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‘A’ is for Animals at the Melbourne Zoo

  • A photo of the 'elephant walk' at the zoo
    The zoo’s ‘elephant walk’ as featured in The Zoo Guide of 1922

In this month’s archival snapshot, PROV’s Graham Herschell delves into the records of the Melbourne Zoological Gardens:

Carnage at the Zoo: Jerboa savaged by Short Haired Flying Squirrel

So might go the headline among the inhabitants of the Melbourne Zoological Gardens in November 1899.

The poor Jerboa, a tiny jumping rodent, wasn’t the only zoo death that month either. A couple of tree kangaroos died from heat exhaustion, rats killed a poor golden pheasant, and a deer was shot for being too savage.

This and more can be gleaned by a perusal of VPRS 2228/P0 Unit 1: Register of Deaths of Animals and Birds at the Zoological Gardens.

This register, as its name suggests, is a fascinating record of the animals that died at the Gardens and, in a lot of cases, how the death occurred.

An image of one of the pages from the register of animal zoo deaths

A page of registered deaths, Zoological Gardens, VPRS 2228/P0 Unit 1


The demise of the Tasmanian wolf

A young Tasmanian wolf was “eaten by others” in 1900 while in another sad entry, one was listed as having died as late as July 1930 – the only comment for this entry is that it was originally purchased from J.Harrison Tasmania in Nov 1929. The Tasmanian wolf (sometimes called the Tasmanian tiger) became extinct soon after, in 1936.

On the other side of the ledger is VPRS 2226/P1 Unit1: Register of Animals Received at the Zoological Gardens. This record documents animals purchased or gifted to the Zoo often by private citizens, suggesting that perhaps people in the late 18th and early 19th centuries kept some very exotic pets – including monkeys, snakes, red deer, ruffed lemurs and mountain phalangers, all presented by Mrs Kate Mills of Pembrook North.

Again, there are also a number of entries for the Tasmanian wolf; one in 1904 then three in 1914 purchased from Harrison, Josephs and a Captain McDonal.

An image of one of the pages of the registered animals entered into the zoo

Animals received at the Zoo, VPRS 2226/P1 Unit1


Queenie the elephant

Some of the most interesting documents relating to the Melbourne Zoological Gardens can be found in VPRS 8850: Records of the Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens and Related Organisations. These records contain various correspondence, financial records, photographic records, publications, ephemera, copies of minutes, maps, plans, artworks, and audiovisual and graphic material including a collection of annual reports.

The Annual Report of 1899 contains an account by F.R. Godfrey who states very grandly that:

The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria was founded in 1861 by the late Mr. Edward Wilson, of the “Argus;” the late Mr. Frederick Selwyn; the late Dr Thomas Black, of Cintra, St Kilda; the late Mr Frederick Moule, and other prominent citizens, its object being, as expressed in the first report of the Council, in 1862, “to enrich the colony by stocking its broad territory with the choicest products of the animal kingdom borrowed from every temperate region on the face of the globe,” and thus fulfil the accomplishment of its motto, “Omnis feret omnia tellus” (every land will bring forth all things).

 Of all the things that were brought forth, the elephant it seems was most popular.

The report of 1899 refers to the creature as Proboscidea Elephant indicus and the fly page includes a picture of zoo patrons riding on its back.

A photo of visitors riding the zoo's elephant

A photo from the Official Guide to the Zoo, VPRS 8850: Records of the Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens and Related Organisations

In the Zoo Guide of 1922 the elephant is still prominent and although the language has become more casual the elephant isn’t named. However, the “Elephant Walk” is described and it is reported that “Children can ride on the Elephant from two to four o’clock during the afternoons…”

The 1931 Guide enthuses about the famous Queenie describing her as “…very gentle and docile and shows a marked affection for her keeper” and as we know that didn’t turn out well as she crushed her keeper, Wilfred Lawson, in 1944.

The Zoo Guide's pages about Queenie

Queenie has a dedicated double-page spread in the 1931 Guide to the Zoo


You can find more information about Queenie on the PROV Wiki, here.

The Wiki also contains some fascinating records on:

While the Culture Victoria website contains a wonderful gallery:


Highlights from the May 2015 Records Management Network event

Kylie Auld, Case Study: Delivering the Wards Record Plan

Kylie Auld, Case Study: Delivering the Wards Record Plan

On 22 May Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) held its second Records Management Network (RMN) event for 2015.

Featuring presenters from university, government and the private sector, the event attracted over 170 people.

Here, PROV’s Andrew Harris profiles two of the presentations featured on the day:

1. Delivering the ‘Wards Record Plan’ 

Kylie Auld, Manager & Chris Hofmann, Principal Project Manager Ward Records Plan, Records Management Unit, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

In March 2012, the Victorian Ombudsman released the findings of its investigation into the storage and management of ward records by the former Department of Human Services (DHS). To address the report’s findings and recommendations, DHS implemented the Wards Record Plan.

