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Matrons of the NSW Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution up to World War 1

In the nineteenth century, Matrons were appointed to various institutions to oversee their domestic arrangements. The New South Wales Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI)[1] was governed by a Gentleman’s Committee, elected annually by subscribers, and a women’s committee, initially largely the wives of the gentlemen and referred to as the Ladies Visiting Committee (LVC), who directed the Matron in her duties.[2]

First Home of DDBI 368 Castlereagh Street until December 1862

At the DDBI, the Matron’s role had been spelt out in a report soon after its formation in 1862:

The domestic arrangements of the house are conducted by … the matron of the institution, who, under the direction of the ladies’ committee, superintends the internal affairs of the establishment; she also presides at table, accompanies the pupils in their walks, and regulates the general regime of the household.[3]

Over time, this role would evolve in its complexity with the growth of the DDBI and with the increasing number of children under its care, but in essence, it remained the same. The Matron was required to keep a daily journal ‘of all proceedings in the house to be laid before the Committees at their meetings’, and on Sunday she was required to attend church with the children.[4] Perhaps because of some unhappy incidents the by-laws, formulated a decade after the DDBI’s commencement, explicitly stated that ‘She shall treat the children with good nature and civility, and she shall never suffer any degree of cruelty, insolence or neglect in the servants towards them to pass unnoticed.’[5]

Commentators were in no doubt that being the Matron of the DDBI was no easy task:

The post is a difficult one, requiring not only the kindly firmness necessary to the mistress of every such establishment, but an intimate knowledge of the peculiarities of the deaf and dumb – a knowledge which can only be acquired by long experience and patient observance.[6]

Such a view emphasised just one of the relationships which made the role difficult. There were three relationships that were important and challenging for any Matron. Firstly, the relationship with the LVC to whom she was directly responsible and through them to the Gentleman’s Committee, secondly the relationship with the master in charge and other staff, and finally the relationship with the children themselves. The powerful LVC, under the influence of its long-time secretary Ann Goodlet, was probably the most important of these relationships and their attitudes about the Matron’s efficiency were formed by how well she administered the household. As part of the Matron’s administrative role the LVC were also concerned with staff relationships and how the children were treated.[7]

No records of the LVC have survived, but the scope of their activities can be seen in their correspondence with the Gentleman’s Committee and the requests made by the Committee for the LVC’s assistance. Ann Goodlet, an active committee member from 1863, was appointed secretary of the LVC in 1873 and it is evident from the Committee’s minutes that she was most energetic in the pursuit of her duties.[8] In this role, to which later was added that of president, Ann exercised great influence on the operations of the DDBI. The LVC was concerned with the selection and monitoring of the performance of the domestic staff. This included, most importantly, the appointment of the Matron, but it would appear to have even extended, on occasions, to the engagement of some of the teaching staff. The actual appointments were made by the Committee, but on the advice and recommendation of the LVC. Matrons seemed to have resigned to the LVC and such resignations were then forwarded to the directors. The views of the LVC, which were probably up to the end of the century largely those of their Secretary Mrs Goodlet, carried great weight and, on occasions, carried even greater weight than the judgement of their respected Superintendent, Samuel Watson.[9]

Below are two tables which list Matrons from the commencement of the DDBI up to World War 1. One table is sorted by date of appointment the second by the age of the Matron at the time of her appointment. In the nineteenth century, (more…)

Ann Alison Goodlet nee Panton (1822- 1903), Presbyterian Philanthropist and missions promoter.

Ann Alison Goodlet

Ann Alison Goodlet

 Although Ann Alison Goodlet at her death attracted much praise for her charitable works, her kindness and loving concern, little appears to have been known about her background by either friends, acquaintances or admirers. Even the stained glass window that was erected in her honour at the Ashfield Presbyterian Church spelt her name incorrectly.[1] It seems to have been a characteristic of Ann and John Goodlet that neither said much about themselves. Ann is the forgotten Mrs Goodlet for while Elizabeth Mary Goodlet (nee Forbes), the second wife of John, has received some notice, Ann has been overlooked.

