Exhibition: A History of the Future

history-future

There’s a terrific little exhibition on at the City Gallery, off the Melbourne Town Hall at the moment. It’s called ‘A History of the Future’ and it’s on until August 12.

I’ve always been drawn to things that didn’t happen. While I tut-tut at ‘what-if’ and speculative histories, deep down I enjoy them.  This exhibition displays the plans of grand dreams that planners and architects have had for Melbourne that weren’t even built- and in most cases, I’d have to say “….and a good thing they weren’t, too”.

So there’s a giant hand-shaped building planned for what is now ACMI, between St Pauls and the Forum, with its index finger pointed skyward.  “Nothing remotely like it in all the world!” proclaims the plan. That’s for sure.  The finger nail of the index finger would contain an observation deck, while the thumb could contain a restaurant.  “The hand is particularly beautiful from its palm side, conformed thusly with three fingers clasped and one pointing heavenward, it symbolizes nothing specifically, but many things generally.” Unlike a middle figure pointing heavenward.

There’s several plans for pedestrian walk-way elevated above the footpath, with escalators running up from road level.  Or Robin Boyd’s plan for Bourke Street on five levels, the bottom consisting of public transport, then two levels of car parking, then finally cars going east and west.

For grand buildings, there could be a huge pyramid built beside the State Library (not unlike the one at the Louvre) or – most topically- a plan for the Queen Victoria Market in the 1970s that would have seen it enclosed completely, with a highrise government building erect on the Victoria/Therry Street corner.  It doesn’t sound all that much different to what is being proposed by the City of Melbourne right now.

It’s a fun little exhibition, so spend a spare half-hour looking through it the next time you’re in town.  It’s free and opening hours are Mon: 10am – 2pm ; Tue – Friday: 11am – 6pm and Sat: 10am – 4pm (closed Sunday) For a taster, here’s a slideshow:

http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/arts-and-culture/city-gallery/Pages/current-exhibition.aspx

 

Movie: God Willing

A friend recommended this film as a feel-good, gentle comedy and that’s exactly what it is. It’s in Italian with English subtitles. A surgeon, who has rather a God-complex himself, is rattled when his son decides that he is going to become a priest.  The surgeon, who is certainly a sceptic if not an outright aetheist, decides to investigate the priest with whom his son has become friends and finds more to him than he expected.

It’s not deep or challenging in any way, but certainly worth considering if you want to while away an hour or two.

‘The Racket’ by Gideon Haigh

haigh

2008. 250 p.

I read this book several weeks ago, during the week when finally an exclusion zone was actually enforced outside the East Melbourne Fertility Control Centre. For more than 20 years, pro-life protestors had taken up their positions on the footpath outside the surgery armed with posters and brochures in a final attempt to dissuade women from entering to have abortions. It’s been going on for years, despite the fact that in Victoria abortions no longer fall under the Crimes Act (even though they still do in  New South Wales and Queensland). In reading this book, I was taken back to black-and-white images and newspaper articles that threw up for me names like Peggy Berman, Bertram Wainer, and Jack Ford: all familiar, but I couldn’t quite remember how it all fitted together.

As Haigh points out, abortions had always been available in Australia through sharp instruments, potions and purgatives. These solutions were more within the purview of midwives than doctors, who were more often called upon to conduct a D&C after the abortion had been induced at home. Some operators worked with remarkable impunity, but it was also difficult to collect evidence and women often kept silent, partly from fear of charges and also from a sense of solidarity.  Doctors became more involved after World War II and through vigorous defence in the courts remained generally untouchable, but they remained interwoven with the remaining midwives and unqualified operators, often receiving commissions for referrals.  Increasingly, they became involved with corrupt police as well, in what formed a self-sustained ‘racket’, where everyone had their hand out for their share. Central to all this money changing hands was Peggy Berman, who went to an abortionist for an abortion herself, came out employed as his secretary, had an affair with the Homicide chief Jack Ford who was on the take, and became the main collector and enforcer of bribes and payments. When she felt betrayed by Ford, she began to talk, exposing the whole tacky, crooked racket.