Rolled out over three years, the Plan involves the identification, indexation, storage, management and digitisation of 148,000 original ward records, which relate to ‘wards of the state’ or children in Government care dating back to 1864 in Victoria. Provenance of these records stretches across approximately 45 Victorian Government-run children’s institutions.

The 2015-2016 financial year will see the project shift to the final phase. It is expected that the project will result in ward records that are better identified, indexed, conserved, stored and managed, allowing better retrieval and easier access for the 1200 viewing requests that come through each year.

2. The barriers to and the benefits of effectively managing information as a business asset

James Price, Managing Director, Experience Matters.

“There is no such thing as a Chief Information Officer. Why?” asks James Price. In a highly engaging and entertaining presentation, James discussed the vital role that information plays as a business asset.

CEOs, he argues don’t hold information as a priority, and there is a significant lack of awareness, governance, education and training on records and information management. Compare this to three other types of business assets – financial, human and physical – which are allocated to specific staff members that must account for their management. By contrast, information assets are usually the domain of all staff and are therefore generally poorly managed, resulting in unnecessary exposure to risk and financial loss.

One case in point is an insurance company, which holds a large number of boxes in storage that contain unknown information. This neglect has resulted in a staggering $1.5m in lost revenue due to unprocessed claims. Conversely, by simply rationalising storage providers a local government council was able to reduce document storage costs by 73 per cent and reduce business risks.

James urged records managers to sell the value of the work they carry out to CEOs and senior executives. Effective information management, he says, cannot be achieved by ICT staff and assets alone, but requires the exercise of careful human judgement by professional record managers.

Copies of the presentations from the May RMN event are available for download here.

Attend the next RMN event:

“It was great to learn about other areas of government and get a first hand account of records management and archiving projects. Records Management is a challenging field and all of the talks acknowledged the struggles – with lack of executive support, funding and resources being common factors within many organisations. But it was also heartening to hear of Records Management successes and the innovation, dedication and adaptability records management teams are currently demonstrating to roll out programs, redevelop teams and services as well as complete large-scale projects.” (RMN Attendee)

To sign up for notifications about future RMN events, email 

New archives transfer: historic mine and infrastructure plans

  • New records at PROV

More than sixty years of mining and infrastructure plans have been transferred to our archives. These records are now on open access and located at the Victorian Archives Centre, North Melbourne.  

This series is a collection of physical plans and drawings from mines and infrastructure projects undertaken by the Mines Department and its successors between 1925 and 1989, including:

  • Mines Department (also known as Department of Mines and Mining Department) (1925 – 1977)
  • Department of Minerals and Energy (1977 – 1985)
  • Department of Industry, Technology and Resources (1985 – 1989)

The plans contain information on geology (both at a mine and regional scale), drilling (e.g. bore location plans), geochemistry, geophysics, mining titles, topography, locations of features such as mine shafts, cadastral survey and traverse lines, mineral localities and mineral resource areas.

Search VPRS 16163 / P0001 Historic Mine and Infrastructure Plans (1925 – 1989) to order and view these records. 

The legacy of wartime propaganda Part 2

  • A recruitment booth in Brisbane circa 1916 covered with posters including the one to the left referencing Germany’s invasion of Belgium. (Source: Australian War Memorial, ARTV01335 & P02141.008).

Welcome to Part 2 of The legacy of wartime propaganda by PROV Access Services Officer Jelena Gvozdic. 

Revisit Part 1 here.

The long shadow of atrocity propaganda: a new WWI scholarship emerges

The German invasion of Belgium was certainly violent and it was passionately debated, well after the end of the war. 6,500 civilians perished in August 1914; some historians estimate this took place in the space of 10 days (Horne 2002). There were even larger instances of violence against civilians, up until 1918, in other areas affected by the war.

Exaggeration on the Allied side in recounting the occupation is obvious – to demonise the enemy it was necessary to repeat stories of victimised and mutilated women and children. Horrid tales that had little or no factual grounding often made their way through to the press and literature of the time, including official speeches, publications and pamphlets, causing international outrage.

Imagery with the bestial Hun VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

Imagery with the bestial Hun VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

After the war, many people considered the German atrocities of 1914, and others which took place in different regions, to be nothing more than Allied propaganda. Condemnation of the war had led people to question what fuelled the fighting, to the point where many believed the violent events to have been a mere creation (Schaepdrijver). Recent historiography has revealed that the most brutal stories in Belgium were in fact “mythic representations of real distress originating from traumatised civilian refugees” (Horne 2002, p.51) such as fabricated tales of Germans using Allied troops’ bodies to produce soap and animal feed. Historians John Horne and Alan Kramer wrote in German Atrocities 1914 that although there were many myths and tales, violence against Belgian civilians was not a “figment” of propaganda.

The suffering of civilians was appropriated by propagandists to justify the war while it was taking place, but then described as mere lies once it had ended and millions of people needed to come to terms with the great destruction and loss, brought on by the conflict. This “counter myth” of governments manipulating their people to wage a war through repackaging and marketing has persisted among popular consciousness in many Allied countries, as well as other regions (for different reasons).

