The Newcastle Industrial School


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.1 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 Act2 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.'3 The industrial school for the boys arrested throughout NSW, the sail training ship, the Vernon, began to operate in Sydney Harbour in May 1867.4 The government had more difficulty finding a location for the destitute girls. Work began in late May 1867,5 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,6 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.7 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.8

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 16,9 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 1871.10 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.11 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.12

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 187113 18714 615
Biloela (Cockatoo Island) 25 May 187116 until c.13 May 188717 559 25 (minimum)
Parramatta 14 May 1887 until the school's closure in June 197418 30 00019 none20

The Newcastle Industrial School

The school is situated near the summit of the hill on which the city is built, and is only a very short distance from the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The situation is cheerful and salubrious, and the views to be obtained from the grounds are varied and picturesque. The schoolrooms, dormitories, and other apartments are spacious and airy, and there is a large enclosed paddock surrounding the premises.21


View of Newcastle East, NSW [1870] From a negative in the Bert Lovett Collection.22
Courtesy of the Cultural Collections University of Newcastle (Australia)

The Industrial School and later the Newcastle Reformatory were located in the disused barracks buildings in the Government Domain off Watt Street, Newcastle. These were significant buildings at the time and remain so today. During the convict settlement of Newcastle the Newcastle Government Domain was excavated and levelled by convict labour who created the parade ground by digging into the hill. Behind the buildings runs a retaining wall behind which is Newcomen Street, which remains approximately level with the windows on the top floor of the industrial school. To the south, also behind the southern retaining wall, runs Ordnance Street. To the north is Church Street and to the east runs Watt Street, which now runs all the way up the hill but initially ended at the long demolished Government House. At the time the school operated in Newcastle, other major buildings of the city were the Newcastle Hospital, in the centre of the image, and the Newcastle Gaol, visible on the horizon in the mid-distance. The gaol was demolished in 1871. Flagstaff Hill, now known as Fort Scratchley is the headland to the left of the gaol. The iconic Newcastle feature, Nobbys, is not visible as it is off the edge of the image to the left of Flagstaff Hill, with the Pacific Ocean to the right and the port of Newcastle to the left.


Newcastle East today[2013]
Photograph: Jane Ison
Showing (L to R) Nobbys, the partially obscured Fort Scratchley and the Ocean Baths (east of and below the site of the now-demolished gaol). The Industrial School buildings have the red tiled roofs in the centre of the image.

The site eventually selected by the NSW Government for the location of the Newcastle Industrial School has been in continual use since 1804, shortly after the establishment of Coal River (aka King's Town now Newcastle) as a place of secondary punishment for convicts, beginning with the transportation of those involved in the Castle Hill Rebellion23 in March 1804. This convict labour created an extensive levelled parade ground with views only to the north and east. The parade ground and its buildings are well protected from southerly and westerly winds by the remaining rock walls on these sides.

As the first seat of Government in Newcastle, the James Fletcher site is the premier site of cultural capital in Newcastle’s history that encompasses the original seat of Government dating from 1804, the first government house and garden, convict coal workings (1814), parsonage (1819), military barracks (1838), parade ground, along with a range of asylum and hospital buildings (1871+).24

Within the enclosure were the two barracks buildings, their associated outbuildings, the former military hospital and the Parsonage of Christ Church. By 1864 buildings housing the school were being used as a museum, armoury and additional accommodation for the Newcastle constables. In 1867 the buildings were modified for the use of the Industrial School but two permanent families remained on the site. The Parsonage was the residence of Rev. A. E. SELWYN and the old hospital was the residence of Helenus SCOTT, the Newcastle Police Magistrate. The two storey building, known as the 'Soldiers' Barracks', seen at the front right in the above image, closest to the photographer, housed the Industrial School. From January 1869 the smaller building to its left, known as the 'Officers' Quarters', partially obscured in the image and north of the Industrial School building, held the Newcastle Reformatory. It is believed, but no evidence has yet been located to verify, that prior to January 1869, the northern building was used as the offices and residences of the industrial school staff living on the site.

Plan of use of the Barracks [1864]
Courtesy of State Records NSW (from: CSIL: 64/4638 [4/529])


