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Parental imposition or police coercion? The role of parents and police in committals to the industrial schools in New South Wales, 1867-1905.

From their establishment in 1867 the industrial schools, NSS Vernon and NSS Sobraon, and the Industrial Schools for Girls, Newcastle, Biloela and Parramatta, formed the lynchpins of the welfare system in New South Wales.(1) Their designated purpose was to receive vagrant or `neglected' children, (that is children who were living with thieves or prostitutes, who had no means of support, no legal occupation, or no fixed place of abode, or who slept in the open air, or who begged in the streets) and retrain them to become useful citizens.(2)

Many commentators at the time (and most historians since), have expressed doubts as to the actual reasons for the admission of children to the industrial schools. These may be divided into two groups. Firstly those who believe that `the procedure was often used by parents to solve problems other than those implied in the legal terminology of the formal charge.(3) Secondly, those who believe that `the ship ha[d] been ... gradually altering its character and [was] now virtually a school for the reclamation of criminal boys in which capacity it [was] evidently considered by the Magistracy.(4) While the two beliefs are not necessarily mutually exclusive, commentators have usually promoted one view to the exclusion of the other, stressing the role played either by parents or by police.

A few years after NSS Vernon, the first industrial school, had been established, remarks that the boys were `more than destitute' and that parents were `unloading their responsibilities onto the School' were made by the Superintendent of Police.(5) Similar remarks concerning the willingness of parents to have their daughters committed to the Industrial School for Girls were also recorded a few years later.(6) Some modern commentators have either repeated these remarks or have pointed to the number of parents who either charged their own children with offences under the Industrial Schools Act or who gave evidence in support of police charges.(7) This has been regarded as evidence that the Act was used by parents in order to `unload their responsibilities onto the schools' or, more recently, is used to deny any suggestions that the schools were instruments of State control.(8)

Charges that the ship was being used as a reformatory are almost as old as those which proclaimed parental misuse and generally appear to be accepted as facts but nobody, except the school superintendents, seemed to consider this a misuse of the Act by the police and magistrates. As all seem to agree that the Act was being applied to children for whom it was not intended, despite the wording of the charges, it is useful to analyse admissions and try to determine the real reason for each child's arrest and discover the usages made of the Industrial Schools Act.

In order to determine the nature of the problem that children admitted to the industrial schools presented, it is first necessary to look at the background of `welfare' and `juvenile justice' into which the Act was introduced and then to examine the Vernon Entrance Book (boys) and the Register of Warrants Received (girls) for the years 1867 to 1870 inclusive. Charges and any information supplied were compared with other information, such as newspaper `Court Reports' and applications for discharge. Similar comparisons were made for selected periods thereafter to determine any changes in the nature of admissions or in the role of parents and police.

Before the passing of the Industrial Schools Act, the Protestant and Catholic Orphanages admitted orphans between the ages of three and nine and apprenticed them at twelve. The Randwick Asylum cared for `neglected' children of the same age while the Benevolent Asylum provided shelter for those too young for admission to the other institutions or who were awaiting admission to them. Admission to the Protestant Orphan School was by application to the Colonial Secretary and was further dependent on the existence of a vacancy in the relevant age group. Admission to the Catholic Orphanage was by decision of a committee, subject to the approval of the Colonial Secretary. In both cases the process was a lengthy one. Admission to the Randwick Asylum required the recommendation of a subscriber and acceptance by the Board, although Randwick also admitted batches of children from the Benevolent Asylum for which the State accepted full financial responsibilities.

As solutions to problems of destitution and `neglect' these institutions had a number of obvious defects: None of them admitted children over nine, and none admitted children who were `tainted by crime'.(9) Admission of illegitimate children was refused by the Randwick Asylum.(10) Illegitimate children and children whose mothers were dead were not, technically, orphans and could not therefore be admitted to orphanages.(11) In spite of its name, the Randwick Asylum was designed for `neglected' not `destitute' children.(12) There was very little supervision of apprentices from any of these institutions and apprentices could not be returned to the institution if their apprenticeship failed. Difficulties in arranging admissions, as well as the time taken to organise admission to any institution from country areas, was a matter of some concern to country police and magistrates. Of even greater concern to both city and country police and magistrates was the lack of a reformatory. The Industrial Schools Act was designed to gather in the vagrant `neglected' children of the streets while the Reformatory Schools Act, which was passed on the same day as the Industrial Schools Act, was designed to deal with juvenile offenders. Because Colonial Secretary, Henry Parkes, was determined that the Vernon, whose purchase had been practically completed nearly a year before the two Acts were passed, would be used for `innocent' children, the industrial schools were established first.(13) Enrolments were much slower than expected and it quickly became obvious that there would be considerable delay in the establishment of a boys' reformatory.(14) In the absence of a suitable alternative to gaols, police and magistrates sought ways to use the Industrial School Act to deal with delinquents. They also sought ways to use the Act to assist in the control of prostitution. This was part of the colony's response to the demand by the British naval authorities for control of the prostitute population in ports where their naval bases were situated.(15) Other colonies and ports often achieved this control by means of a Contagious Diseases Act, usually accompanied by the use of lock hospitals. Sydney appears to have sought to achieve similar results by the use of (unofficially) `approved' brothels and the elimination of the `freelance' prostitute.(16) All of these factors affected the use of the Industrial Schools Act and the part played by police and parents.

