Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies
Tresillian is an organisation that provides support to families caring for children under the age of five years. Tresillian's proper name is the Royal Society for Mothers and Babies, which was formed in 1918 to save the lives of infants by promoting health and education. Tresillian Homes were affiliated with most of the hospitals and agencies that arranged adoptions in New South Wales in the 1950s and 1960s and cared for babies awaiting adoption. Young pregnant women who were unmarried worked in Tresillian Homes as paid domestics.
The Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies was incorporated by an Act of the New South Wales Parliament in 1919 and its first president was Mr S.R. Innes Noad. In 1921 Queen Mary became the patron of the Society, until her death in March 1953. On 4 August 1954 Queen Elizabeth II, who had just visited Australia, became the patron of the organisation.
In 1921 the Royal Society for Mothers and Babies opened its first 'Infant Welfare Training School' in 'Tresillian', a fine house in Shaw Street Petersham. The first Tresillian was run by Dr Margaret Harper, the Society's first Medical Director. From that point the Society, and its nurses, adopted the name Tresillian.
Tresillian aimed to help mothers and babies through teaching mothers about better feeding, nursing and hygiene. It trained nurses in 'mothercraft' and provided rest homes for mothers, as well as conducting important campaigns for a pure milk supply to prevent gastroenteritis.
In the 1960s the main home, Tresillian Petersham, housed 10 mothers with breastfed babies at any given time, along with eight artificially fed babies and, by the 1960s, five premature babies. Over the course of the year it cared for more than 130 mothers and 220 babies.
By the 1960s Tresillian became formally affiliated with a number of organisations involved in infant welfare and adoptions. These included the Infant's Home, Ashfield; the Benevolent Society of New South Wales; The Women's Hospital (Crown Street); the Salvation Army and the Sydney Rescue Work Society.
A number of women whose babies were adopted in the 1960s and 1970s because they were unmarried remember that social workers from Crown Street Women's Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Women sent them to live at Tresillian Homes while they awaited the birth of their babies. A former Tresillian staff member told the Find & Connect team in September 2012 that this was a common occurrence. Such women were not patients, but staff of Tresillian and worked as domestic help. They received some pay and had afternoons off. Social workers preferred to send women who were on their own to Tresillian or Karitane to work, because employment in a private home or commercial laundry was so much harder and riskier for them.
In July 1967, according to the organisation's Annual Report, Tresillian also agreed to care for babies awaiting adoption, at the request of the Hospitals Commission. In that year 224 babies awaiting adoption were admitted to the various Tresillian Homes.
The Petersham site was closed in 1997 and moved to a new site in the grounds of Canterbury Hospital. As well as the Willoughby and Wollstonecraft sites, Tresillian also operates at Penrith.
Medical records for Tresillian centres at Willoughby, Wollstonecraft, Canterbury and Penrith are kept for approximately 30 years. Medical records from Petersham are kept in secondary storage and date from the 1980s to 1997. No records of Tresillian Vaucluse survive.
Sources used to compile this entry: Annual Report [Tresillian Mothercraft Homes], The Society: Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, Sydney, 1920-. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn1655465; About Tresillian: The Tresillian Story, Tresillian Family Care Centres, 2000-2012, https://www.tresillian.org.au/about-us; Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, Tresillian mothercraft homes: fifty year jubilee, 1920-1970, O'Connor, Graham, Petersham, 1970, 14 pp; Wellfare, Dian, Breaches of Adoption Regulations, Laws and Crimes: Inhumane Hospital Practices, Origins Inc, 1995, http://lilyfair1.tripod.com/law/id16.html; Wellfare, Dian, NSW Parliamentary Inquiry Into Adoption Practices Personal Submission, Origins Inc, 1995, http://www.originsnsw.com/nswinquiry2/id14.html; Interview with Miss Elaine Carr, former staff member from Tresillian Vaucluse and Matron at Tresillian Petersham, 27 September 2012 and correspondence with Tresillian Family Care Centre Staff, 27 September 2012.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 14 September 2012, Last modified: 28 January 2015