German monster on a bloodied pillar of “frightfulness” with a pile of corpses at the bottom – the caption reads “Where Germany Prays” VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

German monster on a bloodied pillar of “frightfulness” with a pile of corpses at the bottom – the caption reads “Where Germany Prays” VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.


Pacifists from the 1920s and onwards, had a strong desire “to discredit a war that had cost so many male lives [but in doing so they] contributed to the erasure of another set of victims – those men, women and children whose suffering had been exploited to market the war” (Gullace, 2011). Historians have talked about the shadow of WWI wartime propaganda and the impact of the interwar period on the collective remembrance of WWI and the course of the Second World War (see Fox). An analytical focus on “propaganda” with virtually no reference to the actual war crimes or events that inspired these manipulations does a complete disservice to the telling of any history (Gullace, 2011).

What we cannot forget during the centenary program is that WWI itself was a great atrocity (as is any war) where many suffered – not just those who fought in the trenches. The course of events that took place during the war was complex, devastating the populations of a number of countries. Civilian casualties should never be overlooked when remembering this global conflict. Over 7 million civilians died between 1914-1918 from military action, crimes against humanity, malnutrition or disease. The re-appraisal of WW1 propaganda and its central motifs, which really only started in the 1990s, has welcomed a new scholarship exposing many truths. It shouldn’t, however, ignore an analysis of the realities that took place in regions other than Western Europe.

Crowd gathers in Melbourne 1918 in a procession of returned troops who are accompanied with a poster requesting people to “Buy War Bonds”. A clearer image of an American poster is shown to the left. (Source: Australian War Memorial, ARTV05629 & H02367)

Crowd gathers in Melbourne 1918 in a procession of returned troops who are accompanied by a poster requesting people to “Buy War Bonds”. A clearer image of an American poster is shown to the left. (Source: Australian War Memorial, ARTV05629 & H02367)

The pamphlets in PROV’s collection are interesting pieces of history; through them we can look at popular propaganda themes and ideas. In addition, by putting them in context, we can learn about the legacy of WWI atrocity propaganda and how it continued to infuse itself into post WWI history. We are all connected to the First World War in one way or another – 100 years on from one of the deadliest conflicts in human history the destruction of war must not become an abstract thought. Understanding the course and causes of WWI must not become irrelevant nor inundated with glorified stories of military battles. We cannot learn from this conflict if we stop re-evaluating and examining the beliefs we have accepted as historical truths, or if we forget the great horrors of war.

Jelena Gvozdic, PROV Access Services Officer

Sources (Parts 1 & 2):

Australian War Memorial, “recto: The Gospel of Frightfulness, The Voice of Germany, Hurry! verso: The peril to Australia” poster, ARTV00037, accessed online

Fox, J, “The legacy of World War One propaganda”, British Library,

Gullace, N.F. 2011, “Allied Propaganda and World War I: Interwar Legacies, Media Studies, and the Politics of War Guilt”, History Compass, 9, 9, pp.686-700

Horne, J. 2002, “German atrocities, 1914 fact, fantasy or fabrication?”, History Today, 52, 4, pp.47-53

Horne, J. & Kramer, A., 2001, German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial, Yale

Schaepdrijver, Sophia De, “The Long Shadow of the ‘German Atrocities’ of 1914”, British Library,

Public records featured in ‘Seeing the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe’

  • Inquest into the death of Charles Perry, 21st October 1871 (VPRS 24/P0/Unit 260)

On the rivers of remote colonial Victoria, 19th century European settlers depended on Aboriginal navigators and canoe builders to transport goods, stock and people.

A new documentary and multimedia project, now live on Culture Victoria, explores this little known aspect of colonial history through a short documentary film, image gallery, audio interviews and three short educational essays.

Historical research

Produced by the independent film production company Wind & Sky Productions, the project was inspired by the research of historian Dr Fred Cahir, an Associate Professor at Federation University Australia.

“What sparked my interest was looking through 19th century records and seeing how much involvement Aboriginal people had in ordinary Australian lifestyles,” said Associate Professor Cahir. “How much they contributed was immense.”

The project features interviews with Cahir and Traditional Owners Uncle Bryon Powell, Jamie Lowe and Rick Nelson, and includes artwork, maps and photographs from the regional and metropolitan collections of Public Record Office Victoria, as well as the State Library of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Museum Victoria and the Ballarat Gold Museum.

19th century canoes

As part of his research, Associate Professor Cahir found numerous 19th century examples of explorers, gold miners and settlers using Aboriginal ferrying services and boat building services.

“We have loads of accounts of white people’s dependence on Aboriginal canoes,” says Cahir.

These anecdotes of canoe use on rivers such as the Murray, Barwon, Goulbourn, Loddon, Moorabool and Mitchell shed light on the generosity, resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Indigenous inhabitants and of the trading relationships formed between Aboriginal people and European colonists, who were “totally dependent on Aboriginal technology in that period of time in that area of Australia,” says Cahir. “It’s a really interesting story.”

