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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:

The legacy of wartime propaganda Part 1

  • 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).

One hundred years ago, 112,000 Victorians enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), 89,000 served overseas and 19,000 would tragically lose their lives. This article takes us back in time through a selection of World War I propaganda materials located in the archive. 

The final year of the war

It is early 1918 – three years since the first Australian troops were sent to Egypt to fight against the Ottoman Empire. While Russia withdrew from the war some months ago, the US has only just entered the conflict. One million German troops who were fighting Russian forces in Eastern Europe have been freed to launch an offensive at the Western front, soon to become a grim setting for unprecedented loss of life. Australian casualty figures stand at 76,836, and losses on both sides have been heavy and the gains very small. Numbers of Australian men volunteering to enlist have continued to fall.

On the home front, social division has grown. Amid continued British pressure, the government is determined to fill shortages in the Australian Imperial Forces as regiments are continuing to disband. Many Australians, however, are disillusioned with the rising casualty rates and stories of battle losses. Conscription referendums in 1916 and 1917 were significantly opposed and both failed. Some are calling for peace terms to be created but Allied leaders want to fight to the finish. They portray this as a war for the good of civilisation, whose existence and well-being is threatened by the malevolent German empire.

With the failure of the government to win the right to conscript soldiers, and the armed forces needing continual reinforcement to retain their strength, the government has decided to embark on a new campaign to mobilise Australians. It will include the release of a series of recruitment posters and pamphlets.

An image of The four recruitment pamphlets found in VPRS 3183/P0 Units 132 & 133.

Four recruitment pamphlets found in VPRS 3183/P0 Units 132 & 133.


The Government’s last recruitment efforts

The posters of the last recruiting campaign of 1918 can be found in PROV’s collection, in a series from the Town Clerk’s Office of the City of Melbourne – VPRS 3183/P0 Units 132 & 133. Illustrated by renowned Australian artist Norman Lindsay, many of the posters contain violent propaganda images to incite anger against the Germans, who are depicted as monstrous and bloodstained. The intention is to inspire and shock un-enlisted eligible men to join up. Looking at them, you can get a glimpse of the wartime propaganda that is so indicative of the time.

The recruitment pamphlets were compiled by the Australian government and published by the Director-General of Recruiting, Victoria Barracks. They were designed to be folded for posting to potential recruits. The fastenings of each read “Hurry!” “Join up!” “Quick!” and “Now!” According to the Australian War Memorial, the pamphlets were part of a recruitment kit to promote the little known “Voluntary Ballot Enlistment Scheme” – the Australian government’s final attempt to raise recruitment numbers. Men were to submit cards to a lottery and then agree to serve in the AIF if their names were drawn out. The first draw took place in Sydney on the 7th of October 1918. Most of the pamphlets would never have been distributed – the scheme was shut down with the signing of armistice on the 11th of November 1918, which ended the First World War.

Minister of Recruiting, Mr Orchard, drawing a ballot for voluntary enlistment into the AIF. Letters and pamphlets were posted to eligible men; the government estimated this numbered 838,121 Australians. 100 badges were selected on the day – this would be the only draw conducted for the ballot scheme. (Source: Australian War Memorial, H18783).

Minister of Recruiting, Mr Orchard, drawing a ballot for voluntary enlistment into the AIF. Letters and pamphlets were posted to eligible men; the government estimated this numbered 838,121 Australians. 100 badges were selected on the day – this would be the only draw conducted for the ballot scheme. (Source: Australian War Memorial, H18783).

Imagery found within the pamphlets VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

Imagery found within the pamphlets VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.


Persuasion, fear and guilt: WWI wartime propaganda motifs – then and now

What can we see in the images? One motif that is referenced is that of the RMS Lusitania attack – one of the most controversial events of the First World War. The English passenger ship, travelling to London from New York, was hit by a German submarine in May 1915,  1,198 passengers and crew were killed. The death toll included 128 US citizens and the event is believed to have swayed American opinion, setting the path for US entry into the war. The sinking was exploited by propagandists as an unprovoked assault on a civilian ship but Germany insisted the Lusitania was carrying illegally stowed explosives. Whether or not there were any explosives on board is still debated today.

American headlines after the sinking of Lusitania 1915 (source: Library of Congress Digital Collection).