According to her death certificate, the simple facts about Ann Alison Goodlet are that she was born in 1827, arrived in New South Wales (NSW) in 1855 and died on 3rd January 1903. The background of Ann is, however, somewhat more complicated for Ann Alison Goodlet, the daughter of William Panton and his wife Ann Jane (nee Kent), was actually born in 1822 shortly before William and Ann left Scotland for the colony of NSW.[2]  Their ship was the Andromeda and the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, who was on his first voyage to NSW, was also a passenger. Lang noted in his diary that (more…)

Charles Nightingale (1795-1860), Edward Ramsay (1818-1894) and James Druce (1829-1891)

Charles Nightingale (1795-1860), Edward Ramsay (1818-1894) and James Druce (1829-1891) Charity Collectors

Obtaining funding for the work of the various nineteenth century philanthropic organisations was always a challenge. There was little government financial assistance available, and the various organisations were dependent upon the generosity of the public for financial support. In order to gain that support the many charities who wished to collect money from the public engaged in a number of activities and strategies. Prominent among their activities was the public annual meeting, often chaired by a socially important person, where the activities of the organisation were reported and supportive resolutions passed. At the meeting someone, usually the secretary of the committee, would read a report detailing what had been achieved in the year past, often giving encouraging examples of success as well as underlining the difficulty of the task which the charity had undertaken. Such reporting made the committee that ran the charity accountable to the public and to its subscribers. It also showed what had been achieved through public financial support, educated the community on the continuing need for the charity, and gave hope for success in the future so that there might be continued interest and increased financial support given by individuals.

 Nineteenth century newspaper editors, at least up until the 1890s, gave very sympathetic treatment to such organisations and often printed extensive reports of the meetings which gave further publicity. Printing the annual reports of these organisations and circulating them to their subscribers was also a vital part of the strategy. Such documents contained the secretary’s report, a financial statement, the lists of subscribers and the amount of their subscription, and newspapers often printed subscriber and donation lists as well. It has been suggested that the existence of these subscriber lists is evidence that nineteenth century philanthropy was a morally approved way of self-aggrandisement.[1] Motives are difficult to determine and it may well be that, for some, giving was motived by being seen to have done the ‘right societal thing’ or by a desire to gain praise for the size of a donation. For others, however, such support was undoubtedly a response to need and a desire to help without any ulterior motive. From the organisations’ point of view, it was an effective means of giving a receipt and perhaps a means of encouraging (more…)

William Crane (1826-1914)

William Crane, (1826-1914) Magistrate and Governance Philanthropist

William Crane was born on October 5, 1826, at Castlereagh Street, Sydney. He was the son of William Christopher Crane (1799-1876)[1] a publican who was the landlord of the Leather Bottle Inn in Castlereagh Street[2] and Sarah McAvoy (1802-1857). He was educated at the Sydney College under the headmastership of William Timothy Cape[3] and his fellow students included Sir James Martin, William Bede Daley, Sir Henry Stephen and Thomas Alexander Browne (aka Rolf Boldrewood).[4] In his youth William was a keen sportsman. He was a cricketer and active member of the Newtown Cricket Club from its formation in 1858,[5] a boxer,[6] and a strong swimmer, frequently swimming the considerable distance from The Fig Tree, Woolloomooloo, to Garden Island and back.[7]

In the 1850s, Crane and a number of companions went to the Ophir and Turon goldfields where he appears to have been unsuccessful in his gold prospecting unlike his younger brother, Christopher, who struck it rich at Gulgong.[8]  He returned to Sydney and became a law clerk in the law practice of solicitor Joseph Frey Josephson [9] after which, in 1853[10], he entered the New South Wales civil service as a clerk in the Department of Police.[11] He was appointed clerk of Petty Sessions, Water Police in 1861,[12] a magistrate of the colony in 1869,[13] and then in 1875 Clerk of Petty Sessions in the Central Police court.[14] In 1882, Crane was appointed one of Sydney’s first stipendiary magistrates[15] and officiated at the Central Court until his retirement in 1885.[16] He was highly regarded and an able magistrate as illustrated by, for the time, an unusual occurrence in his court when a young man stepped into the witness box, and when the Bible was tendered, shut the book. Said Mr Crane to him: “Why did you shut the book?” He said: “I am a Liberal or Freethinker.” He further stated he had no belief in the Bible, and there was nothing binding on his conscience, and he objected to take an oath. This at first seemed rather puzzling and brought the proceedings to a sudden standstill.[17]

