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The 'Sir Harry Smith'


The Sir Harry Smith, was a hulk (ship) anchored off Fishermans Bend, near Hobson’s Bay. From 1865, it housed mostly older boys sentenced under the Neglected and Criminal Children’s Act of 1864. By 1873, the Sir Harry Smith was no longer required as a Reformatory.

The Sir Harry Smith, anchored off Fishermans Bend in the River Yarra before it flowed into Hobson’s Bay, was one of the hulks used as temporary accommodation for boys who were homeless in Melbourne after the passing of the Neglected and Criminal Children’s Act in 1864.

The Sir Harry Smith was one of four ships used as industrial schools in Hobson’s Bay, Victoria: the Sir Harry Smith, the Nelson, the Deborah and the Success, eventually housed approximately 500 boys.

It accepted its first draft of 20 boys in May 1865, with numbers increasing to 125 by June 1872. By February 1866 it became the main accommodation for the older, ‘tougher’ boys, with the younger boys re-located to Geelong or Point Nepean.

This form of accommodation was criticised in hindsight as unsuitable for young boys. In his 1877 annual Report to Parliament, George Oliphant Duncan, the former Inspector of Industrial and Reform Schools, felt that the Sir Harry Smith was ‘both dangerous and opposed to the possibility of convenience for home treatment’.

In 1872 at the Royal Commission on Penal and Prison Discipline, Duncan, in answer to specific questions, provided the following information about the conditions on board Sir Harry Smith. One hundred and thirty boys, aged between ten and sixteen, who were convicted of an offence, were housed on it. They spent most of their time on the ship, including sleeping.

They slept in separate cells to avoid the boys becoming ‘too intimate’. A large number of the boys made sails, their own boots and clothing, and assisted the carpenter on board the ship. Punishment involved ‘no more than twelve stripes on the hand or breech, in the presence of an officer’. Before their sentence was served, some of the boys worked on shore, while the others merely served out their time on board the ship.

Some ‘difficult’ boys living on the Sir Harry Smith in its later years sometimes used the Success, anchored next to it, as a sleeping quarters.

On leaving the ship the boys were given a small sum of money, but no supervision. Duncan considered that the boys on the ship did ‘not get a steady aptitude for work to fit them for shore life’ and that supervision was ‘not so good between decks on a ship as it is on shore in a large room’.

Duncan had expressed the view that ‘a ship is not a fitting place for reformatory purposes if the boys be not expressly designed for a seafaring life.’ It was clear to him that ‘immoral practices of the worst kind spring up amongst them which can never be effectually suppressed’. He recommended the ship be abandoned as soon as ‘a fitting building for the boys can be provided’, as most boys were not going to become sailors.
With the introduction of the Boarding Out system in 1872 and the opening of the Jika Reformatory for Boys (1873-1979) in Coburg, by 1873, the Sir Harry Smith was no longer required as a Reformatory.

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  • 1865 - 1873

    The Sir Harry Smith was anchored off Fishermans Bend, near Hobson's Bay, Victoria (Building Demolished)

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