Neglected, destitute and delinquent city children

Immediately after the gazetting of the Vernon, city police began to apply the Act as it was originally intended--to clear the streets of vagrants. Many of the boys who were arrested in the first years had no parents, or their ties with families had been broken for some considerable time. For example, Henry H. who was `found sleeping in a box in a shed in a yard in Kent Street' and whose mother had been dead for four years, had no knowledge of his father's whereabouts.(17) Others had `cleared out' from the country or had `stowed away'.(18) At least fourteen boys had both parents dead. For another five boys the sole remaining parent had been admitted to the infirmary or an asylum. For all of these boys, the initiative of laying the charge under the Industrial Schools Act was taken by the police, and there was neither parental support nor opposition. Nor was there any opposition expressed by two derelict families who obviously had no home to shelter their offspring.(19)

Fewer girls were arrested for `neglect', and the pattern of arrests was distinctly different. Omitting those girls charged with prostitution-related offences, there were eleven girls under fourteen whose `neglect' could be classified as `abuse'--three had been abandoned, three were `turned out' of home, two were `nearly naked and half starved' and three had been physically abused. In all but two of these cases, parental drunkenness was alleged. One six year old was arrested when her mother was gaoled for stealing.(20) Three girls were committed to Newcastle on the evidence of a charitable institution when they had been returned from apprenticeships.(21) In these cases ties with parents had been broken for some years. While the evidence presented for abuse or neglect of all of these girls is strong, there is no evidence to suggest that any parent actively sought the admission of these children to the school.

On the other hand, in cases of desperate poverty, some parents would appear to have sought the help of police to have their children charged with having `no means of support'. The mother of Godfrey H., aged eight, was supported by police in her charge that her son had `no ostensible legal occupation' when her husband was dying and the boy was suffering from scurvy. Two years later, when she had remarried, police supported her application for the boy's release.(22) Four other mothers, all widows, laid charges against boys whose wandering habits made it impossible for the mothers to work. They received police support.(23) This seeking of charitable relief in desperate circumstances represents a very small fraction of boys admitted and can scarcely be regarded as `unloading responsibilities'.

Police efforts to control juvenile delinquency are represented by a large group against whom charges under the Industrial Schools Act were often ostensibly laid by a parent but which were actually initiated by the police. Police and court practices in dealing with juvenile delinquents are relevant here. Children over seven could be, and sometimes were, gaoled.(24) But because the gaols had a horrendous reputation, many magistrates were unwilling to commit minor offenders to them. The knowledge that they were unlikely to obtain a committal made police unwilling to prosecute delinquents. After the passing of the Industrial Schools Act some police preferred charges of wandering `in no ostensible legal occupation' against boys whom they suspected of stealing. A number of parents expressed very strong opposition(25) and magistrates appear to have been reluctant to commit a boy if his parents objected.(26) Police sought ways to force parents either to consent to charges or, preferably, to lay charges themselves.

When a child was arrested it was normal police practice to contact the parent, if possible. Children who had parents would not normally face a charge before a court without their parents having been informed of their arrest. While there is no record of any of the interviews between police and parents, it is obvious in many cases from the way in which the charges were handled in court that an agreement had been reached that police would not press a charge for which a boy could have been gaoled, if parents themselves laid a charge under the Industrial Schools Act. So we have such examples as Frederick G., aged ten, who had stolen carrots from a yard. His mother charged him with `wandering with thieves'.(27) Similarly, Michael M. aged twelve, who had been found drunk in Dixon Street, was discharged on this charge and his mother laid a charge that he was `wandering with thieves'.(28) Sometimes a small fine was imposed for the original offence before the parent laid a charge under the Industrial Schools Act, usually that the boy was `wandering in no ostensible legal occupation'.(29) In many cases the magistrates themselves simply dismissed the original charge and ordered either parent or police to prefer a charge under the Industrial Schools Act.

This police use of the Act to control delinquency can be seen more clearly in two-parent families. Of fifty-four city boys living with both natural parents at the time of their arrest:
 Thirteen were charged by parent with police cooperation. (Twelve altered

 Twelve were charged by police with parental cooperation. (All altered

 Six charges were altered without apparent reference to parents.

 Five were charged by father without apparent reference to police. (Three
 appear to be seeking to punish their son, two seeking care for an epileptic
 or an imbecile child.)

 Eighteen were charged by police without apparent reference to parents.
 (Fourteen cases of `neglect' and four for control of prostitution.)

