‘Empower a Women -Empower a Nation’ International Women’s Day – 2017


Cover image courtesy: Tantrum Youth Arts – ‘Stories in Our Steps’ performed in 2015 (about Newcastle Industrial Girls’ School)

International Women’s Day was celebrated by the Newcastle Branch of the Union of Australian Women on 3rd March 2017 at Charlestown Bowling Club with a talk by Ann Hardy. The topic was the Newcastle Industrial Girls School (1867-71) an institution that in August 2017 commemorates  150 years.

The girls’ school was at what is known as the James Fletcher Hospital (JFH) a site that continues as a mental health site, managed by (HNEMH). The use as a girls’ school was the most controversial of all the uses at the site.

“I became interested in this historic mental health site in Newcastle when I worked there as a Social Worker in the 1990s, it was a completely new environment. Despite the mental hospital taking up almost a whole block in the CBD, it remains hidden, the long association and stigma of mental health, has in fact been its saviour!” Ann Hardy

While working at the JFH during the late 1990s I was shown some old mental health case books from 1871, the first patient was John Buckley. The experience of looking, touching and smelling an archive stayed with for many years – years later I searched for these records, by this time they’d been transferred to State Records NSW. IMG_4941

“In 2004, I took leave from work to study heritage site management, I’d realised that many heritage sites in Newcastle were vulnerable, very little histories had been written about them- and I was particularly concerned about the JFH. I became involved in heritage debates in the city, but my focus was at the JFH site– history there was mostly absent. History is the evidence needed to fight heritage battles, and historical evidence is crucial in arguing heritage significance.” Ann Hardy

Historical Timeline

1801 – 1804 centre of local administration during penal settlement, contained Government House and gardens
1814 – Wallis Shaft Early working coal mine
1844 – British Military Complex 1853
1860- Newcastle Volunteer Rifles
1867-71 Girls Industrial school and Reformatory for Girls
1871 – Asylum (originally named ‘Newcastle Asylum for Imbecile and Idiots’), the first regional Government asylum, the first of its type in Australia & third Government institution of its type in the world.


Australia has a deep embedded history associated with providing health care

The NIS was only there for a very short period of four years, and another institution also opened during this period, the reformatory for girls (1869-71), it was a much smaller institution.

Research of individual girls undertaken by historian Jane Ison who has written biographies for over 190 girls (SEE NIS wikidot)


Why was the school established?

The Industrial School was established to care for children deemed ‘at risk’, usually neglected or abused, whereas the Reformatory was for girls who had committed offences.

The Industrial school and Reformatory acts came about in 1866, and in the following year legislation was implemented at the newly established Newcastle institutions, first admissions occurred in August 1867. Most of the children came from Sydney, and other parts of regional NSW. Some had been caught up in a cycle of poverty and neglect – a problem that had been spiraling out of control for decades in NSW.

Some of the reasons children were admitted included:-

  • transferred from existing institutions
  • homeless
  • taken away from their parents if the environment was deemed to be unsafe

Other children were admitted to the school if their mothers required institutional care.
There were age restrictions for children admitted to orphanages, and it was not until the Industrial Schools Act and Reformatory Act (1866) that children over the age of 10 could be legally admitted to government institutions for their care and protection.

Although these new acts adopted newer educational models, in reality a culture of management from the old penal system continued. Legislation for these girls was drafted by former naval personnel, because the original idea was the management of boys through a nautical program, not girls. Boys were put on the ship ‘Vernon’.

Under the new acts authorities could detain, provide training and accommodation for children under the age of 16.

Vulnerable children living in unstable households, and having no extended family were identified by constables in Sydney who compiled a list of these children ‘at risk’. On the list were sisters Eliza and Theresa Hanmore, aged 15 & 7. They were 2 of 12 girls admitted by court order, to Newcastle in 1867 and subject to the control of the Superintendent who became their legal guardian until they were 18.
Some of the girls were released early and returned to their families, or after twelve months, were apprenticed out. Of those who returned home, constables regularly visited to check on their welfare.

In 1868 Henry Parkes visited the Newcastle school and in a speech encouraged the girls to make the most of their circumstances, urging them to look for opportunities that would advance their lives:-

“I want you to look upon life hopefully and at the same time try to understand your duty…It should not be forgotten that you are supported here at great cost to the country. I hope your obedience to those placed over you, and your general good conduct, will prove that you appreciate the benevolent intention of the Legislature in making this provision for your permanent welfare.”

Although Parkes emphasised their care was at a significant cost to the government, he also tried to empower them, by saying,

“one day you will make heads of families, possessing property and influence and enjoying the respect of good men and women.”Henry Parkes 1868

However the girls were very testing towards the authorities who found them extremely difficult to manage. Their new home was unfamiliar – the institution was purpose built for men, not children who were housed in the unaltered military buildings- was a very male environment.

Their daily routine was very structured.
– 5.30am washed and dressed
– 7am breakfast
– 8.00 am ‘inspection’ of rooms
– 15 minutes of prayer before 9am educational classes
– 12.00 Further religious instruction at midday.
– 12.30 Lunch
– Sewing from mid-afternoon until dinner at 5.00 pm.
– 6.30 pm more prayers then girls confined to their rooms
– Saturdays general cleaning and bathed in the afternoon.
– Sunday morning church – afternoon further religious instruction at Sunday school.

There was very little time for fun, no attempt to integrate the girls into normal public life.
The Industrial School legislation was harsh and punitive and the Superintendent had significant powers, they had full ‘custody and control’, a child could be placed in complete confinement for up to 14 days. This was given to the girls who escaped from the institution.

Whereas the Reformatory legislation gave authority to place girls under the age of 18 in ‘strict incarceration’, but this was at the local gaol for up to 3 months. This is what happened to the children who absconded from the reformatory (they were sent to Maitland or Newcastle Lock Up).

In total 186 girls passed through the Industrial School, just 6 were admitted to the Reformatory, and only 30 of 186 (only 16 percent) were apprenticed out.
The majority of the girls were aged 14 – 15 (a vulnerable age as identified by list compiled by Constables in Sydney)

Riots and Escapes

There were many riots and escapes. The girls’ were notorious for their extreme bad behaviour. Their antics reported regularly in newspapers across the nation. Riots started at the school early 1868 not long after the institution opened and continued until nearing its closure.

Matron King witnessed several incidents, on one occasion, the girls told her they saw a man or a ghost under a bed, they shrieked to get the attention of locals, however many in the community disliked the girls and instead had sympathy for the Matron who they believed was doing her best – girls were ostracized by the community.

One of the worst riots occurred while Superintendant Lucas was in charge, it was triggered after 10 girls broke out of the military cells from where they had been locked up. Armed with weapons ‘in the shape of brick bats’, stones and ‘billets of wood’ the girls went on a rampage, neither staff nor police were able to take control and reinforcements were sent for from Sydney, they stayed 3 months.

Senior Sergeant Lane (who came from Sydney), later said he had

“…never witnessed anything like this before, or during my 10 years on Cockatoo Island with the worst of criminals”.

Another incident occurred where it was reported a ‘little volcano slumbered’, there were outbursts of rioting, the girls had waited until the Superintendant went to Sydney to mount their protest, they’d heard about the impending closure of the school and armed with iron bedsteads, they broke through dormitory doors and got away over fences into neighbouring streets. Thirteen of them were captured and sent to the lockup. 11 of them were confined, at the school on bread and water. The 4 ringleaders were charged with willfully destroying government property and were transferred to Maitland Gaol for a month.

One of the girls involved in the riots was Mary Ann Meehan, she was a serial offender. One episode involved her escaping from the school disguised in Mrs. King’s clothing, she was recaptured and sent to Maitland Gaol. She also threw a cup of water and pound of bread at the Matron, and for this spent time in solitary confinement. She was incarcerated several times but remained undeterred by the harsh treatment and continued to act defiantly.

Eventually she was transferred to Cockatoo Island where she attempted to burn down the dormitory. It was a serious charge, courageously she represented herself at the trial. She was an intelligent and articulate girl, the magistrate was so impressed that she’d taken it upon herself to

“cross-examine the witnesses with an astonishing display of forensic ability” providing “. . . a very lengthy and plausible address to the Court that was artfully intermingled with a harrowing description of the treatment she had encountered at the old Reformatory at Newcastle.”

She also alleged she had been falsely detained because she was over age of 18, and she complained that her hair had ‘violently’ cut.

She stated that going to Maitland gaol was preferable to being locked up in the reformatory, and was willing to serve the remainder of her time (6 months) at Maitland gaol – highlighting just how harsh punishment was at the reformatory compared to the adult prison.

