Orphan Schools

Charles Bruce's sketch of the Orphan Schools, 1831 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Orphan Schools (King's Orphan Schools, Queen's Orphan Schools, Queen's Orphan Asylum) were established in 1828. Boys were placed in a less-than-salubrious converted distillery on New Town Rivulet, girls in a private house in Davey Street. These temporary establishments were superseded by the Orphan School building, designed by John Lee Archer (1833), which still stands at the top of St John's Avenue, New Town.

Children admitted were entirely destitute, had one parent living, or had parents who could not afford their education. Most came from convict backgrounds, with parents more likely to be in gaol, unemployed or perceived by the authorities as leading immoral lives. This was the case for the entire period of the institutions' existence, albeit transpose convict to ex-convict then working class. Some Aboriginal children were institutionalised as well. Most children admitted were over three years old and they could be apprenticed into the community at thirteen. The Orphan Schools were an integral component of the convict system, with the same mechanisms – regimentation, discipline, punishment and control. Religion and education would transform and socialise children into 'respectable' industrious adults. If nothing else, the Orphan Schools would remove from public view children who, for one reason or another, were defined as destitute.

The institution's administration continued in turmoil, due to poor management, numerous scandals and the internal machinations of its staff. Other factors such as sectarianism were never far from the surface. From the late 1860s the number of children declined owing to a less restricted system of outdoor relief, and the introduction of the boarding-out system and industrial schools. The Orphan Schools closed in 1879, with the remaining children sent to other institutions such as the Kennerley Boys' Home and the Catholic orphanage, St Joseph's. (See also Children's Homes.)

Further reading: J Brown, “Poverty is not a crime”, Hobart, 1972.

Kim Pearce