Of families where a step-parent was included (five step-fathers, eight step-mothers):
 Six were altered charges made by police with parental support.

 Five charges were laid by the boy's mother after boy had `run away'.

 One boy was charged with living with a prostitute (his mother).

 One charge was made by a step-mother (of whom the boy was afraid).

Because there were fewer applications for discharge from single parent families, fewer details are available for such families. Of nineteen city boys whose fathers were dead:
 Six charges (at least two altered) were laid by mother.

 Six charges (all altered) were laid by police with mother s cooperation.

 Three were charged by police, mother opposing.

 Four (members of a gang) were charged by police without reference to

 Three boys whose mothers were `absent' were charged by fathers, apparently
 to provide a home for boys while they were at work.

Only two city girls had stealing charges altered, apparently to avoid gaol sentences. One had been convicted of a charge of stealing before her father supported a police charge of `no means of support'.(30) The other, who had pleaded guilty to a stealing charge, was given `the rising of the court' sentence before being charged with having `no means of support' at the suggestion of the magistrate.(31)

In cases where the original charge was stealing or similar, it is quite clear that most parents simply bowed to police pressure and agreed either to lay charges themselves or to support police charges in order to avoid a possible gaol sentence for their son. Parental charges against their sons or their `consent' to, or cooperation with police charges should, therefore, be treated with extreme caution. Consent under duress is coercion. Choosing what is seen as the lesser of two evils is simply commonsense, and is not evidence of a desire to `unload their responsibilities onto the Schools'. This is borne out by an average of thirty applications for discharge which were made each year, mostly on behalf of boys from two-parent families.

Police use of the Act to control prostitution in city areas went far beyond the stated aim of preventing mothers from prostituting their daughters, and was directed at older `freelance' prostitutes (by the removal of prostitutes' children of either sex), at adult male `touts', (by the removal of their children), against juvenile male touts, and against girls who were either streetwalking or working in `unapproved' brothels. The committal of younger children on charges of `living with prostitutes' was on police evidence and was usually felt as harsh by the parents. For example, Emma P., the six-year-old daughter of a cohabiting couple, whose mother supported her drinking habits by occasional prostitution, was arrested when standing beside her sleeping mother in a hotel parlour. Acting on the advice of the Central Police Court magistrate, to `reform and get married to the father of the child', the couple married within a month, but it took several petitions and police reports before a discharge was achieved.(32) The arrest of relatively few such children would suggest that police usage was very selective and, possibly, cautionary.

While police used the threat of the removal of their children to deter older prostitutes, the bulk of the committals in prostitution-related offences were of girls over fourteen, many of them over sixteen (and, therefore, illegally committed). Of thirty-four older city girls arrested during this period, seventeen were charged by police and seventeen by some relative.(33) Each group exhibits its own peculiarities.

Of those charged by the police, five were charged on the Friday before the school opened. Of these, three were over sixteen; all five were `streetwalkers'; and one had syphilis, which would have been known to the police as she had recently been released from gaol. Of the five arrested the following week, four were prostitutes working in brothels of which the police disapproved, one had syphilis, and one gonorrhoea.(34) The fifth girl arrested that week, and the one arrested the following week, were both `exceedingly well-conducted girls', but both of their mothers kept brothels. No further charges were laid by police for another two years. After that lapse of time the remaining police charges were spread over two years and all but one girl charged was a `streetwalker'. All charges laid by police without parental support make it apparent that police themselves had sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction.

The other seventeen prostitution-related charges were made by fathers, mothers, sisters and one by the girl herself. Many of these leave the impression that police had interviewed relatives and that the relatives had been coerced. The father who testified that he `next saw [his daughter] yesterday morning in a house of ill-fame and took proceedings'(35), or the one who stated that `from information he had received he believed his daughter was wandering in no ostensible legal occupation, read as though they were acting on police dictation.(36) Similarly the mother who deposed that her daughter `has been seen talking to soldiers and sailors and has been aboard Rosario man-of-war' was repeating the statement of the police who removed the girl from the man-of-war.(37) Most of the allegations made by relatives give the impression that the arrests were initiated by police and that the relatives were coerced into laying charges. If the parents refused, the girls would have been liable to such charges as `indecent behaviour', soliciting or any of a number of offences associated with prostitution and would have been liable to a gaol sentence. Evidence given by police in support of relatives' charges would suggest that most of the girls were taken from brothels of which the police disapproved as being `of the worst type' or `frequented by sailors' or `a Chinese brothel'. All of the evidence would suggest that, despite charges laid by parents and others, arrests for prostitution-related offences were initiated by police.

In the case of city boys and girls committed to the industrial schools during the first four years it is clear that police were completely in charge. During most of the first year the Act was used as it had been originally intended, but probably about half of the boys admitted in the next three years were minor delinquents whose charges had been `adjusted' by the police or the magistrates. While many of the charges against older girls for prostitution-related offences were laid by parents or relatives it is clear that police coercion was brought to bear. There is evidence that police occasionally cooperated with desperate parents in order to solve problems of destitution but this is not greatly in evidence in city courts.