The school eventually closed in 1871, and the Girls were transferred to Cockatoo Island (Biloela) on Sydney Harbour, then later to the Parramatta Girls Industrial School (also known as ‘Parragirls’)

The school had failed for several reasons:-

  •  Inadequate and untrained staff, lack of proper resources. The complete anarchy at times and the distance from Sydney was problematic, authorities were clearly unable to deal with the series of riots.
  • The girls were not properly ‘classified’ – mix was toxic (delinquent girls with girls who had been abused and neglected).
  • Many in the community simply disliked the ‘girls’, the stigma and association with prostitution isolated them.
  • No attempt to integrate the girls into the community (apart from the few apprenticeships offered) there was very little socialisation.
  • Result was a dysfunctional institution- things didn’t change when they went to Cockatoo Island.

Despite all the faults of this institution, I believe there were genuine attempts by the NSW Government to care for these girls, certainly not ideal, but considering the context (Minimal funding and lack of other caring institutions, and other social and family support) authorities did their best, intentions were well meaning – it was perhaps the personnel who took advantage of the legislation and harsh penalties.

On reflection – has care of children improved?

Recent 4 corners program “Broken Homes” late 2016 was very confronting, about the frontline of Australia’s child protection crisis, there remains a level of isolation for many children in permanent care today. Government care is at arm’s length- checks and balances are becoming blurred when care is increasingly contracted out and privatised.

What the girls at the NIS can teach us is that although the focus was on education and training, it is likely the girls’ experiences is what made an impact, hopefully some of them formed friendships and became stronger and more resilient and they succeeded in life.

Lifelong learning is about lessons in life “school of hard knocks” and experiences we learn from, and take with us into new situations – and new environments.

Working with people and communities are all wonderful lessons in life, and just as valuable as formal education. This is particularly relevant today where collaboration, creativity and new innovative ideas are encouraged – life experience and practical knowledge can be valuable.

Other Sources

Newcastle Industrial School for Girls. By Jane Ison

Hardy, Ann  ‘. . . here is an Asylum open . . .’ Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801- 2014, University of Newcastle (2014) – Thesis UON.


Islands of the Insane – our records, perceptions and the lost voices from the ‘asylum’

Paper presented at the Australian Archives Conference

‘Archives on the Edge’

University of Newcastle

Tasmania, Australia

18-21 August 2015

ABSTRACT- This article examines the mental health records from the ‘Newcastle Asylum for Imbecile and Idiot’ (1871-1900) held at Archives NSW. There seems to be an ‘island effect’ in terms of Australian asylum sites, many of these sites are forgotten, or not sought out by historians or the wider community. The same is the case for Australia’s historic asylum records, often not a common focus of research, and where perceptions around privacy, access and use of the asylum records can be distorted, perhaps due to the continued stigma associated with mental illness. The ‘Island effect’ is keeping the physical ‘asylum’ record locked up, and this paper explores whether there should be greater efforts to re-connect information about the lives of individuals in asylums during the nineteenth century, with the wider community. The second part of the paper discusses results of a desktop survey conducted on access and availability of colonial mental health records in Australia, and some examples of where archival records have been used.

BACKGROUND- This paper examines the ‘island effect’ in terms of Australian mental health history, particularly lunatic asylum records, and how perceptions about ‘asylums’ are keeping records hidden. Australia had many lunatic asylums during the colonial period, however these, along with their associated records are not commonly the subject of research, interpretation, or easily available to the public- what I am proposing is a project that brings asylums records into the open, by mapping historic health records on-line to create a web of greater understanding about care in Australia in the 19 Century.

I first became interested in welfare history when working as a social worker in mental health at the James Fletcher Hospital in Newcastle, NSW. I recall 20 years ago, a colleague telling me about a ‘discovery’ he had made of some old case books relating to the old asylum, found under the medical records building, excitedly announcing the first patient admitted was “John Buckley” in 1871. It was an account that stayed with me, and in 2005 I decided to seek out these records and begin researching them for myself. Fortunately by this time the records had been safely deposited with NSW State Records. My interest has remained primarily with the original sources and my doctoral research examines primary sources associated with the Newcastle Asylum, including the case books, artefacts and memorabilia, and the built heritage.JFH records

The institution I had worked at was originally named the ‘Newcastle Asylum for Imbecile and Idiot’, established in 1871 and continuing as a mental health site in 2015.JFH 2The James Fletcher site has a rich European history dating from 1801, more generally the area is referred to as Newcastle Government Domain-(government house and gardens, coal shafts, military barracks, industrial Girls School). As a former social worker and now historian I came to understand the immense value in the medical records and other similar asylum records because they hold stories about people who were on the fringe- people that do not have a voice in the history books.

As an aside I also see a commonality between asylum records and asylum sites- neither have been extensively researched, often heritage issues are misunderstood because of the lack of historical evidence relating to places that cared for the insane. As a consequence this lack of historical research not only impacts on the renewing of stories about people who were there, but about the heritage of asylums, their significance and true history.
Until the 2000s the Newcastle records had not been researched, in fact they were thought to be lost as Stephen Garten and others point out. This made me think about other asylum records and their whereabouts- or of records not necessarily lost, but held in archives, that are not being accessed or researched because of  the common perception that they are ‘closed’ – or private. Records that the community may feel are not theirs to look at.

The stigma associated with mental health has created negative perceptions about the historic ‘asylum’.

QUESTION-“What if there are other stories to be told?” What if there are problems in the history, perhaps asylums were not as bad as history has made out.

The most common perceptions are of asylums as dark, closed and horrible places, ideas that are holding back important archival research. I refer to this phenomena as the ‘Island Effect’ (IE) because just as people stayed away from mental health institutions, they have also stay away from asylum records.

What is the ‘Island Effect?

Let me explain further the concept by giving a few examples.The IE relates to the way people have perceived asylums during the 19th and 20th centuries, both in England and Australia, asylums were rarely spoken about, and were often out of view on islands, peninsulas, many were on river bends, and others were in remote rural areas. There is a common theme is that they were near water, transport was often by boat.YARRA BENDTarban CreekTarban creek 2parkside

However, asylums didn’t have to be isolated (on island etc.) for these perceptions to exist, the ‘island’ is metaphorical, needless to say that even if an asylum was in an urban setting (such as the Newcastle Asylum in the centre of the city) it still was perceived as isolated, not part of the community. This intensified further in the 20th Century- where patients and institutions were shunned- mostly because of increase drug therapy care implemented indoors.

“Asylums have gained bad press”- Stephen Garton 2009

bad pressAsylums were considered as having unsuitable management, and not providing adequate care, and being isolated only fueled negative ideas about them and further pushed institutions and inmates out of societies view. Perceptions were exacerbated by the use of drug therapies to treat mental disorders, taking the regime of care indoors during the 1900s when the medical profession were seen as the authority in treating psychiatric illnesses. This medical model persisted- and many would argue that even today care is dominated by the medical profession.

The medicalisation of mental health care distanced the general public from the ‘asylum’ and the negative perceptions deterred the community from engaging with these spaces, producing an ‘island effect’, and regardless of the institutions geographical location, the majority of asylums were isolated from communities.

We know very little about those confined to institutions, how they were cared for, instead there have been many assumptions made about institutional care that have perpetuated in the history books.

Unfortunately historians over decades have also given shape to these popular perceptions, only a few historians undertaking research in welfare history in Australia. Some of the leading historians in this field are Stephen Garten, Susan Piddock, Catharine Colebourne, Charlie Fox, Corrinne Mannng, Anne Westmore, Philippa Martyn.

inside history

It is encouraging that family historians are leading the way- ‘inside history’ May-Jun 2015

So where were the Australian asylums, when were they established, location and status in 2015

list of asylums

Desktop survey of Australian archival institutions – What asylum records exist?

NSWstate records

NSW State Records – Mental Health Records

Queensland State Archives – Mental Health Records

Why are Historic welfare records important?

As mentioned, what if we have got it wrong in terms of getting history accurate, what is some asylums weren’t as bad as made out. It is surprising that moral therapy was implemented at the Newcastle Asylum, and the community engaged with the place and people there.
moral therapy
Vagabond (John Stanley James) (1843-1896) who regularly wrote for the Argus newspaper. He believed that Australian asylums were a ‘closed’ system of care, believing that the asylum at Kew was a great mistake because it had been modeled on institutions from the old country instead of considering the Australian conditions. He suggested that the Newcastle institution be held up as a model institution.What was found after researching the Newcastle Asylum records was that care was actually quite good- this is the opposite to what you might expect- breaking some of the myths that have perpetuated.


Statue at Stockton Centre (2014)

A story about an angel (as shown on postcard on previous slide) captured the imagination of heritage advocates, the ‘angel’ story had been subject of a discussion about the James Fletcher Hospital, then in 2014 the statue was ‘found’ at Stockton Hospital.  The statue signifying the direct association between the two mental health sites and the significant heritage associated with intellectual disability in Australia. The Newcastle Asylum that cared for those with an intellectual disability was the third institution of its type in the world. The story of the angel was exciting to advocates and is an example of the power that can come from archival research.