I found myself angered by the casual profiteering that took place over the bodies of these women and girls, and the callousness of the exposure of women, their mothers and boyfriends when the police broke down the doors and the resultant cases ended up in court.  Take, for example, the Windsor Court raid on 25 May 1965. Police staked out the back and front entrances, then fanned out through the surgery, upending everything they did not confiscate, rummaging through the patient information cards. Upstairs they found three groggy women recovering from surgery, who they questioned on the spot. The women were spirited away to the Royal Women’s Hospital for internal vaginal examination, with a police photographer hovering beside the trolley taking pictures that, hugely magnified, would be part of the prosecution brief in court.  One girl, distressed, asked them to stop but her request was rebutted. When she asked for her mother, she learned that her mother had been taken into custody. (p. 87)

Then there were the court cases themselves.

Very seldom, in fact, do the transcripts read as though the abortionists themselves are on trial.  Because the witnesses are largely younger women, and the judges, barristers, solicitors, police and jurors almost exclusively older men, they often read like moral tribunals- and while men in an adversarial systems are apt to check one another, there are moments that smack of male prurience and mental cruelty, even a certain sadism. (p. 140)

Gideon Haigh is a journalist and this is very much a journalists’ book.  You can get the flavour of it in Haigh’s essay from the Monthly in 2007.  It rattles along, and every interview, every anecdote, gives the names of protagonists and informants just as a newspaper article would do.  I found it overwhelming.  I’d often find myself thinking “Do I know this person?” and would have to resort to the (thankfully) exhaustive index at the rear, which is dominated by surnames. I wished that at times Haigh would step back from the story, and sketch out the broad contours of the story, rather than the details.

That said, writing recent history is a special challenge, even if that is not necessarily what Haigh would claim to be doing here.  It’s well researched, thorough and perceptive.  But I must confess to feeling a bit voyeuristic and grubby. I’m aware that the young girls he reports on here are now grandmothers, and I wonder how they and their children feel now, reading about this terribly-public exposure of their distress on the front page of old ‘Truth’ newspapers and now reheated in Haigh’s book. Sometimes I am surprised at the use of pseudonyms in stories that seem quite innocuous, but I found myself wishing that perhaps Haigh had used them here.  I know that  full names and photographs were splashed all over the more prurient publications, and that these young women entered the public record through the court cases they were dragged through.  But I think I’d feel more comfortable as a reader, in this case, if I knew that I wasn’t perpetuating the shame and exposure that, wrongly, was attached to women exercising their right to control their own bodies.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 16-23 June 1841

BAD TIMES A’COMING

On the 18th June the Port Phillip Herald carried a verbatim report of Governor Gipps’ address at the opening of the Legislative Council session in Sydney on 8th June. Among other things, he talked about the opening up of Port Phillip and its contribution to the economic life of the colony.  It was the only bright spot in what was looking to be an increasingly gloomy economic report. We know, as they didn’t at the time, that this was just the start of the 1840s Depression, which was to shake out the speculators from the Port Phillip financial scene.  He noted that the revenue of Port Phillip had more than doubled on that of the preceding year  (from £14608 in 1839 to £29799 in 1840), and the District had contributed a  large amount to the general Land Fund (£217,127):

thus affording to the older parts of the colony, the means of replacing the labour and capital, which the opening of Port Phillip had drained from them. Aided by the resources of the Older Settlement but unassisted with borrowed money; the district of Port Phillip has risen rapidly to a state of wealth and importance which cannot but be highly gratifying to the entire colony.

This was to be an ongoing source of tension between Port Phillip and the old colonies. The residents of Port Phillip felt that they were the ones drawing in all of the money, and that therefore they should be entitled to a greater share of it, especially as it was a new district with large infrastructure needs.

Gipps went on:

The pecuniary difficulties under which many interests in the colony are still suffering must naturally be expected to affect the revenue of the present year, and of probably the next succeeding one; the falling off however is as yet only sensibly felt in the branch of it which is derived from the sale of land, and in this even the deficiency may in part be ascribed to other causes.

These pecuniary difficulties may safely, I believe, be said to have arisen from excessive speculation and an undue extension of credit; they seem to be of the nature of  those which frequently, and almost periodically occur, in all places  where commercial adventure is eager, and the remedy is, I think, to be looked for in the natural course of events, rather than to be sought in any Legislative enactments.

A few of the circumstances which have contributed to bring about these embarrassments in our commercial relations, may perhaps, without much risk of error, be pointed out, though it is very necessary to bear in mind, that in seeking to discover such agencies, we are very likely to mistake effects for causes.

The scarcity of 1838 and 1839 caused a great drain from the colony for the first necessary of life and produced excessive fluctuations in the price of every description of grain.  The decline in price of our chief staple commodity, wool, lessened the value of our exports in the home market.