American headlines after the sinking of Lusitania 1915 (Source: Library of Congress Digital Collection).

A cartoon on one of the pamphlets from the Australian campaign depicts a German water demon drowning a mother and child – you can see the image of a sinking ship in the background. Innocent civilians are the victims in this imagery as the plight of the defenceless is used to incite outrage.

A pamphlet.

“The gospel that murders children and women” VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

The invasion and occupation of Belgium by German forces in 1914 is also referenced many times in propaganda. Allegations of brutal atrocities committed by German troops promoted an image of the enemy as bloodthirsty and inhumane. One poster, titled “The Peril To Australia”, warns that similar events will happen in Australia, should Germany win the war. It shows a violent conquest of an Australian town by German troops. This was all designed to instil anxiety, panic and hatred for the enemy. It also provided a moral justification to go to war – to defeat a savage aggressor, which threatened the whole of civilization.

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).

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).

A battle between good and evil – peace terms couldn’t be created against an inhuman savage enemy VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

A battle between good and evil – peace terms couldn’t be created against an inhuman savage enemy VPRS 3183/P0 Unit 132.

The pamphlet text: “On the fields of France and Flanders is at present being decided the question whether your home will be polluted and outraged by the Hun, or whether it will be preserved from this unspeakable fate for ever. The men in the trenches are overworked and weary with incessant fighting. The glorious Army to which they belong is being frittered away for lack of the help you and your fellow eligibles can give. Will you not enlist at once and do your “bit” for the men who are risking everything for you?”

(VPRS 3183/P0/133 Australian Army pamphlet).

Check back in the coming weeks for Part 2: The long shadow of atrocity propaganda – a new WWI scholarship emerges.

Jelena Gvozdic, PROV Access Services Officer


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Image6If you use Firefox or Chrome browsers, you may have noticed that it’s been difficult to open digitised documents from our website. You may have had to wait a lot longer than normal for a file to open, or your files may not have opened at all.

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You could also make your Firefox or Chrome browsers use the standard Adobe PDF Reader to open PDF files. Instructions on setting the default PDF reader can be found for Firefox here and for Chrome here.

Do I have to use the Adobe PDF Reader?
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Want a more detailed explanation?
When we digitise paper documents we save them in PDF format, using a specific compression algorithm called ‘JPEG 2000’. This compression makes the files small enough to download easily, and produces a much better quality picture than the more widely used ‘JPEG’ algorithm.

Although ‘JPEG 2000’ is an open-source standard it is not as widely adopted as the older ‘JPEG’ algorithm (which is fine for most purposes, just not as good at compressing pictures of text). The PDF readers that Chrome and Firefox use as plugins do not appear to be as efficient opening ‘JPEG 2000’ encoded files. They can do it, it just takes longer for them to run through the maths that turns the numbers in the downloaded files into a picture on the screen. 

Uncover new treasures at Ballarat Archives Centre

  • A sample of Californian Stink Weed, with a letter from JC Reid, Mt View, Avoca, 23 January 1912, PROV, VPRS 17279/P1 Correspondence and Reports Presented to Council Meetings, unit 1, correspondence for ordinary meeting 27 February 1912.

You may be surprised to learn that the Ballarat Archives Centre collection spans records from Karkarook in the far northwest of the state; Horsham in the Wimmera area; Ararat and Stawell in the Grampians area; and all the way to Daylesford, Trentham and Bacchus Marsh in the Central Highlands.

And the collection continues to grow!

Here are some of the newly released records now accessible for researchers to order and view in the Ballarat Archives Centre Reading Room.

Local Government Records
Rate books, council minutes, correspondence files and letter books are among the municipal records that can be found at Ballarat Archives Centre. They provide a wonderful source for family and property research. Rate books typically contain details such as name, address, occupation of occupier and/or owner, property valuations and brief descriptions of properties. Council minutes record the operations and decisions made by council concerning a municipality that can provide valuable information about its communities, residents and workplaces. Correspondence files and letter books can give insightful information on a huge range of local subjects, from both within and outside a particular municipality.

