Mittagong Farm Home for Boys was officially established in 1906. It was located on the same site as Mittagong Cottage Homes, established in 1885 by the State Children's Relief Board, to house 'delicate and invalid' state wards. The histories of the Farm Home and the Mittagong Cottage Homes are closely intertwined, with buildings on the site being used for different purposes and to house different types of children over time. In annual reports, the government departments that ran the Farm Home and the Cottages provided reports of each institution under separate headings.
On 5 June 1906 in accordance with the provisions of the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act, 1905 the Farm Home for Boys at Mittagong was proclaimed an Industrial School and a Probationary Training Home for delinquent boys aged 8 to 17. These were boys convicted in the Children's Courts of less serious offences including 81 boys admitted in the first six months of the institution's operation.
Hassel Cottage was opened as a 'Probationary Training Home' in 1906, and the ten years that followed saw the building of more cottages, which were originally known by numbers, and later given names: Haydon, Goodlet, Renwick, Mackellar and De Lauret Cottages. A superintendent's cottage was constructed in 1910 and remained in use until 1966, when it was extended to allow accommodation for boys.
The President of the State Children's Relief Board wrote about the Farm Home in his annual report for 1908:
'It is not of crime and the criminal that I think when I see these juvenile delinquents, but of buoyant, healthy nature running wild and needing training - seedlings in the garden of humanity which must not be destroyed, but, rather, carefully nurtured and judiciously trained for the good that is in them. And so we place them on the soil.'
In 1908, the Industrial School comprised 2 cottages, No 4 and No 8. These 2 cottages were close together, but 'at considerable distance from the other cottages', which were for invalid and sick children. The SCRB President wrote that the numbers at the Farm Home had grown considerably: in 1907 it had 35 boys, and in 1908, there were 99 boys. It had been necessary to establish another cottage 'to provide more accommodation, and at the same time properly safeguard the religion of the boys committed'.
When Gosford Farm Home opened in 1912 Mittagong Farm Home was reserved for younger boys. By 1914, the Farm Home comprised 5 cottages, No's 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10. In November of that year, the President of the State Children's Relief Board wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald, to defend the Farm Home against criticisms made in the same paper by the Catholic Archbishop Dr Kelly of Mittagong's 'prison conditions'. Mackellar's letter gives an overview of the approach of the State Children's Relief Board to the discipline, care and religious instruction of the children at the home:
'The discipline of the institution was referred to by the Archbishop as being in effect little different to that of a prison. Now, if there is one attribute making for successful reformation which the department has ever striven after in its treatment of children in these [state] institutions it is that the whole system shall be as unlike the old method in its attempts at reformation as it is possible to have it. Barrack like buildings have been superseded by cottages, bright with their own gardens and replete with every comfort suggesting "home." The officials approach the home idea altogether, in that a man and wife ("mother" and "father") are in charge of each cottage. No uniforms are worn by officials or children, no bolts bars, or locks are visible or allowed, and the children are given the greatest amount of liberty compatible with proper order and discipline. They go to the public school from their respective homes to their various avocations at the farm, workshops, etc … Where, then, is the semblance even of prison discipline? (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1914)'
However, a 1918 report by GM Allard of the Royal Commission to inquire into the Public Service of New South Wales Concerning the Administration of the Acts Relating to State Children was less glowing in its description of Mittagong Farm Home. At Mittagong, Allard found 'considerable looseness' and was extremely critical of what he described as 'shocking' arrangements for the classification of children. There had been 'indiscriminate grouping' of juvenile offenders with state wards and other children on the Mittagong site. He also found that boys had been returned to detention without due process of law, and that trade training provided was unsatisfactory (Quinn, p.134).
In 1918, there were 6 cottages, the boys were separated according to age and to religion. That year, the annual report of the Board described the Farm Home at Mittagong.
'In the Farm Home are committed by the Children's Courts the neglected and wayward boys guilty of truanting, petty stealing and similar offences- boys without homes, or with homes unworthy of the name, or boys who, through the indifference or the incompetence of parents, have become uncontrollable.