The excessive consignment of goods to the colony, mostly on speculation by mercantile houses in England produced a  depreciation in value of nearly every species of merchandise, circulated to affect more or less the transactions of the whole commercial body.

The  necessity of disposing of these goods contributed to the undue extension of credit;  whilst the  rapid influx of capital into the colony may have had a tendency to  encourage hazardous speculations and the employment of money in investments, not yielding any immediate return.

A more abundant supply of labour is undoubtedly the one great thing wanted in the colony, for without labour no wealth can be produced, no capital can be profitably employed.(PPH 18/6/41)

If only he knew:  there were boatloads of bounty migrants on the way, many of whom would be unemployed when they arrived at a colony by then in recession.

The following week, the Port Phillip Herald had its own commentary on financial conditions in the District.  At this stage, there was confidence that Port Phillip could ride out the financial storm, even if the other colonies could not:

“THE SISTER COLONIES AND THE PANIC. When we attentively consider the state of the surrounding Colonies, as ascertained both by public statements and private communications, we have indeed much reason to rejoice in our own condition.  It is true that we are not altogether free from the evils which press so heavily upon of neighbours, but whilst our monetary affairs are not in the most healthy state, and our mercantile transactions occasionally dull, they bear no comparison whatever with the alarming state of others.  The depressed, if not altogether ruined condition of South Australia has long been know; in Sydney we are informed, and are convinced by experience, “all things are going on as badly as may be, short of bankruptcy”; whilst in Van Diemen’s Land, the general insolvency expected in other places has for some time actually commenced.  The papers we have received by the last arrivals are absolutely filled with notices to creditors; by private communications we learn that insolvencies are the general subjects of discussion, and everyone is so suspicious of his neighbor, that nothing but absolute necessity compels him to dispose of his goods, trusting to the possibility  of payment to meet his own engagements. (PPH 22/6/41)

Ah. If they only knew what was to come.

THE TROUBLE WITH YOUNG ELIZA

One of the court cases that came before Judge Willis during this criminal sessions was that of young Eliza Jennings, sixteen years old, who had been charged with stealing from her employer, Rev. Joseph Orton.  Joseph Orton was a Wesleyan Methodist missionary, who had earlier fallen foul of the Jamaican magistracy through his strong advocacy for the slaves.  He had arrived in the Australian colonies in 1831, where he travelled between Parramatta, Sydney, Hobart, New Zealand and then Port Phillip. He was the first clergyman to preach in Port Phillip, and he was a driving force in the establishment of the Buntingdale Mission near Geelong.  Known amongst Methodists as “The John Wesley of Australia”, perhaps it was his desire to rescue lost souls that led him to employ Eliza Jennings, who was known to be “light-fingered”.

Eliza Jennings, aged 16, was indicted for stealing three sovereigns, ten half sovereigns, one  pocket-book and a child’s nightcap, the property of Rev Joseph Orton, at Melbourne, on the 11th June.

Prisoner, who came to the colony in the [?] ship Theresa about ten months since, was employed as a general servant in the family of the Rev. Joseph Orton, in whose house she had resided [?] or ten days.  At the time of entering upon this service she was known by her mistress to be light-fingered, and consequently not permitted to enter her bed-room in which Mr Orton kept a cash-box; from this box were missed, on the [?] laid in the information, three sovereigns and ten half sovereigns; the key had been left in the cash box; suspicion alighted on the prisoner and [?] her room was searched, and a pocket-book and a few articles of children’s under-clothing were found.  Upon a second search taking place, a small work box belonging to prisoner was closely  searched […] in a pin-cushion artfully concealed so as to defy detection, were found three sovereigns and ten half-sovereigns. The money had been evidently put inside the pin-cushion by one of the sides, which were of wood, being forced out, and then glued together again, so that the top, which was a piece of silk, was not disturbed.  The girl had been asking for some glue to mend her pin-cushion.

The only way in which prisoner endeavoured to account for the possession of the gold was, that it had been given to her by her father.