Visit ‘Seeing the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe’ now.



Looking beyond the letter: what you can learn from a letterhead

  • VPRS 2500/P0, Unit 153, Miscellaneous Correspondence O-T 1930, Letter from James Tyler & Co General Drapers, 29 September 1930.

Letters in our archives are more than just words on a page – the correspondence as well as the images and logos contained in the letterhead provide an illuminating record of the past, whether it be events, attitudes or the built environment.

What’s in a letterhead?

In their recent Provenance article, ‘Paper ambassadors: letterheads and the iconography of urban modernity’, Andrew May, Stephen Banham and Chistine Eid state that letterhead design and symbolism can reveal the concerns of citizens, display the material culture of the city, and legitimate certain ideologies.

“A more comprehensive historical analysis of letterheads can only benefit the historian of the city in any attempt to develop a clearer understanding of the material culture, social relations and cultural aspirations of its inhabitants.”

Discovering Ballarat

These images of buildings in the Ballarat area are taken from letterheads found in VPRS 2500/P0 General Correspondence Files – from Ballarat (Municipal District 1855–1863; Borough 1863–1870; City 1870–1994).

Many of the images are in the form of illustrations – however some are actual photographs of buildings and could be a valuable resource to researchers seeking some form of pictorial record in cases where there may not be any other source available. The images can be dated, in most instances, according to the contents in the correspondence addressed to the council.


Transcript of letter, VPRS 2500/P0, Unit 187, Conveniences 1941

19th March, 1941

The Town Clerk

City Hall


Dear Sir

Your letter of 12th Inst. Enquiring as to the possibility of our convenience for women being available to the public on Sundays if your council provided an Attendant was considered at a meeting of my Committee on 17st inst.

In reply, I was instructed to inform you that the Committee does not feel disposed to provide sanitary accommodation for the public. If this were provided on Sundays it would increase the trespassing on week-days. This is what we are trying to prevent and is subject of our protest.

Yours faithfully,

HC Batten




Transcript of letter, VPRS 2500/P0, Unit 110, Miscellaneous I-J


His Worship

The Mayor,


Dear sir

I sincerely trust you will excuse me intruding on your valuable time & attention. I venture to express a hope that my suggestion may not be treated by you as an insurmountable liberty but as it is really an endeavour of mine as a new Citizen of Ballarat to see our worthy Mr WM Hughes get a “right down” good reception on his arrival here next Tuesday. Do you not think it a good idea to have a Band to meet the gentleman on arrival at the Ballarat Railway Station to escort him to the meeting, & thus let our disloyal section see what the Citizens of Ballarat think of Mr. Hughes. This is merely a suggestion.

I trust my few words may be treated as private should you think it advisable to move in the matter

I have the honour to be Dear Sir yours faithfully

Harold Silva



Transcript of letter, VPRS 2500/P0, Unit 140, Miscellaneous Correspondence R-S 1925

Ballarat, March 14th 1925

Secretary’s Address-

  1. Keith

113 Windermere Street.

To the City Clerk

City Hall Ballarat

Dear Sir,

I have been instructed by the Board of Management to draw the attention of the City Council to the inconvenience caused to the members of the above Kirk during service on the Sabbath, by motor cyclists who cause objectionable noises by their machines when passing in the vicinity of St Andrew’s on the date as stated above. Latterly several complaints have been made by our members, and we would express a hope that some action might be taken to stop this nuisance.

Faithfully Yours

J Keith

Hon. Secretary

Post by Gertie from the Ballarat Archives Centre

Privacy by Design: a new approach to privacy in government

Privacy_by_Design_A3_poster_FINAL_20150414-page-001What is Privacy by Design?

Hold that thought – no, we aren’t talking about a new range of designer-made curtains and blinds!

Privacy by Design is in fact a framework first developed by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada. Privacy by Design:

· advances the view that privacy cannot be assured solely by compliance with legislation and regulatory frameworks 
· enables privacy to be ‘built in’ to the design and architecture of information systems, business processes and networked infrastructure 
· requires that privacy protection becomes an organisation’s default mode of operation.

Why should I care about Privacy by Design?

It is expected that Privacy by Design will be embedded into Victorian Government departments and agencies under the raft of new privacy and data protection polices currently being rolled out by The Office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP). To assist in understanding Privacy for Design, CPDP has developed a poster and information fact sheets for managers and employees.

· Download the Privacy by Design Poster.
· Download the Flyer – for Manager.
· Download the Flyer – for Employee.

More information

CPDP has also released two related key documents for the Victorian public sector:

1. Updated Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) guidance.
A PIA is the core document needed to plan and manage any project that involves personal information. The revised tool is designed to simplify and streamline the PIA process and to support the public sector adopting Privacy by Design.
2. A joint Public Record Office Victoria/CPDP discussion paper on public sector cloud computing has been made available. In keeping with Privacy by Design approach, this new discussion paper takes a whole of information lifecycle approach to cloud computing. It reflects current technology and responds to emerging security and data ownership issues.

