• Organisation

St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys


On 2 June 1874 the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys was opened by the Christian Brothers in South Melbourne. The Orphanage was created following the split of the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage into two, boys’ and girls’ orphanages. In 1967, the Orphanage became the St Vincent de Paul Boys’ Home. Since closing, the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys has been the subject of many submissions where former residents’ have outlined their experiences of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the Home.

In 1878, the Advocate reported that the average number of boys accommodated was 175, with 52 children admitted during the year, and 42 children leaving due to removals or apprenticeships. It was also reported that outdoor apprenticeships, commonly to farmers, continued to work well. It was also noted that some boys were refused entry due to a lack of space.

The Orphanage relied heavily on donations, and fundraising activities were common. These included demonstration days where the boys would show their boxing or wrestling skills to an audience. An Orphanage band was established, and often performed as a fundraising activity. A cadet corps were established, and the boys spent two hours a week on drills. Orphanage bands attached to the cadet corps were paid by the Defence Force when they attended public parades and exhibitions, and the band enjoyed significant success.

St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys also relied on people donating their time and services to support the organisation, including the creation of a Sewing Guild, whose members would visit boys who never received visitors. The Orphanage allowed visitors once a month on a Sunday. The Guild also hosted annual concerts and musical events to raise funds for the Orphanage. Occasional day trips were also arranged for the boys through the donation of services, for example a trip to Sorrento on a steamboat.

Over the years, the Orphanage received several updates. In 1905, the Advocate reported that the Orphanage “has been re-modelled, and greatly enlarged, having now ample accommodation for upwards of 200 boys.”

In the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, all but one of the 226 boys in the Orphanage were ill. Additional nurses, Sisters, and Brothers were brought in to help the sick, and after a month the Orphanage was declared influenza-free with no deaths having occurred.

In 1923, the Inspector of Charities found significant problems of overcrowding and dirty conditions, leading the Brothers to update the Orphanage. A new building containing a laundry, boot-making and tailoring rooms, and accommodation for lay staff was erected, a new recreation hall was added, and a playground and handball courts were established. The Orphanage was also painted, had new kitchen and dining room floors laid, and glass replaced. At the same time, broken glass was removed from the top of the orphanage walls.

Religious education was given priority with daily mass was compulsory until the 1950s, and the day began and ended with prayers. The boys were also given a brief education. Ideally, they were expected to receive their Merit Certificate at the end of grade eight. In the 1920s, the Christian Brothers began to train boys in trades and provide a technical education before apprenticing them in the city or suburbs. Following grade six in the Orphanage’s school, some boys were sent to the South Melbourne Technical School, and from 1925, to St Joseph’s College in South Melbourne, where they could undertake two years of training before being apprenticed.

At this time, Holding onto Hope reports “older boys were allowed to come and go on weekends” and local football clubs offered free entry to boys from the Orphanage.

During the Depression, the Orphanage income increasingly came from the government rather than charitable donations. The Orphanage began to accept state wards and received a small income for each. Other changes during the 1930s included a move back to apprenticing boys to farmers. They also advertised for Christmas holiday hosts for the boys.

In the late 1930s, the Orphanage opened a holiday camp at Shoreham. It was requisitioned for use by the Australian military during World War Two, but then returned to the Orphanage after. The camp was used by boys who did not have family or friends to visit during the summer.

During the War, the Orphanage hall was turned into an air-raid shelter and was bricked up and sandbagged. Older boys were also involved in manufacturing mock hand-grenades for military training and supported the war effort through their band.

A gym instructor was employed in the late 1940s to train the boys in gymnastics, to support boxing and wrestling. These continued to be strong fundraising activities, especially the inter-orphanage challenge contest where boys from St Augustine’s would box and wrestle against those from St Vincent’s. Boys also competed in football, and other competitive sports. It has since been recognised, including in the Forgotten Australians final report, that boxing was sometimes used as a form of punishment and abuse.

In the 1950s a decline in numbers was seen, with the number of children there below 200 for the first time in decades. In an excerpt from Holding onto Hope one boy talks about charging his fellow boys to get treats from the kitchen and fridge, which he oversaw, and also in exchange for his tasks including polishing the floor, darning socks, kitchen duties.

Boys who wet the bed were commonly severely punished. This included having their beds checked each morning and receiving the strap and cold showers if they had, and being made to sleep on an enclosed verandah. Corporal punishment was common with other punishments including being made to stand in the yard on a metal square and being locked out of breakfast.

Jenkinson’s Guide to out of home care services includes quotes from inspection reports which state, “the home’s capacity…was 150 beds. The Home admitted Roman Catholic boys aged 9 to 16 years. In 1955 over half were Wards of the State… While impressive from the outside, the Orphanage was in need of modernising and there was no possibility of developing a cottage home facility on the site…The home had a small number of larger dormitories ranging from approximately 20 beds up to 40 beds. Furnishing consists of an iron bed, a chair for older boys and a dresser for each boy.”

In January 1956, St Vincent de Paul’s Boys’ Orphanage was declared an approved children’s home under the Children’s Welfare Act 1954. The number of state wards increased, with over 63% of boys in 1956 being state wards. This was also when the Orphanage started to slowly undertake small renovations and improvements to move towards more of a family group home style of care, in line with the thinking in child welfare of the time.

In 1967, the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys became the St Vincent de Paul Boys’ Home.

The St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Boys is the subject of many submissions to several inquiries. The submissions outline former residents’ experiences and detail physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Some also discuss the lack of education they received, leaving them unable to read and write. In 2017, the ABC reported that staff at the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage has been subject to 114 claims of child sexual abuse.

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  • Alternative Names

    St Vincent de Paul's Boys' Orphanage


  • 1874 - 1967

    St Vincent de Paul Orphanage was located in Cecil Street, South Melbourne, Victoria (Building Still standing)


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