Industrial Schools of Victoria Australia in the 19th Century

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The goal of this project is to provide context to profiles of people who spent time in the Victorian Industrial School institutions set up to accomodate neglected children.


History - Succinct

  • From 1864 to 1887 neglected children could be sent to an Industrial school. Industrial schools were different than reformatory schools. Reformatory schools were for children convicted of an offence.
  • Children in the schools were expected to work during the day on such activities as 'domestic work, cooking, laundering, tailoring, baking, shoe making, dairying, gardening and farming’
  • In the 1880’s the industrial schools were replaced with a system of neglected children being called wards of the state and allocated to foster homes.


  • Catherine (Kate) Dutton, Kate (Dutton) Crump, DOB 21 December 1857, committed at Geelong 14 October 1868 at 11 years old, discharged 14 October 1875 at 18 years of age [1]
    • Catherine's record shows the cause of her commitment as neglect. Her term was 7 years.
    • After being at (an illegible location) she was stationed at Geelong, then in 1872 'licensed out' through 3 locations which apparently were foster /work homes. In between those foster placements it seems she was in 'Melbourne'.  'Melbourne' may have been the Princes Bridge school.
  • Helen (Ellen) Hargreaves Ellen (Hargreaves) Ritchie, DOB 4 March 1864, Committed at Williamstown 25 January 1870 at 5 years old, Discharged 25th January 1877, at 12 years old [2]
    • Helen's record shows that the cause of her commitment was neglect. Her term was 7 years.
    • She was stationed at the Princes Bridge school when she was committed, moved to another (illegible) school, then to Melbourne in 1873, Geelong in 1874 and another location in 1877 from where she was discharged.
    • Her record is notated that  her father was in the Melbourne Gaol for failing to pay maintenance to his wife and children.
  • Samuel Hargreaves, Samuel Hargreaves, DOB: 28 March 1866, Committed at Williamstown 25 January 1870 at 3 years old, Discharged 25th January 1877 at 10 years old. [3]
    • Samuel's record shows that the cause of his commitment was neglect. His term was 7 years.
    • He was stationed at Princes Bridge school when he was committed, moved to another (illegible) school, then to Sunbury in 1873, Ballarat in 1875, back to Sunbury in 1876, and another location in 1877 from where he was discharged.

Institution List

  • Princes Bridge
    • The first of the Victorian Industrial Schools was at Princes Bridge. "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." [4]
  • Sunbury
    • Sunbury was the first purpose built Industrial school, opening in 1865.
    • "The Sunbury Industrial School was established in 1865. It was located on Jacksons Hill, in Sunbury. By the end of 1868, the institution housed 651 boys. In around 1880, boys from Sunbury were transferred to the Royal Park Industrial School in Parkville." [5]
  • Geelong
  • Bendigo
  • Royal Park
    • "The Royal Park Industrial School opened in Parkville in 1875. It accommodated girls until around 1880 when the girls were transferred to the Industrial School at Geelong, and boys from Sunbury's Industrial School came to Royal Park. At about this time the Industrial School became known as the Royal Park Depot." [6]

History Detail

  • The Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools came into being with the passage of the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act 1864. Children who were deemed to be 'neglected' were to be sent to industrial schools. Children convicted of any offence could be sent to a reformatory school but justices had the authority to take their age and circumstances into account and to send them instead to an industrial school: [7]
  • Even during the 1860's conditions in the schools, and the costs of running them had led the government to use "boarding-out" as a way of caring for some of the children who would usually have been placed in an industrial school. The government gradually closed down its industrial schools to build a model which aimed to place most children in foster homes. The intention was that the government would only run reformatories and a receiving home to hold children before or between foster placements." [8]

Research Journeys

  • Research [discovery journeys and dead ends]
  • Right now this project just has one member, me. I am John Saward.
  • I began documenting these institutions because in September 2021 I found that one of my ancestors spent time in one of them. I had never heard of them before that.


The Public Records Office Victoria holds archival records of children committed into the care of The Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools.  

