The Newcastle Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls 1867-1871


In early 2009 a chance discovery located an ancestor in the Newcastle Industrial School, Newcastle, NSW, in 1869.1 Even though I am a Newcastle resident I had never heard of this 'school' and initially thought that an admission might be a good thing. After contacting the Central Library in Newcastle and NSW State Records it was discovered that there was little understanding of the school as records for the Newcastle institution were 'lost'. This response provoked a plan to attempt to create a list of the girls who were admitted to the school and by the end of 2010, just over one hundred girls had been uncovered. At this point further investigation of the SRNSW website indicated that the records were available but had not been identified as related in any way to Newcastle.2 These registers and ledgers were photographed and the discovery was subsequently made that the admissions contained gaps. The index for the register became available in August 2012. Names appearing in the register and in the associated Biloela Discharge Register (from 1876) may be located by searching the 'Child Care and Protection' Index but the index contains no reference to the girls whose names appear in the lost pages between October 1869 and November 1876 unless they were discharged after 1876.3 Copies are available for purchase from SRNSW4 and are also now available for viewing on Ancestry. These basic records and their errors and limitations are analysed in the Sources section of this site. The details in this material led to the modification of creating a basic list, and it was decided instead to look at the background of these fascinating girls in this fascinating time and the more I looked the more astounded I became … and from there the project grew 'like Topsy.'

The Industrial School (foreground) and Reformatory (rear)
Photograph Jane Ison, 2012


Little is known of the Newcastle institution and the girls who were admitted yet, at the time, the inmates and their behaviour were infamous and stories of their exploits frequently featured in local and national newspapers. This research has identified the admissions to Newcastle missing from the Entrance Book and most of those admissions missing from Biloela. The lives of the girls admitted to Newcastle and the lives of the staff who managed the Newcastle site have been investigated. This site contributes further knowledge concerning Newcastle's role in the history of Child Welfare in NSW and to the understandings of the plight of children at this period in Australia's past.

In August 1866 the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children, more commonly known as the Industrial Schools Act, was passed by the Government of NSW under the guidance of Henry PARKES.5 Children under the age of sixteen could be removed from their family and placed into the care of the government. While courts had the power to order parents to contribute to the upkeep of their children in the schools, this rarely occurred. Some parents agreed to pay for their child's upkeep, but in almost every case, children were arrested under the Act6 from areas across NSW and were maintained at Government expense. Boys and girls could be arrested if they had committed a crime or had been sentenced to more than fourteen days imprisonment, were under the care of thieves or prostitutes, or were found 'wandering the streets in no ostensible, lawful occupation.'7 The industrial school for the boys arrested throughout NSW, the sail training ship, the Vernon, began to operate in Sydney Harbour in May 1867.8 The government had more difficulty finding a location for the destitute girls. Work began in late May 1867,9 to convert the Military Barracks located in the Newcastle Government Domain, off Watt Street, Newcastle, into appropriate accommodation.

The school was overseen by a superintendent and matron but with the resignation of the first superintendent, G. W. JACKSON,10 who was appointed in early August 1867, before any admissions were made, the matron, Agnes KING, was appointed as a matron-superintendent. The Newcastle Industrial School for Girls admitted its first twelve inmates on 31 August 1867, and within a month had admitted thirty girls.11 In November 1868, after thirteen months as Matron-superintendent, KING dismissed the only male warder who refused to accept this dismissal without an express order from the Colonial Secretary. The government response was to dismiss the entire administrative staff of the school. The new superintendent and matron, Joseph Hines CLARKE and his wife, Marian CLARKE, arrived the following day by steamer. On 19 January 1869, the Reformatory School Act resulted in the establishment of the reformatory for girls in the Officers' Barracks on the same site. Girls convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than fourteen days in gaol were subsequently admitted. KING was immediately appointed the matron of the Newcastle Reformatory and CLARKE became the superintendent of both schools. No reformatory for boys was established at this time. In 1869 a further amendment to the act, permitted the admission of boys under the age of seven years to the girls' industrial school. They were to be transferred to the Vernon when they reached this age but no boys were ever admitted to Newcastle.12

The Newcastle site was open to public view and the inmates, almost all used to wandering freely and not having to follow rules and many over the legal admission age of 16,13 protested their confinement with wild rioting, obscene language, lewd behaviour and frequent escapes. The period of CLARKE's superintendency was relatively free from rioting but eventually he and his wife resigned as public outcry over the behaviour of the girls resulted in the closure of both schools. A new superintendent and matron, George LUCAS and his wife, Mary Ann LUCAS, were appointed. The worst rioting in the school occurred in the weeks prior to the day of CLARKE's resignation taking effect and during the first few days of LUCAS's superintendency when complete control of the inmates was lost. No further admissions to Newcastle were made after the end of March 1871.14 The transfer of the girls to Biloela on Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, was undertaken in two groups and commenced on 25 May 1871. KING remained matron of the Biloela Reformatory so was also transferred. The old convict prison on Cockatoo Island now housed the school. This site and the activities of the inmates and staff were away from public gaze and in late 1873, George and Mary Ann LUCAS were dismissed by the Government. In 1880, the reformatory section of the school, still with KING as superintendent, was relocated to Shaftsbury Reformatory at Watson's Bay, Sydney Harbour, but the Industrial School remained on Cockatoo Island until 1887. The transfer of the girls from Biloela to Parramatta occurred on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th May when 60 girls moved up the river. The final 30 girls transferred on Wednesday 11th May.15 On 14 May 1887, all the girls had been transferred to Parramatta Girls’ Industrial School, and on this day the first admission to Parramatta was made.16