Destitute, delinquent and neglected country children

While country police were interested in solving the same problems as city police, viz. destitution, `neglect', delinquency and control of prostitution, different circumstances led to an entirely different emphasis. Unstable social conditions, particularly in goldfields areas, led to the deaths of some parents, desertion by some and the gaoling of others, leaving police with problems of parentless children. The lack of suitable country work for women and the difficulties in obtaining charitable relief when it was required ensured that the death or desertion of one or both parents created problems for which country towns were not equipped. Efforts to improve their situation by begging, stealing or prostitution, led to widows or deserted wives being gaoled for vagrancy or stealing and the committal of their children to the industrial schools.

The extent of this destitution and `neglect' is shown by the fact that sixty-three children from twenty-one country families (two or more children of either sex) were admitted to an industrial school during this period because of the death of one or both parents. Twenty-eight children from a further twelve country families were admitted to one of the Schools following the gaoling of one or both parents. Single arrests and incidents of abandonment brought the total of country children who were either destitute or `neglected' to about two-thirds of the 197 boys and girls admitted from the country during this four-year period.

The role of police in removing destitute and vagrant children from country towns is clear. The part played by parents is often less clear and must be deduced from factors surrounding each committal, and can range from opposition to collusion with others to obtain admissions. Consider the following cases: When their father was killed in a mine accident at Major's Creek, James, Alexander, William and Henry B. and their sister Mary, aged between four and twelve, were charged at Bombala Court with having `no means of support.(38) As an older boy and a baby, aged two, were not charged, it seems likely that the mother `cooperated' with the police when faced with the possible starvation of her children. Four months after their father (a shepherd) died, Robert, Thomas and John E. were charged at Bathurst court with having no fixed place of abode, and no means of support when their mother was gaoled for vagrancy.(39) Here the initiative would appear to have been with the police and against the mother's wishes. After the Randwick Asylum refused to admit Mary, Isabelle and George W. because they were illegitimate(40) their mother, who had been abandoned by her partner, sent them into the streets to beg, and gave evidence that they were `living with a person who had no means of support'. Here the police cooperated with the mother. After her husband had been gaoled for assaulting her, the mother of five girls aged between two and eleven `left the country' making arrangements for temporary care only.(41) Police charged the children with having `no means of support' but clearly the admissions were engineered by the mother.

It is evident that poverty was the underlying cause of all of these admissions. Nearly all of the charges in country courts were laid by police, and cooperation, consent to, or even of manipulation of police action is indicative of a high degree of desperation. In most cases parents accepted the only solution available to an otherwise insoluble problem. This can scarcely be regarded as `unloading responsibilities onto the Schools'.

From the police viewpoint, committal to the industrial schools of children whose parents were gaoled for any reason, left police free to seek the gaoling of vagrants or thieves or other lawbreakers without leaving themselves with the problem of `neglected' children. Also, as the children of destitute parents were likely to cause problems, cooperation with a parent in the children's committal can be regarded as logical and in police interests, but there is little evidence of coercion. If any coercion came in country districts it was probably from magistrates, who were usually landowners and who regarded the presence of `encumbrances' as undesirable.

Country police used the Industrial Schools Act against two kinds of delinquents--those who had stolen things and apprentices who had absconded from indentured service. While the number of altered charges from country courts was not large--eleven altered stealing charges and eight abandoned apprenticeships, police dominance in the application of the Act is seen clearly in these charges: John M., aged fifteen, was charged at Goulburn with stealing thirty head of cattle and a horse. He was discharged from custody (for lack of evidence) and arrested and charged under the Industrial Schools Act.(42) William J., aged ten, was `committed to a Reformatory' by Mudgee court for stealing three tins of fish. The charge was altered to `no ostensible legal occupation' by the Water Police Court to allow his admission to the Vernon.(43) Other charges were altered in the same way, sometimes after a boy had spent some months in gaol.(44) Only one charge appears to have been altered against a girl in a country court although the exact process is not clear. The Court Report says, `Maryanne K. was ordered to be sent to the Industrial School for Girls at Newcastle for stealing a gold ring and some other articles, the property of Mrs M. of West Maitland' but the Register says `No means of support'.(45) There is no evidence to suggest that country parents had been consulted about the charges laid against country delinquents, so the question of `unloading responsibilities' does not arise.

Some of the charges against absconded apprentices reveal the deficiencies inherent in the unsupervised apprenticeship system of the charitable institutions of the day. For example, William T., aged fifteen, who had been apprenticed by the Protestant Orphan School, ran away after he had been flogged by his master for failing to find strayed cattle. He was charged with having no means of support.(46) In his case ties with parents had been broken for at least six years.