Series Number

Series Title


Units available

Date Range

VPRS 7303/P1
VPRS 7303/P2

Voter’s Rolls

VA 478 Ballaarat (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1870; City 1870-1994)

P1 units 1-25
P2 units 1-5


VPRS 8118/P3

Outward Letter Books

VA 478 Ballaarat (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1870; City 1870-1994)

P3 units 1-2


VPRS 17279/P1

Correspondence and Reports Presented to Council Meetings

VA 536 Avoca II (Road District 1861-1864; United Road District 1864; Shire 1864-1994)

Units 1-9


VPRS 17277/P1

Committee Minutes

VA 658 Creswick II (Road District 1859-1863; Shire 1863-1995)

Units 1-4


VPRS 3797/P4

Engineer’s Report Books

VA 658 Creswick II (Road District 1859-1863; Shire 1863-1995)

Unit 1


VPRS 8117/P1

Outward Letter Books

VA 706 Ballaarat East (Municipal District 1857-1863; Borough 1863-1870; Town 1872-1921)

Units 1-16


VPRS 2545/P3
VPRS 2545/P4

Council Minutes

VA 742 Sebastopol (Borough 1864-1994)

P3 units 1-153
P4 unit 1


VPRS 13356

Rough Council Minutes

VA 742 Sebastopol (Borough 1864-1994)

Units 1-6


VPRS 13492/P2

Council Minutes

VA 2380 Ballarat I (Road District 1856-1863; Shire 1863-1994)

Units 1-2


VPRS 17071/P1

Minute Books

VA 2399 Buninyong I (Road District 1858-1864; Shire 1864-1994)

Units 1-31


VPRS 17072/P1

Committee Minutes

VA 2399 Buninyong I (Road District 1858-1864; Shire 1864-1994)

Units 1-41


VPRS 17563/P1

Council Meeting Minutes

VA 2400 Camperdown (Borough 1952-1959; Town 1959-1994

Units 1-15


VPRS 7221/P1

General Ledgers

VA 2436 Grenville (Shire 1864-1994)

Units 1-6


VPRS 17070/P1

Engineer’s Report Books

VA 2457 Lexton (Road District 1860-1864; Shire 1864-1994)

Units 1-2


VPRS 11153/P1
VPRS 11153/P2

Rate Books

VA 2465 Maryborough (Municipal District 1857-1863; Borough 1863-1961; City 1961-1995)

P1 units 1-66
P2 units 1-4


VPRS 17280/P1

Beaufort Commons’ Ledger

VA 2496 Ripon (Shire 1863-1994)

Unit 1


VPRS 12323/P2

General Correspondence Subject Files

VA 2496 Ripon (Shire 1863-1994)

Units 1-5


VPRS 6914/P1

Minute Books

VA 2670 Brown’s and Scarsdale (Municipal District 1862- 1863; Borough 1863-1915)

Units 1-6


VPRS 7011/P1

Minute Books

VA 2686 Heathcote I (Municipal District 1859-1863; Borough 1863-1892)

Units 1-5


VPRS 16966/P4

Council Agenda

VA 3734 Horsham 111 (Rural City 1995-ct

Units 1-2


VPRS 16967

Council Minutes

VA 3734 Horsham 111 (Rural City 1995-ct

Unit 1


VPRS 17118/P1

General Ledgers

VA 4296 Daylesford (Municipal District 1859-1863; Borough 1863-1966)

Units 1-4


VPRS 17117/P1

Country Roads Board Ledgers

VA 4296 Daylesford (Municipal District 1859-1863; Borough 1863-1966)

Units 1-2


VPRS 17573/P1

Contract Register

VA 4296 Daylesford (Municipal District 1859-1863; Borough 1863-1966)

Unit 1


VPRS 17317/P1

Voter’s Rolls

VA 4296 Daylesford (Municipal District 1859-1863; Borough 1863-1966)

Units 1-2


VPRS 17116/P1

Balance Books

VA 4711 Glenlyon (Road District 1860-1865; Shire 1865-1966)
VA 2414 Daylesford and Glenlyon (Shire 1966-1995)

Units 1-2


VPRS 17278/P1

Minute Books

VA 4712 Mount Franklin (Shire 1871-1915)

Units 1-2



Court Records
Ballarat Archives Centre holds court records from many localities in the western district of Victoria. Those records on open access can be ordered and viewed by researchers in the Ballarat Archives Centre Reading Room.