Inadequate historical analysis results ineffective heritage conservation.

Asylum Archives can provide new knowledge to support heritage and conservation campaigns, providing vital historical evidence for campaigners to be effective.


There is often a reluctance to access asylum archives due to complex privacy issues

Most states and territories have access restrictions of 110 years, however in reality there is often a blanket rule that applies even when records are older than 110 years, because in some instances entries continue to be made in case books if the person survived into the 20th Century.

However, there are many records that are accessible, and archivists can play a vital role in counteracting what is described in this article as the Island Effect, by advocating to change the culture around access.

So what can be done?

Promote records– Make records available on-line so that information can be disseminated. Use new technology and digital media to share information.

Project idea – “Open Asylum Project” – Digital humanities initiative

I propose a digital project that traces a patient’s movements from one institution to another, showing where they were transferred and discharged from. Envisage a digital mapping project that links institutions through individual asylum records. The focus would not be on large archival collections, or the institutions where they are held, but on the individual person and their journey through government institutions in Australia.

As mentioned there were many asylums, and NSW had quite an advanced network of welfare care during 1800s, much of this was Government supported seeing inmates admitted and transferred between institutions (today referred to as the ‘revolving door phenomena’). In NSW asylum admissions were overseen and accurately documented by Frederick Manning (Inspector of the Insane). A digital humanities project could see information mapped that relates to both time/place, plotted on Google Earth/ or GIS by geotagging locations of each asylum we could begin to conceptualise a single record to trace a person’s movements, mapping map care across time and place, and to get an idea of the flow of people through colonial asylums. As more individual data is added, certain themes and information would emerge.

Sources from NSW State Records

Information that can be gained from records:-

  • Forms of committal (voluntarily, surrended)
  • Patterns of admission
  • Social characteristics of patients (learn about complex relationship between families)
  • Localities – dislocation, poverty and incarceration
  • Recovery rates and discharge statistics.

    Newcastle Asylum case records showing first inmates in 1871

    pt names

    Data from over 800 records has been gathered (1871-1900)

E-history health records

Patient information could be entered into a database similar to E-Health records, mapped and analysed.  Similar software to that used by  family historians or Ancestory.com could assist gather statistical data. The use of digital technology to map care could also be extended beyond asylums to look at institutions such as orphanages, Benevolent homes etc. as well as private and government care. mappingtransfers

Advantages & Opportunities

  • This individual approach to disseminating information held in asylum case records enables each record to be carefully assessed to ensure there is no breach of privacy, before information goes on-line.
  • Archivists can play a pivotal and active role in digital humanities projects and there may be opportunities to collaborate with academics. Archivists are well placed to get involved because of their expertise in digital technologies. Often academics talk about wanting to do digital humanities projects, however many lack the expertise to create such projects.
  • Funding – DECRA – Digital Mapping Project – digital humanity projects to be integrated with archival library systems.
  • Archives can inspire Creativity – archives integral to arts project. For example the girls’ who were are the Newcastle Industrial School is now in the public realm, theatre preformed by young people of Tantrum Theatre

    ‘Stories in the Steps’ performed by Tantrum Theatre, 2015

    The role of archivists is very important in bringing about change in the way that asylum records are perceived. As an historian I can see that there has been problems with historical research of asylums, there has been a link between asylums and the old penal system that really has never been broken. Archivists can help break this link by advocating for the use of asylum records – ‘archives on the edge’ that may in fact reveal a much different story to what we’ve been told. It is essential that archivists and those in the humanities and the arts start to collaborate on projects, it is just another way to interpret and disseminate sources and new knowledge.

Dr Ann Hardy – Cultural Collections , University of Newcastle


Hardy, Ann  ‘. . . here is an Asylum open . . .’ Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801- 2014, University of Newcastle (2014) – Thesis UON.

Hardy, Ann. Story of an Angel, Newcastle Government Domain – July 2014.

Pike, Ben “Sydney’s shameful asylums: The silent houses of pain where inmates were chained and sadists reigned”The Daily Telegraph. March 3, 2015.

Primary Sources

Colonial Government of New South Wales “Medical Journals Newcastle Psychiatric Centre.” Reference 5070 34/2636Sydney: State Archives NSW, 10 Mar 1879-11 Jul 1965

———., Newcastle “Medical Case Books”, Reference CGS 5066. Sydney: NSW State Archives, 1871. 6 October 1871 – 28 Feb 1973.

———.. “Record of Inspections.” Reference CGS 5065. Sydney: NSW state Archives, 1879. 23 September 1879 – 18 October 1935.

———.. “Visitors’ Book [Newcastle Psychiatric Centre] “. Reference CGS 5064. Sydney: NSW State Archives, 23 March 1881 – 10 May 1936.

———.. “Indexes to Admission registers”. Reference CGS 5071. Sydney: NSW State Archives, 1 Jan 1890-1935.

———., Newcastle “Medical journals”, Reference CGS 5070. Sydney: NSW State Archives, 10 Mar 1879-11 Jul 1965.

———., Newcastle “Registers of discharges, removals and deaths”, Reference CGS 5067. Sydney: NSW State Archives, 7 Jan 1879-18 Jun 1964

———., Newcastle “Registers of admission and discharge”, Sydney: NSW State Archives, 6 Oct 1871-28 Feb 1973, CGS 5068.


Newcastle Military Barracks


(Adapted from thesis “Here is an asylum open . . . Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801 – 2014”)

By Dr Ann Hardy

Newcastle’s former military barracks are located in the heart of the city at the Newcastle Government Domain (James Fletcher Hospital). The military use at the Domain is not in public memory because it occurred so long ago. However I am very excited to share this story of a place that most people think of as ‘Watt Street’, a mental hospital.  The complex was completed in 1842 and although only used in this capacity for a decade the site has provided good public infrastructure to 2014. The original military infrastructure remains and the buildings and parade ground relatively well cared for by NSW health authorities since 1871. As a military complex the Newcastle site has significance because it was formed at a time when British authorities were responsible for defence in NSW. When they left the site in the early 1850s it fell to the people of NSW to form their own military force. This volunteer force are shown in photographs of the site during 1850s to 1870s.  The National Archives, UK have permitted archival sources associated with the Newcastle Barracks to be shared, finally unlocking our history.

The Newcastle Government Domain had been the official space of the penal settlement and later the military barracks used exclusively by the Imperial authorities in setting up the military complex. The construction of the barracks at Newcastle was well planned and strategically placed there with the use of the Domain by British troops as the only well planned use of the site; all of the other uses were more haphazard. The Domain’s use as a military site ensured a military presence at the ‘coal emporium’ of the colony. There was never any real idea as to how long the colony would require the support of British forces. However the colonial Government would take over the Domain when there was no longer a need for Imperial forces in the colony. The military barracks had not been deliberately built to be handed over to the colonial government for its new defence role; particularly so soon after they had been erected. The Victoria Barracks in Sydney which were established in 1848 and erected under similar circumstances to the Newcastle barracks (under the supervision of Colonel Barney) is still home to the Australian Army and has remained in continuous military use to 2014.

The decision to use the Newcastle Domain as the site for building military buildings was made in the mid-1830s. The place came to the attention of the Imperial Government when it was considered for the site of new military barracks to replace the one in use further down George Street. Plans were drawn up in 1835. Governor Burke officially formalised the use of the site for this new purpose in October 1837. Although the number of convicts in the town had been reduced, port safety and the efficient transport of coal from the port of Newcastle were deemed to warrant a military detachment in Newcastle. According to Maurice O’Connell, the Lieutenant Governor and Commander of the Forces in NSW:

The Barracks at Newcastle so lately completed at an expense of 20,000 Pounds…is situated at the mouth of the River Hunter, which runs thro’ the richest part of the Colony…besides Newcastle is the richest emporium of coal in this Colony, and a Military force will be always be required there.

A significant building programme saw a military barracks in Newcastle constructed in the 1840s. These buildings were designed, constructed and maintained by the Imperial authorities for the use of troops stationed in Newcastle to protect coal mining and coal ready for shipment. As such, the troops’ presence supported the growth of infrastructure and commerce in Newcastle, ensuring that the Macquarie Pier would be completed to provide a safe harbour for the export of coal. Running between the southern mainland at the foot of Signal Hill and Nobbys Island, the pier (now known as Nobbys Breakwater) was designed to improve access to the harbour by directing all of the water flow through the main channel to the north of Nobbys. Although the military withdrew in 1851, the buildings constructed for them provided the infrastructure that would secure government occupation of the site to 2014.


Source: Plan of the Town of Newcastle. MPG1-978-(2)-NSW-Newcastle. The National Archives,United Kingdom. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

From the Domain the colony’s wealth and the ‘richest emporium’ of coal were to be protected. Convict labour was used to prepare the military site for the building works. A chain gang quarried the site to level the ground to allow for the erection of rectangular military barracks and a parade ground. The sandstone wall on the south boundary of the Domain was built using convict labour and is an extention of the excavated quarried rock forming the rest of the southern curtilage.