The committal of about a third of country girls and of some boys came as a result of police desire to control many offences including prostitution.(47) This control took three forms. The first was the arresting of young children whose mother was a prostitute, usually when the mother herself was arrested. Most of these children were under ten, although two sisters aged twelve and fourteen and their ten-year-old brother were arrested at Cooma when their mother was arrested for vagrancy.(48) The advantage of these arrests to police was that police or the gaols did not have to organise care for the children of offenders whom police arrested.

The second method of controlling prostitution was the arresting of girls who were believed to be prostitutes. As prostitution was not itself an offence, the wording of the charge had to fit the circumstances. Two girls were arrested `sleeping out' in the grandstand of the Newcastle Racecourse. One, whom police believed was living by prostitution, was charged with having `no ostensible legal occupation'. Her companion, who had recently run away from home, was charged with `wandering with prostitutes'.(49) Six other girls from the Newcastle--Maitland area were clearly themselves prostitutes, five of them living with parents or other members of their family who were `unwilling or unable to restrain them', although there is no suggestion that these parents were prostituting their daughters.(50)

Girls who were being prostituted by their parents made up a third group. Of one family of three girls, aged six, eight and thirteen, police reported, `Mother a most depraved character rearing her daughters to prostitution with Chinese'.(51) Another girl aged seven was reported to be a prostitute with her parents' approval.(52) On the other hand a girl aged fifteen, who sought police assistance against the sexual overtures of her mother's ex-partner, found herself in the industrial school on a charge of having `no means of support'.(53) While the conduct of the parents who prostituted their daughters may be considered reprehensible, they can scarcely be said to have been seeking to `unload their responsibilities onto the schools'.

A study of available records for the period 1867 to 1870 inclusive would indicate that during that time the Act was used systematically by the police in both city and country courts to solve problems of child destitution and delinquency as well as the `neglect' for which the Act was originally intended. It was also used against both boys and girls in order to control prostitution. In the first four years of the schools' existence, it is clear that control of admissions to the industrial schools was firmly in the hands of police. While it is true that the police did cooperate with a few destitute parents, such cooperation was to police advantage in that it removed children who were likely to create problems for police. What appears as parental initiative or parental cooperation was usually thinly disguised police coercion.

Continuing patterns

The pattern of charges that existed during the early years continued up to the establishment of the State Children Relief Board [SCRB]. In 1881 the State Children Relief Act provided for the boarding-out officer to remove any State child from an institution `wholly or partly supported by grants from the Consolidated Revenue Fund' and to cause him or her to be boarded out.(54) The Act did not provide for direct admission to the SCRB, but courts could commit children to the Benevolent Asylum or to the industrial schools, from which they could be removed to the SCRB.

Between 1882 and 1887, while the board was emptying the two orphanages and taking over the care of the State-supported children from the Randwick Asylum, many children (particularly boys) who might have been expected to be placed in one of these institutions in earlier years were sent to the industrial schools.(55) This would appear to have been an administrative decision in order to allow for the smoother working of the board's admissions.(56) In this period the industrial schools appear to have been receiving the destitute and neglected younger children from the city who had previously been admitted directly to the orphanages or the Randwick Asylum as well as children who were living with thieves or prostitutes, members of gangs and children without parents. Most destitute and neglected children were charged by police. The parents of children who had committed an offence continued to cooperate with police in order to have the charge altered to one under the Industrial Schools Act, or remained silent while police or magistrates `adjusted' the charges. In only one ease is there a record of a parent objecting to the trial of a boy twice for the same offence.(57)

By 1886 the State Children Relief Board had completed the task of emptying the two orphanages and had boarded out all State-supported children front the Randwick Asylum as well as all children under eleven from the industrial schools. Admissions to the Vernon during a six-month period in 1886 and to the Industrial School for Girls during the year 1886(58) reflect new administrative procedures rather than new social conditions.

Of forty-eight city boys charged, nineteen `adjusted' charges were made by relatives; only three were adjusted by police. Police seemed to be able to press their charges without parental support, because the boy had been `previously before the court'. As direct admission to the SCRB was not permitted at this time, police were also fulfilling a `welfare' role. Six boys were admitted because their mothers were destitute and eight because of the death, gaoling or desertion of a parent. These charges differed from those laid in earlier years only in the fact that the reasons were plainly stated. Two charges appear to have been `invented' by parents with police support in order to get treatment for epileptic boys.

Only seventeen boys were admitted to the Vernon from country courts in this period. Of these, ten of the twelve `adjusted' charges were laid by the police. Two charges, laid by police (one with parent's cooperation, the other against an orphan), would appear to have been directed at forcing the institutionalisation of two imbecile boys. No country boy over seven was admitted to the Vernon because of the death, desertion or gaoling of his parents or because he had been abandoned, but four boys under seven were nominally committed to the Vernon but sent to Biloela(59) for these reasons and were transferred within a few weeks to the SCRB.

