Child care and protection guide

Major sources from the collection relating to child care and protection, c.1801-1912

Overview of child care and protection by NSW Government

The activity of child care and protection was established in the Colony of New South Wales (NSW) by 1801. The role of and the institutions managed by government in carrying out this activity changed over time. Initially care was provided for orphans and destitute children by the establishment of schools and asylums. The activity of care also included managing and arranging apprenticeships and placement in domestic service.

In many cases the government provided funding to private organizations, such as the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, for providing care and implementing Acts and regulations.

With the introduction of the 1866 Act to Establish Juvenile Reformatories the government provided separate care for children found guilty of punishable of offences.

The system of 'boarding-out' was introduced under the State Children's Relief Act 1881 which also regulated care for children in private homes licensed to receive children.

More details on government child care and protection can be found in our catalogue.

Institutions established for child care and protection

Female Orphan School, 1801-1850

The Female Orphan School was established in 1801 by Governor King to house destitute young girls. It marked the first initiative by the colonial government to care for destitute, abandoned or orphaned girls. The girls were taught domestic skills along with reading and writing. In 1818 the Orphan School moved from its first premises in George Street to Parramatta.

Male Orphan School, 1819-1850

The first male Orphan School was established in 1819 by Governor Macquarie to house destitute boys aged between seven and ten. The boys were given a basic education and later, farm skills. It was located on the site of the first Female Orphan School in George Street, Sydney. In 1823 the Male Orphan School was moved to Cabramatta and closed on 30 April 1850.

Roman Catholic Orphan School, 1836-86

In 1836 the government-funded Roman Catholic Orphan School opened at Waverley House. It moved to permanent premises at Parramatta in 1844. Salaried lay staff ran the school until 1859 when the Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd took over management. The school closed in 1886.

For surviving records of the Roman Catholic Orphan School, contact The Archivist, Good Samaritan Archives:


Phone: +61 2 9566 2188

For a list of surviving records see their website.

Protestant Orphan School, 1850-86

In 1850 the Female and Male Orphan Schools amalgamated to become the Protestant Orphan School in Arthur's Hill (now Rydalmere) on the site of the Female Orphan School at Parramatta. It was government funded and started boarding out suitable children in 1879. The School closed on 30 September 1886.

Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children, 1852-1916

The Society for the Relief of Destitute Children opened Ormond House in Oxford Street, Paddington in 1852. The children who were admitted were normally between the ages of three and ten years and not eligible for admission to the Orphan Schools. The children received a basic education and after the Asylum relocated to Randwick in 1858 to a site that included a farm, the boys also learnt farming skills. From 1883 the Asylum began boarding-out children and after 1888 the Government ceased funding the home. The premises were increasingly under-utilised until it was taken over by the Federal Government during World War I as a military hospital for wounded and disabled returned servicemen. In April 1915 the children remaining at the Asylum were sent to cottage style institutions or boarded-out.

See the Randwick Asylum guide for a brief history. A list of records is below.

The Vernon and the Sobraon, Nautical training ships for boys 1867-1911

The Vernon opened in 1867. It was used as an Industrial School and a Reformatory as there was no separate boys' reformatory schools until 1895. The ship held boys until they turned seven. The Vernon was docked at Cockatoo Island.

The Sobraon, which replaced the Vernon in 1892, was used until 1911, when the remaining boys were set to the Mittagong Farm Home for Boys and the Brush Farm Home for Boys. The Sobraon was sold in 1911 by the NSW State government to the Commonwealth government. It was refitted and launched in 1912 as the HMAS Tingira, the first naval training ship in the Royal Australian Navy.

Newcastle Reformatory for Girls, 1867-1871

Industrial Schools were a way of dealing with destitute and delinquent children. A Girls' Industrial School was opened in the former military barracks at Newcastle on 6 August 1867; it provided only a minimum education. In January 1869 part of the School was proclaimed as a Reformatory School for girls who had committed criminal offences. In July 1871 the Newcastle site ceased to be a Public Industrial School and a Reformatory School for Females was established on Cockatoo Island.

Biloela Public Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls, Cockatoo Island, 1871-1887

The Girls' Industrial School and Reformatory School for Females was transferred to former prison premises at Biloela (on Cockatoo Island) in 1871. The Reformatory School closed in 1880 and the girls were moved to the Shaftesbury Reformatory. The Industrial School remained at Cockatoo Island until 1887.

Shaftesbury Reformatory for Females at Watson's Bay, 1880-1904

Reformatory Schools were for boy or girls aged under 16 who were convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to 14 or more days imprisonment. In February 1880 the Shaftesbury Reformatory for Females at Watson's Bay was proclaimed (after the Cockatoo Island Reformatory closed). The cottage style premises were intended to house 40-50 girls for periods of one to five years. In 1900 the State Children Relief Board took control of Shaftesbury, which eventually closed in March 1904 and the last girls were boarded out.