(more…)

James Start Harrison (1837-1902)

James Start Harrison (1837-1902) Accountant and Governance Philanthropist

At his death it was said of James Start Harrison that

JS Harrison

James Start Harrison

many benevolent and philanthropic institutions that today are in a flourishing state owe their existence to his energies and valued labours.[1]

The nineteenth century saw the development of many important community services which were commenced and conducted by interested individuals and financially supported by the community. Harrison is an example of one of the many citizens of New South Wales (NSW) whose names have largely been forgotten but who gave voluntarily of their time and effort in the governance of various charitable organisations in order help those in need. As with so many such citizens his commitment arose out of his Christian faith which found its expression in using his gifts and abilities to help others.

James Start Harrison was born in London in 1837 the youngest son of Layman Harrison (1799-1882) and Honor Pitt Curtis (1796-1860). In January 1849, Layman and Honor and their family of six children arrived in Sydney after a voyage of 157 days[2] on board the Penyard Park.[3] After living for a short time in Glebe,[4] the family took up residence in Abercrombie Street, Chippendale.[5] In 1866 James, aged twenty-nine, married Angelina (nee Macdonald), aged thirty-nine and the wealthy widow of Thomas Cooper[6] whom she married in 1852, and prior to that the widow of Edward Henry Gregory whom she had married in 1847. In 1868, Angelina gave birth to her only child, a stillborn daughter,[7] and Angelina herself died in 1873. Her striking death notice testifies to the relationship of Angelina and James and of their shared Christian faith (more…)

Elizabeth Mary Goodlet nee Forbes (1854 – 1926)

Elizabeth Mary Goodlet nee Forbes (1854 – 1926) Missions activist and Presbyterian.

 Elizabeth Mary Forbes was born in Singleton, New South Wales, on the 15th of October 1854 to Alexander Leith Forbes and Jean (nee Clark).[1] The Forbes family were of Free Presbyterian background and while Alexander was ordained at Methlick Free Church, he resigned in 1852 just prior to coming to Australia. When he and his wife Jane arrived in Sydney on ‘The Boomer’ in July 1853, he commenced a new life as a school master.[2]

Elizabeth Goodlet nee Forbes

Elizabeth Goodlet nee Forbes

Alexander Forbes was conservative in theology, a strong-minded and honest man, fearless and straightforward and outspoken to friends and foes alike, but he was not a ‘people person’ which may explain why he did not persist in the ordained ministry.[3] John Walker, who knew Alexander well, described him as

 a man of competent knowledge and strict integrity, with a warm heart. As a friend, he was as true as steel, and hospitable to a degree. Those who did not know Mr Forbes were often misled by his manner; but those who knew him best, loved and trusted him most.[4]

 By contrast, his wife Jean Forbes (born April 1, 1827 and dying April 3, 1889), was modest, shrinking and unobtrusive in disposition with a faith that delighted in the ‘old paths’, in the Sabbath and the Bible. She had been the one who was the homemaker of the Forbes household, finding satisfaction in the domestic sphere and in hospitality.[5] Elizabeth Mary was effectively an only child as a brother had died in infancy. In character and opportunity she was much more like her father than her mother, and her mother’s commitment to the domestic sphere permitted Elizabeth to pursue her own Christian interests. In 1877, the Forbes family moved to King Street, Ashfield, and joined the newly formed Ashfield Presbyterian Church December 4, 1877.[6]

In a church such as Ashfield where John Hay and Ann Alison Goodlet were prominent, the Forbes and the Goodlet families had many interactions. The connections between the families were ones of faith, church, Scottish origins, common ministry and ideals. In particular, by 1883, ‘Bessie’[7] Forbes was teaching Sunday School where John Goodlet had been the superintendent since 1877 and she was the Sustentation Collector in the district which included the Goodlet family.[8] The Goodlets and the Forbes were both involved in the YWCA, local political activity, temperance organisations, the Ministering Children’s League, the Women’s Missionary Association, the Band of Mercy as well as the Trusteeship of the Ashfield Church property.[9] (more…)

Frederick and Ellis Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson (1815-1899) Ironmonger and for 38 years a member of Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution

and

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson (1839-1905) for 41 years Secretary of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution

Frederick and Ellis Robinson were both devoted members of the governing committee of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution for nearly forty years from its founding and into the twentieth century. Their tireless work helped provide invaluable assistance in the commencement, maintenance and growth of an organisation that was to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC).[1] The story of the Robinson family in Australia begins with Thomas Leathwick Robinson, Frederick’s father and Elllis’ grandfather. It is his life and his descendants’ success in business that forms the backdrop that enabled Frederick and Ellis to contribute philanthropically to the RIDBC.