The records are available via 'Ward Registers (1864 - 1965) at - "The Ward Registers document information about children committed to state 'care' in Victoria, from 1864 to 1965 (from number 1 through to 84,818). They include the child's: name, sex, date of birth, native place, religion, ability to read or write, date of commitment, committing bench, date of admission, term, cause of commitment, whether parents are living, vaccination details, previous history, where stationed, licensing out details, details re discharge and half yearly report information. The Ward Registers were used to allocate a unique number to each child committed into state 'care'. The registers were maintained by the Chief Secretary's Department." [2]


  • Book: The Geelong Industrial Schools - Compiled by Elaine Kranjc and Pam Jennings
    • 'It became evident that the town had a growing number of misfortunate children who found themselves destitute through no fault of their own. The situation was becoming so desperate that on 28th August 1861 a meeting was held to look into establishing a juvenile reformatory, which became the Industrial School at Geelong.'
  • Bendigo Family History
    • 'Following on from the interest shown at a public meeting in 1857 the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum was officially opened on March 15, 1861 to ‘relieve the aged and infirm, the disabled and the destitute of all creeds and nations’.
  • Page, Guide to the Industrial Schools
    • "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."
  • Convicted and Neglected Researching Victoria’s Wards of State Records 1864–1961
    • "This paper describes the key series (VPRS 4527) in the PROV collection documenting children made wards of the state. It attempts to describe the recordkeeping system of which it was originally a part despite most of that system being destroyed by the creating agency during the first 65-odd years of its existence. The documentation, microfilming and indexing of VPRS 4527 by the controlling agency is outlined as are the findings of research undertaken by the author since then that fine tunes that arrangement and facilitates the digitisation and indexing now underway."

Long Quote as Background

Source: Trove.

Cite: Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917) Fri 2 Jun 1865, Page 3, via Trove,


The following interesting description of the present condition of the Industrial School at Sunbury, is from the Argus of yesterday :— Sunbury, as our readers are aware, is the site selected for the new Government Industrial Schools. The pretty fertile tract which has found so much favor in the eyes of promoters of novel industries is to be the scene also of a social experiment as important as it is interesting.

It will be several months before the work can be fairly proceeded with, but already some buildings have been erected, and the task has been commenced. Anomalous as it may seem, that in a new country, where " golden plenty" should rule everywhere, the state should have to act the parents' part ; yet this duty has been forced upon it.

Since the Neglected Children's Act was passed, deserted and destitute little ones have been sent to Melbourne by nearly every police-court in the colony. During the last year the number to be provided for has doubled, and there are no fewer than 850 on hand, 340 of whom have been received since the 1st of January last. The Government scheme is to educate these waifs and strays into useful members of society. In addition to learning tailoring, shoe-making, and carpentering, as they do at present, the Sir Harry Smith blockship is provided to train some up to the mercantile marine ; and the Sunbury institution is projected that the others may be made familiar with farming and dairy operations. It is with the latter that we have now to do.

The traveller by the Murray Railway line has a good view of the new schools when he has left Melbourne some four-and-twenty miles behind him. They are built a mile and a half away from the Sunbury station, on the crest of a hill, which slopes down to the reek on the one side, and on the other to the wide Keilor Plains, which stretch from thence to Port Phillip shores. The reserve consists of 1,100 acres. Masons and carpenters are busily at work on it, and four wardrooms — long blue-stone buildings, with slated roofs, and substantial in every particular — have been completed and are now occupied. The wards are 125 feet in length, by twenty-five feet wide, and they each contain a dormitory seventy-five feet long, a mess-room forty-five feet, and two apartments at the upper end for the officers in charge. Each is intended for a family of fifty. The incompleteness of the arrangements, however, prevents this division being adhered to.

One of the mess-rooms is used as a carpenter's workshop; another as a schoolhouse ; while one of the dormitories is set apart for taking meals in Only three of the wards have been available for the legitimate purposes of the establishment hitherto, the fourth having been temporarily reserved for the purpose of a female reformatory. There are very few girls there at present, and when their number increases to any extent they will have to be provided for elsewhere — in the first place, because the room is urgently required ; and in the second, because it is indispensable that there should be a complete separation between the criminal and the unfortunate classes. Owing to the pressure in Melbourne, where even now 600 children have to be maintained in rooms adapted only for 400, no less than 340 lads — hardy little varlets, but neither in expression nor physique at all favorable specimens of colonial youth — have now to be accommodated in the buildings ; a number far in excess of what they are adapted for.