12 September 186625 Industrial Schools Act passed by Government: Regulations appeared in Parliament from August 1866
1 January 186726 The Governor, Sir John YOUNG, proclaimed that the act would come into operation on January 1.
6 May 186727 Sir John YOUNG proclaimed the Vernon a public Industrial School.
10 May 186728 The Superintendent,29 the Chief Officer30 and the Purser31 appointed to the Vernon by Henry PARKES.
abt. 2 July 186732 Address to Parliament that a school for girls was being established and fitted out.
abt. 30 July 1867 The Colonial Secretary orders a census of children at risk in the police districts of NSW. Only the list compiled in Sydney has been located.
6 August 186733 Sir John YOUNG proclaims the yards, enclosures, grounds and lands attached to the Military Barracks in the City of Newcastle as a Public Industrial School.
abt. 15 August 186734 Mr W. G. JACKSON of Balmain appointed Superintendent of the Newcastle Industrial school.
26 August 186735 Agnes KING officially appointed Matron of the Industrial School for Girls at Newcastle by Henry PARKES.
28 August 186736 'A number of warrants' were issued for the arrest of girls falling under the 4th section of the Industrial Schools Act.
28 August 186737 Jane BAKER (or BARKER), the first inmate, appears in Sydney courts
29 August 186738
31 August 186739 First girls arrive by steamer to Newcastle
2 September 186740 Thomas McCORMACK appointed Clerk and Storekeeper for the school by Henry PARKES.
2 September 186741 Sarah RICE appointed sub-matron by the executive council.
2 September 186742 A servant - probably Mary Ann BARTON - appointed servant by Agnes KING (as matron).
c. 10 September 186743 Two girls escape but are recaptured.44
12 September 186745 Agnes KING appointed matron-superintendent.
12 September 186746 Richard HARRIS Esq., appointed visiting surgeon.
26 September 186747 Disturbances and attempted escape by one girl.
30 September 186748 Agnes KING officially appointed Superintendent of the Industrial School for Girls at Newcastle by Henry PARKES.
1 October 186749 Two girls50 escape but are recaptured and tried at Newcastle Court on 2 October.
2 October 186751 An as yet unnamed employee, to operate as both cook and laundress, was appointed by Agnes KING (as superintendent).
3 October 186752 Margaret KELLY appointed as teacher by Henry PARKES.
20 October 1867 First disturbance: 'a man or a ghost'53
22 December 186754 Three girls escape55 but are recaptured the following morning
1 January 186856 Two girls57 escape by climbing out the first floor windows and over the front gate fence but are recaptured at Honeysuckle Point58 and returned to the matron.
31 January 186859 Thomas McCORMACK leaves as clerk and storekeeper.
7 February 1868 One unidentified girl60 from Maitland escapes by climbing through the upper floor windows but is injured in a fall from the second floor61
22 February 186862 The executive council appoints Frederic CANE to take over as clerk and storekeeper from Thomas McCORMACK.
6 March 1868 The girls perform the National Anthem for Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, during his visit to Newcastle.63
23 March 186864 Free performance given to the girls by a visiting Japanese Troupe.
7 April 1868 Agnes KING dismisses Thomas McCORMACK and a war of words ensues between the editors of the two Newcastle newspapers of the time with the Newcastle Pilot supporting McCORMACK and the Newcastle Chronicle supporting KING.
22 April 1868 Frederick CANE appointed Clerk and Storekeeper at the school.65
abt. 26 April 186866 Frederick ASH provides party food to celebrate the Queen's Birthday
4 May 186867 The executive council appoints Martha RAVENHILL to be the house matron.
31 May 186868 Sarah RICE leaves as assistant matron.
13 June 186869 An as yet unidentified gate-keeper was appointed by the executive council.
20 June 1868 Three girls70 escape but are recaptured that same evening and are placed in the cells and then solitary confinement.71 No newspaper report has been found for this event.
23 June 186872 The executive council appoints Emma E. HOLDEN as assistant matron replacing Sarah RICE.
2 July 1868 Three girls73 escape and make their way to Sydney where they are recaptured and returned to Newcastle.
8 July 1868 Ten girls74 escape but are quickly recaptured75
9 July 1868 HOPKINS, PARSONS and CRAWFORD are returned to the school.76
9 July 1868 First Riot:77
13 July 1868 The State of the School
c. 24 July 1868 The local Borough council agrees within a few days to 'erect a high close-paling fence (to) prevent the enclosure being overlooked by parties in Newcomen-street.'78
31 July 1868 Two girls79 escape from the school but are recaptured within hours.
31 August 186880 Martha RAVENHILL leaves as house matron and Emma E. HOLDEN leaves as assistant matron.
3 September 186881 The executive council appoints Bridget Theresa SADLIER as assistant matron to replace Emma HOLDEN and Richard SADLIER as an assistant.
23 September 186882 The executive council appoints Margaret ELLIOTT to replace Martha RAVENHILL as house matron.
c. October 1868 Rioting83 results in smashed windows.
11 November 1868 Minister for Lands (Mr W. Forster) and Colonial Secretary the Hon. John Robertson visit the school
20 November 186884 Escape by nine girls85
20 November 1868 Agnes KING dismissed the only Male warder, SADLEIR,86 who refused to leave unless dismissed by the Colonial Secretary …
24 November 1868 … so ROBERTSON dismissed the matron as well as the warder and his wife and sent new staff from Sydney on the overnight steamer.87
26 November 186888 The executive council appoints Joseph Hines CLARKE to take over as superintendent from Agnes KING.
26 November 186889 The executive council appoints Marian CLARKE to take over as matron from Agnes KING.
30 November 186890 The last official date for the payment of Bridget and Richard SADLIER.
18 December 1868 The first letter by CLARKE appears in the correspondence book91
24 December 1868 School closed as the teacher had gone on leave for fourteen days.92
24 December 1868 CLARKE reports that the 'The girls have without exception behaved well during the holidays and appear thankful for the enjoyment afforded them by liberality of the Government.'93
26 December 1868 Joseph Hines CLARKE appointed Superintendent and his wife, Marion CLARKE, appointed Matron of the school by Henry PARKES.94
2 January 1869 The Colonial Secretary, Henry PARKES, visits the school.
15 January 1869 One girl escapes from the school.
15 January 1869 Somerset Richard, Earl of BELMORE, the Governor, proclaimed that the sixteenth clause of the Reformatory Schools Act of 1866 to be put into effect from 19 January 1869.95
19 January 1869 The north wing of the Industrial School and its attached yards, enclosures, grounds and lands was proclaimed a Reformatory96 but the separation of the girls was still not completed by 27 April 1869, owing to the incomplete fence and other ‘works.'97
5 February 186998 The executive council appoints Joseph Hines CLARKE as superintendent and Agnes KING as matron of the Newcastle Reformatory.
24 February 186999 The executive council appoints Annie E. POLACK to take over as assistant from Richard SADLIER.
10 March 1869 The laundress resigns and two girls100 from the school share the job and payment.101
13 April 1869 CLARKE complains that completion of the works is progressing very slowly and as a result '(t)he fencing is unfinished so that anything like classification of the girls is quite out of the question.'102
27 April 1869 The separation of the Industrial School and the Reformatory girls still not complete owing to the incomplete fence and other 'works.'103
c. May 1869 Escape by Hannah McGILL and another unidentified girl. They were returned to the school.104
4 May 1869 CLARKE complains that the alterations to separate the Industrial and reformatory girls are still not complete and this is adding to difficulties in the school.105
7 May 1869 A section of the wall collapses at about 6 pm after heavy rain falls. CLARKE attributes the incident to a blocked culvert in Newcomen Street.106
c. 1 November 1869 Act presented in Parliament to amend the Industrial Schools Act of 1866 to permit the admission of young boys into the school in the care of the Matron.
4 January 1870 CLARKE takes more than 100 girls to Ash Island.107
21 January 1870 Three girls108 escape the Reformatory.109
15 May 1870 Two girls110 escape the school.111
17 May 1870 Potential riot diffused by CLARKE112113
3 August 1870114 First death in the school115
17 October 1870 Proclamation made by BELMORE amending the Industrial School Act of 1866. Boys under the age of six would be sent to a Female Industrial School in the 'charge of elder female children … and of the Superintendent or Matron … until they reach the age of seven years.'116
28 December 1870 Second death117 in the school118
6 January 1871119 Major Riot120 – Eleven girls placed in Solitary and damage estimated between £8 and £10121
c. 13 January 1871 Inspector of Charities, Mr KING, visits the school to investigate the riot. George LUCAS to be appointed
3 March 1871 Three girls escape122 and are recaptured about ten days later123
10 March 1871 The 'most serious Riot yet' where fifteen girls were placed in the cells.124
15 March 1871125 Margaret ELLIOTT resignation as assistant takes effect and she is replaced by Marianne ROWLAND.
16 March 1871 Public meeting demanding the Government remove the school from Newcastle
17 March 1871126 George LUCAS replaces Joseph Hines CLARKE as superintendent of the industrial school and reformatory and Marian CLARKE is replaced as matron Mary Ann LUCAS.
18 March 1871127 CLARKE hands over control of the school to LUCAS – Massive riot results
19 March 1871 Riot and mass escape of 13 (unnamed) girls – all recaptured
20 March 1871 Mass escape of 14 (unnamed) girls – all recaptured128
c. 20 March 1871 Petition to keep the school reported. Mr LUCAS expected to arrive
28 March 1871 Deputation from Newcastle appeals to the Colonial Secretary to remove the school
c. 1 April 1871 Mrs ELLIOTT, the House Matron, resigns.
4 April 1871 John ROBERTSON appoints Marianne ROWLAND to the school as House Matron replacing Mrs ELLIOTT.129
13 April 1871 The imprisoned girls return to the school from Maitland to great acclamation – reprinted from the //Newcastle Chronicle
c. 26 April 1871 Recapture130 of three escapees131
26 May 1871 BELMORE proclaims the 'western portion of the Island formerly known as Bank's or Cockatoo Island, in the Parramatta River … to be a Public Industrial School' and to be called Biloela.132
26 May 1871133 John ROBERTSON appoints five Biloela staff – the Superintendent,134 the Matron,135 the Clerk and Storekeeper,136 the Teacher137 and the House Matron.138
26 May 1871.139 The younger girls (under the age of ten) were transferred to Biloela aboard the Morpeth
27 May 1871140 The older girls leave Newcastle for Biloela aboard the Government Steamer, Thetis.

