The Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children began in 1858, when the Asylum for Destitute Children relocated from Ormond House in Paddington to Randwick. It was run by the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children and housed up to 800 children at a time in large dormitories that are often called 'barracks'. Most of the children were aged between three and 10. After 1888 the New South Wales Government withdrew funding for the Asylum, but it continued to house children until it was resumed for use a military hospital and closed in 1915.
After the Asylum for Destitute Children moved in 1858 a substantial sandstone building that accommodated 400 children was constructed on the new site. Once completed, the Asylum held up to 800 children in large dormitories. By the 1870s it was condemned by reformers for keeping children in 'barracks'.
The children in the Asylum were normally between the ages of three and ten years and not eligible for admission to the government-funded Orphan Schools. Every child admitted (including voluntary admissions) was to remain the responsibility of the Institution until aged 19 or, in the case of a female marrying earlier, until her marriage. However, parents could and did reclaim their children. Like the Protestant and Roman Catholic Orphanages, Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children received funding from the New South Wales Government to provide care for children.
Life for children at Randwick was often described as monotonous and reliant on routine and drudgery. The site included a farm where the boys learnt farming skills. Many of the boys and girls became apprenticed to the Institution when they reached 12. The children received a basic education and from 1877 were given a state education from teachers from the Council of Education.
With such large numbers massed together, epidemic diseases were inevitable. The worst was in 1867, when an outbreak of whooping cough killed 77 children. The Catherine Hayes Hospital was built on the site as a result. In all, 217 children died in the care of the Asylum, which is a small but significant proportion of the many thousands of children who passed through its doors.
The size and scale of the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children provoked the ire of reformers who condemned the dehumanisation of 'barrack-life'. They wanted destitute and neglected children to experience something that approached family life so advocated boarding out, or fostering. The 1873 Royal Commission into Public Charities, led by Justice William Windeyer, attacked Randwick. In 1880 the New South Wales Government allowed the Boarding Out Society, a group of ladies led by the President of the Benevolent Society, Dr Arthur Renwick, trialled boarding out and, effectively, established the State Children's Relief Board.
In 1881 the State Children Relief Act created the State Children's Relief Board and authorised it to remove any child under the age of 12 from any government-funded Asylum and place it in a boarding-out home. Children were removed from the home for boarding out from 1883. This policy resulted in the closure of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Orphanages and numbers dropped at Randwick. The Government ceased funding the home after 1888.
The Society for the Relief of Destitute Children was determined to keep the Asylum open, arguing they provided a valuable service. The difference between the Asylum and the boarding out system was that families could use the Asylum for temporary care, and, so long as they paid maintenance, retain influence over their children and keep their visiting rights. The State Children's Relief Board made children wards of the state and considered boarding out to be a permanent arrangement. It generally prevented boarded out children from seeing their families.
Nevertheless, Asylum numbers continued to decline. The Asylum was taken over by the Commonwealth Government during World War I as a military hospital for wounded and disabled returned servicemen. In April 1915 the children remaining at the Asylum were sent to cottage-style institutions or boarded out. Since the 1960s the Prince of Wales Hospital has occupied the site.
Over the time of the Asylum's operation 217 children died at the site and many were buried in the grounds. In the mid-1990s, while the Prince of Wales Hospital was expanding, an archaeological investigation was conducted and retrieved the remains of 174 children who died and were buried on site. Seventy bodies were excavated and 35 of the children were identified by name. A memorial garden and commemorative signage is located at the Barker Street entrance to the Prince of Wales Hospital.
There is an online index to the inmates of Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children.
1852 - 1858 Asylum for Destitute Children
1858 - 1915 Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Child Care and Protection Guide', in State Records Authority of New South Wales website, State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW 2016, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/child-care-and-protection-guide; Horsburgh, Michael, 'The Randwick Asylum: Organizational Resistance to Social Change', Australian Social Work, vol. 30, no. 1, 1977, pp. 15-24; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp, http://unsworks.unsw.edu.au/fapi/datastream/unsworks:1369/SOURCE01?view=true; Ramsland, John, Children of the back lanes: destitute and neglected children in colonial New South Wales, University of New South Wales Press, Kensington, 1986, 249 pp; 'Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children', in State Records Authority of New South Wales website, State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW 2016, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/randwick-asylum-destitute-children.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 24 May 2011, Last modified: 2 December 2014