Series Number

Series Title


Units Available

Date Range

VPRS 3113/P1

Mining Warden’s Register

VA 479 Daylesford Courts 1866-1948

Unit 1



VPRS 5459/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Cause List Books (1868-1888): Court of Petty Sessions Registers (1888-1951)

VA 553 Clunes Courts 1868-1968

Unit 1


VPRS 17027/P1

Mining Warden’s Register

VA 527 Blackwood Courts 1871-1911

Unit 1


VPRS 5656/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Police/Arrest Registers

VA 678 Ballarat Courts 1935-1960

Units 1-4


VPRS 5658/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Default Registers

VA 678 Ballarat Courts 1930-1955

Units 1-7


VPRS 6435/P1

Special Complaints Registers

VA 678 Ballarat Courts 1940-1966

Units 1-2


VPRS 17026/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Gold Buyers Register

VA 678 Ballarat Courts 1908-1936

Unit 1


VPRS 3899/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Indexes to Convictions

VA 687 Avoca Courts 1890-1963

Unit 1


VPRS 17024/P1

Licensing Court Registers

VA 728 Gordon Courts 1899-1932

Units 1-13


VPRS 17308/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Indexes to Convictions

VA 728 Gordon Courts 1899-1933

Unit 1


VPRS 1362/P1

County Court Registers

VA 730 Smythesdale Courts 1862-1869

Unit 1


VPRS 10585/P0

Children’s Court Registers

VA 731 Linton Courts 1908-1915

Unit 1


VPRS 10752/P0

Children’s Court Registers

VA 741 Elmhurst Courts 1914-1915

Unit 1


VPRS 17307/P1

Court of Petty Sessions Indexes to Convictions

VA 745 Ballarat East Courts 1888-1921

Units 1-5


VPRS 5025

Children’s Court Registers

VA 917 Stawell Courts 1907-1954

Unit 1


VPRS 17073/P1

Court Of Petty Sessions Special Complaints Register

VA 2292 Birchip Courts 1893-1982

Unit 1



Land Records
We hold a comprehensive range of records that document the administration and occupation of Crown land in Victoria some of which are held at the Ballarat Archives Centre.

Series Number

Series Title


Units Available

Date Range

VPRS 7009/R1

Application Book, Survey Office Heathcote

VA 538 Department of Crown Lands and Survey 1881-1885

Unit 1


VPRS 17025/P1

Register of Lessees, Stawell, Section 19 Land Act 1869

VA 538 Department of Crown Lands and Survey 1879-1891

Unit 1


VPRS 13669/P2

Register of Deeds, Creswick

VA 865 Department of the Treasurer (also known as Treasury and Treasurer’s Office) 1859-1900

Unit 1



Mining Records
Ballarat and district is renowned for its gold mining activity since the early 1850s. Ballarat Archives Centre has many mining records relating to Ballarat and its surrounds for researchers to explore.

Series Number

Series Title


Units Available

Date Range

VPRS 10653

Mining Warden’s Register of Applications for Mining Leases, Avoca Mining Division

VA 3803 Maryborough Mining District 1901-1916

Units 1-2



Water Records
Some water records are not unlike municipal records in that they record water usage by people residing in various places. This could be a valuable way of finding people where there may not be access to rate records or any other source of information available.

Series Number

Series Title


Units Available

Date Range

VPRS 7272/R2

Rates Cash Books

VA 2098 Heathcote Waterworks Trust 1908-1953; VA 3996 Coliban Region Water Authority 1992-

Units 1-2


VPRS 5633/P0

Consumer’s Ledgers

VA 1018 Ballarat Water Commissioners (previously known as The Ballarat and Ballarat East Water Commissioners 1872-1880)

Units 1-99



Mythbusting: New privacy laws do not apply

Image courtesy Stratford Historical Society

Image courtesy Stratford Historical Society

New privacy laws do not apply to authorised public records in a Place of Deposit

The Data and Privacy Protection Act 2014 commenced late last year.

Public Record Office Victoria would like to reassure agencies that public records that have been approved for transfer to a Place of Deposit (POD) should not be restricted from public access due to these privacy laws.  