Life in the School

A daily routine at the school was outlined by CLARKE.

The government expected the school to return some costs and in addition to their academic education the girls undertook sewing where they made a variety of items. They made clothing for themselves but also for the boys on the Vernon. Conversely, the Vernon boys made shoes for the Newcastle inmates. Every weekly report written by KING and CLARKE contained an itemised list of what had been made. Government expectations concerning the quantity of sewing completed were often far in excess of the amount of articles made by the girls. KING and CLARKE were often required to justify why they reported a poor weekly inventory of finished articles. KELLY reported on the sewing on behalf of KING but CLARKE documented the items once he arrived in December 1868. The inmates made aprons141 (checked142, Forfar143, Holland144), blue suits,145 bodices,146 (twill147), clothes bags148 (calico149), chemises150 (flannel and calico151), coats(Wincey152), pairs of drawers,153 dresses or frocks154 (Coburg155, Derry156 drill157, plaid158, print159, tweed160), wincey161), hoods162 (Holland163, jackets164 (Derry165, print166, twill167), neck ties168, nightgowns,169 panier170, petticoats (calico,171 Holland172 serge,173 twill,174 winsey,175) pillow slips,176 pinafores (checked177 Holland178) rollers179, sleeves (Derry180), tablecloths181, towels182 (Forfar183) and flannels,184 boys' coats185, shirts186, trousers187 and suits188, muslin veils189, muslin ties190, blinds191 and quilts.192

Girls were tasked with repairing stockings, clothing and linen and also bed ticks, bolster cases and sheets.193 After requests for more work from CLARKE, and after the transfer to Biloela, washing was also completed as on 20 November 1871, LUCAS reported that 30 dozen articles of clothing from the Vernon were washed. On 29 May 1872, the girls washed 201 pieces194 and on 3 June 1872, 278 pieces195 of clothing from the Vernon were washed.

In KING's report on 17 November 1868, KELLY indicated that the poor return of items was because she was not happy with the girl's application to sewing although they had been better in lessons. KING was required to report to the Colonial Secretary concerning the number of girls actually employed in making this 'very small' number of pieces of work and whether the sewing machines that had been purchased were being used. KING indicated that much work was 'so indifferent that it was necessary to be unpicked and redone, consequently it did not appear in the list not being new work. I had also one day occupied in mending.' She added that the numbers who were sewing were learners and 'not more than twelve (12) can sew tolerably.' She further indicated that Mrs HOLDEN was able to work the sewing machines and her replacement Mrs SADLIER could not do so so 'at present there is no officer competent to use it. I beg respectfully to observe, that as the Assistant Matron is usually employed, in the afternoon, in School, to assist in Sewing, it is essential she should be a good needlewoman and able to use the machine.'196

By the end of 1870, children under the age of ten were taught the basics of sewing. The more junior girls, aged between ten and 14, sewed for two hours daily, and the senior girls, over the age of 14, spent three hours daily doing needlework and completing the clothing items expected of the school by the Government. CLARKE attempted to source additional businesses to buy the items made and had:

Made application to the Inspector of Public Charities, to the Superintendent of the N. S. S. Vernon, Mrs C. K. Moore and other merchants in Sydney, and to the principal storekeepers in Newcastle with the view of obtaining needlework for those girls but unfortunately I have not been able to get them anything to do. Mrs C. K. Moore however have promised to give us their needlework in future.197

From CLARKE's arrival memos recorded the security of the school. All the lower window in the front and rear of the school were fastened down before must each night.198

CLARKE endeavoured to get the girls to farm and learn to milk and so acquired two cows. He was ordered to sell the two cows purchased and sent a cheque for six pounds to the government on 6 May 1870.199 More must have been acquired after that date as it was reported that cows had been left in the paddock after the school moved to Biloela.200

KELLY wrote in her weekly report on 26 October 1868 that:

I find it very difficult to obtain any assistance from the Elder[sic] girls as monitors from their want of application and the indifference they manifest to teaching but I have reason to hope that some of the younger children may be successfully trained to that duty.201

Ill girls were treated almost without exception within the school in rooms designated and retained as hospital rooms. The location of the hospital rooms within the building has not yet been identified. Girls with contagious diseases on occasion removed to the Newcastle Hospital.202

The Regulations

Once admitted to an Industrial School a girl was required to stay for a minimum of twelve months. In the case of the reformatory, a length of time of at least twelve months was specified by the court.203


Weekly religious instruction was provided for the inmates. Each Sunday the girls were escorted by members of staff to their respective local churches for worship. The local Church of England churches used by the school were the nearby Christ Church, Newcastle, but they also attended St. John's204 in Lake Road (now Darby Street). The nearest Catholic church would have been St Mary's in Perkin Street.205 Weekly reports by KING, CLARKE and LUCAS indicate the number of girls who attended instruction at their 'respective places of worship.'206 Religious materials for use by the inmates were left at the school by the Church of England Reverend, SELWYN. They comprised

Sixteen New Testaments, Fourteen Prayer Books, a few Church Catechisms, Watts's Divine Songs - one set sheets comprising Lord's Prayer Ten Commandments & Creed for the Religious Instruction.

KING also offered the same opportunity to the Catholic minister, Reverend Father WELCH207 but it is unknown whether he left any materials at the school as ultimately the girls tended to walk to their place of worship and not remain at the school.

Rewards and Punishment

As well as daily lessons and the tasks required by the government of the girls, special events were arranged for their benefit whilst under the superintendency of both KING and CLARKE. In her report of 6 October 1868, KING outlined the timetable for the routines she had introduced.

