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Suffer Little Children

At the first General Meeting of the Friends of the Orphan Schools on 5 June 2008 guest speaker Joyce Purtscher gave a fascinating and entertaining presentation, Suffer Little Children, on the life children lived at the Queen's Orphan Schools, New Town in the 19th century.
Joyce has done considerable research about the orphan schools at New Town and has published many books including 'Children in Queen's Orphanage Hobart Town 1828-1863'. Joyce's presentation is reproduced below:

The original buildings of the King's Orphanage, later to be known as the Queen's Orphanage, unlike those at Port Arthur and the Cascades, are still in use for welfare services. We have, I believe, a most important heritage site with the potential for great history teaching and tourism. However, I don't intend to describe the buildings, as they are now well documented, but relate the routine of daily life of the children and conditions under which they had to live.

The orphanage was run by the Convict Department and in reality was a children's prison. The only offence committed was to have been born into convict families, destitute families or to have been unlucky enough to lose a parent. Like the convict stain, there appeared to be a stigma and denial that grew out of being in the orphanage. There is the example of Margarethe Weber, whose 89th birthday was marked by an article in the Mercury. Amongst other details it stated Mrs Thomas, whose maiden name was Weber, lost her mother during the voyage, and because of this, the family was broken up on arrival in Hobart. The children were divided among different families. Mrs Thomas was brought up by Mrs Kalbfell, who was a passenger on the America. One of her brothers was cared for by Bishop Nixon. In actual fact, although they were free immigrants from Germany, Margarethe, Christiana and Auguste were in the orphanage until they were discharged to their father.

John Woodcock Graves, remembered for composing the song 'D'ye Ken John Peel' had four children in the orphanage. Abigail was there for seven years, Isabella for nearly four, John junior and Joseph for four years. John junior, became a lawyer and Joseph an owner of saw mills. Both the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography' and Wikipedia's articles on the father, fail to mention the orphanage connection. Quote from Wikipedia  'His fortunes varied but he was able to give his children a good education'.

I'm reminded of Dame Mary Gilmore's poem 'Old Botany Bay'. The last verse contains the lines 'Shame on the mouth that would deny the knotted hands that set us high!'

There are several cases that I know of where children who were at the orphanage married one another. Was it just because they knew one another, or did they feel it they were part of a lower class of society?

Routine in the orphanage wouldn't have changed much over the fifty years.

Children rose at 5 a.m. in summer and 6 in winter and went to their dormitories at 7 or 8 o'clock at night. Mornings and evening began with religious instruction and prayers with extra religious instruction on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The rest of the day was divided into very basic classroom instruction, cleaning duties, trades and free time in the playground. Boys had instruction in farming, baking bread, carpentry, masonry, shoe making and mending their own clothes and hammocks, whilst the girls learned sewing, knitting and tending the infant orphans.

None of the children were expected to do well in academic subjects and according to the Inspector of Schools' report of 1849; the children were well below the standard of children outside the orphanage.(1) The teachers were mainly untrained and had to live with the children and supervise them twenty-four hours a day. The master of the Boys' School, was Mr Dickenson. Prior to being appointed to the orphanage, was a clerk in the Audit Office for nine years and was totally untrained as a teacher. According to the report of 1849, Mr Dickenson was nearly 60 years of age, had been at the orphanage for nine years. His wife was appointed matron and they had a family of seven children who lived at the orphanage.

Mr Quin, aged 30, was the untrained teacher of the Catholic boys. He too, had been a clerk. His sister, Miss Quin, had been a teacher in the school in which she was educated in Ireland.

Miss Raven, the mistress of the Girls' School, had previously been a mistress of a girls' school of about seventy children in Hobart Town. How sad for the teachers not to have some leisure time away from the orphanage!

Until 1844, children were taught as Protestants. Father Therry was refused entry to give the last rites to a dying Catholic boy.(10) Father Therry also gave shelter to a Catholic boy, by the name of Kelly, who was on his way to the orphanage from Launceston on the same coach. Therry said he would hand over the boy if a guarantee was made to let the boy keep his Catholic faith. As a result, the boy stayed with Therry and the Law Officers found they could not compel him to hand the boy over.(11) From 1844 on, the Catholic children had their own dormitories and religious instruction.

A 15 year-old girl, Mary Ann Lazarus was from a Jewish family, but was baptised into the Christian faith by a minister with missionary zeal. The Hebrew Congregation had the matter referred to the Secretary of State and the matter overturned.(12) Later, Mary Ann Lazarus married one of Hobart's wealthiest shop-keepers, Leo Susman.

The health of children was also deemed poorer than the children on the outside. They were smaller in stature and weighed less. According to Inspector Bradbury's report, boys were required to wash their upper bodies during the week in the flag-stoned wash-houses, and if the weather permitted they were taken to the Derwent River on Saturdays to wash the lower section. I guess they would have gone down the hill to Cornelian Bay.

