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The Sydney Female Refuge: some further reflections

In the 1980s, historians of colonial female refuges, and of the Sydney Female Refuge (SFR) in particular, tended to see these organisations, and by inference those who organised them, as largely punitive in intent. Contrary to the stated aims of the SFR, the driving motives are presented not primarily as compassion, concern and a desire to help the women themselves but rather as the protection of society from such women.[1]

O’Brien says that the function of the home of the Sydney Female Refuge Society (SFR Society) was largely punitive and that of all the homes of this sort ‘it seems colder and more horrible than most’.[2] Godden’s assessment is that the Sydney refuges for the prostitutes run by the Roman Catholics and the Evangelicals were repressive and harsh, but that

perhaps the greatest imperviousness to change was at the Protestant Sydney Female Refuge. It was rebuilt in 1903 on the same prison-like lines adhered to in 1848 and inmates were still addressed by number and not name.[3]

More recently published work, however, has sought to soften such an assessment and on a closer examination of the evidence has pointed out that such claims made about the functioning of the SFR do not seem to be justified[4] and that by their stated aims and practice the SFR ‘does not deserve to be regarded as punitive, repressive, self-serving, cold and horrible’.[5] While there are some signs of a more positive assessment of the refuges emerging some dubious claims about the refuges are still being made.

On the positive side and helpfully O’Brien, in her recently published Philanthropy and Settler Colonialism, reminds us that the refuges can be viewed more generally against the background of the need to provide women in various circumstances with shelter.[6] Such a need was clearly seen by the philanthropists themselves. Ann Goodlet, who was deeply involved in the SFR as its secretary and its leading worker, had this broader approach to the protection of women both physically and morally in colonial society.[7] She was significantly involved in founding and/or promoting of, to quote O’Brien, ‘homes that were arranged along the moral continuum’.[8] These were the Servants and Governesses Home (formerly known as The Sydney Female Home), the YWCA, the Sydney Female Mission Home (SFMH) and the SFR. The first two organisations were morally proactive being protective and preventative by providing accommodation for single women alone in the city. The second two organisations were reactive and designed to assist those women who were in trouble, having been seduced and abandoned or who were prostitutes wishing to change their lives.

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The Sydney Female Home  

In March 1858, a letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) advising that there was a project afoot to ‘provide a temporary home for young females of the better classes arriving in the colony without friends, and consequently liable to be thrown into distressing or dangerous circumstances’. Such an institution was to be opened on the same principles as the Young Men’s Christian Association and a notice soon appeared advertising a public meeting to mature the proposal. The institution was to be, said the writer, ‘entirely unsectarian, and by the blessing of God it may be hoped that it will be of incalculable advantage.’[1]

A notice duly appeared shortly after calling a meeting, to be chaired by the Governor General, Sir William Denison,  to consider some means proposed for the ‘Welfare and Improvement of Young Women.’ The notice also advised, what would have been a significant novelty for a public meeting of this sort, that ‘A Lady’ will, in the course of the proceedings, address the meeting’.[2]

‘The Lady’ who spoke was Maria Therese Forster, a young German-born widow who seems not to have had any significant social connections,[3] but who had great powers of persuasion and passion concerning the fate of young friendless women.[4]  Maria spoke at length at the well-attended meeting,[5] and actually read her speech because of her ‘broken language’. The speech was an amazing flow of spiritual concepts which led the Bishop of Sydney to call her the ‘German spiritualiser’.[6] Ambrose Foss declared it ‘pious, zealous, and soul-stirring’, while Charles Kemp said ‘that she had a force of language and a power of eloquence that few even of the daughters of England possessed.’[7] One observer noted that ‘there was an air of enthusiasm about her countenance, and a womanly affection in her demeanour and her conduct, which quite prepossessed her audience’.

Maria read for nearly an hour and ‘you might have heard a pin fall in any part of the large hall’.[8] Her speech focused on the theme that women are ‘ordained by God’s law to become the very centre of happiness to mankind’ therefore provision for their safety and nurture in the colony was essential. She provided an outline of two proposed organisations, one for the accommodation of ‘the better class’ to be called The Young Women’s Christian Temporary Home and Institution for Mental and Mutual Improvement and one for ‘the servant class’ to be called The Temporary Home for Respectable Female Servants.[9]

Dr Alfred Roberts

Dr Alfred Roberts

A committee of some ladies, married to high profile members of the Sydney community, was appointed to mature the plan discussed and to begin to put it into operation. The committee consisted of Lady Eleanor Stephen, Lady Elizabeth Cooper, Mrs Jane Barker, Mrs Ann Deas Thomson, Mrs Robert Campbell, Mrs Emily Stephen, Mrs Jane Allen, Mrs a’Beckett, Mrs Archdeacon Cowper and Mrs Maria Forster.[10] By July of 1858 there was a Ladies Board of Management of 29 ladies plus an honorary treasurer and secretary, Mrs Susan Roberts, with her husband Dr Alfred (later Sir)[11] giving free medical assistance, together with a gentlemen’s reference committee of seven. Also promulgated was a very detailed preface and fifteen rules.[12] The result was not two separate homes determined by class but one home:

The Sydney Female Home … designed to be a place where respectable females, but of every degree, and without regard to creed or country, may resort when out of employment, and there find all the security, protection , and comfort of a plain, well-ordered home, with every facility for procuring from thence occupation suitable to their respective callings.[13]

The Female Home, which opened on October 1, 1858,[14] was soon renamed the Governesses and Servants Home so that it would not be confused with the Sydney Female Mission Home and the Sydney Female Refuge.[15] After a year or so of operation it was popularly referred to as The Servant’s Home[16] and then simply THE HOME.[17] The provision of accommodation, or a home, with an appointed matron,[18] was central to the work of THE HOME and the organization hoped to erect its own building, but instead continued in rented premises for the whole of its existence.[19] Initially, it was located at 296 Castlereagh Street,[20] then from 1859 at 103 Elizabeth Street North,[21] from 1861 at 195 Castlereagh Street,[22] then from 1864 at 98 Elizabeth Street North,[23] and finally from 1871 at Cowper Terrace, 23 Clarence Street.[24] After September 1890, advertisements placed by THE HOME for positions for servants ceased and the work disappears from view. It most probably ceased to function.[25] (more…)

The Sydney Female Mission Home

The Sydney Female Mission Home (SFMH), not to be confused with the Sydney Female Refuge Society (SFRS), was commenced on November 17, 1873, in rented premises overlooking Hyde Park, Sydney.[1] Like the SFRS, this charity falls in a number of places on the philanthropic spectrum being both for relief and improvement. The SFMH was a protestant organisation providing short-term accommodation for pregnant unmarried women and it had a non-sectarian admission policy.[2] It was said that the ‘necessity of such a Home has been strongly felt by several ladies and gentlemen, in consequence of facts which frequently come under their notice.’[3] The Home was entirely run and governed by women and of the 14 members of the founding Committee, no fewer than eight were involved with the SFRS. It is likely that, from this experience, they understood the need for an organisation with a different intake and policy than that of the SFRS.[4]

While the task of the SFRS was to provide a refuge for prostitutes, the purpose of the SFMH was to provide temporary accommodation ‘for women who either had fallen, or were in danger of falling from virtue’.[5] The initial focus of the work was to be on those young women who found themselves pregnant and abandoned, most of whom were ‘women who have only taken one serious wrong step, and have not been hardened in sin’. In the assessment of the Committee, an institution such as the SFMH met ‘a great social necessity’ and was ‘an unspeakable blessing to weak women who have fallen prey to the cunning devices of unprincipled men’.[6]

Darlington House, Newtown Road, Sydney ( State Library of Victoria)

The needs that were presented to the Committee shortly after the Home opened caused them to change the Admission Policy. It was changed to include not only pregnant unmarried women, but some unmarried mothers with their infants, many of whom were in a state of destitution.[7]  In the first year of its operation the Home had 115 admissions which included 11 infants, and by the end of 1874 it was thought that a larger house, which could accommodate more than 12 residents, was required to meet the needs, as many young women with babies had to be turned away.[8] For those admitted, attempts were made to locate the fathers of the children so that they could ‘feel their responsibility to make some provision for the maintenance of their offspring’.[9] These attempts rarely met with success and as a result the Committee lamented that ‘the seduced, and less guilty, has to bear the whole burden’.[10] They also made efforts to ensure that either the young women returned to their families or, if this was not possible, they sought to gain employment situations for the women where they could keep and nurture their children. A fundamental principle of the SFMH was to ‘avoid, if possible, separating mother and child’[11] and the Committee

being decidedly of [the] opinion that the mother is the natural and fittest guardian of the infant … used their utmost endeavours in all cases to induce the mothers to faithfully fulfil their maternal duties, and not, under any circumstances, to give up their babes to the care of strangers.[12]

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John Hay Goodlet (1835-1914), Presbyterian Philanthropist, Timber Merchant and Manufacturer

John Hay Goodlet

John Hay Goodlet

John Hay Goodlet was born in Leith, Scotland in 1835 the second son and one of eight children of George and Mary Goodlet (nee Hay). He was educated at the Edinburgh Institution for Languages and Mathematics. After he completed school he went to work for a time at the Edinburgh Roperie and Sailmaking Company in Leith.