Of the thirty-one girls admitted to Biloela during 1886, nineteen were `morals' charges. A prior charge of the use of indecent language, mentioned in three cases, would indicate that these were adjusted cases with at least tacit parental approval, and in two cases it is clear that relatives were coopted to give evidence. A new element is the inclusion of charges laid on behalf of the SCRB against five recalcitrant wards or apprentices. Two country girls were sent to Biloela on `morals' charges. Five country girls aged between six and ten were sent to Biloela after their mothers were gaoled.

Although the pattern of committal changed to meet administrative problems, it is clear that police were still firmly in control of those committals. While parents laid most of the `adjusted' delinquency charges against boys, in only one case is there any suggestion that the parent acted on his own initiative. This was an attempt by a parent to have an imbecile who was `wandering' institutionalised. This, and cooperation to get medical treatment for epileptics, should be seen in the context of the times.

The difference between the attitude of parents of boys and the parents of girls is instructive. The gaols had a dreadful reputation, the Vernon a good one, so parents of boys continued to cooperate. The reputation of the Girls School, and the prison associations of Cockatoo Island where the girls were housed after 1871, ensured that parents of girls gave only grudging support and appear less frequently as witnesses.

After 1890 the pattern of admissions to both the Vernon and the Industrial School for Girls altered significantly and in both cases the role of the police became more clearly defined and the possibility of parents influencing admissions diminished. Each year between 1890 and 1896 an average of twenty-nine `failures' from the SCRB and twenty of the Ship's own returned apprentices were sent on board. As most children under eleven were transferred to the SCRB the presence of these two groups meant that the average age of those on board rose considerably. This created a problem for magistrates, particularly in dealing with minor offenders who were aged eleven or twelve. The magistrates' reluctance to commit `neglected' youngsters to an institution now holding many `delinquents' meant that many charges were dismissed or many boys were given `another chance'. The advantage to the police of having a parent declare that a child was `neglected' disappeared when this charge no longer assured an almost automatic committal to the industrial school. This fact is obvious in the committals in 1890. While twenty-four `adjusted' charges may have had parental support, there were thirty `neglected' charges which appear to have been made entirely on police initiative.

Police counter to the diffidence of the magistrates was to seek, and obtain, a clause in the Children's Protection Bill (1892) which enabled a magistrate to commit children under fourteen to an industrial school `for any offence'.(60) This eliminated the need for an adjusted charge and hence for parental cooperation, but magistrates still hesitated to commit boys for a first offence, hence there were 196 boys admitted to the Sobraon(61) in 1893 who had been `before the court' at least twice.

The introduction of this clause and the establishment in 1895 of Brush Farm Reformatory left parents' influence on a court's verdict very slight, but the fact that police still forced parental cooperation in cases where that cooperation would be helpful can be seen in the Sobraon charges for 1898:
Charges laid against boys 1998

Charges by police by parents

Larceny/stealing 45 7
No means support 8 4
Sleeping in open air 6 5
No occupation/truanting 17 18
With prostitutes or thieves 12 0
Others 2 0

Source: Sobraon Entrance Book for 1898

These figures make it clear that while a few parents were laying stealing and some `neglected' charges, as many parents as police are charging boys with having no ostensible legal occupation when their offence also involved truanting.(62) This should be seen as parental self-defence. The 1880 Public Instruction Act required a parent to `cause a child to go to school', so if a child failed to go to school, the father was prosecuted for failing to send him to school. The fine, court costs and the loss of a day's pay (and possible threat to employment) was a heavy burden if father pleaded guilty. If father protested that the boy had been sent to school but did not go, the boy could be charged with having `no legal occupation'. As a father could more easily establish his own innocence by himself charging the boy, it was not difficult to coerce people, who simply could not afford the cost of repeated fines, to lay charges against their sons. While the form of coercion altered in the latter days of the School Ship, it should be seen as coercion. With very few exceptions parents did not `unload their responsibilities onto the ship'. The police were responsible for the population of both the Vernon and the Sobraon.

The roles played by police and parents are less obvious for girls after 1890. The Industrial School for Girls moved to Parramatta in 1887 but no clear change in its enrolments or in the apparent purpose of the school is seen until after 1890. Direct information either in Register of Warrants Received or in Court Reports is scanty at this time, but a comparison of charges made against girls admitted to Parramatta in the years between 1895 and 1904 with charges made in earlier years would suggest that either new reasons for admission or a new codification of charges is involved. If these new charges are set against economic and social conditions of the times they provide us with insights into the roles played by police and parents.

It is possible to deduce a number of facts from these charges and from factors which impinged on them. The first obvious fact is the decline in the number having no means of support after the school ceased to care for destitute children, and the decline of charges of `living with prostitutes' and of `wandering with prostitutes' after 1891. These were balanced by the fact that charges of having `no ostensible legal occupation' increased to about half of the charges which were laid. As the records for the later period do not indicate who laid the charges or who supported them a study was made of family circumstances and of the ways in which the girls admitted to the industrial school in 1900 left the school to determine the possible role of parents.

