate accounts, showing receipts to the amount of £3088 for the general purposes of the institution, £8083 balance to the credit of the building fund, of which £6000 was on a bank post bill due in November following, and £800, the Catherine Hayes Fund. In the course of the year 1857, the building was completed with accommodation for 200 children.

The Act of Incorporation was assented to 23rd February, 1857. At the end of this year there were 143 in the institution, 76 boys and 67 girls. The Government gave £5000 towards the building fund. On the 28th March, 1858, the new building was occupied. In May, Mr. and Mrs. Layton resigned their position as master and matron of the institution, and were succeeded by Mr. and Mrs. May, who were selected out of 25 applicants for the vacant offices, and still continue in charge of the asylum. During the year the late Alderman Hogan bequeathed £500 to the institution, and Mr. E. Flood, M L.A., gave £100. Mr. Thomas Barker, who had succeeded Mr. Comrie as treasurer, retired, and the office was taken by Mr. John Caldwell. At the end of 1858 there were 161 children in the institution, and at the end of 1859 the number was 193, of whom 120 were Protestants, and 73 Roman Catholics. The average yearly cost for each child was £14. 

During the year 1860, there were added 59 boys and 30 girls, making the number, on the 31st December, 1860, 138 boys and 109 girls, in all 217, besides 3 girls and boys apprenticed to the society. During the year 18 were apprenticed out, and 18 were restored to parents or friends, on payment, in whole or in part, of the expenses incurred in the maintenance of the children. The officers and servants employed in the charge of these 250 children were — The master and matron, schoolmaster (Mr. M’Roberts), assistant teacher (female), three female attendants, one seamstress, two laundresses, cook, and baker. In and after the year 1858 a special report of the visiting physician was added to the general annual report. 

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In 1861 the erection of a new wing was commenced, which was designed to afford additional accommodation for 400 children. Year by year the circle of industrial pursuits has been enlarged. The late Mr. Justice Wise took especial interest in promoting this work, and gave prizes to girls for needlework and to boys for out-door labour. Samples of sea-island cotton were planted, and three thousand cuttings of white mulberry, the donation of Mr. T. S. Mort, wore set in the grounds, with a view of opening other paths of industry for the children in connection with cotton-growing and silkworms. 

At the annual meeting in January, 1862, the Hon. George Allen and the Venerable Archdeacon M’Encroe were appointed vice-presidents. At the end of the year 1862 it was resolved to add a third story to the new wing, and on the completion of that work to build the Catherine Hayes Hospital. During the following year Mr. W. Hanson succeeded Mr. Caldwell as treasurer. A legacy of a thousand pounds was received from the late Captain Pike, £100 from Miss Little, £83 from Mr. Richard Williams, and donations of £100 from Mr. W. C. Wentworth, and £50 from Mr. P. Mitchell. 

In April, 1863, the new wing was completed; and in July was opened by Sir John Young. At the end of this year there were 365 children in the asylum; 210 boys and 155 girls. The produce of the garden and field during this year was valued at £868 12s. 3d. The expense in wages, house, cow, seeds, &c., £594 12s. 3d., leaving a balance of £274 profit. At the end of 1864, the number of children was 427, besides 10 apprentices. The early part of this year was unusually fatal to children in the colony generally; and three boys and five girls died at the institution. 

The annual meeting held in January, 1865, was presided over by Sir John Young. Both his Excellency and Lady Young manifested special interest in the success of this institution. A shoemaker was added to the staff of the asylum, and many of the boys acquired this useful art. The garden produce was largely increased. At the end of 1865, there were 308 boys and 244 girls, besides 10 apprentices, showing an increase in the year of 125 children. In the annual report the directors recorded their respect for the memory of the late Dr. Douglass, one of the founders of the society, at whose house the preliminary meetings were hold, and who rendered valuable aid to the institution from year to year. 

