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Institutional care through Victoria's cultural collections

The 2016 Museums Australia (Victoria) Conference held at Phillip Island in October, was the inspiration for this story. A drive around the Island on arrival unearthed a surprise in Newhaven - the former Boys Home standing silent and abandoned, looming over the ocean.

Care homes were once an essential part of Victorian life. The gold rush and population increase in Victoria created a need for charitable organisations to provide care to those who could not care for themselves, most notably children. Providers of care have also included societies for people with special needs including the 'Deaf and Dumb', and the asylums and hospitals of Victoria. This continued until the late 20th century when reform was prompted by revelations of abuse in the institutional system. The care model has since shifted towards kinship and foster services.

Victoria’s former institutions of care are an important part of our history. Whilst many of the buildings—often architecturally brilliant— no longer exist, they are remembered through the photographs and artefacts held by collecting organisations across the state and catalogued here on Victorian Collections.

Photograph – St Paul's Training School

Phillip Island and District Historical Society Inc.

St Paul’s Training School – or St Paul’s Boys Home – was opened in 1928 by Lord Somers. The home was established by the Mission of St James and St John and housed ‘delinquent boys’ aged between 9 and 16. The school aimed to make ‘useful citizens’ of the boys and taught them carpentry, sign writing, accountancy, engineering and farming. Discipline was maintained using a promotion-to-privilege system. From 1979 the site became St Paul’s Discovery Centre, a holiday camp for disadvantaged children, closing around 2004. Overlooking the ocean at Newhaven, Phillip Island, the buildings now stand eerily deserted.

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Photograph – St. Agnes’ Girls Home dining room

St Matthews/Wiseman House Archive

Located in Wilford Street, Glenroy, the house was originally called Sawbridgeworth and later became St Agnes’ Girls Home. During World War I the home was used by the Red Cross as an Infectious diseases hospital. It was set up as a girls home by the Mission of St James and St John in 1923. It provided care to girls aged 5 to 14 born to unmarried mothers who could not be cared for by their families. The home educated the girls and prepared them for work. The home closed in 1963 when the girls were transferred to the Mission’s new cottages in Blackburn South. The home was renamed Wiseman House after its original owner Arthur Wiseman and is now owned and used by the Anglican Church.

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Document – Duties of Cottage Parents

Sovereign Hill and Gold Museum

Originally called the Ballarat District Orphan Asylum, established in 1865 and later the Ballarat Orphanage from 1909, the home cared for boys and girls aged between 4 and 16. In 1968, the name changed again to Ballarat Children’s Home. The children were initially housed in a large, two-storey Gothic style building and separated by age and gender. In 1961 the children were transferred to a cottage system of accommodation. The children lived in villages under the care of house ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’. The duties of cottage parents looking after boys can be seen in this document.

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Photograph – St Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band

Federation University Australia Historical Collection (Geoffrey Blainey Research Centre)

St Joseph’s Home was opened by the Sisters of Nazareth and cared for boys aged between 6 and 16 and some girls under 6. Situated in Grant Street, Sebastopol, the site was formerly the mansion of the Leckie family and was originally called Blythewood Grange. The property was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1911 and care commenced in 1913. In addition to technical training in carpentry, tailoring, bread-bakery and farm work the boys also participated in a brass band; all in an effort to form ‘industrious, intelligent, law-abiding members of the community’. The institution closed in 1980. The property is now a resort and conference centre.

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Photograph – Benevolent Asylum Ballarat

Federation University Australia Historical Collection (Geoffrey Blainey Research Centre)

The Ballarat Benevolent Asylum opened in 1859, in a building in Ascot Street. Until institutions specifically for children were established in Ballarat, many children were housed there. The Ballarat Benevolent Asylum closed its doors to children in 1869, the original building was demolished in 1941, however care continued in new premises until the mid 1950s. Benevolent asylums provided care to sick, needy, deserted and destitute men, women and children. Whilst many benevolent asylums were reported to have poor conditions and few prospects for a better future, the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum was said to have a ‘kind hearted matron.'

