A mother is gaoled and her children left destitute

Until the 1850s, welfare was almost entirely the domain of concerned individuals and voluntary organisations. The population was relatively small in Victoria's early years; however, the discovery of gold in 1851 prompted a rush of people to Victoria from other colonies and from overseas. As the gold became harder to find, many people came back to the cities seeking employment. Previous processes of welfare proved insufficient.

The letter that follows highlights the widespread practice of gaoling destitute children on charges of vagrancy. There were so few alternatives that victims of poverty were often treated in this way. In this letter, the Mayor of Geelong asks for two children, Edward and Ellen Taylor, to be admitted to the Immigrants' Home in Melbourne. At its peak, the Home housed nearly six hundred destitute children.

Geelong. 21 December 1863.


I have the honor to bring to your notice, the case of the two children as per margin who have been left destitute from the fact as their mother Eliza Taylor 'alias' Birdwood having been sentenced to Twelve Months Imprisonment at the Sessions, Geelong, on the 8th inst. for stealing from the person.

I would beg to add that the father of these children is in England, having left his wife some years ago, subsequently she cohabited with a man named "Birdwood - who left her also, and lately has been living on prostitution.

I beg further to add, that the children although 10 and 12 years of age, are in a very weakly state of health, emaciated, which I attribute to their being neglected, and want of sufficient nourishment for a long time past, and would strongly urge their case to your consideration in order that you would be pleased to grant the necessary authority for their admission into the "Immigrants Home" Melbourne, - there being no other institution that I am aware of to receive them, and being very reluctant to send them to Gaol as 'vagrants' which alternative I shall be compelled to adopt should they not be admitted into the institution above named.

I have the honor to be
your obedient servant
Richd. Parker
Mayor [1]

Edward and Ellen Taylor were admitted to the Immigrants' Home. Parliament finally enacted the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act in 1864. Both children were officially committed to state care on 20 January 1865, and fostered out in 1867. Ellen's term expired in 1868 and Edward was released into service in 1869.


1.   VPRS 1189, Unit 752, Charitable Institutions 1863, Item 63/ D 10,766   [Return to text]


VA 475 Chief Secretary's Department

VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 752, Charitable Institutions 1863, Item 63/ D 10,766

VA 1466 Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 1 [Old Series vol.1], Edward Taylor, p. 111, No. 399

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 2 [Old Series vol.2], Ellen Taylor, p. 87, No. 398

VPRS 1189, Unit 752, Charitable Institutions 1863, Item 63/ D 10,766

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