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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…)

Samuel Watson (1842-1911)

Samuel Watson

Samuel Watson

Samuel Watson (1842-1911) Superintendent Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution, Sydney.

As early as March 1853 in colonial New South Wales attempts were made to commence education classes for deaf children.[1] These efforts met with limited success and were short-lived until Thomas Pattison commenced his classes in October 1860. This developed into what became known as the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI), later to be known as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.[2] The first decade of the DDBI was beset with difficulties as the organising committee sought to find a suitable person to lead the work and it was not until Samuel Watson was appointed in 1870 that the education of the deaf and blind began to thrive.

Life in Ulster

Samuel Watson[3]  was born in Glenhue, Ahoghill, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on December 22, 1842, the fourth and youngest son of the eight children of William Watson a farmer, and his wife Jane McMaster. By 1857, both of his parents had died and the eldest son James (1827-1878) had assumed the role of head of the family. In May 1861, aged 18, Samuel was employed by the Ulster Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, as an assistant teacher and he remained in this position for seven and a half years until 1868.[4] In this period of service he would, he said, ‘learn the art of teaching Deaf mutes and whatever power as well as impulses for good I have acquired.’[5] Samuel was well regarded by the Institution being considered by its Principal, the Rev John Kinghan, as ‘a young man of much amiable temper, good sense and good feeling, imbued with a sincere desire to Glorify God.’[6] In January of 1869, upon being recommended by Kinghan for the post, he commenced as a Teacher and Manager of the Church of Ireland Derry and Raphoe School for the Deaf and Dumb.[7]

This institution, founded in 1846 in Strabane, was supported both personally and financially by the hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander, the wife of the local minister.[8] The proceeds of some of her hymns, such as ‘There is a green hill far away’ and ‘All Things bright and beautiful’, contained in her publication Hymns for Little Children, went to the support of the institution.[9]  Samuel was highly regarded by the Derry and Raphoe School, though he only served 18 months as its master apparently seeing that he would have greater opportunities and financial security in the colony of NSW.[10] (more…)

Sherrington Alexander Gilder (1828 – 1902)

Sherrington Alexander Gilder (1828 – 1902) and the commencement of the education of the deaf in NSW.

In her work on the history of the academic education of deaf children in NSW, Barbara Crickmore points to three options available to parents of the deaf in Colonial Australia in the 1850s. They could send their children back to England or some other country for education, keep the child at home and face the prospect of supporting them for the rest of their lives or attempt to place them in an asylum for destitute children.[1] In the late 1850s, says Crickmore, a fourth option became available through the establishment of special schools for deaf in Australia. This move for the provision of special schools is seen, by Crickmore, as commencing in Victoria rather than NSW. It began with some agitation in the letters to the Editor of the Melbourne Argus by parents of deaf children seeking their education.[2] Fredrick Rose, an Englishman who had been deaf since he was four, read the letters and offered to start a school and did so in November 1860. In NSW, Thomas Pattison, formerly associated with the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, commenced a school just prior to this on October 22, 1860[3] and thus by ‘opening three weeks ahead of the Victorian Institution became the site for the first school for the deaf in Australia.’[4] It was this work which developed into the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI).

The history of the beginning of the education of the deaf in NSW is, however, a little more complex and earlier than this account would indicate. In December 1850, the Rev Samuel Wilkinson, the Wesleyan minister at Windsor, after having been in the colony for twelve years, wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald advocating the formation of a public institution for the benefit of the deaf and the dumb. Such an Institution was needed, he said, for the deaf and dumb were more numerous than generally supposed and because of the ‘little success that has attended my own efforts, and the private exertions of others’.[5]  The letter was unproductive but on December 16, 1852 the Anglesay arrived in Sydney harbour and on board was William Thompson and his wife and three children. One of these children, a daughter, was deaf and so the family brought a tutor with them. The tutor was Sherrington Alexander Gilder who, it was said, had been the senior Master of the West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (WEIDD) for the past six years.[6] Gilder had deliberately exaggerated the importance of his position for in 1850 he is listed merely as the second of two assistants to Dr W R Scott who had been the master of the Institution for some time.[7]  The later description of Gilder’s role at the WEIDD, no doubt supplied to the journalist of the SMH by Gilder himself, as “having for seven years had nearly the entire conduct” of the Institution is highly unlikely as Gilder was, at the commencement of that seven year period,  only 17 years old.[8] While Gilder was prone to exaggerate his importance and role, he did work at the WEIDD and his presence there can be established for at least two years so he may well have commenced there in 1845 as a pupil teacher in order to learn under Scott. By early 1853, Gilder was advertising his services to teach, as boarders, both the deaf and the blind[9] and later in 1854 he was offering evening classes for adults in French as a “Professor of French”. (more…)

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