Industrial School for Females, Parramatta, 1887-1912

In 1887 the Industrial School on Cockatoo Island was relocated to site of the former Roman Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta. On 9 May 1887 the first girls were transferred to Parramatta. From 1905 girls aged seven and under ceased to be sent to the School as the emphasis changed from reformatory to training and education as a means of developing acceptable behaviour. In 1912 Parramatta became "The Girl's Training Home", intended for misbehaving girls.

Girls' Training Home, Parramatta, 1912-1975

On 31 January 1912 the hospital section of the Parramatta Industrial School for Girls was proclaimed an Industrial School for female children, to be called 'The Girl's Training Home'.

Boys' Reformatory schools and Farm Homes, 1894

The Carpentarian Reformatory for Boys (Brush Farm) opened at Eastwood in 1894.

The industrial school opened on 17 October 1906 as a probationary Training Home for boys aged 8 to 17 convicted in the Children's Courts of less serious offences. Younger boys attended school and worked on the Farm. The function of the school was transferred to the Farm Home for Boys Gosford in July 1912. In 1946 this became the Mount Penang Training School for Boys.


Index to Colonial Secretary's Papers 1788-1825

Index to Child Care and Protection


  • Index to Mittagong Farm Home for Boys 1907-1921
  • Index to Orphan School records, 1817-1886
  • Index to Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children, 1852-1915
  • Industrial School Records 1867-1942

Index to Sydney Benevolent Asylum records 1857-1900

The Forgotten, Children in Homes, Reformatories and Industrial Schools NSW

Compiled by Kaye Vernon this index covers records in NRS 2438, 14722, 14723, 14724, 14730, 14739 on Reels 3850-3852. This index is included in the Index to Child Care and Protection on our website, and is also available for viewing on CD in the Reading Room.

List of main record series

This list of records covers the period c. 1801-1912. Records older than 100 years are open to public access.

Orphan School records

Orphan School records are listed in our catalogue under the agency headings:

Many of the series listed below are included in the Index to Child Care and Protection on our website.

NRS 783[4/333-35], Reel 2776-2777
Applications for children out of the Orphan Schools 
NRS 796[ML C200] [4/7208, 4/352-53], Fiche 3307, Reels 2908, 2777
Male Orphan School; Admission books
NRS 798[4/390], Reel 1484
Male Orphan School; Indentures of Apprenticeship 
-ML C201], Reel 2908
Male Orphan School; Letter book[
21 Dec 1829-6 Dec 1849
NRS 793[4/350-51], Reel 2777
Female Orphan School, Admission books 
NRS 12266 [4/10585], COD 506
Protestant Orphan School, Admission Book (Female)
- [4/10786], Reel 3702, COD 540
Protestant Orphan School, Admission Book (Male)

Correspondence and petitions for children in Orphan schools

Correspondence and petitions from parents and/or prospective employers to have children admitted into or removed from the schools may also be found in the Colonial Secretary's records. See the Index to Colonial Secretary's Papers 1788-1825, and the Colonial Secretary Guide for further information.

Returns of Orphan School children

The Colonial Secretary's Special Bundles list, 1794-1825 (NRS 898) also contains references to the orphan schools, including returns. It includes:

  • List of 117 boys received into the Male Orphan Institution, 1819-24 [4/7208] Reel 1477, Fiche 3307

Roman Catholic Orphan School records

Also included in the Colonial Secretary's Special Bundles list, 1794-1825 (NRS 898) these appear to be the only Catholic Orphan School records held as NSW State archives:

  • Institute for Destitute Roman Catholic Children - monthly returns, 1845-46 [4/7197]
  • Returns of the Roman Catholic Orphan School, Parramatta, 1850-54 [4/7378]

Randwick Asylum records

NRS 13362 [7/3796-800], Reels 1865-1868
Registers of inmates
Entries can be searched in the Index to Child Care and Protection.
Ancestry has added both the index and digital copies of NRS 13362 to its website. You can access this resource through the dedicated reading room kiosk computers free of charge.
Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received
The Main series of letters received may include correspondence relating to the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children during its years of operation. This correspondence can be located using the Indexes and Registers to the Letters Received (available on microfilm in the reading room). See the Colonial Secretary Guide.
Examples from the correspondence:
- Resolution and Report of the Inquiry into the recent ill treatment of children [at the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children], 9 June 1876, 76/4088 [1/2332]
- Report by the Inspector of Public Charities on conditions at the Asylum for Destitute Children, Randwick, 12 Dec 1876, 76/9305 [1/2351]
Colonial Secretary: Special Bundles
Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children, 1901-08 [5/5229]
The bundle includes financial statements, copies of lease information and a sketch of the site. See the item lists (by year range) in the Colonial Secretary Guide
NRS 14628 [9/6152]
Miscellaneous correspondence files
Papers relating to the closure of the Randwick Asylum in 1916.