The younger pupils are taken for a walk outside the school grounds every Wednesday afternoon, and the elder girls are taken to the beach to bathe once a week in charge of one of the matrons. Upon these occasions the girls have conducted themselves very well.208

KING's report to the Colonial Secretary on 22 September 1868,209 indicated that the girls had spent two hours walking on the beach.210 The use of the beach for recreation occasionally created unwelcome attention and it is unknown whether bathing in the ocean continued after an incident where a fifteen year old boy named Dominick ROGERS, exposed himself to a number of Industrial School girls 'who were bathing on the beach' two months later on 27 November 1868.211

Outings for the inmates were arranged. The local newspapers reported that an excursion to Ash Island on the steamer, Southland for a hundred of the girls and three guardians occurred on early January 1870, 'through the courtesy of Mr. H. Finch, chairman of the Co-operative Tug Company, the Government having remitted a small sum of money to the superintendent, Captain Clarke, for that purpose.212 They were there for the day returning at three in the afternoon.'213 The Northern part of Ash Island was the former grant to Alexander Walker SCOTT, another brother of the Newcastle Police Magistrate, Helanus SCOTT, and the island was a beautiful rainforest at this time.

Other than excursions, the regulations made provision for rewards for trusted girls.

On the occasion of the first escape from the school214 the Newcastle Police Magistrate, SCOTT, arranged that the Newcastle lock-up be used to detain the inmates as there were no cells provided at the school. Subsequently SCOTT and Staff Sergeant MYERS requested permission to give up possession of two cells in the lock-up or use the cells in the guard house of the military barracks instead. The government approved their detention in the lock-up.215 Ultimately many girls were placed in both the guard house cells and the Newcastle lock-up.

Doomed to Failure?

SCRIVENER discusses the inequitable funding provided to the two industrial institutions, the Vernon for the boys and Newcastle for the girls. A comparison between the numbers of staff and their salaries also indicates more superior funding provided for those aboard the Vernon. The initial staffing for the Vernon comprised the superintendent and commander, and fifteen other staff comprising a chief officer, second officer, purser, schoolmaster, boatswain, master-at-arms, carpenter's mate, boatswain's mate, two quartermasters, two ship's corporals, a musician/barber, steward and cook. James Seton Veitch MEIN, the Superintendent and Commander, had been appointed on 13 February 1867, a full two months before the Vernon began operating. The number of boys admitted to the Vernon in 1867 was 60.216 Conversely, in addition to the superintendent, Newcastle initially only had a staff of six, comprising matron, clerk/storekeeper, teacher, sub-matron, cook/laundress and servant. No additional staff were appointed during 1867 but this number did increase the following year. No appointment date has yet been located for G. W. JACKSON, the first superintendent appointed, but his resignation effectively reduced the staff by one as Agnes KING, subsequently took on the additional role by being appointed matron-superintendent.217 KING took up her appointment on 26 August 1867, and therefore had four days to establish the school before the arrival of the first girls on the 31 August. By the end of 1867 admissions to Newcastle had reached 55.218

While rations and accommodation were provided for the administrative staff of both schools, James Seton Veitch MEIN, the Superintendent and Commander of the Vernon was in receipt of an annual salary of £200 compared to £120 to £150 for Agnes KING and £135 for James Hines CLARKE whose salary was increased to £200 once the Reformatory was opened in February 1869.219 Once the school was transferred to Biloela, a reduction in pay of between two and three pound per annum occurred for all staff who were receiving more than fifty pounds per annum220 suggesting that the additional salary of the Newcastle staff may have been some compensation for travel or a living away from home allowance provided by the government.

G. C. BODE, the minister at St. John's Church of England in Lake Road221 expressed his opinion why the school was not proceeding successfully in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 December 1868. BODE was of the opinion that while the intention was good, Newcastle was a poor solution to the problem of destitute children. He expressed surprise that 'a large staff of officials is found unable to manage a comparatively small number of girls' and was concerned that

… any defect or mismanagement will not only neutralise the good they might do, but actually increase the evil they are intended to remedy. …
One great defect in the school is the unsuitable nature of the buildings ; these have been merely adapted to their present use, not built on purpose, and what were possibly good military barracks have been converted into a very defective industrial school.
In such a school one of the chief requisites is the means of classification. Some children will be sent to it who have already commenced a life of vice, while others are removed to it to prevent their commencing such a life. Surely it is essential that these classes should be kept separate. At the Newcastle school this is simply impossible,—all, from the defective nature of the buildings, are and must be mingled together ; and, worse still, older girls, who have lived on the wages of infamy, are in constant companionship with them. While this state of things exists, the school, instead of being a reformatory, will only be a hotbed of vice.
In dealing with the unfortunate beings who are the proper inmates of such schools as these, it seems to me essential to give them an entirely new starting point ; everything around them must speak of a new and better life, and the old vicious or neglected one be a thing of the past. To do this, seclusion is necessary ; but at the Newcastle school seclusion is impossible. In a busy sea port town the school is overlooked on almost every side ; and so imperfect are the means of detention that escapes have been frequent, as many as ten inmates making their exit at one time. When the character of some of these is borne in mind, the probable result may be better imagined than described.
… the defects I have mentioned are so fatal that successful management is out of the question. … Three things appear to me to be essential …
1. Buildings designed on purpose, that the inmates may be properly classified
2. A carefully selected site, in the country
3. Strict care that the children sent are really children. A class of girls who are now frequently sent, require a separate institution, and their presence in an industrial school is not only useless to themselves but corrupting to others.
I know that the objection of expense will probably be urged, but any good object must entail expense ; and if money is spent on an institution which is radically defective the outlay will only propagate an evil instead of conferring a benefit.
… I do trust that the Government will see the value of it, and determine to pay the price by erecting new and suitable buildings on a proper site. If they do this they will earn the gratitude of the country and carry out a good and noble plan to a beneficial result, if not, the school will be worse than a failure, it will be always, what I am afraid it is now, a place of contamination.222


Escapes began within a month of the first admissions and regularly occurred throughout the time the schools were at Newcastle. The Newcastle Reformatory girls were also frequent escapees and the most frequent of these was Mary Ann MEEHAN. The buildings and grounds were easily vacated by girls who wished to leave and attempts to make them more secure were continual. Three girls223 escaped on 22 December 1867, and exited the grounds over the 'large gate in front.' When reporting to the Colonial Secretary the circumstances of this escape KING further stated:

I beg also to state that the locks on most of the doors are utterly useless the screws being eaten through with rust. I have often shewn them to Mr Lewis, Clerk of Works.224

After the escape of three further girls on 20 June 1868, where two had climbed the fence between the Police Magistrate's residence and one had scrambled beneath it, the Colonial Secretary suggested that 'spikes should be fixed along the fence'.225 This fence continued to be an easy escape route for the girls over the months. After an escape of ten girls226 in two separate incidents on the night of 20 November 1868, KING wrote that the girls had

forced open the windows of No. 4 dormitory, they then climbed over the fence near Mr SCOTT’s residence. … As I am convinced that the windows of No. 3 and No. 4 Dormitories are not secure I have given directions that the iron bars that were placed at the muster room to be removed to the windows of No. 3 and No. 4 dormitories in order to prevent their escape by means of the windows.227


While Newcastle from today's perspective is remembered wild rioting, in actuality there were only four that have been identified although a further riot may have occurred in 1868. Remaining records suggest that each riot was in response to a different stimulus. Incidents of rioting against the establishment were documented under each superintendency but were almost non-existent while CLARKE managed the school and there were no riots from December 1868 and December 1870. Remaining letters indicate that CLARK's compassion and willingness to talk to and to listen to the inmates was the major reason for this lack of violence. This view is quite contrary to research completed by most other researchers.