As many agencies are aware, the Information Privacy Principles set requirements for the way private information is collected and stored by government. However, section 12 of the Act stipulates that the Information Privacy Principles do not apply to public records open for public inspection which are under the control of the Keeper of Public Records.

All records authorised for transfer to PODs remain under the control of the Keeper and it is a condition for appointment as a POD that those records be made available to the public.

“So its business as usual in terms of transfer of records from government agencies to Places of Deposit,” said Lauren Bourke, Coordinator Community Archives, Public Record Office Victoria.

Transfers of records from an agency to a POD must be authorised by Public Record Office Victoria.  Agencies wishing to transfer records to a POD should contact the Community Archives team at  

Information about the POD program can be found here.

Any questions on the impact of the Data and Privacy Protection Act 2014 upon PODs can be directed to Carly Godden via email:

Release of new Intellectual Property Guidelines for the Victorian Public Sector

Photo by: Horia Varlan

Photo by: Horia Varlan

In March 2015, the Department of Treasury and Finance released the Intellectual Property Guidelines for the Victorian Public Sector (IP Guidelines).

These IP Guidelines replace the working draft guidelines released in November 2013 and are designed to assist with implementation of the Whole of Victorian Government Intellectual Property Policy by providing important information on intellectual property (IP) related issues, including for example:

  • making copyright material publicly accessible
  • commercialisation of IP
  • protecting and enforcing IP rights
  • using third party IP.

All agencies, with the exception of local government, are subject to the IP Guidelines.

What does this mean for Public Records?

Public records contain a wealth of the state government’s IP and this IP must be carefully managed to ensure appropriate use and access.

Although the new IP guidelines contain new provisions to enhance the Government’s objectives of granting rights to the State’s IP as a public asset and managing third party IP responsibly, it also reinforces the obligations of agencies under the Standards issued by Public Record Office Victoria. This is particularly the case when it comes to disposal and procurement.

Disposal of IP

The IP Guidelines advise upon the range of considerations that must be taken into account when determining if it is appropriate to reassign or dispose of IP owned by an agency. However, as noted in the Guidelines, where the disposal concerns IP in public records, this must be done in accordance with PROS 10/13 Disposal Standard and the applicable Retention and Disposal Authority issued under the Public Records Act 1973.


Agencies should also be attentive to IP requirements in procurement, especially as applied to outsourcing agreements. Where an outsourcing agreement includes public records, agencies should take steps to ensure record-keeping contract clauses are included in the agreement. PROS 10/10 G2: managing records of outsourced activities guideline prescribes that ownership of IP contained in records that are to be used or transferred to the custody of agencies must remain with the government agency.

For more information about how the new IP Guidelines may impact agencies, email

Stories of WW1 soldier settlers come to life

  • Soldier settlers circa 1920 in a photo taken by John Ellis, a WW1 photographer.

One of Victoria’s most important military collections is now available to the public for the first time online, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Special Minister of State, Shaun Leane, unveiled an important new website for historical and family research today.

Battle to Farm enables the public access to nearly 10,000 government records on the Victorian Soldier Settlement Scheme. The scheme helped settle thousands of returned World War One soldiers on farming land across Victoria through government leases, drastically transforming the landscape of regional Victoria.

The great debate

Over the years there has been great debate as to the success or failure of the settlement scheme as ex-soldiers were entering farming life in a difficult economic climate as the world descended into the Depression.

Over 50 per cent of those allocated blocks left the scheme. Many were unable to cover their debts when food prices plummeted, while others accused the government of leasing blocks that were too small. Through these resources, we can see not only the land allocated to each settler, but the hardships they faced.

Making these records public

Searchable by soldier name and geographic location, the new website developed by Public Record Office Victoria is an extraordinary achievement, making public for the first time one of Victoria’s important military collections.

The website features digitised soldier settlement records, letters from the soldiers about their farming life, video interviews of people who grew up on settlement blocks, photographs, and a guide to understanding the records.

Shedding light on the lives of the settlers

Parliamentary Secretary to the Special Minister of State, Shaun Leane said that Battle to Farm allows us to learn about the experience these soldiers went through and to better understand this important chapter of Victorian history. 