For more information see The Office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection

Carly Godden, Standards & Policy Officer

Aboriginal records of the Victorian archives

  • Vicki Couzens, Untitled, mixed media on paper, 2005.
    Vicki Couzens, Untitled mixed media on paper, 2005

National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between the 27th of May and the 3rd of June commemorating the anniversaries of the 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. The week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared history.

The Koorie Records Unit at Public Record Office Victoria

The Koorie Records Unit promotes awareness about Aboriginal records created by governments in Victoria by:

  • Improving the accessibility of records to the Aboriginal community;
  • Strengthening links between Public Record Office Victoria and Indigenous community organisations through outreach, education and training;
  • Providing advice and assistance to researchers wishing to access records about Aboriginal people in Public Record Office Victoria’s collection and in the collection of the National Archives of Australia’s Melbourne Office;
  • In partnership with the National Archives of Australia, provides a Koorie Reference Service with a dedicated officer to assist researchers identify records of interest in our collections.

Resources to help you learn more about our shared history this NRW

The Koorie Records Unit has compiled many useful resources that allow us to find and understand Aboriginal records held in the state archives.  

Complete our Satisfaction Survey – We just need 5 minutes

Please help us complete our quarterly visitor satisfaction survey. These survey results help us improve our services in the Reading Room and online.

How long you ask? 5 minutes.  Why?  Because you’ll go in the draw for a special PROV bag of ‘archival’ goodies (books, videos, magnets, pads of paper). 

Now you’re excited.  If you’re viewing this on a mobile phone click on this link directly  to fill out the survey.


Create your own user feedback survey

Archival Snapshot: The Female Refuge at Carlton

Colour photograph of the exterior of the Carlton Refuge main building

The main building as it stood after its closure in 1997

Researching a non-government institution at PROV

PROV (Public Record Office Victoria) does not collect the records of non-government organisations; it does however hold series of correspondence files created by a number of major Victorian government agencies. Many of these agencies file documents on a range of activities, including the government’s interaction with non-government organisations. This showcase will take a look at a non-denominational institution established in 1857 to care for and reform “fallen women” – the Carlton Female Refuge.

This site is “a rare surviving example of an early social welfare institution devoted to the welfare of women and children…and other institutions [established] on the site illustrate changes in attitudes to women and sexuality since its foundation” (National Trust, p.1).

Origins and aims of a charitable institution

Black and white image of women in Magdalene Laundry circa early 20th century

Magdalene Laundry in England, early 20th century (Image from Frances Finnegan, Do Penance or Perish (Fig. 5) Congrave Press, 2001)

Female refuges, where ‘unchaste’ women were confined in the hope that they could be converted and reformed, had been established throughout the Western world from 1758 with the opening of London’s Magdalen Hospital. Historians have traced the evolution of such refuges from as early as 1257 with the establishment of the Convertite Santa Maria Maddalena Penitente in Florence. The first such institution in colonial Victoria, however, was Melbourne’s Carlton Refuge. Its original site was on Madeline (now Swanston) Street but in 1890 the institution moved to Keppell Street, Carlton, where it would operate until its closure in 1949.

The Refuge was guided by Protestant ideals and came about in a time in Victoria’s history where poverty was common place. Increased unemployment created hardship for many and the influx of immigrants from the 1850s meant that many “friendless” young girls were arriving into the state when work was scarce. They found themselves excluded from reputable employment, with no family to turn to for assistance. Many took to the streets and young women in Victoria were, subsequently, engaging in prostitution or crime. Others found themselves in situations where they were pregnant and unmarried, poor, and shunned by society and often by their own families. Within this social setting the strength of the evangelical movement was prominent,  many charitable institutions were established throughout the state to combat this social “problem”.

Restoring public morality

Cartoon from a British magazine showing a homeless family in Britain and next to it the different image of a prosperous family who have migrated to one of the colonies. “Here and There”, Punch Magazine, circa 1848.

Cartoon from a British magazine showing a homeless family in Britain and a different image of a prosperous family who have migrated to one of the colonies (“Here and There”,Punch Magazine, 1848).

Central to the Refuge’s efforts was the aim to reform public morality by housing and reforming these individuals – a meeting of the committee of the Refuge in 1860 explains that they were: “animated simply by the desire to rescue from degradation and ruin as many abandoned and unfortunate women as might be desirous of retracing their steps and of returning to habits of decency and virtue (The Age, 20 March 1860, p.6). The Government Gazette, which shows the petition to have the Refuge incorporated under the Hospitals and Charities Act 1890, clearly states that the objectives of the institution “are the reception, care-taking, education, and reformation of females who, previously to their becoming inmates, have led an irregular and abandoned life, or who have been living as common prostitutes” (July 5, 1895 p.2568). Eventually, the primary clientele would become single mothers and their infants, who as well as prostitutes, were still treated as “ruined” having strayed from the moral expectations of the time. This shift of having pregnant women as the main inmates, was definitely evident later in the 20th century, in the improvements of the building, the references to maternal and child health welfare, and the eventual abandonment of religious aims.