Source: "New South Wales" MPHH1-681-(67)-NSW-NewcastlThe National Archives,United Kingdom. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

Source: “New South Wales” MPHH1-681-(67)-NSW-NewcastlThe National Archives,United Kingdom. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

The establishment of the military barracks at the Newcastle Domain offered security for local industry and economic development. The military buildings created new government infrastructure into the future. There were two main uses during the 1840s to the 1860s, firstly a military headquarters and secondly, for offices of public servants. The community also began to use the Domain in the 1850s when the volunteer forces trained there.

Events related to the Newcastle Government Domain from 1841 to 1871.
Year Event

  • 1841- Construction of military buildings commenced
  • 1843- Military buildings ready for troop occupation
  • 1851- Departure of troops from the Newcastle military buildings. Buildings rented by AA Company for accommodation purposes
  • 1853- AA Company moved out. Occupied by police constables & Gov. Clerk of Works
  • 1860- Newcastle Volunteer Rifles formed
  • 1867-1871 Industrial Girls’ School
  • 1871- Newcastle Asylum

Until the 1850s most of the workers at Newcastle were former convicts, free miners, Aboriginal people and sailors. Convict workers also prepared the foundations of the Soldier’s Barracks and Officer’s Quarters. The design of the military buildings was a standard plan that could be applied anywhere in the empire. It was not specifically drawn up for the Newcastle Domain. The plans were prepared in England and their implementation overseen in NSW by the Royal Engineer Henry William Lugard. Some of the site plans for the barracks are held in the United Kingdom Archives, Kew and show the layout of the buildings but none of the original architectural plans survive. The construction of buildings was undertaken by contractors Hudson and Richardson from Sydney. Some adaptations were made to suit the location. For example, windows were placed opposite one another in the Soldier’s Barracks to take advantage of the free air flow from the Pacific Ocean. Other environmental factors were also taken into account such as the construction of a long veranda on the eastern side to shelter the adjoining rooms from the sun.
It took until 1841 for the military complex at the Domain to become fully operational. At the new barracks in 1844 were two field officers, ten officers, two hundred non-commissioned officers and privates and sixteen horses. As well as providing general security, their expertise in engineering was crucial in building essential infrastructure as well as overseeing the structural work at the Macquarie pier. Just as the Government House site had been chosen for its position overlooking the settlement, the military were able to keep watch over the port and local works from the Domain.

Former Military Hospital was also used as a residence. The National Archives,United Kingdom, 1844. Gordon "Newcastle Barracks, NSW," MFQ1-963 (6)

Figure 1 -Former Military Hospital was also used as a residence. The National Archives,United Kingdom, 1844. Gordon “Newcastle Barracks, NSW,” MFQ1-963 (6). (Not to be reproduced without permission)

Former Military Hospital Source: Ann Hardy, 2013. This contemporary photograph of the Former Military Hospital shows that little has changed of the building.

Figure 2- Former Military Hospital Source: Ann Hardy, 2013. This contemporary photograph of the Former Military Hospital shows that little has changed of the building.

Figure 1 shows a plan developed by the British Ordnance Office for the Military Hospital at the Government Domain which was built in 1841 and held twelve patients. It represents the domesticated element of this hard masculine place and was the last of the military buildings to be built at the Government Domain, having a shared use as a house and a hospital. This enabled a medical person to always be at hand. The hospital contained three wards, a surgery, store room and the small room at the front of building that was the Surgeon’s Quarters. The smaller building behind the main house was the kitchen containing two small rooms for the larder and a ‘Surgeon’s Closet’. On close examination of the plan the ‘Surgeon’s Closet’ is crossed out and labelled ‘Dead House’, or mortuary. Kitchens were commonly built separately from the main house because if fire broke out, it was more likely to be contained. Other architectural plans relating to the NGD show the design, as well as the layout of the spacious offices and rooms of the large rectangular barracks buildings. These plans are held at the Kew archives in the United Kingdom and are shown in Figures 3, 4, 5.

Source: "Newcastle Barracks, NSW." In  MFQ1/963 (4). The National Archives, United Kingdom, 1844

Figure 3 – “Newcastle Barracks, NSW.” Source: In MFQ1/963 (4). The National Archives, United Kingdom, 1844. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

Source: "Newcastle Barracks, N.S.W."  In MFQ1-963 (2), The National Archives, United Kingdom,1844

Figure 4 – “Newcastle Barracks, N.S.W.”Source: In MFQ1-963 (2), The National Archives, United Kingdom,1844. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

Source: "Newcastle Barracks, N.S.W, Officer's Kitchen."  The National Archives, United Kingdom,1844

Figure 5 – “Newcastle Barracks, N.S.W, Officer’s Kitchen.” Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom,1844. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

The Imperial authorities announced in 1849 that the self-governing colonies would need to provide their own defence forces and that British forces would be reallocated. The colony was left with possessions that had strategic value, however they were unable to defend them themselves. Already well along the way to being granted responsible government in1855, NSW was one of the colonies from which imperial troops were gradually withdrawn. Each Australian colony was directed to establish or expand its volunteer forces. The rationale for a gradual withdrawal by British forces over a 15 year period was so that the colonial forces had time to build up and became a large enough volunteer defence force to be effective if they were needed to protect the colony. In 1862 the Mills Committee presented its findings to the British Parliament, recommending that the responsibility and cost of defence should rest solely with the colonial authorities. After another five years, all Imperial troops in Australia (except one regiment) would return to Britain, with all regiments having departed by 1870. The Imperial forces at Newcastle were withdrawn relatively quickly, in 1851, coinciding with the completion of Macquarie Pier. The 1860s were a decade of preparation in forming colonial volunteer regiments. To support the development of colonial defences, existing military barracks and the parade ground were handed over for the use of the colonial authorities. The vacated military barracks at the Domain were practically new when taken over by the colonial Government.

Volunteer Forces and Civil Servants

The cost to the Imperial Government in constructing the military buildings at Newcastle was considerable. The responsibility was that of the Board of Ordnance which had initiated and overseen its construction. The British Ordnance Office ceased to have a presence at the site after 1851 when responsibility was handed over to the colonial government to provide its own defence forces. The Imperial government transferred to the Colony of NSW military barracks and buildings, and associated lands. Military infrastructure was handed over on the terms that responsibility for any future expense for upkeep and maintenance was with the colonial government. Although ownership arrangements changed in 1851 the Imperial government reserved the right to resume military land and buildings and called on the colonial government to preserve the buildings. They wanted the colonial government to be mindful to whom the buildings would be leased, because they were concerned that inappropriate tenants could occupy the ‘fine buildings’, possibly neglecting and damaging them. The Imperial government did not support the idea of putting the buildings out to public competition or tender. Instead it wanted the buildings properly cared for and maintained. Proposals for the buildings included their use as a candle factory, school, a fever hospital and a slaughter house. None of these were acceptable to the British Ordnance Office which preferred the buildings to be partially tenanted rather than fully occupied by an undesirable enterprise. They believed that an “empty house was better than a bad tenant”. Therefore the existing tenants were maintained rather than introducing new ones. This ensured a sympathetic use of the buildings and grounds. Although the British authorities had no physical presence at the Domain, it was heartening that they continued an involvement and responsibility in protecting these fine buildings by making genuine attempts to care for them during the 1850s.
When the Imperial Forces left Newcastle in 1851, the colonial government had yet to establish its own regiment that could take over the military barracks at Newcastle. Therefore a community-based volunteer regiment was formed. A nominal rent of one shilling per annum was paid by the colonial authorities to use the Government Domain and in return they had to maintain the site. Volunteers used the site and some buildings, but other buildings were leased to tenants.

Although there was initial enthusiasm for a volunteer regiment in NSW, this waned after the Crimean War (1853-56) as the sense of urgency to establish a colonial corps faded. Attempts to organise a force for the protection of the colony stalled and volunteers could not be recruited. During the later years of the 1850s the defence of the colony was again considered because of the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 had brought attention to the close location of New Caledonia that was occupied by the French. Although Britain eventually remained neutral in this war, it had brought about a renewed interest in the need for an effective defence force in the colony with popular demand for a voluntary force. By 1861 a permanent voluntary corps was formed consisting of three artillery batteries, a Rifle Regiment of two thousand men, named the 1st Regiment of NSW Rifle Volunteers and a NSW Naval Brigade with detachments in Sydney and then later in Newcastle. The public rallied to support the newly established volunteer forces with many suburbs, towns and cities establishing their own infantry. Local volunteer forces were formed at Newcastle and the purpose built barracks and parade ground were perfect as a place to meet and train. The Northern Battalion Volunteer Newcastle Rifles was established in Newcastle in 1855 under the command of Captain Baker. The type of person that became involved in the volunteer forces was varied, ranging from a leading physician, an industrialist and member of the colonial parliament, and several men involved in local government. A committee was established that included Dr Brooks, Captain Weatherill, Thomas Adam, AW Scott, C Bolton, GD Simpson, W Charlton and HT Plews. The same year a Volunteer Artillery Corps was also formed. It was instructed by Captain Macpherson Samuel Holt, who had been Chief Constable for Police in the Newcastle district since 1844. In February 1861 he became the First Lieutenant of the Battery. Retiring from the police force in 1862, he was promoted to Captain and Commanding Officer of the Battery in 1868. By January 1861 there were twenty-seven men in the Newcastle Unit many of whom had joined after a public parade of volunteers in Sydney that month.