  • Riot 1 – 9 July 1868 – Superintendent KING:

Newspaper reports of the first disturbance at Newcastle which occurred at about ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday, 9 July 1868, was caused because 'a number of the elder girls (had) been very refractory during the past few days, and on several occasions within that period their conduct has been so outrageous that the superintendent was compelled to inflict the only punishment that was allowed under the regulations of the institution, viz., confinement in the cells, or outbuildings, which were formerly used as kitchens. Some of these girls armed themselves with 'various missiles in the shape of brickbats, stones, (and) billets of wood' and attacked the apartments of Mrs KING, the superintendent. They did as much damage as they could. KING locked herself in until police arrived and arrested eight or ten of the ringleaders. These girls were placed in the lockup and appeared in court the next day. Newcastle papers for this time are incomplete and no records of any court cases for this riot have yet been located. The names of the ringleaders are identified by KING and CANE in their reports of the incident. Neighbours complained of the language used in the school and also that 'latterly the girls confined in the institution have been encouraged in their outrageous conduct by a number of vagabonds who are in the habit of congregating outside the walls and inciting them to revolt.228

KING's report of the incident outlined that trouble and insurrection had been developing for nearly a week before the actual riot. She specified details of events on each of the preceding days and named the ringleaders as Eliza McDONALD, Elizabeth MORGAN, Eliza O'NEILL, Eliza O'BRIEN, Charlotte PERRY, Elizabeth SAMPSON and Sarah Jane WILDGUST.229 In a further letter she confirmed the names of these girls 'who from their advanced age and confirmed bad habits are incorrigible' and stated

I would respectfully beg to reiterate that the premises are not adapted for this class of girls whose ages are so evidently beyond the years specified in the Act.230

Girls who had been locked up during the build up of tension '… were found to have succeeded in breaking away the wall to such an extent as to enable them to make their escape at any moment.' KING and the constables moved them into the room used as an hospital and placed a constable on guard on the door but they broke out, overpowered the constable and 'rushed down the year tearing and smashing all before them.' The laundress, the cook and the teacher secured the girls under their care in their respective areas of responsibility. Sub-inspector HARRISON informed KING and the other matrons of the 'murderous intentions of the escaped girls and begged that we would not appear among them.'231 A further incident occurred a couple of weeks later on 21 July, when two of the senior girls232 were openly defiant to KING who reported the incident to the Colonial Secretary and stated

… I find – from the determination of some of the elder girls to be insubordinate – the request to [?] withdraw all the Constables was too premature.233

Frederick CANE had recently taken up the position of the Industrial School clerk and storekeeper and he interviewed and documented statements from the superintendent and other staff as well as the ringleaders of the riot so the voice of the girls was preserved. Over twenty handwritten pages of statements exist and they give considerable background to this riot.234 They indicate that trouble developed because of actual or perceived injustices by KING and the destabilising influence of other staff members whether intentional or unintentional. These written accounts were analysed by an E. C. WALKER who made recommendations to the government based on their content. WALKER identified five causes for the riot.

… (T)he insubordination has arisen from the following causes :-
1st A want of calm and dignified demeanor combined with a firmness of action on the part of Mrs King (the Matron) who has evidently allowed herself to be carried away in the moment of excitement or passion ; to say things calculated to arouse rebellion, and promote discord with the class of individuals she is supposed to control. It is necessary to guard against giving full credence to all the statements of the inmates yet I could not but feel impressed with the straightforward manner in which they gave their evidence; and it will be seen some of the officers and servants of the Institutiom have confirmed the use of language by Mrs King, which I think could only be productive of the mischief that has taken place, and I consider she deserves severe censure for having made use of such expressions. Mrs King has shewn a great want of firmness in threatening to punish and not doing so – also in delivering over charge of the institution to Mr Inspector Harrison, when her presence and authority were most required – but the caution she received from Mr Harrison and the other matrons having remonstrated against her going out, no doubt induced her to relinquish her duties: this evidently had an influence on the girls as they have stated they knew the Matrons were afraid.
2nd The injudicious and uncalled for interference of Mr Cane, at a time when every means that could be adopted, should have been used to enforce the orders of the Matron, had no doubt a very bad influence on the minds of the girls. It would appear however from the statement of Mr Cane, that up to the arrival of Miss Ravenhill, he had been tacitly permitted to advise the girls as to their conduct, and from the contrast of his manner, with that of the matrons, it has evidently had a bad effect.
3rd From the evidence of all it is shewn that some different mode of action has been adopted with regard to carrying out the regulations of the school, since Miss Ravenhill entered the Institution, which has caused a feeling of harsh treatment being used; and there has been a want of unity amongst the officers and servants ; but Miss Ravenhill appears only to have performed her duty.
4th The facility with which communication can be made with the inmates and people outside, is productive of much mischief; and the girls have also had their minds disturbed by some person who has left the Institution having read the Act to them and saying they could only be dealt with in a certain manner.
5th There are some of the girls it would seem from their statements who are over the age specified by the Act, and others who from their natural ungovernable, excitable, and unruly dispositions, are of too advance an age to keep under a proper control in an Institution of this kind, unless provision is made for classifying them.
In conclusion I am of opinion that almost everything may be accomplished by kindness and the force of moral influence; still it is necessary that some kind of punishment be in force.

Over four days between Tuesday, 14 July and Friday, 17 July, statements were taken from eleven inmates – the seven identified ringleaders and four others – (Grace CRAWFORD, Bridget DOWNS, Jane BAKER, Sarah Jane WILDGUST, Eliza O'BRIEN, Eliza O'NEILL, Annie BURT, Eliza McDONALD, Elizabeth MORGAN, Charlotte PERRY and Elizabeth SAMPSON), two staff (Mary HEAL and Catherine CASBURN ) and five officers (Margaret KELLY, Emma HOLDEN, Frederick CANE, Martha RAVENHILL and Agnes KING).235 The notation 'By Mrs King' appears on some of the accounts by the inmates and this indicates that Agnes KING asked a question of the girl. What is written after this notation is the response of the girl to KING's question.236 Each account has been transcribed in full within the biography of each individual interviewed.

  • Riot 2 – c. October 1868 – Superintendent KING:

No reports of any riot have been located in newspapers during October 1868 but a violent incident of some type seems to have occurred. On 28 April 1869, nearly a year after the first event, the Colonial Secretary requested that CLARKE confirm the number of 'windows that were broken in this Institution in July and October'237 because an account had been presented to the government for 105 x 24 panes of glass. This request for information was made concerning an incident that had apparently occurred when CLARKE had not yet arrived at the school. KING subsequently replied and referred the Colonial Secretary to her reports from those dates and also to information held by the Clerk of Works. A copy of KING's report from July 1868 is included in the letters in this bundle but this correspondence doesn't elaborate on any event in October. It is suspected that some windows were broken during escape attempts or after a girl was returned after her re-capture as a result of her anger.238239

No riots were reported during either 1869 or 1870 when the school was entirely under the superintendency of Joseph Hines CLARKE.

