Saturday, 12 January 2013

Queens Orphanage, New Town

The Queen's Orphan Asylum opened as the King's Orphan Asylum in 1831. It was the first purpose-built institution for orphaned, destitute and neglected children in the colony. Many of its residents were children born to convict women under sentence.
Before the Orphan School opened in 1833, boys were housed in a disused distillery in New Town, and some girls placed in a private home in Davey Street, Hobart.

The Orphan School, designed by John Lee Archer, was situated in St John's Avenue, New Town. The parish church of St John's stood between the buildings for boys and for girls. This arrangement was refered to as a 'parish partnership' between the Church and government with the church designed specifically for the needs of the Asylum, convicts and free settlers. The children sat in one gallery and the convicts in the other with the settlers in the main body. Barriers and separate entrances prevented the children from seeing the convicts. Church of England clergy dominated the committee that managed the Asylum.

From the beginning, it seems to have been a bleak place. In 1839 the Colonial Times reported:
"Everyone knows how pleasing an appearance the exterior of the building exhibits; we wish we could say as much of the interior; but we cannot do, as the majority of the apartments allotted to the use of the children are cold comfortless, and ill arranged upon a most mistaken system of parsimonious economy...the prevalence of stone pavement, throughout the lower apartments of the building is, in our humble opinion, highly detrimental to the health of the inmates, in one room we saw five little fellows blue and shivering with cold, there was it is true a fireplace in the room, but no fire...We have seen many assemblages of children in our time...but never did we see two hundred human beings, that exhibited so squalid an appearance, as did the majority of the Queen's Orphans."
In 1841, well-known convict architect James Blackburn designed the two sandstone watch houses at the entrance to St John's Avenue. Both had an entrance porch. Blackburn's original plan for No.1 had two main rooms, one for men and one for women, and three smaller rooms. No.2 had three main rooms for constables.

Blackburn's watch houses may not have been the first on the site. Charles Bruce's etching in 1831 depicts two watchhouses in a similar location but there is no evidence that they were built.

In its early years of operation, the majority of children at the Orphan School were born to convict women under sentence. A newspaper article from 1853 described the Orphan School as an institution for:
"The reception of orphan children, children deserted by their parents, or the offspring of objects of charity who are unable to provide for them; the above classes are paid for by the Colonial Government. The other class and principally as regards numerical strength, being about six-sevenths, are those of convict parents undergoing probation or sentence, or illegitimate children of convict parents unprovided for, these are maintained at the expense of the Government, and may be said on average to cost £16 2s 3d per annum for each child (including all expenses), which charge includes the keeping of the buildings in repair."
The Asylum also housed some Aboriginal children. It was believed at the time that although life there caused them 'distress and suffering', it also provided them with a knowledge of British culture and a level of education that assisted them in their struggle for integration into the growing white society.

From 1861, with the passage of the Queens Asylum Act, the institution became known as the Queen's Orphan Asylum, or the Queen's Orphanage.
The Infant Orphan School, constructed in 1862 became the Female Charitable Institution in 1874, operating as a lying-in hospital and home for "mentally defective" girls as well as providing accommodation for destitute women.

After the cessation of transportation, numbers dropped at the orphanage. The 'boarding out' system was introduced in Tasmania in the early 1870s. From 1864, children could also be placed in industrial schools, or girls at the St Joseph's Orphanage, which opened in 1879.

The Orphan School was closed in 1879. After this time, the buildings were operated for some years as the Male Division of the New Town Charitable Institution. Still standing from this period are the original orphanage buildings built in 1831,  St Johns Church built in 1835, the original parsonage built in 1837, the two gatehouses built in 1841 and the Infants Orphans School built in 1861. The whole site is now part of the larger St Johns Precinct which now includes aged care facilities, rehabilitation facilities and other institutional care facilities.

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