"Naval Brigade of Parade in Grounds at Watt Street Hospital, Newcastle". Source: Newcastle: Hunter Photobank.Date unknown.

Figure 6- “Naval Brigade of Parade in Grounds at Watt Street Hospital, Newcastle”. Source: Newcastle: Hunter Photobank.Date unknown. (Not to be reproduced without permission)

Figure 6 shows the men of the Naval Brigade facing east with the Church Street terrace houses visible in the background behind the pine trees. Figure 7 captures the visual drama of firing the field guns. These photographs were likely taken in the 1880s after the Newcastle Asylum had been established on the site as they contained buildings constructed in that decade. The volunteer infantry would meet there at six o’clock on a Thursday evening for drill followed by a recreational game of cricket. Cricket was thought to be a “desirable recreative employment for the mental and bodily energies of Young Australia” and very much part of their training. The Domain was perfect for cricket because of the expansive level field provided by the parade ground. The pitch is shown at the bottom of the image. The wicket was in a peculiar position next to the main entrance of the site where it was restricted by gardens on one side and the Guard House on the other. The end of the wicket was close to Watt Street, right next to the ‘pits’ that were annotated on the James Barnett’s 1880 “Plan of the Newcastle Hospital for the Insane”. This was probably referring to the Wallis Shaft (also known as Asylum Shaft). This was not an ideal place for a game of cricket, and the wicket was later moved to the centre of the Recreation Ground.

"Naval Brigade of Parade in Grounds at Watt Street Hospital, Newcastle." Source: Newcastle: Hunter Photo Bank, date unknown. (Catalogue number 026 000193)

Figure 7 -“Naval Brigade of Parade in Grounds at Watt Street Hospital, Newcastle.” Source: Newcastle: Hunter Photo Bank, date unknown. (Catalogue number 026 000193)

The community also used the parade ground for purposes other than cricket during the 1850 and 60s. A visitor to Newcastle in the 1850s noted that pitmen, Aboriginal people and sailors congregated in the evenings on the public green west of Watt Street. This is likely to have been the former parade ground at the Government Domain. In the 1860s, this space was referred to as the Recreation Ground. There was no other large civic park or public area where events could take place during this time. From this decade, the local community displayed an increased confidence in advocating for public spaces and an interest developed to use the parade ground at the Government Domain for sporting, social and other community events.

The Newcastle Artillery and Rifle Corps had a presence at local community events, such as the annual Anniversary Day regatta held on Newcastle Harbour on 29 January 1861, for which they assembled on the parade ground at the Government Domain. On this occasion they fired a salute from one of the guns that had recently arrived from Sydney and then the Naval Corps marched down the hill to watch the regatta. This public presence was designed to encourage recruits to the voluntary Corps. On other occasions there were grand displays held on the parade ground at the Domain where the community were welcome to come and watch. The Artillery and Naval Corps at this time were in the process of forming bands that later became a regular feature at the Government Domain which drew people to the place.
The Newcastle Naval Brigade that also trained at the Government Domain was established in 1865 under the command of Captain Allan, the local Harbour Master, and was later led by Mr Herbert Cross. The volunteer units relocated to Fort Scratchley after it was constructed in 1882. This was considered a more suitable location as it overlooked the approaches to Newcastle Harbour, the pier and harbour. However the volunteer units took advantage of the open space at the Domain throughout the 1870s and 1880s for training and drill.

"Naval Guns and Ambulance Parked at Watt Street (James Fletcher) Hospital Grounds". Source: Hunter Photobank. Date unknown Newcastle: Hunter Photo Bank- 026 000187, 1860s).

Figure 8- “Naval Guns and Ambulance Parked at Watt Street (James Fletcher) Hospital Grounds”. Source: Hunter Photobank. Date unknown Newcastle: Hunter Photo Bank- 026 000187, 1860s).

Figure 8 shows the Government Domain with naval guns, a volunteer ambulance and a volunteer unit lined up beneath Ordnance Street on the southern boundary of the site. The rough cut wall shows the amount of excavation which was necessary to make the area level for the construction of military buildings and parade ground. This high wall, topped with a solid fence, hid the site from the adjoining houses and streets beginning the social isolation of the site which was almost total by the twentieth century. Figure 9 is a photograph of the Volunteer field ambulance that was formed around the same time as the other volunteer forces in the early 1860s.

 "Naval Guns and Ambulance Parked at Watt Street (James Fletcher) Hospital Grounds". Source: Hunter Photobank. Date unknown.

Figure 9 -“Naval Guns and Ambulance Parked at Watt Street (James Fletcher) Hospital Grounds”. Source: Hunter Photobank. Date unknown.

The voluntary regiments and brigades not only used the outdoor spaces at the Domain but rented offices in the former military buildings during their time there. The buildings were also leased to various Government departments and organisations between 1851 and 1867 as the complex was large enough to accommodate numerous groups. Most of these offices were associated with government agencies, with the exception of the AA Company. The Domain was thus shared and continued at this time as a place of authority. In 1851 the Officer’s Quarters were occupied by Captain Bull and Dr J.E. Stacey the Colonial Surgeon, as well as Mortimer Lewis (Jnr), the Clerk of Works. Dr Stacey had a long association with mining and medicine practices and had worked in the 1830s dispensing medicine for the AA Company; later working as Colonial Surgeon in the 1850s and 1860s. The role of Colonial Surgeon included the duties of a Government Medical Officer who cared for troops, police and the general sanitation of the town. He lived at the Domain, a location central to government employees and their families at Newcastle. In 1853 the Guard House was used as the Chief Constable’s residence and the Police Barracks were transferred to the former military hospital, also the base for the local Police Magistrate. The AA Company rented rooms in 1855 and the Inspector General of Police used the Guard House situated at the entrance of the site. The Engine House next to the Guard House was used as a police station. Mr William Keene the Examiner of the Coalfields and Mr J Dagwell the drill instructor of the Naval Brigade had offices in the military buildings in the 1850s. The Immigration Office had a ‘depot’ there, as did the Volunteer Rifles. The buildings at the Domain were well used and occupied by mainly government agencies.
Between the years 1841 and 1867 the Newcastle Government Domain remained exclusively in government use and as a place in defense of the community. And in that guise, significant investment was made which left the colonial government with a significant assett in terms of the buildings which could be redeployed in other official roles in the future. The people of Newcastle valued this central open space and assumed that it would continue in that role, becoming a botanic garden or other public facility. However the colonial government floated the idea in 1866 that a lunatic asylum be situated at the site. There was much opposition to this, even from religious and medical men who might have been expected to understand the need for such a facility.

Although importance of the military has declined, military sites such as the one at Newcastle are relics of the British Army’s presence in Australia. British forces were only there for a short time, however the military infrastructure set up at Newcastle were used exclusively by Government into the future. Today the Domain is both a heritage and health site, an historic site with a varied and mixed past.

Newcastle ‘Girls’ – Chaos and Mayhem in the City

Local Treasures 1233ABC Radio- 28 October 2014
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewees: Ann Hardy & Jane Ison

The University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party and the National Trust of Australia (NSW) have been strong advocates of the historic Newcastle Government Domain (James Fletcher Hospital). The stories about the girls who lived there from 1867 to 1871 is perhaps the most controversial in the history of the place. In 1867 two new institutions, the Newcastle industrial school and reformatory were hastily set up in the vacated military buildings during the 1860s. Local historian Jane Ison began her research in 2009 on these girls’ institutions, drawing extensively on records located at State Archives of NSW. Newcastle’s institutional history made a significant contribution to the development of the care of children in NSW. Ann Hardy has also written about the context of care for these girls in NSW.

Prior to the Newcastle Industrial School and Reformatory for girls opening the needs of children were addressed by orphanages. Charitable organisations offered the majority of the care to assist neglected and impoverished children in NSW. In 1866, under the guidance of Henry Parkes, the Premier of NSW, the government passed the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children in an attempt to alleviate the dreadful conditions under which many children were living. It was one of the first government initiatives to help the poor. By 1867 accommodation had been organized to facilitate the removal of children from their families and provide an opportunity to gain education and employment training. Boys were to be placed on the Industrial School Ship Vernon moored in Sydney Harbour. The provision of care for girls was considered vital because it was perceived that if they were to become pregnant at a young age, they would perpetuate the problem of poverty. Eventually the decision was made to fit out the former military barracks in Newcastle and from August 1867, arrests were made across NSW. Children were removed from dangerous situations, appeared in court and were sent to the Newcastle. In 1869 a Girls’ Reformatory was also opened on the same site.