  • Riot 3 – 6 January 1871 – Superintendent CLARKE:

The Newcastle Chronicle reported twice about the riot which occurred at about ten o'clock on the night of Friday, 6 January 1871. No reason for this riot has yet been located and CLARKE was also 'unable to account for so sudden and unexpected an outbreak, and can only attribute it to momentary impulses of wickedness in which some of the older girls have been known to indulge. He attempted to stop the riot and 'got two of the ringleaders into the lock-up, but finding his efforts fruitless, he sent for the police.' The girls barricaded the doors, broke up the bedsteads, smashed the crockery, and using the broken bedsteads broke every window and window frame in the Industrial School wing. Nine more girls were placed in the cells where they 'set up the most unearthly yells and foul language, which continued throughout the night.' The police left at about one o'clock in the morning.240 The paper added further particulars two issues later by stating that the one hundred and twelve inmates of the Industrial School had 'behaved remarkably well of late' but

shortly before the melee began the Artillery band, accompanied by a considerable crowd of people, played up Newcomen-street, and just as it passed the Industrial School, several of the girls who were then preparing to retire for the night, waved their hands to the band and appeared to become excited by the music. In a few minutes afterwards eleven of the girls became exceedingly uproarious and assumed a most violent and mischievous attitude, threatening to destroy the establishment, and making use of the filthiest language conceivable.

The eleven ringleaders were placed in the cells and since this time

the wretched creatures have been perfectly quiet, and as their diet is only bread and water, it is not likely they will commit themselves in any way calculated to prolong their punishment, which the superintendent has power to extend to fourteen days, if deemed necessary. The outbreak has, of course, been reported to the Government by Captain Clarke, and it is probable that the extremely mild treatment which the girls have hitherto received – and which they have so much abused – will be superseded by harsher measures. It is now apparent that an Industrial School is not the place for reforming abandoned young women of the class of which the turbulents of Friday night are composed.241

The Inspector of Public Charities, Mr KING, visited the school to investigate the riot and stated

that no blame whatever could be attached to the superintendant, or to any of his subordinates in the matter ; and, moreover, that Captain Clark had acted properly in placing the ringleaders of the rioters in separate cells, as a punishment for their villianous[sic] misconduct. These refractory girls were released from solitary confinement on Saturday last, and seemed to have, to some extent at least, benefitted by it. During their incarceration they were fed on bread and water, and, of course, deprived of all the privileges consequent upon good behaviour.242

This event occurred at about the time that public discussion was filling the media with the information that the school was to be closed and transferred away from Newcastle. There was no confirmation but discussion was also suggesting that CLARKE was unlikely to continue as superintendent of the school.

  • Riot 4 – 10 March 1871 – Superintendent CLARKE:

A riot broke out on Friday, 10 March 1871, while CLARKE was away in Sydney.243

Yesterday evening a general riot occurred at the Industrial School, necessitating the assistance of a large body of police, and several gentlemen who volunteered their services, before it could be quelled. On arrival at the scene of action, we found a large number of the inmates in open insurrection, nearly every window-pane in the dormitories smashed, and the girls engaged in pelting with broken glass and other missiles anyone who chanced to pass their windows, at the same time assailing their ears with the most filthy and disgusting language. The ringleaders – 15 in number – were locked up in the cells until some degree of order had been restored, when, at Mrs. Clark's request, some of them were, under the escort of the police, marched off to the lock-up, charged with having destroyed the property of the Government. It appears that something of the kind had been apprehended for two or three days past, and that the girls had at last taken advantage of Captain Clark's temporary absence in Sydney to break into open revolt. No particular reason is assignable for their doings, other than a general desire to be troublesome, for which Government arrangements, or, rather, the lack of arrangement, give them every opportunity. Should anything further occur it shall appear in our next issue.

  • Riot 5 – 19 March 1871 – Superintendent LUCAS:

This was by far the most extensive riot that occurred in the school and began on the day George LUCAS took over the superintendency of the Industrial School and Reformatory from CLARKE and subsequently escalated and continued for in excess of three days. The changeover occurred on the morning of Saturday, 18 March 1871. Trouble began immediately the transfer was made but major damage and rioting occurred mostly on the Sunday. The riot was still underway at lights out on the Monday night and no reference has yet been found that indicates the time the wildness ceased.

During that day and the following, symptoms of insubordination greeted the new superintendent, and it was at once apparent that no practical results need be anticipated from the change effected. As far, however, as outsiders were concerned, for a while, the little volcano slumbered, but only to burst out again with greater violence than ever. At 7.30 pm., on Sunday, oaths, shrieks, yells, and the clamour of Babel once more resounded in the air, the girls were in open insurrection, their guardians – powerless – had lost all control over them. The language issuing from the barred windows made night positively hideous, and presently, loud above all, arose the sound of heavy blows – the girls, with the leg of an iron bedstead, were bursting open the door which confined them to their dormitory. Crash after crash – oath after oath – their prison is broken and out into the night air they stream, a mob of precocious viragos. Out and away – over the fences – scouring the hills and streets – How many? No one knows. Thirteen are captured by the police, aided by the citizens, and are lodged in the lock-up. Are there any more out? No one can tell. Gradually the screams of blasphemy and obscenity cease, and the children – young in years, but old in iniquity – retire to rest in the rooms they, themselves, have rendered almost uninhabitable. In the Industrial School all is quiet. What are the inmates of the lock-up doing? Sleeping? Not so; but boasting all night long of what they have done, how they have defied every one, knowing that their janitor's hands were completely tied, and so the night passes! Before six on the following morning,244 little bits of things are at their windows; half clad only, cursing and swearing volubly at a policeman, going down Tyrrell-street. Half-past eight, more row, and four more girls break away, but are speedily captured on the sandhills at the back of Captain Allen's house, and brought back again. Another interval of comparative quietness and half-past one arrives; the uproar re-commences, all the windows and their frames that have hitherto escaped, are demolished, oaths and wild shrieks again resound. During the saturnalia, a group steals out of the grounds and over the Obelisk Hill. Sergeant Conway passes up Tyrrel-street, and presently heads them back, they are seen crestfallenly returning and entering by the front gate. More youngsters inside the walls yell in approbation of their capture. A stout girl of seventeen or eighteen years is marched off by the police, another of apparently the same age declines to go otherwise than arm in arm with a man in plain clothes, throws herself on the gravelled roadway and hammers the constable's feet. She is persuaded at last to go as far as the gate, and there once more goes down, she is finally brought back again. Hammer! hammer! hammer! at the yard gate at the back, several men approach, the gate is opened, and the youngsters are driven into their quarters. Once more there is comparative quietness, and so the ball rolls. The authorities, paralyzed, consult together, and telegraph to Sydney for instructions. Shall the culprits be brought before the Bench and sent to Maitland gaol? Shall they be sent back to the school? Shall they be sent on to Sydney? What is to be done? They are powerless. Meantime the riot continues; the grounds are surrounded on all sides open to inspection, by groups of grown up persons and troops of mere children, listening to the coarse and disgusting language issuing from Bedlam broken loose. Men, who should know better, are tearing down palings from the fence on the high ground in Newcomen-street, to obtain a better view of the filthily indecent exposure of their persons the girls are making at the windows, and are encouraging the offenders by their plaudits. Whose undergoing the reformatory process take fresh courage, they have an attentive audience and appreciative spectators, and their friends outside are getting up a petition for their retention in Newcastle. At shortly alter 5 o'clock instructions, were received from the Government, to return to the School the girls detained in the lockup. In squads of three and four they are marched up by the police, and handed over to the Superintendent's charge. The riot continues. The conduct of the girls has been worse during the afternoon than ever before. They now tear up their sheets and blankets, and make banners of them, waving them to and fro as they sing their ribald songs. Darkness, comes on; the lights are extinguished; the police remain in charge of the building; The Riot continues. We have been given to understand that a posse of police will arrive from Sydney this morning, to take over the charge, of the establishment.245