  • Researchers should also consult the records of the other instituitions listed in this Guide, such as 'school ships,' training ships, homes and reformatories.
  • As children who were apprenticed from the Asylum may have appeared before local Courts of Petty Sessions, these records should also be consulted. Records of the various Courts of Petty Sessions and Local Courts are listed in the catalogue.
  • Police Gazettes, 1862-1930, NRS 10958 (Reels 3129-3143 and 3594-3606) may also contain references to former Asylum Inmates.
  • The Mitchell Library in Macquarie Street, Sydney holds selected copies of the annual reports of the directors of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children.

Nautical Training Ship records

The records of the Vernon and Sobraon Training Ships are listed in our catalogue under the heading Nautical School-ship 'Vernon' (1867-92)/Nautical School-ship 'Sobraon' (1892-1911).

These include:

NRS 3906 [8/1740-1746], Reels 2884-2887
Vernon; Entrance Books 
1867-1877; 1886-1897
NRS 3902 [8/1747], Reels 2888-2890
Sobraon; Entrance Books 
NRS 3904 [8/1752], Reel 2890
Sobraon; Placement book 

Researchers should also consult:

  • NRS 3851 Department of Education, Correspondence Branch. Copies of letters sent concerning the administration of public schools, 1880-96; [1/727, 1/729-30, 1/1019-1148]

These include admission of children into the Orphan Schools and the apprenticeship of children in the Reform Schools.

  • An Index to the Admittance and Discharge Books for the Vernon and Sobraon, Fiche 5725 (compiled by the Australian Genealogical Education Centre, Kiama, NSW) is available in the reading room.

Industrial School records

The records from the Industrial School for Girls Newcastle, Biloela (Cockatoo Island) and the establishments at Parramatta are listed in our catalogue.

Many of the series listed below are included in the Index to Child Care and Protection

NRS 14722[5/3428], Reel 3850;[5/4857] Reel 3856, COD 607
Registers of warrants received
Some of the records are closed to public access.
Aug 1867-1942
NRS 14723[5/4837], Reel 3852
Discharge Register 
NRS 14724[8/1758], Reel 3852
Register of committals 
NRS 14725[5/3426-3427, 5/4840]
Daily admissions and discharge registers 
Sep 1897-Oct 1942
NRS 14730[5/4838], Reel 3850
Admission, discharge and after career register 
May 1887-Dec 1925
NRS 14739[5/4842-4843], Reel 3851
Register of apprenticeships 
NRS 14717[5/3429-34]
Copies of letters sent by the Superintendent
There are gaps in the correspondence.

Reformatory School and Farm Home records

NRS 2438 [8/1757], Reel 3850
Shaftesbury Girls' Reformatory; Roll of inmates 
NRS 13361[8/1755-56]
Farm Home for Boys, Mittagong; Registers of committals
The index to the registers can be searched online

'Boarding-out' records

The records are listed in our catalogue under State Children's Relief Board.

These include:

NRS-13358[11/22094-130], Fiche 7003-7317
Dependent children registers
See Index to Dependent children registers and digitised copies of records in our catalogue.
NRS-13359[11/22131-32], Fiche 7318-7342
Index to Wards 
RNCG-4526[6/24722-24741], Fiche 2001-2052
Card index to the Dependent children registers
Boarding out registers (Ward registers)
These records are closed to public access for 100 years.

Researchers may also wish to consult Index to Children in the care of the State Children's Relief Department as of 5 April 1883, indexed and published by Susan Lark, and available in the reading room.

Information for care leavers

See the Care leavers guide.

Find and Connect website

This website provides information about past and present providers of out of home care, details of where to access them and links to support services and other resources for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.

Records of out of home care and past adoptions

NSW Family and Communities holds records relating to the fostering of children from 1880 onwards.

The NSW Families and Communities website provides information for people who were in out of home care, or care-leavers.

Details for people applying for past adoption information and those considering searching for records of a past adoption is also available on the NSW Families and Communities website.

Information about the kinds of records for Care Leavers held by the Department of Communities and Justice is available on their website.

All requests for information on fostering, adoption and State wards should be directed to NSW Family and Community Services. General contact information can be found on the Department of Communities and Justice website.