The colonial government was ambitious in efforts to provide care for vulnerable children.
In his speech to the girls, Parkes encouraged them to make the most of their circumstances, urging them to look for opportunities that would advance their situation:-

I want you to look upon life hopefully and at the same time try to understand your duty…It should not be forgotten that you are supported here at great cost to the country. I hope your obedience to those placed over you, and your general good conduct, will prove that you appreciate the benevolent intention of the Legislature in making this provision for your permanent welfare.

(The Industrial School at Newcastle”, 14 Feb 1868).

Although Parkes let the girls know that their care was a significant cost to government which created a duty to reform, he also tried to empower them, by saying that one day they would make “heads of families, possessing property and influence and enjoying the respect of good men and women”.

These institutions existed at Newcastle for four, short, tumultuous years. The Industrial Schools legislation enabled authorities to accommodate, detain and provide training for children under the age of 16 years who were deemed not to be in the control of their parents, in particular those associated with prostitution. They were often identified by members of the local police force as vagrants or destitute. Once admitted by court order, children were subject to control of the Superintendent of Industrial Schools as their guardian until eighteen years of age.

Image Charles Hardy 2013

Reflection from Military Barrack window of parade ground and Gate House where some of girls were incarcerated. Photograph: Charles Hardy 2013

Some were released at younger ages, either returned to their families or guardians or, after twelve months, apprenticed out. In cases of return to families, police checks were conducted in advance to ensure that the child was being sent into a suitable situation.
The girls who came to Newcastle were caught up in cycles of poverty and neglect and although the institutions themselves became sites of disorder, they were intended to alleviate social distress. The girls were very resilience, testing the management skills of authorities in charge of them. Their behaviour was infamous and their exploits as individuals or as a group were featured in local and national newspapers. Newspapers articles described their colourful and often outrageous behavior, their ‘ribald’ language, frequent escapes and the wild riots.

They were safe in their dormitories at 11 o’clock p.m. They made their escape by thrusting out the fastening of a window facing the verandah and broke open the Clothes Store Room by pushing a pole through one of the windows, from which they extracted some of the clothing they escaped in. They piled up some stones on a Bucket and climbed over the Fence next (to) the residence of the Police Magistrate. They were brought back by the Police at 3 o’clock a.m. and placed in the Cells at the Guard House where they will remain until the decision of the Honorable. Colonial Secretary. [Eliza O’Brien] has absconded from the Institution on three several occasions, she had frequently thrown stones with violence at the new bell, injuring the paint work, and rang it contrary to all discipline. She has gone into the pond against the most positive rules, was one of the most violent in the disturbance of the 9th of July and most active in breaking windows and otherwise injuring the property of the institution. Her language is usually of the most revolting and disgusting description, sometimes very blasphemous. She has taken my keys and robbed my private apartments. On one occasion, in the Muster Room, when correcting other girls for being in the pond and destroying their clothing, she rushed at and struck me before the rest. In the dining room throwing pannikins to destroy them and has several times threatened to take my life. She is constantly instigating other girls to acts of mischief and inciting them to insubordination. Her whole conduct has been such, and her violence of temper so ungovernable, I have no hope of any reformation on her whatever. I would earnestly recommend her removal to another Institution where the means of separation from others is complete and where there are no younger children to be vitiated by her pernicious example.

(SRNSW: CSIL: 68/5714 4/637 )

Other girls successfully escaped by climbing out of the windows at the barracks and descending the drainpipe.

Image taken Charles Hardy 2014

Drainpipe at the former Barracks. Photograph: Charles Hardy 2014.

In 1871, the girls of both schools were transferred to Biloela on Cockatoo Island. Girls in the industrial schools were apprenticed to households across NSW, often moving further from their parents and siblings. The Industrial school was eventually moved to Parramatta in 1887 and became Parramatta Girls School.

Thanks to Jane Ison’s research we know a little more about the life and experiences of the girls, and the period in which they lived. Unfortunately one section containing the names of 226 girls has been lost. The register for the reformatory is also missing. Identification of these missing girls requires careful compilation of the scattered records found mainly in the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary. Jane has meticulously compiled histories of individual girls and has provided valuable insights into the essential clues to their identity. Research to compile the names and admission dates of all Newcastle Girls as well as the missing Biloela girls is ongoing.
The names and details of those who staffed the school, the 187 girls admitted to the Newcastle Industrial School and the 6 girls admitted to the Newcastle Reformatory have been identified and biographies written. No biography is ever finished! It has been difficult to find some girls because after they were discharged from Newcastle, they assumed an alias to hide, not only from where they had come and to avoid any association with the infamy of the Newcastle institution (as the institution had gained quite a reputation), but they also wanted to conceal the stigma of their convict ancestry.
Many of their stories are quite remarkable. With rare exceptions, each story is a tale of the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised during the nineteenth century and every girl deserves to be remembered. Most were admitted to the school after a tragedy had struck their family. Almost all of them were born in NSW and a very large number of their parents or grandparents had been transported to Australia. About half were born before compulsory registration and half after 1856. Their combined histories give an insight into society in NSW in the 1860s and 1870s. These girls survived childhood diseases, a difficult or turbulent early life and their life in the school and often their early employment as a single girl alone on the colonial frontier.
While the life of the poor and vulnerable at this time may make shocking reading, the stories of success are numerous, as most of these girls went on to become loving wives, mothers and successful women.

The following websites provide a brief glimpse into the world of the girls, their families and the many issues facing them.

Newcastle Industrial School for Girls. By Jane Ison

“. . . here is an Asylum open . . .” constructing a culture of government care in Australia 1801 – 2014, pp.81-101. By Ann Hardy

“The Industrial School at Newcastle”, Newcastle Miners’ Advocate 14 Feb 1868.

“. . . here is an Asylum open . . .” Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801 – 2014 now online


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Carriage Drive Insane Asylum Newcastle. (Newcastle Hospital for the Insane, Watt Street, Newcastle, NSW) 22 November 1888 (Ralph Snowball, Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections UoN)

Carriage Drive Insane Asylum Newcastle. (Newcastle Hospital for the Insane, Watt Street, Newcastle, NSW) 22 November 1888 (Image derived from Ralph Snowball glass negative, Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections UoN)

Dr Ann Hardy’s thesis  ““. . . here is an Asylum open . . .” Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801 – 2014″ on the national significance of the former James Fletcher Hospital site is now available free of charge on the University’s NOVA database.

It explores the earliest permanent settlement at Coal River, NSW, the Newcastle Government Domain (NGD). This was the site of Government House, early convict administration, military barracks, then Girl’s Industrial School and Reformatory and finally as a ‘lunatic asylum’.

The Newcastle Government Domain was the site of the first Government institution for the intellectually disabled in Australia, opening in 1871. This thesis explores the transition of the NGD from active health care campus to heritage site tracing and exploring contemporary issues in heritage, the role of interdisciplinary non-governmental organisations in heritage advocacy and the possibility of overtly recognising the positive benefits of heritage conservation for mental well-being at this and other sites. The diverse strands of this research are taken in many directions that are of importance for debates in the field of history and heritage and historical archaeology.  Particular emphasis is given to links between cultural heritage and well-being.

Dr Ann Hardy’s Thesis can now be downloaded in full here: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1045262

Story of an Angel

Story of an Angel – History of Newcastle’s mental health service

 Dr Ann Hardy

Recently I was giving a talk at the Newcastle branch of the Australian Federation of Graduate Woman about the history of mental health in Newcastle.  I was describing the close association between the Newcastle Asylum that opened in 1871, and Stockton Mental Hospital established in 1910. What few realise is that there is a long history of mental health care in the Hunter, particularly associated with intellectual disability, the institution known as the ‘Newcastle Asylum for Imbecile & Idiots’ was the first hospital for the intellectually disabled in Australia. The terms ‘imbecile’ and ‘idiot’ are not used today in this context, however in the nineteenth century were used to describe intellectual disability. What came about during the discussion with the graduates was the discovery of a much more tangible link between the two institutions- an Angel. Before I continue with the story about the Angel the following background information puts in context how mental health services came about in Newcastle.