As most of the girls admitted on `other charges' were admitted after their parents had been gaoled, those parents could have had little or no influence on those charges. There is no evidence to determine the role of parents of girls who were charged with `no legal occupation', but a comparison of method of discharge of those admitted on a `no legal occupation' charge with the discharge of those admitted on other charges would suggest that girls on other charges were considered deserving of more care than those admitted on a `no ostensible legal occupation' charge.

This would tend to confirm the impression that the charge `no legal occupation' had become code for `suspected of venereal disease'(63), which appears to have reached epidemic proportions only in the twentieth century. In the four years from 1902 to 1905 inclusive, fifty-nine girls were admitted with gonorrhoea, fifteen with vaginitis and three with syphilis.(64) As only sixteen girls were charged with `living with prostitutes' and seven with `wandering with prostitutes' during that period, many girls with venereal disease must have been admitted on some other charge.

An examination of the discharges of those charged with having `no ostensible legal occupation' in 1900 shows those who had both parents were either discharged by executive authority or apprenticed.(65) No girl with two parents was retained in the institution till she was eighteen, and only four who had one parent (when admitted) were retained till they were eighteen. Those retained until eighteen were parentless. This would suggest that the school was being used as a lock hospital for juveniles who could be returned to their parents--if any--when cured. In such circumstances the question of who initiated the charge becomes irrelevant


This survey of admissions to the two industrial schools indicates that the Industrial Schools Act was used by police to meet deficiencies in provisions for destitute and delinquent children and for the control of prostitution, as well as for the `neglected' children for whom it was designed, and that parental use of the Act was permitted when such use suited police purposes. Much apparent parental use of the Act was organised by police who ensured parental cooperation under threat of a possible gaol sentence for a delinquent child. This is more obvious in city admissions because of the greater number of petty offences committed by city juveniles. A larger number of both genuinely destitute and `neglected' children were admitted from country areas. Few parents had any real options in country or city. At every stage the population of the industrial schools was constructed by the police. The claim that parents were `unloading their responsibilities onto the Schools' provided a useful camouflage for the misuse of the Act.
Average number of charges laid against girls each year

Charges 1867-1870 1895-1904

Living with prostitutes 14 6
Wandering with prostitutes 6 3
No means of support 25 10
No legal occupation 2 20
Others 1 4

Source: Register of Warrants Received

Parental circumstances of new admissions to ISG Parramatta in 1900
 NOLO(**) other

No parents present 2 19
Number with one parent 9 1
Large families/low income families 7 0
Both parents (circumstances not known) 3 1

Source: ISG Parramatta, Admission and Discharge Register

(**) no ostensible legal occupation
Discharges of girls admitted in 1900

 NOLO Other charges

To SCRB 0 6
By executive authority 8 5
Apprenticed 3 5
Discharged to a person (at 18) 4 0
Discharged to position (at 18) 0 5
Discharged (at 18) 6 0

Source: ISG Parramatta, Admission Discharge and After Career Register

Sydney New South Wales


(1) An Act for the Relief of Destitute Children, 1867, 30 Vic. no. 2.

(2) In 1850 the word `destitute' implied neglect or abandonment. To avoid misunderstanding, the word `neglected' is used here for the vagrant children for which the Act was intended and the word `destitute' is given its modern meaning.

(3) M. Horsborough, `Child Care in New South Wales in 1870' in Australian Social Work vol. 29 no. 1 March, 1976.

(4) NSS Vernon, Annual Report, 1884 p. 1.

(5) Royal Commission on Public Charities Evidence 9/7/73 q 2423 in Votes and Proceedings of Legislative Assembly (VPLA) 1873-74 vol. 6 pt 2.

(6) Papers with CSIL 72/6095. Reply to note dated 5/8/72.

(7) B. Dickey, `The Establishment of Industrial Schools and Reformatories in New South Wales, 1850-1875 in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (JRAHS) vol. 54 pt 2 June 1968, pp. 135-51; Robert van Krieken, Children and the State, Sydney, 1992 pp. 69-71.

(8) Van Krieken.

(9) `Select Committee into the Destitute Children's Bill' in Votes and Proceedings of Legislative Council (VPLC) 1854 vol. 2, p. 175 Q 53 (McLerie).

(10) CSIL 68/5236, Archives Office of New South Wales (AONSW).

(11) From evidence given by Bishop Quinn to the Charities Commission (1872), it seems likely that the Catholic Orphanage ignored this.

(12) `Select Committee into the Destitute Children's Bill' Q 8 (John Edhouse).

(13) `Select Committee into the Nautical School Ship' in VPLC 1854 vol. 2, Report.

(14) The Vernon introduced `land' trades early in 1868 `for economy's sake'.