Because of over crowding and lack of hygiene, infectious diseases were rife and caused many deaths. There were about 350 deaths during the fifty years. The years 1841-1844 were very bad. Most of the deaths happened to the very young children. Not all causes of deaths were given, but those that were given were measles, diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, scarlet fever, teething, marasmus and consumption.

There were deaths attributed to beatings by the staff. There was the case of the death of John Burgess in 1831. Several children gave evidence that Robert Giblin had punched, kicked and belted several of them as well as the ill-fated John.(2) No inquest was held. Giblin was asked to retire rather than be sacked. He had also been accused of making boys collect firewood and then selling it for his own purposes in Hobart.

There was also the case of the death in 1842 of Edward Morris.(2) Esther Fynn, per Waverley had been the whistleblower who reported that Mrs Drummond, the Head Nurse at the hospital, had taken Edward out of bed and hit him several times before he fell between two beds because he had dirtied the bed. Mrs Drummond said "you can lie there till you cool and when you are cleaned I'll wean my hand on your backside". Edward Morris died the next day. Esther Fynn was brought before the court by Rev. Ewing and charged with making false statements against Mrs Drummond. Glowing references were given on behalf of Mrs Drummond and Esther Fynn received 12 months hard labour. Esther's three sons, James, John and Thomas were later in the orphanage.

The Rev. Ewing was the centre of a scandal in 1841. He was suggested to have sexually molested Ellen Wilson in the parsonage garden. Another inmate, Sarah Lawson said that Ewing had previously given Ellen Wilson a 'sleeping cake'. Lawson had been punished for telling lies. Ewing was a married man with family as well as a holding an office of religion, but was admonished and continued to act as a guardian.(4) Not everyone thought Ewing was a bad man.

In 1863 a letter from a former inmate, Thomas Newton, was sent to Rev. Ewing at the Parsonage. Part of it reads 'Dear Sir, I write these few lines to you hoping to find another New Year opened upon you with Perfect good health as I am pretty well at Present that God for all blessings to us. First I have to thank you for your kindness, which you have expressed towards one, a poor Orphan School Boy. I hope that you will accept my most heartfelt thanks in the same manner in which they are given. I speak not in flattery dear Sir when I say that I hope every one of your boys will pay respect to you for the kindness and trouble which you have taken with us all for many years in the School.'

Thomas Newman and his siblings Elizabeth, Ellen and George were the children of Ann Newman, a convict per the Emma Eugenia and they were at the orphanage until they were apprenticed out. For Thomas that was 7 years (1844-1851).(5)

Twenty children who died before the St John's Cemetery was opened in 1834 were buried at Trinity Burial Ground.(7) This included eight aboriginal children. No records of Catholic burials have survived, but in 1852 a triangular shaped plot was made available to the east of the Church of England Cemetery. It is presumed that the 102 children who were listed as Catholic on the admission register who died after 1852, were buried in this Catholic site. The ones who died prior to 1852 may have been buried at the Catholic cemetery in Patrick St, Hobart, but burial records from St Joseph's either weren't made, or haven't survived.

There are some anomalies concerning deaths. Charles Clarke was discharged to his mother on 28 September 1852, according to the orphanage register(13), but was on the Registrar General's Index as dying on 28 September 1852.

Joseph Masters was also discharged to his father on 11 April 1843(13), but officially registered as dying on 10 April 1843.

There is the puzzle about the death of little aborigine, Walkenny. The orphanage register, states she was discharged to Flinders Island on 18 June 1835.(13) The Trinity Burial Records show she died of the measles and was buried on the 23 June 1835.

Many children were punished for bed-wetting. Boys slept in hammocks and if the bedding was wet, it was rolled up in the morning causing a terrible stench in the dormitory. In the Church of England dormitory, the boys were required to wake up at 10 p.m. and go to the lavatory, but this didn't resolve the problem. Chilblains were a common sight as was cutaneous disease of the head.(1) Girls slept two or three to a bed, which added to the spread of infection.

Food consisted of bread and milk and tea for breakfast and evening meal, and meat and vegetables for midday meal. Any child caught stealing food from others, was stood in a prominent position in the dining room and his/her food distributed amongst the others. Staff members, Mr and Mrs Chorley, were dismissed for stealing the children's food and either selling it, or providing their private boarders with it. (3)

Women on the convict hulk Anson at Prince of Wales Bay made most clothing, but the girls had to make their own pinafores, tippets and stockings. Girls wore checked dresses that were changed once a fortnight and were given two pinafores a week.

Boys wore no socks with their ill-fitting shoes. If the shoes were too small, holes were cut in the toes. Their weekday suits were of coarse material and Sunday suits were softer moleskin. They wore leather caps.

