Rydalmere, NSW. The Female Orphan School Survives

Echoes of another time and place

Female Orphan School Parramatta, RG 2019.

How often have you driven over the Parramatta River on James Ruse Drive? If you are heading north you may catch a glimpse of the Female Orphan School which has stood there since it first opened in 1818. As it faces the river at the rear of Western Sydney University South Campus it is largely invisible today, but it is open to the public. Not surprisingly, James Ruse Drive was originally known as ‘Orphan School Lane’ when the river was the main thoroughfare.

Governor Phillip Gidley King was instrumental in having the Female Orphan School (FOS) moved from The Rocks area in Sydney to Parramatta, as it was thought the girls would be less exposed to the vagaries of the fledgling colony. His wife, Anna Josepha King was so intent on rescuing the ‘hordes of neglected children’ in Sydney that it was originally known as ‘Mrs King’s Orphanage’. At Parramatta, the land was originally a 60 acre grant to First Fleet surgeon, Thomas Arndell in 1792, which he called ‘Arthurs Hill’. Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the Female Orphan Asylum in September 1813, and the Rev. Samuel Marsden was the superintendent of works in 1814 according to the inscription on the facade’s third storey. It reads: Female Orphan Institution erected under the Superintendence of the Rev. S. Marsden 1814, L. Macquarie Governor. Similarly, the Macquarie’s took a great interest in the building of the new FOS with the Governor’s wife, Elizabeth being credited with adapting the design from her family home in Scotland and became its patroness.

FOS Inscription 1814, RG 2019.

Although Governor King died in 1808, his widow Anna King returned to Australia in 1832 and soon met with Elizabeth Macarthur of Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta. The two families were now related as Anna’s daughter Anna Maria King had married John Macarthur’s nephew Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur in 1812. They lived at nearby Subiaco, which was originally known as ‘The Vineyards’, and Anna lived with them until she died there in 1844. One of Anna’s grandsons, George Macarthur, was also the headmaster at the nearby Kings School from 1869 to 1886. Anna and the King family are buried at St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church at St Marys in Western Sydney, which was near their family property, Dunheved.  An 1822 map shows the proximity of Subiaco  to the FOS, which would have dominated the river and landscape of Parramatta. In 1816,  Governor Macquarie appointed three patronesses to the FOS, including Anna Maria King/Macarthur whose husband Hannibal was also appointed to the Committee of the Female Orphan Institution along with other respectable gentlemen, according to research by Bubacz. 

Map 1822 Roe, Parramatta River. NLA 232531806

One day, I hope to read the stories of Anna by Marnie Bassett in The Governor’s lady, Mrs. Philip Gidley King and Elizabeth Macarthur by Beverley Kingston or more recently, Michelle Scott Tucker which can be found on Trove.

The Reverend Samuel Marsden recognised the need for another church and cemetery on the north side of the river and donated land and money to build All Saints Church shortly before he died in 1838. From this time those who died at the FOS were buried there rather than at St Johns Cemetery, Parramatta. Interestingly, Marsden’s  daughter Martha Marsden/Betts and her husband Josiah Betts became the Master and Matron at the FOS after it became the Protestant Orphan in 1851 and Martha remained there as Matron until 1875. The State Library of NSW has an photo of Martha Marsden/Betts (1811-1894) outside the FOS building. Perhaps, the challenge now is to find the stories of those who lived and work there, especially as the children were from all walks of life and many were not actually orphans in this working convict colony.


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