In summary, the dates for admissions to the three schools are:
Location Admission Dates Industrial School Inmates Reformatory Inmates
Newcastle 31 August 1867 until 30 April 187117 18718 619
Biloela (Cockatoo Island) 25 May 187120 until c.13 May 188721 559 25 (minimum)
Parramatta 14 May 1887 until the school's closure in June 197422 30 00023 none24

About this research

While official records for the Newcastle Industrial School are now readily available, the main register is incomplete and doesn't identify that any admissions for the first four years of the Act were made to Newcastle as the transfer date to Biloela was contained within the pages that have not survived. There are also errors in the register made at the time of admission – including in the surnames of some of the inmates. This research has identified all the girls who were sent to the Newcastle Industrial School – including admission numbers 119 to 187 – as well as all the admissions to the separate institution, the Newcastle Reformatory.

One major discovery made whilst undertaking this research was identifying gaps in admissions made under the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children where records for both girls and boys have not survived. The names of most of the girls or young boys admitted to Biloela – admission numbers 188 to 344 – have been identified25 and are listed on the Biloela page on this site. Complete records for the Newcastle Reformatory, Biloela Reformatory and Shaftesbury Reformatory between and including 1869 and 1887 have not survived so girls admitted to any of these locations between these dates are recorded on this site. This research has further uncovered that admissions of boys to the Vernon between July 1877 and approximately 1886 have not survived. It is unclear how many Vernon registers have been lost. A list of boys admitted to The Vernon is in the process of being compiled. Missing admissions to any of these four industrial schools or reformatories are added to this site whenever details are found.

The difficulties I encountered when completing my family history forced me to reconsider the way I viewed those who lived in this historical period and further to build a personal understanding of the lives of those individuals who, in the main, lived on the edges of society during the mid to late 1800s. It is common for family researchers to assume that when a person married, their family was nearby and prior to undertaking this research I did the same. These girls – and the boys who were sent to the Vernon – were arrested from across NSW. They often married and settled hundreds of kilometres from their place of birth and their family.


Members of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori communities are advised that this site contains names of deceased people.

All users of the site should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally sensitive and may be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author’s/creator’s attitude or that of the period in which they were written. The language used in the records of the 1800s referring to the Indigenous people who lived in Australia before European settlement has been retained even though these terms are now inappropriate. This is also true of the language used in records referring to immigrants of non-European background and also to members of the population of Australia who were born with or acquired a disability. SRNSW states:26

(p. 9) 3.2.3 How to refer to offensive and unacceptable language used in records
In publishing or writing about State archives relating to Indigenous people it may be necessary to use the offensive terms to place the records in their historical context. In this case a note should always be provided stating:
Editorial note: This is the language as used in the record.

Descendants and other readers also need to be aware that this site outlines personal inmate histories that may be of concern to them because sometimes unpleasant or distressing situations involving some of the inmates have been uncovered. Details of events published in Trove have been included and these circumstances are now on the public record so are freely available. The following disclaimer appears in Trove.

Trove contains digital reproductions of articles originally published and made publicly available in Australian newspapers, journals and books. Content which was published legally is not censored.

Graphic details located in letters, trials or other undigitised records held at NSW State Records, either in the CSIL or in other 'hard' copies, have not been reproduced on this site.


There was a small staff at the school who were directly under the supervision and direction of the superintendent. Their names and details are still being added to the site. A matron, house matrons, teacher, storekeeper, laundress, gate keeper and cook were employed. Some members of staff and their families lived onsite and many of the Newcastle staff were transferred to Biloela. A medical attendant made regular visits or came to the school on request. Each of these people contributed to the welfare of their charges – most in a positive manner – and deserve to have their work recognised. The compassionate teacher, Margaret P. KELLY and the superintendent, Joseph Hines CLARKE and his wife, Marian, the matron, who tried to provide a consistent and caring environment where girls were aware of the consequences of their actions, have been either ignored by history or recorded as lacking. Are you a descendant of a staff member? Can you confirm whether my research is correct as only descendants will have access to the necessary marriage and death registrations that will verify my 'educated guesses'? Do you have an image of any of the employees of the Newcastle Industrial School?


