St Joseph's Orphanage, run by the Sisters of Charity, opened in central Hobart in 1879. It was for Catholic girls. In 1958, the Sisters renamed it Aikenhead House. It began accepting young boys in 1963. The Listen to the Children inquiry received 17 claims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against St Joseph's Orphanage. St Joseph's closed in 1970.
In 1877, the Sisters of Charity bought land and an office building opposite St Joseph's Presbytery. They planned to convert it into an orphanage but instead followed the advice of the architect Henry Hunter to demolish all but a small section and put up a new building. He drew up the plans and the builders, Seabrook and Reynolds, won the tender to build it. A wing at the Macquarie Street side of the building was not built because of lack of funds, the project having cost more than originally planned. Bishop Murphy opened the building on 23 March 1879. It had accommodation for 60 girls.
Eighteen of the first 29 girls to enter St Joseph's Orphanage came from the Queen's Orphan Asylum in New Town.
In 1883, the Reverend Father Dunne left enough money in his will to build the additional wing. Once again, Henry Hunter designed it and Seabrook and Reynolds built it. The new wing had a pedestal on the upper level which held a metal statue, made in Lyon, of St Joseph with the infant Jesus in his arms. St Joseph's Orphanage was written across the front of the new wing in a script designed by the architect and designer, Augustus Pugin.
St Joseph's Orphanage was a certified children's Home under the Youthful Offenders, Destitute and Neglected Children's Act 1896.
In 1949, St Joseph's Orphanage applied to take 10 Catholic girl migrants, aged six to 12, from Britain. The application and associated correspondence provides considerable information about the Orphanage.
At the time there were 56 children although St Joseph's had a capacity for 70. Thirty-six of the girls were wards of state. The rest were said to have been 'neglected'.
The girls slept in dormitories described by immigration officials as 'large well ventilated rooms' with five to 14 beds in them. They were 'bright' and 'spotlessly clean'.
The girls were educated at St Joseph's by registered teachers. There were two classrooms, one for grades one to three and the other for grades four to seven. There was room for 30 girls in each. Older girls with extra ability might undertake further education at the Catholic St Joseph's College.
Girls had only limited contact with life outside the Orphanage. They participated in activities with other schools such as the Annual Music Festival of Combined Schools, religious celebrations, and sports events. They were sent on shopping errands and to hospital for treatment. They could 'entertain' other children at the Orphanage. They were not allowed holidays or visits in the homes of ordinary families. Instead they took their annual holidays together at the beach. According to the Mother Superior, 'experience has taught us that it is not advisable to allow children to spend holidays in other homes. It has been proved that the evils far outweigh any good that can come from this practice'.
Girls left the Orphanage when they reached 16 years of age. The Sisters at St Joseph's and the Catholic Welfare Organisation found them a position with accommodation. They received support from the Orphanage and the Catholic Welfare Organisation. St Joseph's kept a reception room and a bedroom for girls who had left to stay in if they wished to have their holidays in Hobart.
In May 1951, the British government refused St Joseph's application to take child migrants. The government's concern was that the Mother Superior would not allow the girls to visit and spend holidays with Australian children in their own homes. Officials believed this was an important aspect of assimilation.
In 1954, the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity made a tentative inquiry about re-opening St Joseph's application for migrant children. Nothing came of the inquiry because by then the Catholic authorities were having difficulties finding girls to send to Australia.
In 1958, new accommodation was completed. From 1963, the Home began to house boys as well as girls, after the completion of a new wing for 14 boys aged 2 to 9 years.
In 1963, St Joseph's bought a house for seven children in New Town, which became known as Villa Maria Family Group Home. It opened in 1964, enabling some brothers and sisters to live together with foster parents. Later the Sisters bought Loreto Family Group Home in Taroona. They planned to gradually replace institutional accommodation with family group homes. To this end they sold the Harrington Street property to the Commonwealth government in 1969 and bought a four acre site and house in Taroona where they established the St Joseph's Child Care Centre. In early 1970, the 70 children living at Aikenhead House moved to the Centre. At the time that St Joseph's Orphanage closed, a senior nun told a child welfare officer how relieved she was to get the children into new surroundings. The Commonwealth government demolished the old Orphanage and replaced it with an office block. For many years, the statue of St Joseph stood outside Mary' Grange Nursing Home in the Channel Highway, Taroona. It is now inside the grounds of the Home.
One thousand girls went through the Harrington Street site during the 91 years it existed. In the Report of the Stolen Generations Assessor, Aikenhead House was identified as a children's home where members of the Stolen Generations were placed.
1879 - 1970 St Joseph's Orphanage
1970 - 1978 St Joseph's Child Care Centre
1978 - 1999 St Joseph's Crisis Accommodation Centre
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Orphans as migrants', Examiner, 20 July 1949, p. 4. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52687299; 'Charity Sisters have completed first century of child care for Church in Tasmania', The Leader, 8 July 1979, p. 5; 'A Piece of the Story': National Directory of Records of Catholic Organisations Caring for Children Separated from Families, Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission & Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, 1999, https://cssa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/A-Piece-of-the-Story.pdf. p.96.; Report of the Stolen Generations Assessor, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Tasmania, 2008, http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/53770/Stolen_Generations_Assessor_final_report.pdf; Ombudsman Tasmania, Listen to the children: Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children, Office of the Ombudsman, Tasmania, Hobart, November 2004; Ombudsman Tasmania, Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children - Final Report - Phase 2, June 2006. Also available at https://stors.tas.gov.au/au-7-0057-00034; Ward, Malcolm A, Built by Seabrook: Hobart buildings constructed by the Seabrook family from the 1830s, Hobart, 2006, 109 pp; Information provided by the Sisters of Charity Archives Manager, correspondence recorded in the Find & Connect files at the University of Melbourne.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 12 January 2011, Last modified: 2 August 2022