In 1852, not yet seventeen years of age, he left Scotland for Melbourne Australia arriving in June of that year. He found employment as a clerk in the firm of some fellow Scots, Charles and John Smith who were timber merchants. Within a year he was a partner in the business. In June of 1855, possibly due to a depression in the commercial scene in Melbourne, he went to Sydney and commenced a timber yard and saw mill in Erskine Street in partnership with the Smiths which was known as JH Goodlet and Company. The business did well and by early 1859 the partnership had been dissolved and another entered into with James Smith, a brother of his former partners, and in late 1860 the name of the firm was changed to that of Goodlet and Smith.

G and S Pyrmont or Darling Harbour

Goodlet and Smith

In 1867 Goodlet and Smith expanded their interests and began producing bricks, pottery and earthenware in Riley Street, Sydney. In 1870 the site was expanded with state of the art labour saving machinery. By 1872 a Hoffman Annular Kiln had been installed and the works continued to produce earthenware until it was closed in 1915. In 1873 the Waterloo Brickworks were opened and operated until the mid 1890s. In 1884 Goodlet and Smith purchased the Junction Brick Works at Granville and later Goodlet showed his entrepreneurial attitudes by introducing the first successful colonial production of Marseille roof tiles. He also produced the first commercially viable high quality Portland cement at this site. All of Goodlet’s manufacturing activities were charactised by the use of up to date technology and labour saving devices. This enabled Goodlet to produce excellent products which sold well and produced good profits for the company.

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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…)

Thomas Parker Reeve (1824-1913) Methodist, financial, governance and spiritual philanthropist

Thomas Parker Reeve was born on May 6, 1824 at Deptford in Kent, England, to Isaac Reeve, a mathematics and classical scholar and teacher[1] and his wife Elizabeth Parker. While living in Norwich, Thomas attended the St Mary’s Baptist Chapel where, aged 17, he was received into membership on December 1, 1841. He later recalled that:

in my youth while attending the ministry of the Rev W Brock of Norwich, my mind gradually opened to a sense of danger as a sinner, and of my need of a personal interest in the Great Atonement of Christ, but it was not till sometime after that I could realise a sense of God’s pardoning love.[2]

Thomas married Lydia Pepperday (1825-1898), a Methodist, in 1848 at St Ives in Huntingdonshire, England. Having travelled in steerage aboard the Calphurnia, they arrived in the colony of NSW on September 17, 1853,[3] with their two sons John (1849-1911) and George (1851-1951). Further children were born to them in the colony: Emma (1853-1863), Annie (1855-1943), Thomas (1857-1938), Lydia (1860-1946), Frederick (1861-1940), and Ada (1864-1867). The marriage was a happy one and on their 24th anniversary Thomas wrote ‘I think I can say we love each other more as we grow older and we are an [sic] happy yea, happier in all senses and I trust far nearer to God than we were years ago. I thank God for a good and affectionate wife’.[4]

 

Thomas Parker Reeve

Thomas Parker Reeve

Business

Thomas was a teacher like his father, but in November 1853[5] he set himself up in George Street, Sydney,[6] as an importer and ironmonger. He sold goods ranging from shoes, galvanic pocket generators (which purported to remove pain) to a wide range of ironmongery which included saucepans, boilers, knives and forks. It was said he remained there until ‘aided by his good wife, he amassed a modest competency, and then retired to Stanmore to enjoy the fruit of his honest toil.’[7] It would seem that he moved to Cavendish Street, Petersham (later Stanmore), around June 1873,[8] but continued working for some time probably retiring from active involvement in the business around 1880. By 1888, his son Thomas Henry had assumed control of the business as an ironmonger and organ importer.[9]advet smh nov 21853

Sunday Schools

On arrival in the colony, the Reeves immediately associated themselves with the Wesleyan (Methodist) Church and its activities.[10]  Thomas began his long association with the colonial
Christian education of children by becoming first Secretary and then Superintendent of the Hay Street Sunday school.[11] By 1855,[12] he had become General Secretary of the Wesleyan Sunday Schools of the South Sydney Circuit which embraced Chippendale, Hay Street, Glebe and Mt Lachlan.[13] This was a position he held until 1873[14] and in this capacity he visited local Sunday schools and sought to improve the communication skills of the teachers. With his move to Petersham (Stanmore), he opened a Sunday School class in a cottage at Stanmore saying ‘I hope and pray that this may be the nucleus of a large and prosperous Sabbath School’[15] and he became Superintendent of the Stanmore Wesleyan Church Sunday School from 1875 until 1879.[16] Something of his interest and zeal for the work is seen in a meeting he organised for the Rev William Taylor to address a group of Sunday School teachers. He did this because he was concerned that ‘the spiritual success in the way of conversions was not commensurate with the labour and zeal thrown into Sunday School teaching’.[17] His interest in Sunday (more…)

Martha Malbon (1820-1901)

