Victoria first established industrial schools in the 1860s. Technically, an industrial school was to provide training to 'neglected' children, while a reformatory was an institution for 'criminal' children. However the lines were often blurred, as the name of Victoria's first child welfare legislation, 'The Neglected and Criminal Children's Act 1864' makes clear. Industrial schools were eventually abolished altogether in the 1880s.
Following the passage of the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act in 1864, the Immigrants' Home at Princes Bridge was gazetted as an industrial school. The first purpose-built industrial school was Sunbury, which opened in 1865. Other schools followed in Geelong and Ballarat. Former prison hulk, the Nelson became a 'training ship' for older boys in 1869.
Religious and charitable organisations also established 'private, certificated' industrial schools. The Good Shepherd Sisters established an industrial school for girls at Abbotsford in 1865, and a reformatory at the same site a year later. The Sisters of Mercy opened St Joseph's Industrial School at Our Lady's Orphanage in Newtown (Geelong) in 1865. A Protestant reformatory for boys was established at Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1868.
The industrial schools were established in the ideal that they would train 'neglected' children in habits of industry and order. The 'training' in these industrial schools however was far from successful.
Problems with overcrowding and disease resulted in a 'merry-go-round' in the late 1860s, with children being transferred between various institutions in Victoria.
The 1872 Royal Commission on Industrial and Reformatory Schools condemned the industrial school system for the 'care' of 'neglected' children, on the grounds that:
The Commission concluded that 'the whole system of congregated charitable schools is based on a wrong principle, which, in its practical development, is injurious alike to the interests of the children brought up in them and to the state'.
It urged that the industrial schools system be replaced with the boarding out system, 'under which the children would be boarded in respectable cottagers' homes, under regular supervision by honorary local Ladies' Visiting Committees'.
Thus, the failure of the industrial schools system led to the introduction of 'boarding out' in Victoria from 1872. Tierney goes so far as to say that the 'disastrous' experiment of industrial schools in Victoria led to a conviction that the state, by its very nature, was unable to provide institutional care for 'neglected' children. Many researchers and writers have identified that Victoria, in contrast with other states, was notably reliant on the 'voluntary institutions' run by the charitable and religious sector to provide homes for children.
Following widespread criticism, most notably in the 1872 Royal Commission on Penal and Prison Discipline, the placement of children in industrial schools was phased out and replaced with the 'boarding out' system (introduced to Victoria in 1872), where state wards were placed in foster care in private homes. Industrial schools were eventually abolished altogether in the 1880s.
In anticipation of the abolition of industrial schools, girls at the state-run Royal Park Industrial School, opened in 1875, were transferred to the Industrial School at Geelong. In 1882, the government handed over the Royal Park Industrial School site and buildings to the Immigrants' Aid Society.
Sources used to compile this entry: Barnard, Jill, '"A Secure Safeguard of the Children's Morals": Catholic Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century Victoria', in Provenance, September 2005, https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/provenance-journal/provenance-2005/secure-safeguard-childrens-morals; Guillaume, George; Connor, Edward C., The Development and Working of the Reformatory and Preventive Systems in the Colony of Victoria, Australia, 1864-1890, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1891. Also available at http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/243591; Tierney, Leonard, Children Who Need Help, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963; Tregenza, John M., 'Pearson, Charles Henry (1830 - 1894)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition, Australian National University, 2006, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearson-charles-henry-4382.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 4 June 2009, Last modified: 26 April 2016