Six homes, primarily classified on the basis of religion, and secondly on the basis of age (to separate the elder from the younger boys). Four homes are for Protestant and two for Roman Catholic boys, and the officers in charge are of the same religion as the inmates, to ensure the due observance of religious practices. Realising the importance of religious training in the reformation of the boys, every facility is afforded for religious instruction by the ministers of religion, the Anglican rector and the Salvation Army ministering to the Protestant boys, and the parish priest and the members of the community of Marist Brothers to the Roman Catholic.
Formerly, the policy of dealing with the delinquent children of the State was to keep the children in an institution for a term of years, but enlightened opinion now argues a shorter period, and the boys are generally kept at Mittagong for only a term of months, usually four.'
In addition to working in the farm, the dairy and the orchard, the boys also received training in bootmaking, tailoring and carpentry.
The annual report for the years 1921-1925 stated that Mittagong Farm Home was for boys up to the age of 13. It stated that when boys were discharged from the institution, they were on probation which lasted until they turned 18.
In 1934, there was a major commission of inquiry into the Child Welfare Department that found widespread abuses at government-run institutions, including shelters, reformatories, hostels for mothers and babies and children's homes and depots. At hearings of the commission, the Superintendent of the Mittagong Farm Home admitted that corporal punishment had been in force at the institution. Superintendent Mitchell stated that previously, the use of corporal punishment had gone unrecorded. He also said that 'he had never known a boy to resist corporal punishment, which did not exceed six cuts on the buttocks' (Daily Examiner, 2 May 1934).
The report from the commission of inquiry contained several recommendations relating to the Mittagong Farm Home, including:
'That the practice of closely cropping the hair of inmates be discontinued
That the practice of placing 'second timers' of a tender age on the wood heap with a cross-cut saw over a period of months, on Saturday afternoons, be discontinued
That, in view of the climatic conditions, inexpensive slippers or sandals, be provided for use of inmates (at present they are barefooted after 5pm).'
According to the Department's annual report for 1932 to 1935, all of these recommendations were adopted.
In his thesis, Peter Quinn describes incidents at Mittagong that came to the attention of the New South Wales government, including a report of 2 boys being brought together to fight, watched by the Superintendent (p.203) and an allegation by Mittagong's Acting Superintendent of 'mob rule, mutiny or rebellion' led by a group of a dozen inmates (p.223). Quinn writes that the absconding rate from Mittagong was high, at 32 per month, out of the 190 boys who lived at the institution.
From 1938 until 1946, the Farm Home included the Turner Cottage Special School for Truants. This school was under the administration of the Superintendent of the Farm Home. When Anglewood opened, boys were transferred there from the Truant School, and the school building and cottage became part of Mittagong Cottages.
There was a school on site for boys from the Farm Home, known as the Lower Mittagong School (it was later renamed Toombong).
The Child Welfare Department's annual report for 1937 to 1939 stated that the cottages at Mittagong, 'almost without exception … are obsolete by present standards. Draft plans for extensive repairs, admissions and remodelling are under consideration'. It also said that parents were permitted to visit their boys at the Farm Home 'by arrangement'.
By 1941, 10 cottages were in use for boys from the Farm Home. In 1943, a new 'cottage', No 12, opened. It was later renamed Challoner. This building was of a more institutional style, it was a two-storey structure containing 3 dormitories upstairs, and downstairs were a dining room, common room and locker room. Challoner was built to replace Cottage no 8, which was in poor condition.
The Renwick Association, a group formed to protect the heritage of the former institutions at Mittagong after the site was sold by the State Government, campaigned for Challoner to be heritage-protected. Part of Challoner's significance, the Renwick Association argued in a letter to members of parliament in 2013, was that 'all bricks and timber came from the Mittagong Farm Home for Boy. Each brick was made by the residents of the Farm Home and Timber was from the Farm Home own Timber Mill. Resident boys helped lay bricks and put up timber frames for this cottage and others as a way of learning a trade'.
In 1946, the Farm Home comprised 10 cottages, a nursing home and an. administrative building
In 1947 the institution became known as Mittagong Training School for Boys.
09 July 2020
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00066
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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