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New South Wales - Glossary Term

Reformatory (1860s - 1980s)

  • Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act 1901

    Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act 1901, courtesy of NSW legislation.

Alternative Names
  • Reform School (also known as)

A reformatory, or reform school, was an institution for 'criminal' children, later known as juvenile offenders. The Reformatory Schools Act, which created industrial schools and reformatories, was proclaimed in 1866 and came into effect in 1869. It enabled any child under the age of 16 convicted of a criminal offence of fourteen or more days imprisonment to be sent to a reformatory for one to five years.


The first reformatory in New South Wales was the vessel NSS Vernon, which was for boys. A second vessel, Sobraon, also served as an industrial school. Girls attended Newcastle Industrial School for Females from 1869 to 1871, before they were moved to a new Industrial School, Biloela, on Cockatoo Island. The Shaftesbury Reformatory, for girls, was located at Watson's Bay (1880-1904).

Reformatories were, in the first instance, an arm of the prison system but later moved to the province of child welfare administration. The Parramatta Industrial School became the main reformatory for girls, and Mt Penang was the main reformatory for boys. The Institution for Girls at Hay and the Institution for Boys at Tamworth were also reformatories.

Although reformatories were intended for criminal children and industrial schools were intended for poor children, in reality the terms were used interchangeably. Poor children who had been charged with neglect often ended up sharing the same quarters as children who had been charged with criminal offences, and felt stigmatised as a result.



Journal Articles

  • Quinn, P, 'The "Penal Reformatory" that never was: Proposals to establish Borstal training in New South Wales, 1900-1948', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 88, no. 2 December, 2002, pp. 115-136. Details
  • Williamson, Noeline, 'Life in the industrial and reformatory school for girls in New South Wales [Series of two parts]: Part 1: 1867 to 1887. 'Hymns, songs and blackguard verses'. Part 2: 1887 to 1910. Laundry maids or ladies?', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 67-68, March, 1982-1983, pp. 375-386, 312-324. Details


Online Resources


Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act 1901
Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act 1901
NSW legislation


Sources used to compile this entry: 'Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre', in State Records Authority of New South Wales website, State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW 2016,

Prepared by: Naomi Parry