His Honor in summing up remarked, that in this case, there was more than mere presumption. He thought the presumption of law that the prisoner had come honestly by the sovereigns was against her, other stolen property having been found in her box for which she could not account. It had been said that the sovereigns were given to her by her father previously to leaving home. It was probable a child like her, leaving home for a distant country, that her friends might scrape together a small sum of money, and that most likely would be in gold.  It was a matter of notoriety that emigrants coming to the colony were in the habit of concealing money about their persons, and in boxes &c.; a work-box was therefore not an improbable place in which a child like her should conceal her money if she had any. The presumption of law was, however, against her in consequence of the other property being found. From the evidence of Mrs Orton, it was clear that in law she was doli capar , or capable of committing the offence, as she was known to be light-fingered before she entered her service.  They would give the case their most careful consideration, and if they could find anything in her favour, arising in the case as in the ordinary course of life, they would give her the benefit.

The Jury, after the absence of a few minutes, found the prisoner guilty, but recommended her to mercy on account of her youth, and the incautious manner in which the money had been taken care of.

Eliza had arrived on the migrant ship Theresa that landed in Port Phillip in July 1840.  As Judge Willis noted, she came out by herself and her religion was registered as Roman Catholic.  It was quite common for juries to reach their verdict within minutes: in fact, they sometimes did not even leave the courtroom.

It was up to Judge Willis to pronounce the sentence. I really don’t know quite how to read the next part.  I’m hoping that his comment that “he had found a place in which she would not be enabled to indulge her vicious propensities” was not a grim joke, but I’m not sure.

Having been called up for judgment, his Honor remarked, that the Jury had returned a very proper verdict, they could not have arrived at any other conclusion. He felt great pain that a girl of her age should be placed as she was; she was, however, old enough to know better.  The Jury had mercifully taken into consideration her age and the improvident manner in which the property was secured. He, Judge Willis, had been making inquiries, and had found a place in which she would not be enabled to indulge her vicious propensities.  A clergyman of her persuasion would visit her, by whose instruction he hoped she would benefit so as, in after life, to become a useful member of society.  The sentence of the Court was, that she be imprisoned in Her Majesty’s gaol, Melbourne, for 12 calendar months, and be kept to hard labour.  He mentioned hard labour, that she might be kept employed during her imprisonment. (18/6/41)

I’m relieved to find that, according to family historians, she might have travelled to the goldfields and ended up on Kangaroo Island by 1847, married, had several children and lived until 1880.

WESLEYAN METHODIST CHAPEL

Actually, it was a busy time for Rev. Orton.  On 24 June the new Wesleyan Methodist Chapel opened on the corner of Collins and Queen Streets.  It was 47 ft x 57 ft, and its organ, installed in 1842, is apparently still in the present Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street. You can see a picture of the Collins/Queen Street church here.  The church was opened on a Thursday (which seems an unusual choice of day to me) with Rev William Waterfield presiding over the 11.00 a.m. service, and Joseph Orton preaching at the 6.30 service. On the following Sunday 27th Rev Tuckfield preached in the morning; Rev James Forbes in the evening.  This is all rather ecumenical: Rev Waterfield was a Congregationalist;  Rev James Forbes was Presbyterian and  Orton and  Tuckfield were both Wesleyan Methodists.

Actually, in these early days at Port Phillip there was much more cooperation between the denominations than was apparent some five years later (with the exception, perhaps of the Roman Catholics). At this stage, the Protestant ministers contributed to each other’s building funds; marched together in public occasions and, as we see here, gave sermons at each other’s churches.

AN ADVERTISEMENT

You might remember Mr Liardet, who drew the pictures at the top of this blog.  We also encountered him in April, when his daughter was the victim of a sexual abuse crime.  He had the Pier Hotel in Sandridge (later Port Melbourne) (image here) which he rather confusingly called Brighton on the Beach. From the hotel he ran a carriage service into Melbourne.

Pier Hotel, Brighton on the Beach and ferry House. BY W.F. EVELYN LIARDET. Superior accommodation for families and gentlemen Carriage conveyance to and from Melbourne; carts and drays; conveyance for luggage. Saddle horses and good stabling. Boats to be had at all hours, on application at the bar; fishing parties attended with lines and nets. An ordinary on Sundays at half-past two o’clock. N.B. The Pier Hotel is the right hand house on approaching the shore from the shipping. A stockyard for cattle and every requisite accommodation.

AND THE WEATHER….

Top temperature for the week 60F (15.5) and a low of 38F (3.3). Wind generally fresh and strong. Rain on 17th, 18th and 20th and fresh breezes on 22nd and 23rd.

Movie: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Oh NO!! I thought as I settled into my seat, looked around, and realized that I’d just paid good money to go to a kid’s movie, and worse still, there were kids sitting all around me. When did I become so ageist?