Marjorie THEOBALD (1996), in her book, Knowing Women: Origins of Women's Education in Nineteenth-Century Australia, suggests that this riot, rather than the riot occurring a week earlier, was the most notorious of the riots, and was the result of the protest of the inmates to 'Clarke's brutal administration' and that after his replacing KING as Superintendent in 1868

The customary unruly behaviour of the girls appears to have escalated into violence soon afterwards.246

There is no evidence for this statement. The timeline of the superintendencies and the events during the day of the riot are not consistent with a reaction to CLARKE's administration. CLARKE replaced KING in November 1868 and no newspaper or Colonial Secretary's correspondence indicates any evidence of rioting until the January 1871 riot outlined above. By January 1871 CLARKE had been superintendent for over two years and far from overseeing a 'brutal administration', CLARKE's actions and correspondence describe a compassionate administrator who acted by example to encourage in the girls a more socially acceptable form of behaviour. There is evidence that he rewarded individuals for good behaviour, maintained group rewards commenced by KING, took time to discuss issues with the girls and that he took pains to support them after they were discharged.247

CLARKE acted strictly but always according to the regulations and documented each of his actions until the last few turbulent weeks. Accusations of beating and hair cutting that were repeated so often in the newspapers occurred to two girls admitted to the Newcastle Reformatory248 on the northern part of the site yet the riots were identified throughout all written reports as occurring in the separate Industrial School located in the buildings in the south of the site. SCRIVENER suggests that the March riots may have been protests by the girls either in response to their acquiring the knowledge that CLARKE, who treated them firmly but fairly, would be replaced by LUCAS whose reputation preceded him or that they were to be relocated from the Newcastle site. This seems to have been a very valid reason for this riot occurring.

The result of rioting adversely affected the employment opportunities for the girls. One failed apprenticeship arrangement made by CLARKE and implemented by LUCAS elicited this reply from James VERNON of Scone written on 8 April 1871. He states

In reply to your last I am sorry to have to inform you that after the late riotous behaviour of the inmates of the Indus: School I must decline having one as a domestic servant on any terms.249


The first girls were admitted to the school on 31 August 1867, whilst KING was superintendent. For the next fourteen months until the end of November 1868, when CLARKE commenced his superintendency, numbers gradually built to eighty-four inmates.250 CLARKE's first task was to discharge many girls who were eligible for apprenticeship.

Crowding and an inability to completely segregate the both the different age groups and ill inmates within the Industrial School, added to the problems faced by the superintendent as prior to this the building had been used for storage and administration.

Decision Making

The location of the school removed from Sydney meant that time was taken to receive permission to make decisions.

The first difficulty faced by CLARKE shortly after commencing his superintendency, concerned apprenticeships. KING had not arranged any apprenticeships so this became one of CLARKE's first concerns. Expectations for the discharge of girls at Newcastle differed from those for the discharge of boys on the Vernon. Apprenticeships for the boys were not individually signed off by the Colonial Secretary. There was no written communication sent to his office concerning male apprenticeships so little remains to indicate where boys were sent. It is unknown why there was a different system but it may be that concerns for the safety of girls were viewed by the government. On 2 February 1869, CLARKE wrote to Sydney stating

I have the honor of enclosing a copy of the indentures sent here to apprentice girls, and to call your attention to the fact that the terms of this indenture are not in keeping with the “Industrial Schools Act 1866” under the eleventh clause of which the Superintendent is empowered, with the consent of the Colonial Secretary, to apprentice girls and I have to request that indentures may be sent down similar to those used on the ship Vernon.251

The eleventh clause stated

And the Colonial Secretary responded

The Act provides for the apprenticing of Girls from the Industrial School: it also provides for their being discharged but it did not appear to provide for such arrangements as the Superintendent Clarke appeared to desire. He should carefully read the Act and be[?] fit.252

Abiding by the terms of this clause resulted in every apprenticeship arranged in the school requiring the approved of the Colonial Secretary and it is this reason that so much more information concerning the girls admitted to Newcastle and Biloela appear in the CSIL. CLARKE, DALE and WALKER followed the Colonial Secretary's directive and the expectation of Clause 11. There are comparatively fewer records for the period of the superintendency of George LUCAS. It may be that he held the same initial interpretation of the eleventh clause as CLARKE and therefore never requested clarification from the Colonial Secretary about the expected process of arranging an apprenticeship but it is considered more likely that a major reason for the lack of records from either Newcastle or Biloela during his Superintendency between April 1871 and December 1873 was due either to his apparent lack of ability to handle the role of superintendent or to his reported poor literacy levels.253 Letters from LUCAS do appear at the end of CLARKE's letter book. They are written in a fluent hand and signed by him. He also signed some copies of letters written by CLARKE.254

On 2 February 1871, CLARKE submitted his report for 1870. At this stage the school held 112 girls with 37 being discharged and 45 admitted during the year. He stressed that their behaviour, considering 'their antecedents, for the crowded state of the Institution and the consequent promiscuous intercourse they have with each other, has been good.' He further indicated that his constant reminders about the difficulties in classifying the inmates due to the accommodation difficulties. He currently had 36 grown girls in Division A and 76 in Division B or the 'Children's Department'.