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Photograph – Staff, Kew Asylum

Kew Historical Society Inc

Construction of the Kew Lunatic Asylum commenced in 1864 and was completed in 1872. The building of the Asylum was fraught with the alleged incompetence of contractors and builders. Many works were not carried out as planned or were not up to standard. Though grand in its physical building and initial plans to provide care for Victoria’s ‘lunatics’, it was soon subject to criticism for its overcrowding, poor sanitation and spread of disease and a Royal Commission into its care was undertaken. The asylum, which had undergone several name changes during its 116 years of operation closed as ‘Willsmere’ in 1988. The heritage listed complex was developed into apartments by the Victorian Government.

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Gate Key

Sacred Heart College

Sacred Heart College is a Roman Catholic Secondary School for girls, and is located in Retreat Road, Newtown, Geelong. In March 1860 Mother Mary Xavier Maguire and three Sisters of Mercy moved into ‘Sunville’ on the site of the present College and on 18 April began advertising for day pupils and boarders. The curriculum included a business course, a domestic course and preparation for music examinations. In 1861 an orphanage followed. In 1863 construction of the main blue stone building began. The orphanage was moved to Highton in 1928. This key opened the Convent gates which were originally located on Skene Street.

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Newsletter – The Victorian Deaf, May-June, 1930


The Victorian Deaf Society was established in 1884. In 1885 the group was called The Adult Deaf and Dumb Mission of Victoria. In 1903 the Mission built their first home and church in Flinders Street, Melbourne. In 1908 the Mission become incorporated and the name changed again to The Adult Deaf and Dumb Society. In 1924, the Society dropped the word “dumb” from its title. In 1984, the Adult Deaf Society became the Victorian Deaf Society, and later Vicdeaf. In 1929 the Deaf Mission built one of Victoria’s first non-denominational churches on the grounds of Jolimont Square, pictured on the front of this newsletter. Jolimont Square housed many buildings and services for the Deaf community over a period of 79 years.

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Photograph – Adult Deaf and Dumb Home

Whitehorse Historical Society Inc.

In 1906, the Adult Deaf and Dumb Mission of Victoria began raising funds to purchase land and establish a farm. Together with a £2,000 grant from the government, they purchased 75 acres of land surrounding Blackburn Lake. The property was known as Lake Park and in 1909 The Home for Aged and Infirm and Training Farm for Feeble-Minded Deaf Mutes was opened. In 1972, the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society opened a nursing home and hostel for Deaf people at Lake Park. Unable to upgrade the home to meet new aged care standards, the Victorian Deaf Society sold the property in 2002.

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Button – Heart of Gold: Homeopathic Hospital Appeal

Kew Historical Society Inc

The Melbourne Homeopathic Hospital was established as a dispensary in Spring Street, Melbourne in 1869. In 1876 it was enlarged and transformed into a hospital in St Kilda Road. In 1934 the name of the hospital changed to Prince Henry Hospital, and was more commonly known as ‘Prince Henry’s’. Homeopathy is an alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann. At its core is the idea that substances that cause symptoms of disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. From 1908 Homeopathy was criticized and viewed as a pseudoscience particularly by the Victorian Branch of the British Medical Association. By the late 1930s the hospital was no longer practicing homeopathy.

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Kitchenware – Sugar Bowl

Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital

The 115th Heidelberg Military Hospital opened on 13 March 1941. The Hospital was initially operated by the Army, with the 6th Royal Australian Air Force Hospital sharing the site between 1942 and 1947. It had a capacity of 2,000 beds and was the biggest in Australia. On 19 May 1947, the hospital was handed over from the army and became known as Repatriation General Hospital Heidelberg. In 1951 a patient wrote to The Argus complaining of the repetitive nature of the meals, stating it was particularly hard for those patients who had been there for three years and had never had a varied diet. Following complaints, diets and meals began to improve. Today the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital provides care to veterans and war widows.

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