Government authorities in NSW during the 1860s began planning how to best care for the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. In 1868 Dr Frederic Norton Manning undertook a study of asylums worldwide to find best practice methods, and after more than a year away he produced a report that was described as “undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive, complete and authoritative public documents that has appeared on the subject of Insanity and Hospitals for the Insane.” (American Journal of Psychiatry)    This report recommended separate institutions for people with mental illness and intellectual disability, another suggestion was that asylums be exposed to a southerly breeze, which both Newcastle and Stockton institutions are. The ‘Newcastle Asylum for Imbecile & Idiots’ was a public institution for people with intellectual disabilities, what makes this institution rare is that it was established quite early; it was the third public institution of its type in the world.  There was no similar institution publicly owned and managed in the British Empire, it was a first in Australia and in Britain. It differed because the NSW system did not follow the British tradition of charitable and private care, instead government authorities directly provided care for the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. Although methods of care were influenced by models used in institutions worldwide, the private sector was not involved in establishing or funding the Newcastle Asylum in 1871.

Ralph Snowball. James Fletcher Hospital and Gardens, Watt Street Newcastle [n.d.]

Ralph Snowball. James Fletcher Hospital and Gardens, Watt Street Newcastle [n.d.]

The hospital has had many name changes and in 2014 known as the James Fletcher Hospital. Although authorities intended to admit adults and children with an intellectual disability when it first opened in 1871 this group did not come straight away, instead many socially disadvantaged, single ageing men were sent from Sydney where asylums were overcrowded. After a few years the asylum population began to stabilise and intellectually disabled people were admitted. By the 1890s, children as young as five and six years of age were relinquished into care, an economic depression in this decade made it difficult for families to cope. The admission of mostly intellectually disabled women and children continued well into the twentieth century. The institution at Newcastle was special; the community had a presence there, they were encouraged by Superintendent Frederick Cane to visit and were welcomed through the gates of the asylum. The community was part of care of the patients, here they participated in musical and sporting events, and as the “Newcastle Fountain Hospital” postcard shows the asylum was quite a pleasant public place in the 1880s. The opening up of asylums worldwide, saw increasing numbers of visitors to asylums, they were marketed as tourist attractions where amusements were shared between patients and the wider community.  This notion of institutional tourism seems odd today because mental hospitals are very much private places, however in the late nineteenth century many public institutions, including asylums were tourist attractions.

The Fountain Asylum

Postcard ‘The Fountain Hospital for the Insane, Newcastle’. Private collection. Date unknown.


Newcastle’s asylum grounds were promoted in the local press as a community friendly space which drew people to the site “ …not to be missed…No visitor doing the sights of Newcastle ought to miss the excellent institution….the picturesque and interesting surrounds, it would well repay a visit.”[1] “Hospital for the Insane,” Newcastle Herald & Miners’ Advocate (Newcastle) April 3, 1886.

What added to the promotion of local tourism was the interest in sites of civic activity, public participation, and trips to experience the natural environment. The railway into Newcastle contributed to the general boom in tourism. The 1880s and 1890s saw the beginning of growth in the colonial tourism market and with a Depression meant people were less inclined to take expensive overseas travel, instead staying ‘at home’. The beauty of the asylum surroundings were emphasised, particularly to visitors as the postcard and other photographs show.

The main objective was “not only beautifying the place, but removing as far as possible the barriers which were formerly so prominent”. “Asylum Grounds,”  Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate(Newcastle)  October 2, 1878.


The main entrance to the Newcastle Asylum was from Watt Street formally styled with plantings and Roman style vases on plinths along the drive.

Now this is where the Angel returns to the story. A statue of an angel is shown in the postcard, it stood on a high plinth at the end of the main avenue at the Newcastle asylum. Also shown is a decorative fountain and a field gun reflecting the earlier military use at the Domain. For many years I had been thinking about this statue, wondering how it come to be there, who put it there, and where had it gone. Did it still exist somewhere? Nothing has been found in the records, I had no clues about the statue until March 2014.  At the dinner I was attending Jocelyn Caddies spoke up and said “I think I know where that statue is, it’s over at Stockton”.  Jocelyn worked at the multi-activity centre at Stockton Hospital during the 1990s to 2005 and remembers seeing the statue of the Angel. Thanks to Jocelyn’s local knowledge I went to Stockton Hospital the following day, with little effort I located the statue standing in a central place, quite unassuming near the main car park. I stood there staring at the face of this Angel, I understood its history and how far she had come. It is as if the Angel had flown across the harbour to protect those who were transferred there in 1910, many of them were women and children from the Newcastle mental hospital.


Photographs by Ann Hardy 2014. Angel ‘Mercy’ at Stockton Centre

photo 1

The statue has been standing for at least 120 years and is a tangible link between the two mental health sites, it represents government care provided to the intellectually disabled and the first institution established at Newcastle in 1871. But more importantly it represents the community, the presence the community has had at the Stockton Centre, a community that cares about the future of the place and its people. The state government in NSW plans to close the Stockton Centre and it is of no surprise that there are many people willing to “fight until their last breath” against the closure. There is a passion to retain this public facility because of its history- it’s been the major institution for the intellectually disabled in NSW for over a century.

If you have any further information about the statue of the Angel please contact Ann Hardy at ann-hardy@hotmail.com

(Written by Dr Ann Hardy)


“Hospital for the Insane,” Newcastle Herald & Miners’ Advocate (Newcastle) April 3, 1886.

“Asylum Grounds,” Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate (Newcastle)  October 2, 1878. “Hospital for the Insane,” Newcastle Herald & Miners’ Advocate (Newcastle) January 22, 1890.

Laila Ellmoos, Beneath the Pines: A History of the Stockton Centre (Sydney: Ageing, Disability and Home Care. Department of Human Services NSW, 2010).

“Vow to fight Stockton Centre closure”, Newcastle Herald June 23, 2014.

Local Treasures – Newcastle’s King Edward Park


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Newcastle’s King Edward Park

Local Treasures ABC1233 radio

Broadcast Notes April 2014

By Dr Ann Hardy


A research team interested in the history of the Newcastle Government Domain and King Edward Park meet regularly to further research of this historic precinct of the city. The group is part of the University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party, and includes members from the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and local community. In 2010 the group submitted a nomination to have King Edward Park listed on the NSW State Heritage Register. The following history of the park was compiled by Dr Robert Evans, Ann Hardy and research assistant Liz Thwaites for the nomination, which is under review in April 2014. The photographs of the park from the 1890s were recently located in the Hyde Family Album held at the State Library of New South Wales.


A history of King Edward Park


Newcastle Recreation Reserve, later called the Upper Reserve and after 1911, King Edward Park to commemorate the life of Edward VII, lies immediately to the south of the central city area of Newcastle, NSW. The Park is part of an historic area which stretches from Nobbys to Fort Scratchley namely Coal River Precinct, to the Government Domain (James Fletcher Hospital site) and to the Park.

The Park is roughly triangular in shape. The eastern border includes the cliffs and shoreline to the Pacific Ocean. The cliffs were once part of the Nobby’s Tuff, cream and grey layered consolidated volcanic ash that has formed above the coal seams the coal responsible for Newcastle’s existence. The northern border of the park is along Ordnance and Pit Streets: on the west is The Terrace, the Victorian street of grand mansions, and a line to Brown Street where it meets Pit Street. The western and southern borders meet near the high cliffs on Shepherd’s Hill.

King Edward Park is a creation of the nineteenth century in a city which was called, an unusual example of a transplanted British community.[1] At the beginning of the coal boom, in the 1850s there were a number of farseeing citizens in Newcastle, members of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, who foresaw the need for a large public park. They were very ambitious for Newcastle, it would become a great industrial area and the most important   port in the Pacific, one day it might out rival Sydney. The group did much to support the shipping trade and business. The members believed that parks gave a city status. There were precedents in Victorian Britain where wealthy philanthropists fostered the creation of libraries, museums, art galleries, hospitals and public parks. They believed that their actions helped stabilize society, increased property values and boosted their images as valuable members of society. Public gardens became valued amenities in British towns and cities and the early colonists brought the sentiment to Australia. Gardens were reminders of home and a way of establishing themselves in their new settlement.

The Chamber lobbied the NSW Government for land for a public recreation area: the city was granted, in 1856, in perpetuity, the 35 acres of land (49 acres was added in 1894) which became the first part of King Edward Park “… in the most delightful and picturesque part of Newcastle from the top of Watt Street round the Horseshoe to the Obelisk”.[2] In 1863 the Newcastle Borough Council was made trustee of that area, then called the Upper Reserve.