At the end of 1866, there were 642 children and 12 apprentices. And as the work of the institution multiplied from year to year, increasing liberality was manifested. Miss Aitken gave an entertainment in aid of the institution, which realised £60 17s. 3d. Mr. Baptist gave year after year a Christmas dinner. Much aid was rendered by the gratuitous professional services of Mr. Bell, city engineer, and Mr. Thomas M’Arthur, late of the A.S.N. Company. The subscriptions and donations for the year amounted to £2495, besides which £300 was received from Mr. John Gilchrist, London, of the firm of Gilchrist, Watt, and Co., and £50 as a bequest from the late Mr. Felix Wilson. In parliamentary grants there was received £2000 for 1865, and over £5500 for building and maintenance for the year 1866. The total income received this year was £10,891 9s 4d. 

The year 1867 was the first in which the history of the institution was overshadowed with calamity. Early in March a severe epidemic hooping cough attacked many of the children; and while they were still weak from this visitation, measles, which had been raging with great fatality in Sydney and the suburbs, broke out among them. The weather was very unfavourable, causing serious complications of diseases. In March and April no less than 63 children died; and the number of deaths in the whole year was 77. This sad result was in marked contrast to the remarkable freedom from serious diseases enjoyed in all previous years. The Catherine Hayes Fund by this time amounted to over £1200. And the calamitous visitation of disease urged the speedy carrying out of a cherished intention to build an hospital with that and other funds. The sum of £2000 was placed on the estimates for this purpose, and willingly voted by Parliament. Notwithstanding the deaths that occurred, the number of children at the end o 1867 was 667, and there were 15 apprentices in the institution. 

Of the 1563 children who passed through the institution between 1852 and 1867, there were 167 boys and 110 girls apprenticed in different parts of the colony. And the demand for apprentices was in excess of the supply. By this time the girls, under the superintendence of the seamstress, made all the clothes used in the establishment. The boys were employed in the kitchen, the bakehouse, the farm, the garden, and the shoemaker’s shop. During the year 30 half-tons of vegetables were raised. By the sale of boots made by the boys, £61 13s 10d was realised for the funds of the institution. And after the great flood of June, the directors were able to send several packages of boots, as a gift from the children to those of their own age, who had been deprived of them all by that disastrous visitation. This year, the tank formed to hold more than £250,000 gallons, under the direction of Mr. Bell, City Engineer, was completed, and was found very serviceable, containing a month’s supply of water at the end of a long drought. Mr. Hanson resigned the office of treasurer, and Mr. G. F. Wise was appointed to that position.

At the end of 1868 there were in the institution 684 children and 17 apprentices, making 701. During the year the boys made 800 pairs of boots, soled and heeled 1500 pairs, and repaired 800. Not only were the requirements of the institution in this respectfully met, but £100 worth of boots were sold. The girls made some 700 dozen shirts, peticoats, &c. There was produced on the farm and garden 50 or 60 tons of green food, 600 lbs. of veal and pork, 30,000 quarts of milk, and 25 tons vegetables. Considerable progress was made in the building of the hospital. And great liberality was shown by several donors. Mrs. Mary Roberts gave a thousand pounds; Captain Goddard, of the La Hogue, £56; Mr. Joseph Jones and others, of Goulburn, fourteen cows and six calves; and the Auxiliary Bible Society 100 Bibles and 50 Testaments. The Venerable Archdeacon M’Encroe, one of the Vice-presidents, having died during the year, it was resolved to erect a marble tablet to his memory within the walls of the Asylum. On the 13th February, 1868, H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Asylum, and in reply to an address presented by the President, thus spoke of this institution: “Of the many institutions which do honour to the benevolence of this colony, none can have a more worthy object than your society, whose asylum I had the pleasure of visiting to-day; nor can I imagine one where the results are likely to be of more permanent benefit to the State or more gratifying to its supporters. When I remember that the children who are under your care have been removed at an early age from the hardening influences of extreme poverty, or from the contamination of bad example — that they receive here a careful and practical education, fitting them to become useful and honourable subjects — I cannot but hope that a good and happy future is before them, and that the most satisfactory results will attend the benevolence of those who founded and of those who support this society.”

Source: Asylum for Destitute Children, Randwick (1870, January 29). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), p. 17.

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