Frederick Ropier Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson

According to the narrative supplied to the author of the 1888 article on FR Robinson in Australian Men of Mark, Robinson arrived in the colony of NSW in the early part 1829 with his parents who were  ‘determined to come to Australia in order to enable them to better their fortunes in that distant and little known land’.[2]  This account of his arrival was less than candid and was aimed more at protecting the respectability that the Robison family had attained rather than giving an accurate account of his origins in NSW. The arrival of the Robinson family in NSW was in fact, as with so many, due to a conviction at the Old Bailey. Thomas Leathwick Robinson was convicted of selling four silver bottle labels with forged and counterfeit hall-marks. He had, as a silversmith, also forged these silver hallmarks but because he provided information that was helpful to His Majesty’s Stamp Office this second charge was dropped.[3] He was 40 years of age and was sentenced to fourteen years transportation arriving in Hobart on board the Competitor on August 2, 1823.[4]  He must have been an educated man as he was employed, in 1824, as a school master using the Madras system[5] at the Public School, Campbelltown NSW.[6] He gained his ticket of leave for the Airds area south of Sydney on December 29, 1829[7] and his certificate of freedom in 1836.[8] Thomas was followed to NSW five years after his transportation by his wife Mary Jane and their three children, Susannah, Lucy and Frederick who arrived in Sydney in December, 1828 on the Borneo.[9] The family lived together at Campbelltown and Mrs Robinson from 1829, as was common for the master’s wife,[10] assisted in the teaching of needlework.[11] For this work Thomas was paid £40pa and Mary £10pa. After 1838 he acquired leases in the Maneroo area adjacent to the Snowy River and ran stock on these pastures,[12] eventually taking up residence in the Eden Monaro area where he died in 1864 at the age of 85.

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Thomas’ son Frederick Ropier Robinson did not go on the land with his father but after spending two years on the dairy farm of a relative went to Sydney where he ‘acquired a full and complete knowledge of working in metals’.[13] Aged 23 in 1838 he married Caroline Jemima Phillips (1814-1891) and went into business in Sydney in October of that year as a Tin–Plate worker producing dish covers and various articles.[14] The business did well and diversified from its simple beginnings and within nine years was offering to the public, though manufacture or importation, brass lamps, bell and flat weights, pumps, chemical and scientific apparatus, shower baths, wine warmers, binnacles for ships and various other items of manufactured ironmongery.[15] After ten years in business Robinson reminded customers that the business could manufacture every article in the various branches of Tin, Iron, Brass and Japan Ware[16] which indicated that Robinson, in order to remain profitable, had expanded into the manufacture and distribution of a wide range of products to meet the increasing aspirations of colony of NSW. He also advertised his business as licensed plumbers and gas fitters which was an essential service required by customers of their manufactured products.[17] From 1884 to 1895 he was the Marine Board’s Inspector of Lights which required him to periodically visit light houses up and down the NSW coast to check and repair lighthouses and pilot lights.[18]

Ellis was made a partner in 1876 and the firm’s name changed to FR Robinson and Son. The business closed its’ shop front to concentrate on importation and manufacturing and while they produced a wide range of goods they began to concentrate on the production and importation of stoves, both domestic and commercial, cooking and heating, gas or coal or wood. Around this time the firm was employing some 24 hands and as a manufacturer and importer Robinson was very interested in the current issue of free trade vs protectionism. Frederick was a free trader and was confident that his business could compete without the benefit of tariff protection saying of protectionism that ‘it is the gain of the few by the robbery of the many’.[19] By 1879[20] the other sons were admitted as partners,[21] though Frederick no doubt maintained effective control,[22] and the business became FR Robinson and Sons. In 1885 due to the increased prosperity of the business, land was purchased and new and larger premises were constructed in Castlereagh Street which then became the centre of the business.[23] (more…)

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