A mother and her child

A collection of letters was included in the 1884 departmental annual report on industrial and reformatory schools. Contained in an appendix to the reports from various institutions, the letters - all of which are copies - were written by children in the industrial schools and foster homes and by their parents. The following letters from one mother demonstrate the conflicting emotions with which many parents had to cope.

In 1879, William John Corrigan appears in the registers of children taken into care. The entry records that Willy was committed into care on 5 April because of neglect. He and his family had been in the Immigrants' Home when his father deserted them. Willy was born in Sandhurst in 1873, so he was only six years old at the time he was taken from his mother. The entry also notes that Marie Corrigan was close to confinement and therefore was being transferred to the Lying-In-Hospital.

Five years later, poor and ill, Marie Corrigan missed her son but hoped that the foster home would provide him with a good future.

For Willy Corrigan
4th August 1884

My Dear Son,

I have received your letters dated June and July. I am delighted to hear you have been confirmed. You will now give your whole heart to God, in prayer and thanksgiving for his goodness to you, be attentive to your prayers night and morning. Joe is very good and obedient and pious since his confirmation and I hope you will be the same.

You ask me to excuse your writing. I think it very good writing, but you should learn to spell well. There are many words in your letter misspelled. I hope you attend school every day, Joe is in the 4th class. Your sister Polly is in the 3rd - I am sure that you will all turn out good Scholars. It gives me such pleasure to hear you are happy and contented and fond of your foster brother. If you do as I wish you will be as obedient to your kind foster mother as you would to me.

Your brother Joe will write to [sic] soon if you answer this letter yourself. Joe will reply to it and you can then see for yourself which is the best writer.

My dear son I shall now conclude with kind love to you in which your sisters and brother join

Your ever affectionate Mother
Marie Corrigan [1]

The second letter, written on the same day, is in response to correspondence Marie Corrigan received from the authorities about her son's behaviour. It appears that she was chastised for promising Willy that he would one day return home if he behaved well.

Austin Hospital
4th August 1884


I have received your letter. I am much grieved to hear that my son Willy has given you and his foster mother so much trouble and anxiety by absenting himself from school and then staying out all night to avoid punishment.

I shall in writing to him be careful to avoid any reference to his future. My object in promising to take him to live with me was meant as an encouragement to him to learn his lessons well and to attend to the instructions of his teacher and to be dutiful and obedient to his foster mother who I am satisfied is a good kindly respectable woman.

Tho' a poor woman I have as much love for my child as if I were worth thousands. It wounds my feelings to think a child of mine should stay out all night - only low boys do so. I would rather see him dead than fall into bad company or low habits.

I trust he is now sorry for his faults and will never again be guilty of them. I shall not let him know that I have heard any complaint of him. I beg you to accept my sincere thanks for your kindness in writing to me and trust you will sometimes send me a line to tell me how Willy conducts himself.

I am, madam,
Yours respectfully
Marie Corrigan [2]

Willy's original term was to be only one year, however he was not discharged until 1891 at the age of 18. A cross-reference in the register entry leads to the discovery that Willy had two sisters also in care, though they are not mentioned in his mother's known correspondence. William, Maria and Ann were all committed on the same day for neglect. The two girls were sent initially to the Abbotsford Convent, and were then fostered separately. Maria was finally released from state care in 1893 aged 18, and Ann in 1894, also aged 18.


1.   VPRS 1226, Unit 20, letter p. 39   [Return to text]

2.   VPRS 1226, Unit 20, letter pp. 67-68   [Return to text]


VA 475 Chief Secretary's Department

VPRS 1226 Supplementary Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 20, letters p. 39 & pp. 67-68

VA 1466 Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 5 [vol.12, 'Old Series'], William John Corrigan, p. 580, No. 11430

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 22 [vol.4, 'Boys Book'], William John Corrigan, p. 46, No. 11430

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 15 [Abbotsford Convent vol. 13, 'Old Series'], Maria Corrigan, p. 126, No. 11431

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 16 ['Abbotsford Book' vol. 1], Maria Corrigan, p. 290, No. 11431

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 15 [Abbotsford Convent vol. 13, 'Old Series'], Ann Corrigan, p. 127, No. 11432

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, Unit 16 ['Abbotsford Book' vol. 1], Ann Corrigan, p. 291, No. 11432

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