A case study by the Heritage Council of Victoria identifies a framework of three distinct, historical stages of the Carlton Refuge Keppell Street site – how these stages are reflected in some corresponding PROV records will be discussed below.

Reform and penitence 1860-c.1900

Colour photograph of the chapel building attached to the Carlton Refuge site

Exterior of the chapel building attached to the Carlton Refuge site

From its opening in 1860-c.1900 the theme of reform and penitence is prevalent especially in the presence of the Chapel (pictured to the right). We know from a pamphlet book published in 1919, which details the early history of the Refuge, that the original building on Keppell Street had an imposing brick wall and a number of cell-like rooms.

The Vice President of the Ladies’ Committee M. J. Kernot describes it as “altogether a most prison-like place” where the girls, “peeping from their narrow windows, could see the high brick wall whichever way they looked” (1919 p.4).

As recent observers have noted, although the Refuge provided some kind of support, these women were ostracized by the majority of society and refused assistance by their families, with their only means of aid in a site which essentially operated like a prison. Once admitted they were confined behind high walls for 12 months, treated as “fallen”, subjected to “religious injunctions to repent of their sin, and contributed through their labour to the work of the home” (Swain 2014 p.17). The institution was supported not only by voluntary contributions but by the income derived from the work done by the inmates in the laundry. Some young women were sent to the Refuge as an alternative to a fixed term of imprisonment or after having been picked up by police, while others were dispatched by their parents/carers or other institutions. Newspaper reports indicate as much – Louisa Johnston was charged with vagrancy and stealing, the former ex-industrial school girl was discharged to the Refuge in 1880 after a representative offered to obtain her admission; in 1899 Bella Baker, aged 24, was the informant in a case of desertion, she fell pregnant, having been seduced “under promise of marriage”, and went to the Refuge after giving birth to the child at the Women’s Hospital; Mary Rose Evans, 15 years of age, was admitted in 1892, after having been examined at the Women’s Hospital on suspicions that illegal instruments and drugs were used to terminate her pregnancy – her mother had admitted her to the house where the operations were allegedly taking place.

Criminal Case Records

Newspaper article from Geelong Advertiser dated 24th February 1906 reporting on the charges made by Eileen

Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1924), Saturday 24 February 1906, page 4

Criminal case records, inquests and police correspondence can offer a window into discovering the background of those who made their way to the refuge, as well as how the institution operated.

There is the case of Eileen Francis Fogg, admitted on the 7th March 1906, with the baby she had given birth to at age 15 only a month prior. Eileen brought charges against three youths for sexually assaulting her, believing one to be the father of the child. All three were found not guilty as the judge said it was “difficult to place any reliance” on her statements (VPRS 30/P0/1411 Case 22; VPRS 30/P0/1412 Case 33 & VPRS 30/P0/1412 Case 34). It appears that Eileen was transferred after the Refuge accepted the decision made by the magistrate in her final case against the accused youths. By 1909 the annual report of the Refuge mentioned that a “deplorable” feature was that “the great majority of the women admitted were not of the profligate class, but were girl mothers…[and] the unfortunate part of the matter was that the men who were responsible for the trouble went scathless.” (Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 3 August 1909, p.30).  

Whether or not Eileen had made false charges against these boys, her life would be struck by tragedy two months after being admitted. Her baby passed away at the site, at only three months of age. An inquest was held into the death and it was found that there were no suspicious circumstances – Eileen had awoken one morning to find her baby had suffocated after having gone to sleep with her in her arm. Mrs. Thompson, head Matron, gave a deposition for the inquest stating that Eileen was a “particularly kind and attentive mother” and that inmates were aware of the necessity to use the cots provided for them in their sleeping quarters (VPRS 24/P0/800, 1906/419). Mothers would often take their infants into their own beds when nurses weren’t by – many infant deaths of this sort took place in private homes, in other institutions, like the Women’s Hospital, as well as the Carlton Refuge.

  • Photograph of Victoria Police report for the inquest of Eileen's baby
    Victoria Police report for the inquest of Eileen’s baby (VPRS 24/P0/800, File 1906/419)

