St Vincent's Foundling Home was a home for children under the age of six and it has been reported that many children who were admitted were unwell. The early reports submitted to the government record the number of children who died each year. The 1917 annual report of what was then the State Children Department (p.10) shows that 10 children died from causes such as meningitis, bronchitis or pneumonia, whooping cough, and 'entiritis'. Later government reports Signposts 2004, pp.470-471) also document the number of infants who died in the Home. As conditions for infants improved generally, these deaths were not as numerous as in previous years but in some years (as in 1926) up to four children died.
It was likely that the early years of St Vincent's Founding Home were characterised by poverty, within the institution, not only among those children admitted. A letter of appreciation of the The Daily News Orphans' Christmas Cheer Fund in 1915 gives an insight into life at St Vincent's in the early days, showing that donations enabled the children to occasionally have extras that were not part of their daily experience:
'As you desired, the money has been used for the purchase of toys for the little ones at the Foundling Home, and we are deeply grateful for your kindness in remembering them. Letter, 11 January 1916 published in The Daily News 2 December 1916, p.10'
In evidence to the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the State Children Act Amendment Bill in October 1918, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth said that there were 76 infants in the Foundling Home, and described them in emotional terms as 'nearly all illegitimate', and often 'weaklings, everything possible having been done to destroy them before birth.' He said the children were generally sent to them by the Children's Court but that sometimes 'a mother comes along and tells a piteous tale, asking us to take her child, for which most often she promises to pay'. In those cases, the Archbishop said the church tried to pursue the father through the Children's Court to pay maintenance. He reported that these fathers usually paid 'a little at the start, and then they forget' but that some fathers were 'most faithful in the discharge of their obligation'.
In 1918, St Margaret's Hostel for 'unmarried mothers and their babies' was built as an extension of St Vincent's and in 1934 (Signposts p.471) a 'large and airy nursery and infirmary, together with an up-to-date kindergarten school' were added.
St Vincent's was a large Home. Government reports (Signposts pp.471-472) show that by 1921 there were 54 children in the Home and until 1948 there were around 50-60 children living there.
From 1947, St Vincent's admitted children who had been sent as unaccompanied child migrants from Britain and Malta.
A government report in 1952 (Signposts p.473) shows that St Vincent's was a starting point for children who could spend their childhoods in allied Children's Homes: When the children become of school age the girls are transferred to St Joseph's Orphanage and the boys to Castledare Junior Orphanage'. St Joseph's Girls' Orphanage, which is referred to in this quote, was alongside St Vincent's on the same plot of land. Castledare, was across the river in a southern suburb of Perth. Brothers and sisters who had been in St Vincent's were therefore separated by the time they reached school age.
Extensive renovations were reported in 1954 and in 1957 the annual report of the Child Welfare Department showed there were 152 children at St Vincent's at the end of the 1956-1957 year. Ninety two of these children were 'private admissions' (children who had been placed by family or others) and the private children far outweighed the number of children who were child migrants, wards or 'native wards' throughout the 1960s.
In 1971, St Vincent's Foundling Home became part of the Catherine McAuley Centre.
21 April 2016
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00196
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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