Women under sentence at the Cascades Female Factory mostly did the laundry. Punishment was, for both sexes, solitary confinement, and caning, and for the girls, the most dreaded punishment of all, the cutting of hair. The only holiday celebrated was the Queen's birthday.

In December1845 Charles O'Hara Booth, Superintendent of the Orphan School, requested indulgences of extra currants per child on Good Friday to make hot cross buns and on Christmas Day extra currants and raisins for plum puddings, but the government denied the request.(16)

An old man, an ex-convict but not an ex-orphan, by the name of John Fox, left 500 pounds in his will in 1858 for the children of the orphanage to have what became known as Fox's Feast. In February every year a picnic was arranged and the children were treated to sweets, fruit, ginger beer and buns. They went to the Domain, the Cascades near Degraves' Brewery, Brighton, T. Y. Lowes estate at Glenorchy and New Norfolk. The last year of the orphanage 1879, eighty-eight children went by steamer to the New Norfolk Asylum where the inmates entertained them. The orphanage band played as they marched from the steamer Monarch to the asylum where the Union Jack was hoisted and they sang God Save the Queen.(6)

The Mercury 10 November 1876 states that the children were given roast beef, plum pudding, cakes, lollies, and played games and had fireworks to celebrate the Prince Wales' birthday.

The history of the Tasmanian aborigines at the orphanage is a sad one and seemingly Tasmania's first Stolen Generation. It must have been so traumatic for those children, not only be parted from their families, but also from their culture. Of the twenty-two admitted, eight died there.

Lady Franklin adopted Mathinna and she lived at Government House until Lady Franklin returned to England. Mathinna was returned to the orphanage. After leaving the orphanage, she succumbed to alcohol and was found drowned in a mud puddle at Oyster Cove. However, Mathinna had her portrait painted by the famous artist Thomas Bock. As far as I'm aware, she is the only orphan to be painted or photographed as a child. She is the only orphan to have a place named after her. Her plight has touched many people including authors. In the coming spring, Richard Flanagan's book based on Mathinna will be published.

William, or Billy Lanne as he became known, was another aboriginal child at the orphanage. After leaving the institution, he joined a whaling ship, but died in Hobart of cholera. Dr Crowther mutilated his body, in the name of science. Lanne was reputed to be the last male full-blood Tasmanian aborigine.

Fanny, later to be known as Fanny Cochrane-Smith, was at the orphanage for a short time before being sent to Flinders Island. She lived to be respected in the Huon area, with 400 people at her funeral. She has many descendants today. In 1889, Fanny was granted 300 acres at Nichols's Rivulet by the government. There was some conjecture as to whether Fanny was a full blood or half-caste aborigine.

She made recordings of traditional songs, and was able to relate the culture to her descendants.

Several families had two or three generations at the orphanage and then in old age were back in the same buildings then known as the New Town Charitable Institute.

The story of the Brady Family is an interesting one.(8) Owen Brady and his wife Alice (nee Fitzsimmons) were arrested in Ireland for stealing and transported to Van Diemen's Land. They had four children. The eldest child, Terence, travelled on the male convict ship Navarino with his father and the other three children with their mother on the East London. Alice, the mother, died on the voyage and the youngest child, John Brady aged 2 died shortly after the arrival at Dynnyrne House Nursery. The other children, Terence 8, James 4 and Ann 6, were sent to the orphanage.

Ann Brady was discharged to her father Owen when she was about 12. She married Joseph Brownsmith and they had six children, some of them dying in childhood. Times turned bad for them and both Ann and Joseph Brownsmith were in trouble with the police in the Oatlands district. Three of their children Richard, Joseph and Ann were placed in the orphanage.

Ann Brady then had two children Augusta and Blanche to William Batt and in turn the girls were also placed in the orphanage. They were returned to their mother, who had then married William Tame.

In about 1882 the family moved to New South Wales where Ann died a very respectable woman, being a capable midwife in the Wagga area. There are many descendants from such tragic beginnings in Australia.

As with many others, it took a shift to the mainland where their past did not have to be disclosed, for them to lead a life free from the stain.

The famous, or infamous Ikey Solomon and his wife Ann had four of their children in the orphanage before the New Town buildings were finished.(3) One of these children, Mark, fell on hard times when, as a family man, his wife died and he suffered with rheumatism as a cab driver. He applied for four of his children to go to the orphanage, but was refused, because there was a woman caring for the children whilst he worked.

By the time children were 14 and not returned to their parents, they were apprenticed out until they were 18. Their masters were supposed to feed and clothe them in return for training. Many of these children were badly abused by their masters.

