The Perth Girls Orphanage opened on 1 June 1868 with seven girls and one boy and plans to increase the number of children 'as the funds allow'. The orphanage was located in two cottages near the Causeway. At a meeting in Fremantle in November 1868, it was reported that children came from the Perth Workhouse - which was desirable not only because those children were greatly in need but also because the Government gave an allowance for taking those children. In 1882 the Girls' Orphanage moved to larger premises in Adelaide Terrace which were further enlarged in 1902 and 1904. The Perth Girls' Orphanage continued in Perth until 1942, when children and staff were evacuated to the Boys' Orphanage at Middle Swan during World War II. They never returned to the Perth site.
By November 1868, there were 11 orphans living at the orphanage, which had room for up to 20 children in total. The Rules of the orphanage allowed for admission of children from 2-9 years of age and 'honourable dismissal' at age 12-14, into service. Although called an 'orphanage' it seems that the founders intended from the outset to take destitute children who were not orphans, from any locality and any creed. The founders also acknowledged the need to admit boys, but there was a preference to take girls because of 'the greater gain there will be to society by the protection and education of girls' as Archdeacon Brown was reported to say. However, at least one boy was admitted in 1868 and by 1869 a new building for boys was erected on the same property, along with a school room.
The Perth Girls' Orphanage was able to be relatively selective in the girls it admitted. In 1881, a case was reported about:
'a girl of seven years old, convicted lately of larceny, the child of abandoned parents, and brought up in misery and vice, for whome the Colonial Secretary had sought refuge in the Protestant Orphanage. A local Act gives the Governor in Council power to send such children to the Orphanages, which it was proposed in such cases to use for the purposes of reformatories, but a condition for the admission of these children was that the directors of the orphanages be 'willing' to receive them…the Manager of the Protestant Orphanage very properly declined to receive the child, fearing, not without good cause, that one practically acquainted with impurity and vice, might have an evil influence upon the rest. The West Australian 21 October 1881, p.3'
In evidence to the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the State Children Act Amendment Bill in October 1918, the Anglican Archdeacon of Perth said that there was 'no separate institution for little children' and that although they had two children 'under three and four years' they didn't want to take children that young. The younger children generally had separate dormitories and school work but had to 'live in the same place' with older children.
The removal of the Girls' Orphanage to 'the Swan' nearer to the Boys' Orphanage had been suggested by Bishop Hale as early as February 1888. Recolation was supported by the Colonial Surgeon, Dr Waylen who 'had often said' that yearly cases 'of low fever and diptheriac throat' were caused by the low, damp and inadequately drained site on Adelaide Terrace.
In 1892 a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly of the Western Australian Parliament agreed to a proposal by the Anglican Church that the lands that had been donated to the Church for use as an orphanage could be sold to 'obtain a more healthy site and to erect more convenient buildings'.
In 1908, the older girls were required to attend East Perth State School. Later, the senior girls went to the James Street Central School. From about 1917, pre-school age boys were no longer admitted to the Swan Boys' Orphanage. Instead, they were admitted to Perth Girls' Orphanage so that they could have kindergarten classes. The boys were transferred to Swan Boys' Orphanage when they reached school age.
A letter of appreciation of the The Daily News Orphans' Christmas Cheer Fund in 1915 gives an insight into life at the Perth Girls' Orphanage. The letter shows that donations enabled the children to occasionally have extras that were not part of their daily experience:
'…presents were given to each child, sweets and cakes were provided, and afterwards the children were taken for two picnics to the Zoo. Letter, 23 August 1916 published in The Daily News 2 December 1916, p.10'
Government reports (Signposts 2004, p.425) show that Perth Girls' Orphanage was a significant institution in Western Australia. In 1935, it was reported that 638 girls had been admitted to the Home in the period since 1904. There were 67 children, aged from 18 months to 16 years, resident at the Home in September 1935. In 1937, there were 80 children in the Home: including 18 'private cases' and 62 children who were wards of the State. There were 5 boys and 18 children under six years of age. In the five years leading up to the relocation of Perth Girls' Orphanage to Middle Swan, there were around 50 to 59 children at the Home each year who were wards of the State.
The other statistic that was regularly reported (Signposts pp.424-425) was the number of young people attached to the Perth Girls' Orphanage who were 'at service' or 'placed at service'. That is, working-age girls who were placed with employers (under a formal agreement) or who worked within the institution. Generally, around 10 to 20 girls of working age were recorded as being 'at service' each year between 1926 and 1942.
In 1942, the Perth Girls' Orphanage relocated to Middle Swan, on the same site as the Swan Boys' Orphanage, and became part of Swan Homes.
08 April 2022
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00176
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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