On 13 May 1787, the First Fleeters sailed from Portsmouth Harbour with 1530 officials and their wives, marines and their wives, the ships’ crews, male and female convicts. Included also were children forty five of whom landed at Sydney Cove in 1788. These were the sons and daughters who were born during the voyage, or accompanied their parents on board the ships at Portsmouth. Twenty-three were the children of marines and ten were born during the voyage. The remaining twenty-two were the children of women convicts, and eleven of these children were born during the voyage to Australia.
The Female Orphan Institution (also known as the Female Orphan School) was established in 1800 by Governor King to care for orphaned and abandoned children in the colony of NSW. Located in Lieutenant William Kent’s house in George Street, Sydney, the orphanage was supported financially by port duties and the income generated from allocated parcels of land. It was officially opened on 17 August, 1801. It was home to 31 girls aged between the ages of 7 and 14. The girls were taught spinning and sewing and some were taught reading and writing. Evidence given by Governor Bligh to the British Select Committee on Transportation in 1812 suggested that there was little emphasis on education, and that the Institution had instead become a clothing factory and a source of domestic servants for colonial households.
The foundation stone for a new ‘Female Orphan School’ building laid in 1813 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Situated on the northern bank of the Parramatta River it was one of the most ambitious projects yet undertaken by the fledgling colony. The building was to be modelled after Mrs. Elizabeth Macquarie’s family home ‘Airds’ in Appin, Scotland, and would have been an imposing sight. The building was finally ready for occupation in 1818 and the original George Street, Sydney site became the Male Orphan School.
By 1829 the female orphanage housed 152 girls from a cross-section of colonial society including Aboriginal communities. Most girls had convict parents or mothers. Many had one living parent. Girls were accepted in the house from two years of age which was lowered from the original age limit of five. Girls received a basic education and were placed as domestic servants at thirteen.
The Female Orphanage was supervised by voluntary committee of distinguished individuals appointed by the Governor which includes magistrates, government officials, clergy and settlers. The first committee was comprised of two Anglican Chaplains, Rev. Samuel Marsden and Rev. Richard Johnson, Mrs King (the Governor’s wife) and Mrs Paterson (wife of the Lieutenant- Governor), the surgeon William Balmain and John Harris, surgeon, magistrate and officer-in-charge of police. In March 1926, the management, care and superintendence of both the Male and Female Orphan Schools became the responsibility of the Clergy and School Lands Corporation. From 1833 the Female and Male Orphan Schools continued under the control of the Colonial Secretary.
A resident Matron and her husband were responsible for the daily management of the orphanage. The first Matron was Mrs John Hosking (1800-1820), followed by Mary Collicott, Susannah Matilda Ward (1821-) and Sarah Sweetman (1823-1824). The Wesleyan missionary William Walker and his wife Cordelia Walker took up the positions in 1825, bringing with them a number of girls from the Blacktown Aboriginal settlement, where they had previously worked. They resigned following difficulties with Archdeacon Scott, the official Visitor of colonial schools, and were succeeded in mid-1827 by the Reverend Charles Pleydell Neale Wilton and his wife. Wilton was succeeded in turn by Captain Alexander Martin, RN, and his wife.
On 30 April, 1850 the Male Orphan School, which had been relocated at Liverpool in 1823 was closed. The remaining residents moved to the Female Orphan School site at Parramatta and the two establishments amalgamated to form the Protestant Orphan School.
The Female Orphan School has had a varied institutional history. It originally operated as a school for orphaned girls and expanded in 1850 to include orphaned boys. The school was closed in 1887 when a change in government policy favoured placing orphans with foster families. In 1888 Sir Henry Parkes authorised that the building be used as a hospital for the mentally ill, and the building became the Rydalmere Hospital for the Insane. From 1893-1904 expansions to the wings were added by Liberty Vernon, the New South Wales Government Architect. In 1975 the school was listed by the National Trust and in the mid 1980s it was vacated when the Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital was closed. The psychiatric hospital operated for some 90 years.
The NSW Government transferred ownership of the Female Orphan School which had been derelict since the mid 1980’s to the University of Western Sydney in 1995. The University undertook an internal restoration of the three-storey central section of the main building as well as a complete external restoration of the entire Female Orphan School. The building was formally re-opened on 21 October 2003. The building now houses the Whitlam Institute and the Margaret Whitlam Galleries.
In June 2012 Federal Government announced the restoration of the East Wing of the Female Factory Orphan School at the University of Western Sydney. Fully restored Female Orphan School building was opened on 24th September 2013. The building is the new home of the Whitlam Institute and the Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection.
Collison, April J., The Female Orphan Institution, 1814, Rydalmere Hospital, 1986, Rydalmere Hospital Parents and Friends Association, [Riverwood, N.S.W.], , 32 pp
D.D. Mann, The Present Picture of New South Wales 1811, First published by John Booth, London, 1811. This edition John Ferguson, Sydney, 1979.
Female Orphan School’, in State Records New South Wales, 2000,
http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Details/Agency_Detail.asp?Entity= Global&Search= clergy%20school%20land%20corporation&Op= All&Page= 1&Id= 398&SearchPage= Global.
Joanne Penglase, Orphans of the Living, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Perth, 2005.
Marion Fox, The Provision of Care and Education for Children in Catholic Institutions in New South Wales, 1881-1981, Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1994, pp. 9-11
Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1989, p. xviii.
Photos from UWS webpage: http://www.whitlam.org/about_us2/female_orphan_school_precinct
Photos from Local Studies Library, Parramatta Heritage & Visitor Information Centre
Photos from Michelle Library
Rydalmere Hospital Orphan School Precinct Conservation pp31-37
Neera Sahni, Research Services Leader, Parramatta Heritage Centre