Who were these girls? Until recently their names were lost to the passage of time but now, for most inmates, we know a little of their lives, experiences and the period in which they lived. Many of their stories are quite remarkable and many flourished after their discharge. While the separation from family was difficult, there is no doubt – albeit only circumstantial evidence – that the government made attempts to apprentice most of the inmates back to the area from whence they had been arrested.

The main aim of this project was to investigate the admission of each girl, locate her year and place of birth, identify her family, trace her marriage, her children and her death and incorporate these facts into a biography. In most cased this has been done. With rare exceptions, each story is a tale of the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised during the nineteenth century and every girl deserves to be remembered. It has not been possible to identify every girl even though each girl now has a name. A very large number of the parents or grandparents of inmates had been transported to Australia and the circumstances under which most of them were arrested are tragic. Their combined histories give an insight into society in NSW in the 1860s and 1870s.

Unlike most wives and daughters in this time period, these women were often in the news for all the wrong reasons – but at least they appeared in their own right. Unfortunately, the reasons for which they appear as girls are often the same reasons that they disappear later in life and many had good reasons to hide their past. I am very interested to discover their fates and sincerely hope that any descendants will contact me and provide further details and references that will allow others to read about them or add detail to those who made a success of a life that began so badly. What happened to them? Where have they gone? Did they have children? I would also appreciate feed-back from anyone who views the site even if they aren't descendants. If it is possible for other researchers to get a handle on any of these elusive women, please provide the information that you have uncovered – even if it is simply to eliminate another dead end.

I have provided full details of the records I have used and have given full credit to the useful links that I have found online and hope that the same courtesy will be given to my work. Please use the references, inform me when I have omitted a reference and let me know if there are errors. My intention has always been to make my discoveries and understandings freely available, to provide an unbiased account of each of the inmates and therefore make the research for others easier. I sincerely hope that descendants will locate and use the information provided on this site but that they will also contact me. Can you confirm whether my research is correct as, while a grant from the RAHS will assist with the purchase of some registrations, it will not be possible to purchase birth, marriage or death records for every girl – even if they are able to be located. It is almost certain that descendants will have access to records for those women who never registered a marriage. Can you add more to the lives of the possessors of these fascinating but often sad stories?

These girls survived childhood diseases, a difficult or turbulent early life and their life in the school and often their early employment as a single girl alone in a pioneering area. Most went on to be mothers or aunts of descendants who are now searching for this ancestry. The researchers for the families of the girls listed below have very generously provided biographical information – and occasionally valuable images – of their ancestor. Would you be able to do the same? Could your 'brickwall' also be on this site? If you find an ancestor here, please consider contacting me so that your knowledge and research can also be shared. I greatly appreciated the input from the relatives of the following inmates.

Eliza CALF Caroline COLES Isabella COULTER Jane DAVIS Maria Jane EDWARDS
Rosabel GUNNERY Theresa HANMORE Ellen JOHNSTON Alice LEAR Fanny Jane LEE
Rose OSWALD Emma PEISLEY Elizabeth Ann PHILLIPS Margaret POOLE Elizabeth RANDALL
Elizabeth SAMPSON Elizabeth SAYERS Margaret THOMPSON
Sophia WALTERS Emily Alice WARD Isabella WHITE Jane WHITE (2) Mary WHITE Sarah WHITE (3)

The input of descendants of the following Biloela inmates who have provided details of the lives of their ancestors has been greatly appreciated and without that input the stories of the following girls would remain unknown.


There are 193 inmate biographies on this site and almost all tell fascinating stories. For visitors who are interested in reading just a selection of lives and don't know where to start, the following table may help. No girl had a monopoly on any one criteria, and many experienced a mixture of different circumstances and situations.

A Bigamist Mary Jane WRIGHT
The Bravest Inmate Elizabeth Ann PHILLIPS
A Family of Offenders Hannah McGILL
The Happiest Story Isabella WHITE
Lost at Sea Mary Ann NOWLAN
The First Indigenous Australian admitted Alice Jane GRAY
The Most Confusing Research The YOUNG Sisters
The Most Determined Inmate Sarah AUBURN
The Most Notorious Inmate Mary Ann MEEHAN
The Most Significant International Research Annie BANHAM
The Most Wicked Inmate Susan ATKINS
A Murder Victim Harriett GARDINER
Of Chinese Descent Lucy AH KIN
Of German Descent Louisa Josephine ARDIS
Of West Indian Descent Elizabeth SAMPSON
The Oldest Inmate Eliza HANMORE
Poor Little Rich Girl Margaret COONEY
Rising Above Adversity Sarah Jane WILDGUST
The Saddest Life Annie KNOX
A Saucy Jade27 Mary COUGHLAN
The Second (and last) Indigenous Australian admitted Ellen LEWIS
A Suspected Murderer Jane DAVIS
The Youngest Inmate Hannah SOLOMON

Jane Ison, Newcastle, NSW, Australia, July 2012

Updated June 2016

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