Well, as it turned out, one of the real pleasures was watching the little boy sitting next to me (kicking the back of the seat in front the whole way through) become increasingly involved in this delightful, engaging story (and even stop kicking).   The scenery is beautiful and it’s pure New Zealand gothic.  Ward-of-the-state and misunderstood ‘bed igg’ (it IS New Zealand) Ricky Baker worms his way into the affections of his foster-uncle as they set off on a escape from the Miss Truchball-esque welfare officer. I admit to a little tear in the eye and felt thoroughly satisfied by this feel-good family story.  In fact, if pressed, I felt so warm and squishy that could even extrude a grim smile at the little boy sitting next to me if I really had to.

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 8-15 June 1841

Oh dear, I’ve fallen so far behind with all of these. House renovations and conferences seemed to get in the way and I’m quite embarrassed by my tardiness. Apologies.

THE ‘DIGNITY’ BALL

And we’ve all been waiting so long for the Dignity Ball- and here it is! As you might remember, the Patriot and Gazette railed against the elitism displayed by the ‘gentlemen’ of Port Phillip wanting to distance themselves from the ‘common’ (sniff) Queens Birthday Ball.  But apparently the stewards had a change of heart, and decided to include some people who had been previously excluded.

The Ball is in preparation to come off on the 8th instant. The Stewards may be congratulated upon the wisdom they have shewn in acting after the suggestions of the press, by modifying their senseless exclusionism, and extended the issue of their tickets. This policy, which we learn from the Stewards has been thus tardily adopted , will certainly bring the fete off with greater credit to themselves and the character of the population.  (Port Phillip Gazette 5 June 1841)

Notwithstanding this change of policy, the Port Phillip Patriot predicted a poor turnout:

The famous ‘Dignity Ball’ postponed in the first instance till the races, then till Her Majesty’s Birth day, then till the 4th June and then till the 8th instant, will eventually, it is expected, come off tomorrow night, but the attendance it is expected will be as poor as unpopularity can make it.  A bold manoeuvre was made by the Stewards at the eleventh hour to retrieve their original blunder by issuing invitations to the parties previously passed over as unfit for admission, but it has very properly failed.  Our contemporary, the Gazette has, we regret to observe, taken this manifestation of a defeat as an evidence that the stewards have had the good sense to modify their “senseless exclusionism” but we know them better.  Nevertheless we are sorry that it is so, for it is not in our nature to war either against the men or the amusement, though we have warred, and will war to the death against them, or any other set of men who, like them, attempt to set themselves up to decide automatically as to the eligibility or non-eligibility of their fellow-colonists for admission to society(PPP,June 7) p. 2

And sure enough, its report of the ball portrayed it as a drab affair:

The far famed  and long expected “Dignity Ball” came off on Tuesday night, and a very dull affair it proved.  The attendance was but thin and few of the ladies of Melbourne honoured the assemblage with their presence in consequence of certain doubts which had got about touching the reputation of one or two fair dames expected to be present.  The only really good part of the evening’s entertainments was the supper, which , as we are told, did great credit to Mr Meek’s knowledge of the science of gastronomy. (PPP June 10)

And so we need to turn to the Port Phillip Herald, regarded as the newspaper of choice for ‘better’ society to give us a more positive report

THE BALL- This private entertainment took place at Mr Davies’ long room, on Tuesday evening, and went off with much spirit.  There were forty-four ladies and sixty-seven gentlemen present, His Honor, Mr La Trobe and Lady, amongst the number, who seemed highly delighted with the evening’s festivities.  The Stewards had provided a most magnificent supper, which was done ample justice by the guess. The party did not finally separate till five o’clock. (Port Phillip Herald 11 June 1841)

It is the presence of Superintendent La Trobe and his wife Sofie, that marks this Ball out as ‘respectable’, in a way that the earlier Queen’s Birthday Ball was not.  And the stamina- kicking up their heels until 5.00 a.m. (and we thought all-night dance parties were a new phenomenon!)  And was Judge Willis there? No!   Fourteen years ago in Upper Canada he had been a bit of a socialite with his first wife, but there’s little evidence of party-going antics in British Guiana or New South Wales.  Perhaps he’d learned his lesson in Upper Canada; or maybe his second wife (who was expecting a baby in September) was reluctant to go. One way or another, he wasn’t there.