“Between 1918 and 1934, 11,639 returned servicemen were allocated blocks of land under Victoria’s soldier settlement scheme – more than 80 volunteers have spent two years digitising these records to bring us this important resource in time for the ANZAC Centenary.”

Director and Keeper of Public Records, Justine Heazlewood said that the goal of the project is to make these records more accessible to all Victorians. 

“We’re thrilled to launch this great resource so the public can access their ancestor’s records easily and the public have an insight into the challenges soldiers faced on their return to Australia.”

For more information visit

Battle to Farm is a Public Record Office Victoria website, funded by the Veterans’ Branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet as part of the Centenary of Anzac commemorations. The project was supported by Monash University, the ANZAC Commemorative Committee, Beaufort Historical Society, Stanhope Historical Society, Gippsland Historical Society, and more than 80 volunteers.  

Learn more about this project at our upcoming Victorian Archives Centre Dig the Archives Open Day.   

Hear project manager Daniel Wilksch explain the mental, physical and financial challenges soldier settlers faced as they attempted to rebuild broken spirits on unbroken land.

Also, join Gerard Poed from the National Archives of Australia as he discusses what has been found in the repatriation soldier case files of the returning soldiers who survived from the first convoy of 20 ships to leave Albany Western Australia on the 1st of November 1914.

Register now for this special event. 

The records we preserve

  • This is the hand written letter petition of mercy
    Significant impact on individuals: petition for the court’s mercy, PROV VPRS 1100 P2, unit 7

The Public Records Act 1973 requires Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) to work with Victorian government agencies to select public records for permanent preservation as State Archives.

So, out of all the digital and paper files government creates every day, how do we decide which ones are worth keeping forever?

The selection of State Archives is guided by a set of characteristics, these include:

  1. The authority, establishment and structure of government. Public records which provide concise evidence of the source of authority, establishment and structure of Victorian government. For instance, Acts of Parliament.
  2. Primary functions and programs of government. Public records which provide concise evidence of the government’s primary functions and programs, especially those records that provide evidence of a new or changed policy decision. For instance, Cabinet records, budget statements, planning and management of major infrastructure projects.
  3. Enduring rights and entitlements. Public records which provide concise evidence of the life events, enduring rights and entitlements of individuals and groups. For instance, births, deaths marriage registration records  and divorce records, records of land ownership.
  4. Significant impact on individuals. Public records which provide evidence of the significant impact of Victorian government decisions and actions on individuals and communities, the interaction of people with the government, and the influence of the Victorian community on government decision-making. For instance, criminal court decisions, records of government care of individuals, planning schemes records, petitions seeking government action.  
  5. Environmental management and change. Public records which provide evidence of the Victorian government’s significant actions in relation to environmental management and change, response to the impact of climate change, and the occupation, management and use of the state’s natural resources. For instance, rainfall, temperature and soil feature statistics, management of landfill sites, forestry planning and management..
  6. Significant contribution to community memory. Public records that have a substantial capacity to enrich the memory, knowledge and understanding of aspects of Victoria’s history, society, culture and people. For instance, public records relating to events or that represent the Victorian way of life including work, education, leisure and culture.

Download our full Appraisal Statement for State Archives here.

Enquiries about the records we keep can be made to

The Way We Were Historical Photograph Competition: Dig the Archives 2015

From your attic to our archives

Dig the Archives 2015 will feature explorations into Public Record Office Victoria’s rich photographic collection.

To help celebrate Victoria behind the lenses, you are invited to share a unique moment of Victoria’s past from your personal collection of photographs.

The entry judged to be the rarest, most artistic and historically interesting will receive a $100 Carlton Readings Gift Voucher, framed copy of their photo and presentation of the award at Dig the Archives. To enter simply email a high-quality JPEG (preferably no larger than 5mb) copy of your photograph together with your name, phone number and an accompanying short caption (personal anecdotes also welcome!) of a maximum 150 words to Please send under the heading ‘The Way We Were Competition’. Closing date for entries is 20 April 2015. See ‘Terms and Conditions’ for further information about the competition .

Dig the Archives, the annual Open Day event for the Victorian Archives Centre, will be held on 2nd May 2015 at 99 Shiel Street North Melbourne. Stay tuned to our facebook page for further information about the range of fascinating talks, tours and workshops on the day.

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