(15) Walter Reed, staff surgeon of HMS Wolverine comments on the workings of the Contagious Diseases Act in Hobart to Commodore Wilson 26 February 1880. Cited in Kay Daniels and Mary Murnane, Uphill All the Way, Brisbane, 1980.

(16) While it would seem likely that this was accompanied by a deal of corruption, it is unlikely that proof of same would remain.

(17) Vernon Entrance Book (VEB) 200, AONSW; Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 18 November 1869.

(18) VEB 52, VEB 114.

(19) VEB 7 and 8.

(20) Register of Warrants Received, (RWR) 60 and 61, CSIL; SMH 7 April 1868; RWR 44 and CSIL 69/4052.

(21) RWR 27, 29, 47 and 141; and SMH 10 September 1867, 12 September 1867, 7 December 1867 and 3 February 1870.

(22) VEB 23; CSIL 70/1725.

(23) VEB 178, 199, 214, 251.

(24) 130 boys and 25 girls under 15 were gaoled in 1859. [Prison Report quoted in evidence before `Select Committee into the Condition of the Working Classes of the Metropolis'].

(25) VEB 14, 15 and 24; SMH 23 May 1867; CSIL 67/3701, 67/4844, 68/6218 and 69/9880.

(26) Royal Commission on Public Charities, Report in VPLA 1873-74, vol. 6, pt 2; evidence 6 July 1873 Q 2423 (Edmund Fosbery).

(27) VEB 154; SMH 29 January 1869.

(28) VEB 237; SMH 21 July 1870.

(29) VEB 237; SMH 21 July 1870.

(30) RWR 52; SMH 12 February 1868; CSIL 69/1176.

(31) RWR 106; SMH 5 June 1869.

(32) RWR 23; SMH 3 September 1867; CSIL 68/530 and 70/604. The original marriage certificate is still in the Colonial Secretary's files. Its sole purpose was to obtain the custody of the child.

(33) Fourteen years and older.

(34) For the `health' of girls admitted to Newcastle see CSIL 67/6696.

(35) RWR 147; SMH 29 January 1870.

(36) RWR 138; SMH 18 December 1869.

(37) RWR 121; SMH 9 December 1869.

(38) VEB 84, 85, 86, 87; and RWR 59.

(39) VEB 179, 180 and 181. While `vagrancy' was often a euphemism for prostitution, notes state mother had been living on charity.

(40) RWR 69 and 70; VEB 112; CSIL 68/5236; Goulburn Herald, 20 July 1868.

(41) RWR 72, 73, 74, 75, 76; Newcastle Chronicle, 25 August 1868 and 25 February 1869.

(42) VEB 208.

(43) VEB 244.

(44) CSIL 67/3917.

(45) Newspaper cutting probably from Maitland Mercury c. 8 January 1869 with RWR 91.

(46) VEB 92.

(47) When a warrant reads `Living with thieves and prostitutes' it sometimes refers to the inmates of a gaol. Therefore the exact nature of a parental offence is sometimes in doubt.

(48) RWR 78 and 79; VEB 233.

(49) RWR 99 and 100; Newcastle Chronicle, 18 March 1869.

(50) RWR 13, 25, 30, 42 and 57; Newcastle Chronicle, 8 November 1867 and 29 February 1868.

(51) RWR 88, 134 and 135; CSIL 72/774.

(52) RWR 38; CSIL 71/9546 and 73/3234 with 73/3617.

(53) RWR 96. The implications of this case reveal the deficiencies of the Act and of the `welfare system' as well as crass-mindedness on the part of the police.

(54) 44 Vic. no. 24, clauses 2 and 14 combined.

(55) The Vernon Entrance Books for 1876 to 1885 are not available. Facts of admission are deduced from the number of children admitted and transferred in the Superintendent's Annual Reports. The Girls Register for Warrants Received provides some confirmatory evidence.

(56) The Board had considerable difficulty in boarding-out young boys until they discovered that South Coast dairy farmers could use eight-year-olds for milking. SCRB Annual Report 1884.

(57) VEB 517 (1876).

(58) Admission to the girls school was restricted at this time because of appalling conditions on Biloela while the Cockatoo Island Sutherland Dock was being built.

(59) Boys under seven were cared for at the Industrial School for Girls after 1871.

(60) 55 Vic. no. 30 clause 21.

(61) The Sobraon replaced the Vernon in 1892.

(62) Charges of truanting seem to accompany other charges--probably one that could not be proved.

(63) In 1892 the practice of sexually examining girls taken from brothels was resumed. ISG Parramatta, Superintendent's Letter Book (5/3432) p. 99.

(64) ISG Parramatta, Annual Report, 1913 p. 4.

(65) The girls who had faced other charges were all found positions.

GLADYS SCRIVENER, This article is published posthumously. Readers wishing to examine the sources on the study on which it is based could consult Gladys Scrivener `Rescuing the Rising Generation--Industrial Schools in New South Wales, 1850-1920', PhD thesis, University of Western Sydney.
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Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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