PROGRESS IN PORT PHILLIP

Things were really starting to move in Port Phillip. Early buildings of canvas and wood were giving way to more substantial constructions as a very physical demonstration of progress in the District.

PUBLIC BUILDINGS: We feel a pleasure in recording the fact, that the public buildings in Melbourne, in the progress of erection, are going ahead in a steady and praiseworthy manner, when the limited mechanical force employed is taken into consideration. The Custom House “where merchants most do congregate”, a building in all extensive mercantile communities of the utmost importance, is now ready for slating, that description of covering being preferred to shingles.  The Bonded Store beneath may be found too small for its legitimate purpose, if so the plan of licensing stores, belonging to private individuals in the town, may be continued as an present.  The Post Office, at the junction of Bourke and Elizabeth-streets, is progressing rapidly, and in a couple of months, if nothing intervenes, may be in possession of the proper officers, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” The New Watch-house, on the Eastern Hill, has been completed, and taken possession of within the last few days.  It is a stone building, conveniently designed, and well executed, and will be appropriated to the reception of the idle and disorderly in the vicinity of New Town, instead of their being dragged upwards of a mile to the Melbourne receiving house, as heretofore.  The foundation of the Jail has been excavated, and one wing of the building already commenced, which will be completed before any further portion of the building is proceeded with. This wing will be appropriated solely to the reception of convicts, or parties committed for trial.  The plan of the building is that of the wings of the new Sydney Jail, and will contain forty-two cells upon the ground floor, and in the upper stories it is to be three in height, rooms 12 by 6, for the purpose of classification.  The second wing is for a House of Correction, and Debtor’s Prison. When completed, the whole building will consist of two wings, facing Swanston Street, in a line with the Caledonian Hotel, having the Jailer’s house etc. in the centre.

The Customs House mentioned here is not the one that stands in Flinders Street today. The picture below, by Robert Russell in 1844, shows the brownstone Customs House described here. It is, nonetheless, one of the most impressive buildings in Melbourne.  It was replaced by a second Customs House from 1858 onwards.

Melbourne from the falls 1844

Melbourne From the Falls, Robert Russell 1844, SLV

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/56125

The jail mentioned here is the Old Melbourne Jail, but it is not the bluestone cellblock that still stands today, which was commenced in 1853. Earlier buildings were demolished in the 1930s, so presumably the buildings described here would have been removed at that time.  The Eastern Hill watch-house described here, according to Robyn Annear’s Bearbrass was on the corner of what we know as Exhibition and Little Collins Street.  Its proximity to ‘Newtown’ (i.e. Fitzroy) would be along Exhibition Street.

AN EARTHQUAKE!

Actually, this occurred on 6th June, but wasn’t reported for a few days.

EARTHQUAKE: An Sunday last, during the hours of divine service, a rumbling noise was heard in the earth, supposed to be the fore-runner of an earthquake. In the Church it was distinctly heard, and the congregation alarmed; also, in several parts of the town, giving rise to various speculations. (PPH June 11)

It often strikes me that, for these early settlers, everything was still new.  Were earthquakes common?  They didn’t know.

AND THE WEATHER?

A high of 18 (64F) and a low of 4 (40) for the week. Fresh breezes on 9th, 10 and 12th. Weather mostly dry but cloudy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Fractured Families’ by Tanya Evans

evans

Tanya Evans Fractured Families: Life on the Margins of Colonial New South Wales,

2015, 252 p & notes

When I picture a ‘Benevolent Asylum’, I have a mental picture of  greyness, thick walls, lancet windows and forbidding ecclesiastical air. It came as surprise, then, when I found this image (below) from the 1840-1850s which did not appear quite as funereal as the name of the institution suggests.

SydBeneAsylum

Sydney Benevolent Asylum Artist disputed c. 1840-1850, State Library of New South Wales

The Sydney Benevolent Asylum was Australia’s first (and oldest surviving) charity, founded in 1813, with the avowed intention NOT to operate like the Poor Laws back in England.  The Poor Laws in 1813 were still based on the old parish system, where the indigent and needy were shuttled back to their parish of origin, to be supported grudgingly by the parish. There were workhouses, but the truly punitive workhouses of our Dickens-tinged consciousness arose out of the Poor Law Reform of 1834, some twenty years after the establishment of the Sydney institution. Unlike in England, there was an acceptance that the State “was responsible for moulding the structural circumstances of the poor in early New South Wales” and without a tradition of elite obligation to the poor, it could be said that New South Wales was ‘born modern’.

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