Rydalmere, NSW. Finding the Female Orphans of Parramatta

Who were the children of the Female Orphan School?

Joseph Lycett, Female Orphan School near Parramatta, 1825. NLA 135702032

Fortunately, April Collison wrote a booklet on the history of the Female Orphan School (FOS), in 1986, which has been the starting point for all research into the school, its staff and pupils. She tells us that Governor Macquarie acquired the land in 1810, the foundation stone was laid in 1813 and the building finished in 1818. The Parramatta Heritage Centre has a blog with a timeline for the FOS and its history for further information.

What must it have been like for the seventy girls as they came up the river from the first Female Orphan School at the Rocks on 30th June 1818; with their Matron and Master, Ann and John Hosking; to this new and imposing building. The Hoskings had arrived in 1809 with their family after the Reverend Samuel Marsden had invited them and acquired a posting for them. John Hosking was the first free man trained as a teacher to arrive in the fledgling colony. However, the Hoskings decided to return to England only a year later.

Who were the girls and what was their story? Unfortunately, one way to find out is through the local cemeteries at St Johns & All Saints Cemeteries, at Parramatta. At All Saints Cemetery there are many unmarked graves which included children from local institutions such as the Female Orphan School. In 2004?, a memorial wall with 24 panels showing the names, ages and dates of deaths of these individuals was made to acknowledge and remember their passing. There must be a list with the names of the institutions as Judith Dunn’s book The Parramatta Cemeteries: All Saints & Wesleyan identifies how  many died from each institution from 1844 to 1870. There were 101 deaths from the Female/Protestant Orphan School in this time and the 1500 names on the plaques can be compared with other sources at the NSW State Records; Births, Deaths & Marriages and newspapers of the time. Sometimes we get clues to siblings or parents as well.

So far, these are a few of the children and families I have found. If you can help with corrections or any other information then please contact me and help us to remember them.

In 1844, there were 2 deaths recorded for the FOS, namely:

Maria Mitchell, died 2.11.1844 aged 13 & Alice Healy, died 3.12.1844. The admission register at the State Archives shows Maria was admitted in 1842, aged 11 and a search of the NSW BDM shows she died aged 13. There is also a Mary Mitchell with no dates.

Alicia Hely/Healy/Healey was aged 5 when she was admitted on the 18.3.1840 with her two sisters, Charlotte, aged 8 and Anna, aged 2; their parents were George and Ann Hely. The BDM has her as Alice Healey. The Sydney Morning Herald gave a full account of Alice Healey’s malaise and treatment before she died ”in consequence of having eaten some poisonous herb” in the playground, although a thorough search did not find any there. The jury decided that over her last 2 days “all possible care” and “all available means” had been used to save the child’s life, but to no avail.

During the winter of 1849, 20 children died at the FOS, including Ann Hely, aged 11, who was probably Alice’s sister. It was reported in June that scarlet fever was rife at the FOS at this time, with 40 cases and 12 deaths. Was it their father George Healy, who narrowly escaped a Parramatta Court conviction for wounding with intent to murder,  in 1843? Or was he the mounted policeman heading to Parramatta who helped another wounded policeman in 1837? Was he both, or neither?? What happened to their mother Ann? What happened to the family in early 1840? Perhaps they just had to work and had no-one to care for the children. What became of Charlotte? Perhaps she was Charlotte Healey who married Thomas Garne? in 1861 at Parramatta or Charlotte Healy who married Thomas R Howel in 1851 near Berrima.

We catch a glimpse of the children’s lives in documents such as the following extracts from a government order regarding the transfer of girls from Sydney to Parramatta on July 30 1818, which reads as follows:

Although this Establishment is denominated an Asylum for Female Orphans, it is not meant to be exclusively confined to that Description ; as in cases where children are forsaken or abandoned by their parents, or have only one parent living, who is incapable of maintaining them;-such Children are to be considered eligible for Admission.

The children at the age of thirteen Years, or as soon afterwards as suitable situations can be provided for them, are to be bound apprentices, as servants, or otherwise, for five years, to such persons as the Committee shall approve; or until married, with the consent of said Committee…..

Each child on leaving the Institution is to be furnished with a Bible and Prayer Book ; and in cases of exemplary good conduct during their apprenticeship, they will receive a gift of a cow on being married, as a marriage portion, such marriage being approved of, by the Committee.

The Children are regularly to attend public worship on Sundays, at Church, clean and uniformly dressed.

The sixteenth day of August being the Anniversary of the foundation of the institution by Governor King, the members and friends of it will assemble on that day, in every year, at the Church of Saint John’s in Parramatta, to hear Divine Service, and a sermon…. after which the children are to be publicly examined in the church catechism, and new Testament, by the preacher; and the patroness and vice patronesses will award one or more silver medals to the best reader or repeater, or best worker in needle work, to be presented by His Excellency the Governor, and to be worn by the child during the succeeding year…. and His Excellency will distribute little rewards of books…. to those who shall receive a good character from their masters or mistresses.

Is it possible that any of these bibles, books or other momentos of the children have survived today?

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