Twenty girls were between six and ten. These girls were 'not able to do much housework indeed some of them are so young that they require everything done for them' so these children only spent time in school although the elder ones were learning needlework. He regretted that the forty girls between ten and 14 were in the same accommodation as the younger girls because some of them were 'quite unfit to be with children.' He stressed that sixteen of the older girls were girls of good character and disposition and were trusted with the care of the younger children. Classification difficulties meant that some of the 14-year-old girls who had

been brought up in such a way that it is necessary to keep constant and anxious supervision over them to prevent the use of improper language which seems to be far more familliar [sic.] to them than the more acceptable expressions in general use and this is one great reason in requesting more room.

These girls were in school for three hours daily and spent two hours at needlework. The fifty-six girls aged between 14 and 18 looked after their rooms and did all the cooking and laundry in the institution. They spend two hours at school and three hours doing needlework.255


CLARKE had to answer to the Colonial Secretary for the operating costs of the school. He was very critical of the costs of medicine created by the visiting surgeon, Richard HARRIS. His report in 1870 identified huge savings in the cost of medicine when comparing expenditure for 1869 and 1870 with costs for 1869 being in excess of £64 and 1870 dropping to just over £8. He had also saved money on milk by purchasing the two cows but he was ordered to sell the cows by the Colonial Secretary.256 The cost to the government, including staff salaries, was £26 per head. In response, Frederick KING, the Inspector of Public Charities, agreed with CLARKE and recommended to the Colonial Secretary that amalgamating the older Industrial School girls into the reformatory buildings, a suggestion made previously by CLARKE, would assist with overcrowding.257

Sydney was not happy with costs created by transferring not only inmates but goods between Sydney and Newcastle. These transfers were undertaken by sea. CLARKE pushed hard to have meaningful needlework undertaken by the inmates but any work for other institutions needed to be sent to Sydney which pushed up the costs. The response from the Principal Under Secretary, A C W, to CLARKE's weekly report written on 9 August 1869, read

It appears to me that he cost of sending the work to and fro to Newcastle from the Orphan School or the "Vernon" which are the only Institutions that work could be sent from - would add too much to the price of articles to be of any advantage to those Institutions. The suggestion offered of procuring washing from persons in Newcastle appears to me the most desirable. Needlework might also be obtained in the same manner and a reasonable charge made for the work - the proceeds to be paid into the General Revenue.258

Proximity to Civilization

The location of the school in the centre of the town of Newcastle and the open nature of the site, easily overseen on three sides due to the original convict excavations, created considerable difficulties for the authorities from the commencement of its operation. Newcomen Street ran parallel to the buildings and windows on the first floor of the Industrial School were (and still are) at street level. KING's report on 29 October 1868, a year after opening, identified the continuing difficulties encountered by the staff in preventing communication with the general public. She wrote that the

general conduct of the girls during the past week has been good with the exception of some of the elder girls who have been very unsettled in consequence of many of their old associates being in Newcastle to attend the races.259

Young and old men as well as 'men who should know better' were involved with the inmates by fraternising with and in aiding or harbouring any escapees. An unidentified person 'clandestinely' supplied rum during the early weeks of the school resulting in at least one girl becoming drunk.260

Joseph LEE hid Sarah Jane WILDGUST. Moses MASTERS, a elderly ToL man who worked for Helenus SCOTT,261 assisted Mary CREGAN to escape. SCOTT was forced to initially charge Moses with the theft of the egg, with which he intended to coax Mary into 'having connection' with him,262 to ensure that he received punishment for his actions. George ALLSHORN took his future wife, Mary Ann MEEHAN and two fellow escapees, for a ride in his omnibus. In the late evening of 6 April 1871, a break in occurred at the school. A young man named Robert POOLE was found unlawfully in the premises after scaling the fences. On his return to Sydney he was arrested by constable HAVERSHAND and charged. For this trespass he was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment in Maitland Gaol.

From the first days after the establishment of the school security was easily breached 'owing to the fact that the wooden fence round the ground is so insecure, it takes a sharp look out to prevent their escape.'263 Attempts to make the site more secure were slow to be implemented and recommendations by CLARKE concerning an increase in the distance of the fence from the road were ignored by the government in Sydney. On 29 December 1868, shortly after his arrival as Superintendent, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating

that the man in charge of works here has this morning received instruction to proceed with the erection of the front fence and that it is to be twelve feet from the public road instead of forty (40) feet as proposed by me in my letter [of 19 December] of which I had the honor of making some suggestions which I again respectfully urge upon the attention of the Honorable the Colonial Secretary. I beg to submit that if this fence is put up twelve feet from the road it will [be] quite impossible to prevent the girls from communicating with people outside and I request that my suggestion may be carried out.264


From the moment the school opened resources were often not meeting the needs of the staff and inmates. A week after the school opened, on 6 September 1867, in a letter concerning the admission of an ill child,265 KING wrote to the Colonial Secretary reporting on the child's treatment. She concluded her letter with the statement: 'Please will you send us more help.'266


CLARKE expressed concerns that there existed a serious deficit in the sleeping arrangements and requested permission to leave a gas light burning all night and also to cut an observation hole in each door to enable the officer to carry out 'unobserved observation' to quell the 'unnatural intimacy' where girls become 'mates' and 'look upon each other as lovers and when all is quiet at night they go to bed with each other.' Classification had reduced the problem but it still existed. CLARKE wanted government orders to punish any offenders with an extension of their stay in the school in an attempt to maintain discipline. The government responded that the conduct he had described was not unique267 and nothing was implemented.

Staff Conflicts

From the first days of the school conflicts between staff created tensions and difficulties within the school. It must have been clear to KING by February 1868 that Thomas McCORMACK needed to leave. Richard HARRIS maintained in letters to the Newcastle Chronicle that McCORMACK objected to working for a woman. McCORMACK petitioned the Government after his dismissal and made claims of mismanagement by KING.268

On 24 November 1868, just over a year after the first girls were admitted, as part of her weekly report, KING stated

There has been much excitement during the week among the girls owing to statements made to them by Richard and Bridget Sadlier, Assistants to the effect that I was making no effort to obtain their release by obtaining them situations or otherwise and that I wished to retain the elder girls to do the work of the institution.269

The Closure of the Schools

Once LUCAS had taken over the superintendency of the school from CLARKE he immediately began to arrange the transfer to Sydney. The logistics of the transfer were complex and the elder inmates and the potential difficulties of their transfer was considered and official solutions were apparently flexible. On Friday, 26 May, the younger girls were moved from the buildings in the Newcastle Government Domain to travel to the wharf some two to three hundred metres from the school to make the transfer to Sydney.

At an early hour yesterday forenoon several omnibus loads of the younger inmates of the Industrial School were conveyed to the wharf and shipped on board the steamer Morpeth, bound for Sydney. There was a large crowd present to witness their embarkation, but, no demonstration was made or attempted. The remainder, the elder girls, were to have gone by the Collaroy in the evening, and omnibuses were again sent to the School to fetch them, but owing to certain circumstances it was deemed advisable to delay their departure until this morning, when we believe they will embark on board the City of Newcastle and proceed to the new quarters assigned to them on Cockatoo Island.270

Updated January 2018

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