The Mercury, 15 September 1856, reported the court case of Mrs Cowle, of Melville St, who had been charged with beating William Lackey, an orphanage apprentice, over the head with a stick and clog. Mrs Cowle's son told the court that Lackey had fallen onto something and made his head bleed. The case was dismissed and William was discharged from her duty.

There was an enquiry in 1872 into the treatment of Edith Gregory by her master Mr Ramsden, a civil servant.(9)

Edith had to be hospitalised as a result of the terrible injuries, and the enquiry was postponed until she was well enough to attend. Governor and Lady Du Cane visited her in hospital after attending the orphanage prize-giving ceremony. She and her sister Sarah and brother George had been admitted to the orphanage after their mother, ex-convict Bridget O'Brien, had been admitted to the New Norfolk Asylum, where she remained an inmate for sixty years without ever seeing her children again. There were witnesses to back up Edith's statement describing the frequent beatings with horsewhips and willow sticks as well as the punching in the face which left her with black eyes and scars. These punishments were for forgetting a message, and refusing to clean her master's boots. After one such beating, Edith had met Father Dunne in Macquarie St and had shown him the marks on her arms, neck and back. On another occasion, Miss Ramsden, her master's sister, had rubbed a hot iron down her arm, which blistered and took a fortnight to heal. She had, for eighteen months, to wear the clothes that she had left the orphanage with. The only clothes she had been given, was a pair of worn out boots belonging to her master. The amazing outcome of this enquiry was that Mr Ramsden was exonerated from the charge of cruelly beating the girl, but the Board of Enquiry expressed disapproval of his conduct.

Another enquiry(9) was that into the treatment of Charles McDonnell/McDonald when he absconded from his master Mr Kearney, butcher, of Campbell Town. According to Charles, he was hit with a fat, large stick when he couldn't use a scythe. On walking back to the orphanage, he showed Dr Coverdale the marks. The magistrate obviously didn't believe the lad and sentenced him to a week's imprisonment and then had him returned to his master's service. There seemed to be a culture of authority must be right at all costs.

The Police Gazette(15) published his description as 14 years old, 4'6" high, dark complexion, dark hair, brown moleskin trousers, blue jumper and light cap. Two years later he absconded again from the Kearneys. His description by police was short for age, dark hair, face freckled, large mouth, rather repulsive looking. Supposed to have a large sum of stolen money in notes and cheques in his possession. He may have been in the company of a man named Davis, about 37 years old, 5'7" high, dark complexion, clean shaven, lost left eye, who may have the stolen money. The lad calls him uncle. He obviously made his escape well this time as the Police Gazette in 1876 stated Information respecting Charles McDonald, an apprentice from the Queen's Asylum, who absconded from service of Mrs Kearney, at Campbell Town, 13 November 1873. This enquiry is made at the request of his brother Henry, a seaman on board the Waterwitch, whaler of Hobart Town.

On 30 June 1871, the Mercury reported that William Elliot had been prosecuted for beating the apprentice John Hefford with a cart rope.

An inquest into the death of Claravance Barker, found that she drowned herself near the Slaughter Yards near the Queen's Domain in 1871. The Mercury, 11 October 1871, wrote a stinging attack on the orphanage for not having any checks on apprentices' treatment. It appears that Claravance drowned herself rather than be subjected to another beating from her mistress, Mrs McCarthy and Caroline Carter, known as Mrs McCarthy's amateur flagellator. The coroner expressed his 'regret that the Asylum did not possess some agency for maintaining a necessary supervision over the inmates apprenticed out ... The duties could be most fitly discharged by the Inspector of police, and without cost. Travelling over the Colony, as he always is, no apprentice would be beyond his cognisance, and his interest in them might secure them kindly treatment where they would otherwise have little human kindness shown them'.

There are examples of boys being apprenticed to the Royal Navy and others sent to the mainland where no checks could ever be made.

The Police Gazette reported 219 apprentices absconding from their masters during the years 1861-1882. The descriptions used the words 'idiotic appearance, parents are well known as tramps in the country districts, simple appearance, slovenly walk', etc. The best-dressed escapee seemed to be the apprentice of Joseph Bidencope, Charles Gurnin, whose description showed he was wearing a double-breasted dark tweed coat, grey trousers and black stiff felt hat.

After the convict system came to an end, it seemed that people used apprentices as free labour.

We may well say Suffer Little Children.

References -

'British Parliamentary Papers', Vol 8, Relative to convict discipline & Transportation

TAHO AC 480/1/1

SWD 24

CSO 8/2/420

NS 656/47

Tasmanian Mail, February 1879

NS 349/29

Arulappu, Colleen

CSO 7/48/936

CSO 8/12/1

CSO 22/65/1492

CSO 11/28/546

SWD 28

NS 249/29

POL 709/1 & 2

MM 62/14/4501




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