From the 1890s the police were responsible for inspecting institutions exempt from the Infant Life Protection Act of 1890, in order to compile returns and particulars related to the care of infants. This Act was established to register and supervise the women whom mothers would pay to look after their infants – while they worked to earn enough money to support themselves, and their child/children. In the case of the Carlton Refuge, infants were kept with mothers for some time, between 4-12 months. If a situation couldn’t be obtained where a mother could have her child with her, the baby would be boarded out to a suitable person, as selected by the Matron. If a mother was unable to earn enough to keep herself and the child, then the baby would be adopted or made a ward of the state. There would have been instances where the Refuge organized to have girls sent to suitable homes to work as domestic servants, taking their babies with them. Elizabeth Dobson, for example, had left the Refuge with her baby in 1892; she was a domestic servant in the employ of Madame Bartel, having obtained herself a situation so she could regularly support her child. She would be charged in 1893, however, with abandoning her baby in a street – her employer described her as trustworthy and honest “but she seemed to be bowed down with grief, or always very despondent” (Oakleigh Leader, 15 April 1893 p.5). Find & Connect explains that the “social stigma surrounding illegitimacy was a factor behind many children being relinquished by unmarried mothers, or being placed in out-of-home ‘care’… attitudes to children born from ex-nuptial pregnancies [only] started to shift from around the 1960s in Australia”.

Police correspondence noted that the refuge would have nothing to do with a child from the time it leaves the institution (VPRS 937/P0/348). They found that this state of affairs did “not appear to be satisfactory” and “unless some provision in this direction can be made [that the children are supervised after their leaving the institution], it will be necessary that all persons receiving infants from the Refuge shall register under Section 4 of the Act” (Letter from Inspecting Superintendent Thomas, 28th June 1893, ibid). A change was made in 1893 after the Matron and the Ladies Committee came to an agreement with the police to have all the infants, which were boarded out, returned to the Refuge once a month for inspection (Victoria Police Report July 6th 1893, ibid).


 A changing emphasis: the care of women and their babies

Circa 1900-1949 there is a changing emphasis, the traditional focus upon reforming sinful women through religious instruction and hard work is unappealing and the new approach to the care of women and their children is instead reflected. In celebrating the Refuge’s jubilee in 1904, it was decided that the building would be improved upon.

This unit (VPRS 3183/P0/40 Carlton Women’s Refuge Charity, Relief & Health 1906-1907) contains particulars relating to the Carlton Refuge Building Fund, launched from 1904 to raise funds for new buildings on the site. Lady Mayoress of Melbourne, Fanny Weedon, was instrumental in raising support for these improvements and the governor also promised to match one pound for each pound. In the end some 4500 pounds was raised – the new buildings would open in May 1907, with the laying of a foundation stone by Mrs. Weedon. The fund’s cash book and account with the Commercial Bank of Australia Limited is located within the unit. As are the letters which accompanied the cheques and subscription cards sent by the public, in support of the fund.

Photograph of subscription cards to the bottom right and two memos sent with cheques for the building fund, located in VPRS 3183/P0/40.

Subscription cards to the bottom right and two memos sent with cheques for the building fund (VPRS 3183/P0/40).

Photograph of the Appeal pamphlet made by Fanny Weedon, which was published in newspapers.

The Appeal pamphlet made by Fanny Weedon, which was published in newspapers.













 Many expressed the cause to be a deserving charity which helped young mothers and their infants. We can also find the signed letters forwarded by Fanny to Victorian officials asking for aid, as well as her appeal pamphlets. In the appeal she states that the institution cares for girls who have “offended against Society’s moral code” and its great duties are “(1) To help the young mother, (2) To save the infant” as they are “carefully tended

Photograph of the plan of the Refuge dated 1908 located in VPRS 6345/P0/112 File 622/1.

Plan of the Refuge dated 1908 (VPRS 6345/P0/112 File 622/1).

and provided with all the necessaries that a young child requires” (VPRS 3183/P0/40). The mother “always young…has yielded to temptation which she has not been taught to resist, and having thus fallen there is great risk of further degradation if she be not aided in time” (ibid). The unmarried mothers are clearly still regarded as fallen women.

The new works included the building of new dormitory wings, which had smaller, more private rooms, with large windows and good ventilation, a far cry from the small cell-like sleeping quarters, with narrow slots for windows. The nursery was also significantly improved upon, with verandahs on all sides so the babies could receive the benefits of fresh air. These changes “anticipated the development of the maternal and child health movement that was to begin after World War I” (Heritage Council of Victoria 2010).



Corresponding with the Hospitals and Charities Commission

PROV holds various correspondence papers between the Refuge and the Charities Board of Victoria and its successor the Hospitals and Charities Commission (VPRS 4523/P1/54 File 503 (1923-1934) & VPRS 4523/P1/148 File 1441 (1934-1952).