The Sydney Female Refuge Society (SRFS) was formed in Sydney on August 21, 1848, with the Motto ‘GO, AND SIN NO MORE’.[1] Its formation, which was probably patterned on similar overseas institutions such as the Magdalene Society of Edinburgh, arose out of the concern

that some hundreds of unhappy females were crowding the streets and lanes of the populous city, the disgrace of their sex, the common pest of Society, and a reproach to the religion we profess, but which had not led us to attempt anything for their improvement.[2]

The SFRS objectives were

the reclaiming of unfortunate and abandoned Females, by providing them with a place of Refuge in the first instance, and, after a period of probation, restoring them to their friends, or obtaining suitable employment for them.[3]

The Society was governed by a Gentleman’s Committee which looked after the finances and buildings, and a separate Ladies Committee which took care of the day-to-day administration of the Refuge. On the advice of the Ladies Committee, the Society appointed a Matron who, in cooperation with the Ladies Committee, was to oversee the care and organisation of the women who were admitted to the Refuge. One such matron was Martha Trelawney Grace Malbon née Day. Martha Day was born in Bristol, England, on August 19, 1820, to Edward Elmsall Day, a Surgeon, and his wife Martha Martin. In 1851, Martha was 31 years old and the governess to three children of the widowed Mary Jane Clifton (née Malbon) in Bristol. Sometime after March 1851, Martha left England and came to the colony of NSW and on August 28, 1852, at St James’ Church King Street, Sydney, she married William Malbon,[4] the uncle of her former students in England.

Martha Malbon

Martha Malbon

Martha’s husband William was the son of the distinguished Captain Micajah Malbon of the Royal Navy,[5] and the Governor of the Stapleton Depot for French prisoners of war.[6] William had arrived in the colony of NSW in 1850 and may have formerly been a soldier,[7] and he seems to have had good social connections within the colony for he was the cousin of John Thompson, the Deputy Surveyor General.[8]

William was involved in some capacity with the construction of the dry dock at Cockatoo Island, but was then employed in 1853 to oversee an unsuccessful attempt to sink a bore at Darlinghurst Gaol in order to supply Sydney with water.[9] He became unwell and the project came to a standstill. Around 1856,[10] William and Martha settled at Dapto, NSW, where William farmed on a property called Sunny Bank which was owned by the Rev Richard Allwood who was the minister of St James, King Street, Sydney. They remained at Sunny Bank until September 1861,[11] after which time their whereabouts and activities are difficult to establish with any certainty. In July 1862,[12] a William Malbon was appointed as acting Sub-Inspector of Police,[13] later being appointed as a Sub-Inspector.[14] As Malbon was not a common name in the colony this is probably Martha’s husband. He served at Eden and Moruya, Berrima and later in the Clarence region,[15] and his time spent with the police ended in 1866[16] when his appointment was terminated. It appears that William’s efforts, which were said to be high-handed and alienating, were not well received by the communities he was called to serve.[17] William resurfaced in 1870 having been appointed, upon the death of Thomas Smith, as Secretary of the Pyrmont Bridge Company.[18] This appointment ceased when the Pyrmont Bridge was sold to the NSW Government in 1884.[19]

William was an experimenter and inventor, but not one who succeeded commercially. In 1857, he was exhibiting examples of products made from Sorghum Saccharatum or Chinese sugar plant at the Agricultural and Horticultural Society (treacle, sugar and bran), and at the 1857 Dapto Agricultural Show he exhibited examples of colonial cochineal which he had produced.[20] At the Illawarra Agricultural Show the following year, he produced a broom for sweeping which he had manufactured from the sorghum plant. In addition to this, he also exhibited lucerne, rye-grass and clover seeds, and some wine which was considered worthy of a special prize. Malbon showed himself to be innovative, spirited and skilful in such experiments and production, but does not seem to ever have produced anything of continuing commercial value. Later, he was to announce a breakthrough in producing fire-proof wood[21] as well as a Non-Deviating Compass for Naval use.[22] The value of both these ‘inventions’ was disputed at the time by others and again never seem to have produced any commercial return. While William’s position as Secretary of the Pyrmont Bridge Company would have produced some income it would seem that he was an experimenter and inventor at heart, but not a great financial provider and at his death in 1890, his estate was only valued at £226. Martha’s position as Matron of the Female Refuge would have been welcome as it would have provided her with extra income. She was initially paid around £65 per annum which increased to £100 per annum in 1875, and she was also given housing.[23]

Martha was appointed Matron of the Sydney Female Refuge in March 1870.[24] The previous matron, a Mrs Wait, had resigned and in early 1870 the committee was advertising for a replacement.[25] The appointment was clearly in the hands of the Ladies Committee of the Refuge as applications were to be addressed to the (more…)

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