During the 1790s plans to establish an orphan asylum in Sydney gathered pace as the number of neglected and destitute children increased. The first Female Orphan School, championed by Governor Philip King and Reverend Samuel Marsden, opened in 1801. Initially boys were apprenticed out rather than being institutionalised until the first Male Orphan School was established in 1818 in George St, Sydney. The Male Orphan School then moved to Cabramatta in 1823.
In 1818 Governor Macquarie took steps to regulate who was accepted into orphan schools and what was taught to them in an attempt to provide for the morality and industry of the children. More efficient recordkeeping practices were also encouraged and it is from this period onwards that the first records regarding orphan schools date. Records that have survived include admission books, papers documenting apprenticeships, letter books, roll books and monthly returns.
During the 1850s in Sydney, there was a dramatic growth in child destitution, partly due to the rapid urban growth experienced in the city and poor living conditions. Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children was established in 1852 with a mix of government and private funding and, for a fee, took in those destitute children not accepted into either the Female or Male Orphan Schools. In 1867 the Vernon, and later the Sobraon, were established as nautical training ships for boys. Boys as young as three were initially accepted and given moral, nautical and industrial training as well as elementary schooling.
Mittagong Farm Home for Boys opened its doors in 1906 as a probationary training home for boys aged 8 to 17. The boys had been convicted in the Children's Court of less serious offences such as truancy, stealing or breaking and entering. Eighty-one boys were admitted in the first six months and were housed in cottage-style accommodation. The majority of the boys only stayed for short periods before being released to a relative, boarded-out or apprenticed out. The home closed its doors in 1976.
Content on this page was first published in the April 2005 edition of Now&Then (Issue 13).