Elim occupied a two storey Victorian weatherboard building in Lansdowne Crescent, West Hobart. Its original name was 'The Delight', possibly derived from its good view of the River Derwent. Later it became Elam and then Elim.
Elim opened as a rescue Home, that is, it accommodated young women and girls sent there because they did not conform to the sexual morality of the day. Since some of them were pregnant, it soon became a maternity hospital for single mothers. It had 18 beds. However, Elim also retained its original purpose. Parents, the police, courts, and the Mental Deficiency Board all placed young women and girls there for short or long term periods of time. Some of them remained at Elim for the rest of their lives. The Matron became the guardian of residents placed there by the Mental Deficiency Board.
In early November 1928, the Salvation Army Headquarters in Melbourne decided to close Elim so that they could open a Home for elderly women in the same building. It caused an outcry from women's groups in Hobart and the Salvation Army in Tasmania. The outcry appears to have worked. Shortly afterwards, the Matron received notification that the Elim would be retained as a rescue Home and maternity hospital.
In 1934, according to the Mercury, Elim accommodated 30 girls or young women and 12 babies. There were five members of staff, the Matron, the Sub-Matron, two Captains and a Sergeant. It was financed by revenue from the residents' laundry and fancy work as well as nursing fees for the babies taken out of their mothers' baby bonus. The Home also received a state grant of £80 year. According to Naomi Parry's PhD thesis, this funding arrangement, introduced in the late 1920s, meant that private institutions such as Elim 'became an arm of government services'.
Parry discussed the procedures by which many babies born at Elim were adopted: 'Salvation Army matrons were entitled to sign documents on behalf of the women in their care, including consent to the surrender or adoption of babies. In this way many babies were signed over to the Department'.
The Matrons were given this power under the 1920 Mental Deficiency Act, which specified that women using lying-in services were under the care of the Matron, who was acting in loco parentis. The women could be assessed and supervised by the Mental Deficiency Board. These procedures sometimes resulted in mothers in Homes such as Elim being 'moved on to indefinite - and sometimes permanent - institutionalisation at St John's Park, or the Mental Diseases Hospital in New Norfolk'.
Elim is mentioned in the Tasmanian government's 1999 Joint Select Committee on Adoption and Related Services 1950-1988, the Tasmanian Ombudsman's June 2006 Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children - Final Report - Phase 2, and the 2012 Senate report, Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices.
The report of the Joint Select Committee said that: 'A number of respondents, both through personal or written submissions were highly critical of their treatment at Elim, which they presented as bleak and fairly austere'. They heard testimony from women who had been at Elim as single mothers. Some spoke of the sense of shame and the secrecy surrounding the pregnancies of single women, and the sense of 'impropriety' about their situation which affected the way they were treated by staff. The report spoke of a 'conspiracy of silence' at Elim prior to 1971. 'The sense of isolation, from family, friends or significant others was enhanced by the discouragement of visitors and excursions outside the Hostel'.
The circumstances under which babies were adopted from Elim caused mental suffering to many of the mothers. The report of the Joint Select Committee's described some of the effects of losing a baby to adoption, including:
'personality damage associated with the isolation of the birth experience and loss of the baby where this is a secret and there is no significant other who is there to share the feelings and unresolved issues associated with the loss.'
After 1971, according to the Joint Select Committee, Elim changed, largely as a result of Matron Archer's appointment:
'The rigidity of thinking which had been manifested in the "cloistering" of its residents and the strict discipline imposed gave way to a warmer, more compassionate approach'. Under Archer, staff were told to treat the young women '"like one's own family". The women were given pre-natal classes, encouraged to discuss at length and openly their situations and most importantly, bring in as visitors, their boyfriends.'
The Ombudsman mentioned two claims of abuse related to Elim in the lead up to his final report of 2006.
In 2012, the Senate report, Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices cited incidences of forced adoption at Elim. In addition, according to one submission, women often worked in the laundry or as cleaners, including in the labour ward, without receiving any wages. The woman who made the submission had been afraid to tell the Joint Select Committee everything. She said: 'If only people knew what happened in there. These people are right: it was a terrible place. It was a house of horrors'.
Elim had opened a new custom built two-storey brick hostel and maternity wing with modern equipment in 1963. It was out of date almost at once. By the 1970s, the introduction of the Commonwealth Government's Supporting Mothers' Benefit and new attitudes to women's rights, meant that fewer pregnant women had to go to Elim. The number of births there declined with the last one taking place in 1973. Five years later, it became Elim Salvation Army Home and offered temporary accommodation to women and children.
In 2013, the Victorian house that accommodated the original Elim is a private residence. The brick hostel and maternity wing has been converted into apartments being marketed as 'The Lansdowne Residences'. The advertising describes them as 'luxurious'. The foundation stone laid by the Premier, WA Bethune, has been preserved in its original place, in what is now the back foyer.
13 February 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/tas/TE00080
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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