Some nine or ten tents have been erected, to give the requisite sleeping room, but there is great difficulty in keeping them up on the windy hill. The late gales blew three or four of them right away, and unless the framework can be weatherboarded, it is feared that this arrangement will have to be abandoned. It seems hard, in any case, to expose the poor lads to sleep under canvas on a bleak hill-side during the cold, rainy winter months. In fact, only necessity could excuse it. Poverty makes men acquainted with strange bedfellows, and with these houseless children strange bed-places have been thrown into the bargain. The fact is one that shows that, even as it is, action has been too long delayed.

At present there is nothing to be said as to system, or the management of the institution, inasmuch as its real operations have not yet commenced. Little more is being done than to keep the children in order. Nor would it be fair to the officers to make any critical statements while they are restricted by an entire absence of appliances. How far this restriction extends may be judged of from there not being even a cooking-house on the ground. It will suffice, therefore, to mention that the children are regularly taught ; that they are visited on Sundays alternately by a Church of England and a Presbyterian clergyman ; that some are employed in looking after the cows belonging to the institution, some of them in building loose stone walls, and that about a dozen are learning carpentering from an artisan engaged for the purpose, under whose direction they have made all the furniture in use. The contracts now out include six other ward-rooms, workshops, cooking-houses, and officers' quarters. It will probably be the end of the year before they are completed ; but when this is done, accommodation will be provided for 500 children.

Dr Thomson, late of Geelong, is the medical superintendent at Sunbury ; and Mr W. H. Fay is the instructor. Mr Harcourt, general superintendent, visits the place thrice a week, and has, of course, the control of the establishment. Fertile and easy of access, though completely removed from the neighborhood of any large population, the site is in many respects all that can be desired.

The propriety of fixing the homestead on the crest of the hill is, however, questionable, the more especially as sheltered plateaux are close at hand. The hill is certainly very bleak, and is particularly exposed to the S.W. gales, which have already more than once damaged the roofs of the substantial buildings. A great number , of the boys are suffering from ophthalmia a complaint which broke out simultaneously among the children in nearly every institution around Melbourne — and it is said that the constant winds blowing about the hill tend to increase the inflammation. Whether or not the site is really objectionable on this or any similar account time alone can show. The trees and shrubs it is proposed to plant will do much to shelter the buildings, and, at any rate, if not the very best, the site has great advantages to be credited with.

The children cost the state about, 7s per week, this sum including all expenses of maintenance, instruction, and management. It is hoped that ultimately the institution will be self-supporting, but several years must necessarily elapse before that consummation can be attained. Some few of the parents contribute to the support of their children, their payments varying from 2s to 7s per week, as ordered by the" committing magistrates. It will probably be found necessary to enforce the law in this respect much more strictly than has yet been done. The magistrates have a difficulty duty to perform. Humanity requires them to relieve distress, and justice demands that they should cast no improper burden on the state. On their discretion, as well as on the efficiency of the management of the institution, will depend the successful working of the act.


  1. Public Record Office Victoria, Ward Register (known as Children's Registers 1864 - 1887), VPRS 4527/P0000, 5 - 3505; Girls neglected. Book 2, Image 683, PROV Record Catherine Dutton
  2. Public Record Office Victoria, Ward Register (known as Children's Registers 1864 - 1887), VPRS 4527/P0000, 3506 - 8499; Girls neglected. Book 4, Image 92, PROV Record, Helen Hargreaves
  3. Public Record Office Victoria, Ward Register (known as Children's Registers 1864 - 1887), VPRS 4527/P0000, 2598 - 5865; Boys neglected. Book 3, Image 407, PROV Record, Samuel Hargreaves
  4. [1]
  5. Sunbury Industrial School (1865 - 1880)
  6. Royal Park Industrial School (1875 - 1887)
  7. Find and Connect: Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools (1864 - 1887)
  8. -

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The Bendigo Family History group has some information on this establishment -

After the Ward of the State system was established, the Industrial School was phased out but the benevolent functions increased. Several name changes occurred including the Home and Hospital for the Aged and the Anne Caudle Centre.

The impressive building is still at Barnard St. See additional information at and

posted by Barry Dingle