In this series are two sets of files which provide insight into the administration of the site, the grants and requests lodged by the Refuge’s Committee, and the continuing social stigma attached to sexually active, unmarried women. In a request to the Board for further financial assistance, dated 30th May 1935, the work of the Refuge is described as the “reclamation of fallen girls in and over the period of motherhood and the necessary early care of childhood” (File 1441). We can also see the extended efforts the Refuge made to help the Women’s Hospital, as well as the Children’s Welfare Department, by caring for infants under the latter’s care, and providing supervision and care to mothers awaiting entrance to the hospital. There was discussion to change the name of the Refuge given this supplementary work, and that “reputable” married pregnant women may be averse to staying in such an institution. The name was changed to the “Carlton Home” in 1930. There are notes of the 1930 joint committee of the Carlton Refuge and the Metropolitan Standing Committee, set up to discuss  the concern that the overall site wasn’t put to good use. During this time period, fewer inmates were  being admitted. Mrs. Sudgen, who appears to have been part of the institution for 40 years, gives a telling outline of the circumstances of many arrivals – “the girls would come to us from parents disgraced and wanting to keep the disgrace from the rest of the family…there were others who did not want to be known, so the home was kept very private” (Conference Notes 22nd May 1930, File 503, see image below).
Photograph of Mrs. Sugdens testimony located in VPRS 4523/P1/54 File 503

Historical sources do state that the “great desire of the [Refuge] committee is to keep mother and child together” (Kernot 1919, p.7). Nonetheless, government inquiries and apologies have highlighted the role of government and non-government organizations in forced adoptions and the plight of single or unmarried mothers well into the 20th century.








A model Baby Health Centre 1951-1997 closure

Finally from 1951 onwards the site was a model for maternal and child health, religious associations had ceased and the design of the building was typical of Baby Health Centres of the post-war era.

This file (VPRS 6345/P0/112 File 622/1 Proposed Maternal and Infant Welfare Centre) contains government correspondence documenting the closure of the Carlton Refuge and the decisions leading up to having the site become the home of the Queen Elizabeth Maternal and Child Health Centre and Infants Hospital (opened in 1951- functioned as such until 1997). By this time this was a specialised site providing health services for women, married and unmarried, and their young children.

PROV recently accessioned a collection of records relating to the Maternal and Child Health Service (Infant Welfare), which began in Victoria in 1917. One such series is a photographic collection, VPRS 16682, which records aspects of the Infant Welfare Service including centre-based, home-based and rural work, children’s institutions, and the involvement of State and Local Governments, for example, through the official openings of infant welfare centres.

 Two black and white photographs from VPRS 16682, the left shows an Infant Welfare Sister with mother and baby at the Brooklyn Infant Welfare [circa 1950's]. To the right is the Far East Gippsland rural circuit - a Sister is in a health department van, waving goodbye to mothers and children.

Two photographs from VPRS 16682/P3 Unit 1, the left shows an Infant Welfare Sister with mother and baby at the Brooklyn Infant Welfare [circa 1950’s]. To the right is the Far East Gippsland rural circuit – a Sister is in a health department van, waving goodbye to mothers and children. The Keppell Street site would be associated with the Maternal and Child Health service until 1997.

The fundamental role of the Keppell Street site as providing services for women and children is a common thread throughout its history. The philosophy associated with the aims of the different institutions which operated on the site, definitely changed, as is noted in the Heritage Council’s case study of the site. The religious rhetoric eventually faded as health services for women and children came to the forefront. Find & Connect summarizes that “while the institution focused on the ‘care’ of mothers, it is evident that the Refuge also accommodated some babies and children after their mothers were discharged” and “the historical sources contain many references to the Refuge’s approach of encouraging unmarried mothers to keep their babies if possible”. As heritage experts explain, this was a complex and layered site, which we can learn even more about by looking through official government records and newspaper accounts. It is very closely connected to the early history of social welfare, the contribution of Protestant churches to charitable work in Victoria, and the experience of unwed mothers in the social and religious context of 19th and 20th century Melbourne. No doubt there are more records to be discovered in PROV’s collection after some thorough research. It has been said that a fire destroyed most of the Refuge’s early official records but a manuscript collection is held by the State Library of Victoria, accession number MS 10952, which includes: minutes (1882-1949); receipts (1921-1943); expenditures (1919-1943); visitors’ book (1903-1948) (includes records of baptisms 1931-1938 and marriages 1936-1937); annual reports (1944-1945 and 1948); and insurance policies (1875-1943).

Written by: Jelena Gvozdic, Access Services Officer


Find & Connect, “Carlton Refuge (1854 – 1949)”,

Heritage Council of Victoria 2010, “Case Study 1: Queen Elizabeth Centre”, Framework of Historical Themes Part 2, pp.44-45

Kernot, M. J. 1919, Reminiscences of the Carlton Refuge, 1854 to 1919,

Law, A (with) Grimsham, P, “Family Situations in Carlton”, in Among the terraces: Carlton’s parks and pastimes, Carlton Forest Project, North Carlton, Vic,

National Trust, “Former Carlton Refuge (Queen Elizabeth Maternal & Child Care Health Centre)”,;65172

Swain S 2014, History of institutions providing out-of-home residential care for children, Australian Catholic University

Wickham D 2003, “Beyond the Wall: Ballarat Female Refuge, a Case Study in Moral Authority”, Master’s Thesis, Australian Catholic University

Dr. Christine A Cole’s doctoral thesis “Stolen Babies – Broken Hearts: Forced Adoption in Australia 1881-1987” contextualizes the historical experience of unwed mothers in colonial and 20th century Australia, it is available for viewing on the following link:

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