The Deaf and Dumb Institution, founded in 1860, was renamed the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind in 1868. It was a public institution for the education of deaf and blind children and had a residential facility for school-aged children. Initially based at Ormond House (Juniper Hall) in Paddington, the Institution moved to a new building in Darlington (Newtown), on the Princes Highway in 1872. At its peak the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind had 242 children enrolled in its school, many of whom were boarders. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II conferred the title 'Royal' on the Institution, at which point it became the Royal New South Wales Institution for Deaf and Blind Children.
The New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind was the most important institution for educating children with deafness and blindness in New South Wales. It was begun by Thomas Pattison, a deaf and dumb Scottish migrant who had been educated in Edinburgh. He began the Deaf and Dumb Institution in rented accommodation in various sites in Sydney. By 1869 the organisation was renamed and based at Ormond House (Juniper Hall) and was recognised as a public institution, in receipt of government funding. It had also been given land at Darlington, near Newtown, for a new purpose-built institution.
Deafness and blindness were common in the 19th century in Sydney, and were particularly associated with outbreaks of rubella (German measles), which affected unborn babies during their mother's pregnancy, although the link would not be understood until the 1940s. When children became or were born deaf, it was hard for them to learn to speak, rendering them 'dumb'. The New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind worked on the principle that deafness and blindness did not impair a child's intelligence, and used the best international methods to help children and adults function in the wider community, gain employment and live meaningful lives.
The Institution received wide support in Sydney, including from Sir Arthur Renwick, who was a leader of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and the Royal Women's Hospital. Renwick was a founder of state care for children in New South Wales, and the first president of the State Children's Relief Board.
The Institution worked closely with other government agencies. The State Children's Relief Board Annual Reports, researched by Naomi Parry (2007) record that state children with hearing and vision problems were sent to the Institution, and children who were living at the Institution but had nowhere to go during school holidays took vacations at the Mittagong Cottages. During the influenza pandemic of 1919 the Institution building was converted to a hospital and children were evacuated to Mittagong Cottage Homes.
The New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and the Blind was incorporated under an Act of Parliament in 1905. Rubella outbreaks in that year resulted in a surge in the school's population in 1909 and 1910. At this time Alice Betteridge, the first deaf-blind child to be educated in Australia, enrolled in the school. From 1911 the school began to teach deaf children to speak, and taught blind children Braille.
From 1942-1946, during World War II, the Institution building was requisitioned by the military, and children were sent home for lessons by correspondence, or to the Child Welfare Department. A building in Wahroonga was purchased at this time as a residential and day school. It was not compulsory for deaf and blind children to be educated until 1944. Wahroonga became an Education Department school from 1948 and in 1956 the Education Department assumed responsibility for education at Darlington.
In 1957 Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the prefix 'Royal' on the Institution, resulting in a name change.
1860 - 1869 Deaf and Dumb Institution
1869 - 1957 New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind
1957 - 1973 Royal Institution for Deaf and Blind Children
1973 - Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children
Sources used to compile this entry: 'The Deaf and Dumb Institution', The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 1863, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13093169; Report of the State Children's Relief Board, W.A. Gullick, Government Printer, Sydney, 1894-1920. Also available at https://www.opengov.nsw.gov.au/main; 'N.S.W. Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind', Australian Town and Country Journal, 7 January 1899, pp. 29-31, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/71322404; 'History', in Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, 2012, http://www.ridbc.org.au/history; 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.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 12 May 2014, Last modified: 3 July 2018