• Organisation

The Foundling Hospital and Infants' Home


The Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home was the new name given in 1906 to the former Victorian Infant Asylum and Foundling Hospital. It accommodated babies and children up to the age of six. It also functioned as a maternity home, foundling hospital, adoption agency and trained Mothercraft Nurses. In 1964 it became known as the Berry Street Babies’ Home and Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home was the new name given in 1906 to the East Melbourne institution formerly known as the Victorian Infant Asylum and Foundling Hospital. It was also known as ‘Berry Street’. It was located on the corner of Berry and Vale Streets, East Melbourne.

From 1914, it was run by a body incorporated under the Hospitals and Charities Act 1890, called the Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home Incorporated.

In 1907, the institution began providing training for nurses. Berry Street would remain a significant training centre for mothercraft nurses until 1975 (although trainees were not known as ‘Mothercraft Nurses’ until the 1930s). Nurses were apparently known as ‘The Berry Street girls’ and were ‘familiar and popular figures around the streets of East Melbourne’, according to Penwill. The Past Nurses’ Association was formed in 1931, and held regular reunions and other social activities.

Children at Berry Street were sometimes accommodated in different premises, giving them ‘a change of air’. In 1911, the Hospital used rooms in a house in Bentleigh to house children, and in 1912, a house in Balwyn accommodated ten to twelve children (and carers) at a time. Children were sent to these alternative lodgings in rotation.

Berry Street had long been advocating for a country home, ‘handy to Melbourne’, to house its children. Such a home would enable the buildings in East Melbourne to function as a ‘receiving home’, and provide a more salubrious environment for children.

In 1913, the Committee purchased a property at Beaconsfield to provide such a country home. The Beaconsfield Babies’ Home was opened on 6 May 1915.

Since the Victorian Infant Asylum was founded in 1877, it had been the practice for children to be taken care of at the institution until they were old enough to earn their own living.

This practice changed however, around the 1920s period, and it became a babies’ home, caring for children only until they reached the age of three or four.

In 1927, the institution purchased a mansion named ‘Minerva’. It was situated on a neighbouring property in Vale Street. The building was renamed ‘Tandarra’ and became Berry Street’s Infant Welfare Training School. Mothers attended Tandarra with their babies for advice and treatment on feeding and caring for their children, or to rest after difficult births. Tandarra was officially opened on 1 November 1929, by Lady Somers, wife of the Governor of Victoria.

Mothers who were admitted to the Home were required to sign an agreement that they would remain at Berry Street for six months after the birth, so that they could breastfeed the infant. Penwill remarks on how this arrangement must have made relinquishing a baby for adoption even more heartbreaking for mothers, even if the natural feeding had real benefits for the child.

During the Second World War, Berry Street was taken over for use by the military. In 1942, staff, children and mothers were moved to Beaconsfield Babies’ Home.

When the army vacated in 1945, it enabled some renovation work to be done at Berry Street. The new institution was officially opened on 13 December 1945.

In 1949, a new Toddlers’ Wing was opened, for children of 18 months to 3 years of age. (This was renamed the Appleton Wing in 1969, after a long-serving Committee member.)

In August 1956, the Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home was declared an approved children’s home under the Children’s Welfare Act 1954.

Staff and former residents of the Home fondly remember the twice-weekly visits by the Lolly Men. In the early 1950s, Douglas Robertson and his colleagues started bringing bags of sweets for the children every time their garbage truck came past Berry Street. When Mr Robertson retired, the Past Nurses’ Association presented the Lolly Man with a pewter tankard acknowledging 26 years of support.

It had long been the practice at Berry Street to ‘board out’ children where suitable placements could be arranged. Usually, children were not boarded out until they had reached at least 12 months of age. The doctors who served as ‘honorary medical officers’ at Berry Street favoured boarding out, and a ‘natural home life’ for the children.

In 1953, for the first time in its history, no children were boarded out. From this point in time, adoption was a far more common practice than boarding out or fostering.

In 1956, the Home was approved as a registered Children’s Home under the new Victorian child welfare legislation.

In 1964, the word ‘foundling’ was finally dropped from its name, and it became known as the Berry Street Babies’ Home and Hospital.

Berry Street Victoria is the custodian of records from the Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home.

The Berry Street Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home was mentioned in the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices Report (2012) as an institution that was involved in forced adoption.

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  • Alternative Names

    Berry Street Foundling Hospital


  • 1906 - 1964

    The Foundling Hospital and Infants' Home was located in Berry Street, East Melbourne, Victoria (Building Demolished)


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