Newcastle was founded in 1804 as a penal colony for the worst sort of convicts, the re-offenders who authorities considered deserved severe punishment. They were forced to work under the most rigorous conditions, in timber gathering, in lime burning and in coal mining. That convict era left its mark on the city in a negative self-image. However the convicts began Newcastle’s identification with coal. The commercial exploitation of coal, ‘the Black gold’ also drove the rapid growth of the port of Newcastle and between 1860 and 1890 brought prosperity to the city. The coal industry attracted immigrants from the coal mining areas of Britain, particularly Wales and the Midlands and Newcastle, NSW, became a transplanted British coal-mining village in population and in culture. However by the end of the 19th century the local mines were exhausted and mining moved inland. Newcastle slumped but its fortunes were revived with the construction of the BHP Steel works in 1913. Both World Wars brought prosperity, with periods of depression and unemployment between the wars. Then after World War II despite the closure of the steel works in 1990, there was a growing diversity of employment opportunities. People began to think about cultural matters and a regional art gallery and a museum appeared.   However the basic form of King Edward Park was set in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The way in which the park developed was closely tied to the economic progress of a city dependent on two industries, coal and steel, which experienced periods of prosperity, stagnation and depression. There were frequent periods of unemployment and poverty which led people and local government to adopt the view that job creation was of the highest priority and industries that increased employment should be encouraged no matter how much pollution they might cause. There was little time, energy or money to direct to cultural matters. A Newcastle Chamber of Commerce pamphlet (1908) declared that ‘aestheticism must give way to the material wants of mankind …. a place so evidently intended to be a manufacturing centre as Newcastle is cannot expect to evade … the destiny mapped out for it.’ The city was a place of smoke and grime until the middle of the twentieth century. Newcastle people developed negative images of their own city which was reflected in the views of people in the rest of the country… it was not good for progress.[3]

Source- Gentleman and young girl sitting on bench at Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445

Source- Gentleman and young girl sitting on bench at Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445

Newcastle was additionally disadvantaged because it was dependent on outside finances. The NSW Government provided the extensive infrastructure required for the coal and steel industries and the port: they were valuable contributors to the state’s funds. However, apart from the infrastructure little of the wealth generated came to the city. Similarly, industry funding came from outside, from private financial institutions and investors in Sydney, Melbourne and London and that is where the profits went’.[4] There were no philanthropists for Newcastle amongst them. Thus Newcastle was deprived for a long time of civic amenities that one have expected in the second largest city in NSW and in comparison with other Australian, cities, both regional and capital cities. It would take until the 1970s for cultural amenities like civic museums and art galleries to become established. King Edward Park received little financial support: it is perhaps surprising it has survived so well.



The beginnings of the Upper reserve

So far we have little information on the improvements instituted in the first few decades. There were some trees planted and paths constructed and by the late 1880s citizens valued the park as a pleasant place of public recreation.

Then around 1890 Council attention was directed to increasing park facilities and appearances. The topography of the reserve presented difficulties for a prospective landscape designer. There were steep hills and deep gullies. The soil was poor. Most of the difficulties were caused by the southerly winds which were often strong and always salt laden. In most of the area only stunted grasses were growing that was how it received its first name, Sheep Pasture Hills, given in 1801 by the early explorer, Colonel James Paterson. It reminded him of English pastures.

On the other hand, the terrain offered opportunities to create a picturesque public garden. The reserve sits in a basin-shaped hollow in a coastal ridge which runs from Newcastle Beach to Bar Beach. On the northern and southern borders of the basin were prominences, 70 metres above sea level the interrupted ends of the coastal ridge, and between them a central prominence of the same height. Between the prominences were two gullies which ran from the high land near where Reserve Road and The Terrace are now, down to the sea. The northern gully was deep with steep sides. It was angled to the east and partly protected from the wind. With some care trees and plants might grow. The southern gully was shallower and more open to the sea than the northern gully, any vegetation would struggle to survive. In 1890 the Council called tenders for a landscape design for the development of the park.

Source- Newcastle’s Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445.

Source- Newcastle’s Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445.


Alfred Sharp’s vision

In 1890 the Newcastle Borough Council awarded Mr Alfred Sharp[5] a contract to provide a plan for the design of the Upper Reserve. The plans he produced have not been found, and our knowledge of them comes from an article in the Newcastle Morning Herald in1890.[6] James Beattie, a landscape and garden historian who is familiar with King Edward Park and with Sharp’s work has written “Today, Sharpe’s design has been altered, even though the basic structure of his conception survives” and “It… is possible to experience the winding paths and formal layout of the upper section of the reserve that adhere to Sharpe’s design principles.”[7] While many gardeners have contributed to the park’s development for well over a century and a half, one can say that King Edward Park is Alfred Sharp’s park.

Alfred Sharp was an artist, an architect and draftsman and a landscape designer. He designed other parks around Newcastle; in Islington, Hamilton, Wickham and in Lake Macquarie. He came to Newcastle from New Zealand in 1887 to join his brother, William Bethel Sharp a businessman and politician. He was born in Birkenhead, England in 1836 (d. Newcastle 1908), and trained as a draughtsman and in art. He went to New Zealand at the age of 25, worked first as a farmer, then moved to Auckland to further a career in art. He became well known as a water colourist, painting mostly landscapes which portrayed the native trees and plants of New Zealand, sometimes in their ideal state and sometimes as damaged vegetation. In highly detailed work he was expressing his love of nature and his concern that native vegetation was being destroyed by European development. Beattie describes Sharp as being amongst the best landscape artists in New Zealand in the nineteenth century.

Sharp was also an acknowledged art theorist and notorious in elite Auckland art circles for his criticisms of contemporary painting, mostly expressed in articles and letters to Auckland newspapers. His criticisms were not confined to art: he was an outspoken environmentalist, decrying the despoliation of the countryside around Auckland.

In Newcastle Alfred Sharp practised as an architect but received few commissions.[8] He continued to paint in Newcastle, often displaying his concern about the damage done to the native bush by the early settlers, in the face of government neglect. One painting showed “the last dying remnants of the tree forests that existed between Glebe and Adamstown”, emphasising dead trees and stumps amongst the few living trees His industrial scenes such as those of the Sulphide smelting works at Cockle Creek, showed ugly buildings and smoking chimneys surrounded by dying trees.[9]

Source- View towards the former Bowling Club at Newcastle’s Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445.

Source- View towards the former Bowling Club at Newcastle’s Upper Reserve. Hyde Family Album State Library of New South Wales PXA 1445.

In Newcastle Sharp’s paintings were less successful commercially than in New Zealand. He complained frequently about the lack of outlets for his work. More successfully he produced many illuminated addresses commemorating the visits of dignitaries and other important people. He wrote little about art but contributed many letters to the local newspapers expressing his views on the affairs of his adopted city; on social welfare, on culture, on the environment, on horticulture and on park design and management.

In landscape design Sharp had a passion for creating public spaces for people. He followed the philosophies of the English landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818), a successor of Capability Brown in British gardening history. Brown, Repton and others changed the face of British gardens and parks. In their landscape designs they obliterated   all the old art and geometry of gardens that had originated in France and Italy. Avenues, parterres and terraces: basins and canals disappeared and were replaced with vistas of shaped land and plantings which resembled nature. In the plantings clumps and plantations of trees predominated, their placing related to background vistas. Repton published a creed of perfection in landscape gardening: some items of which are apparent in Sharp’s ideas for the Reserve and may be seen in the King Edward Park of today. Repton declared that a park should display the natural beauties of the site and hide natural defects. It should give the appearance of extent and freedom, carefully disguising and hiding the boundaries. The whole should give the appearance that it is a production of nature only, even if the scenery has required some improvement. Sharp, like Repton and his adherents, believed that a park should be laid out in a manner acceptable to an artist, utilising the skills of a gardener. In Newcastle Sharp continued to bring his views to public notice.

The Newcastle Morning Herald published over fifty letters from Sharp; his forceful and colourful language must have appealed to the editor. He wrote angrily about the pollution of the beaches of Newcastle and the rubbish that people left lying on the streets. He complained about the lack of a sewerage system in the city. He was concerned about conditions of the working class people in the grim industrial climate of the Newcastle. He deplored the cultural poverty of the middle class … the city lacked a museum, an art gallery and any art society.

Sharp was conscious of the living environment, the trees and plants, in and around a city. He criticised the bareness of Newcastle,

If ever cool, green shade would be appreciated it would be in the glare and heat of our dusty streets—such a desirable thing can be attained with but little cost, and only requiring some care and attention while the trees are young, it is a standing wonder both to residents and strangers, why Newcastle streets are so hideously bare of public trees.[10]

He complained that even the few existing trees were treated badly by those who were meant to care for them. He loathed excessive pruning “the knife and saw rampant beyond all conception”.

Sharp was distressed by the way trees were managed in the Upper Reserve and in other parks around Newcastle. He knew from his experiences in New Zealand that growing trees in adverse conditions, with exposure to the wind and a salt laden atmosphere was fraught with difficulty. Trees planted in such areas needed careful protection if they were to flourish and if they were to maintain the attractive appearance essential in a public pleasure ground. He stated that trees should be planted in clumps for mutual protection. Salt resistant shrubs could be planted around them to lessen the impact of the wind. To the tree every branch, every twig and every leaf was important ‘outrageous pruning’ was so damaging. Sharp also appreciated the importance of the soil around the trees for successful growth. He condemned the common practice in the Reserve of digging the soil near the trees for tidiness or for growing flowers. Digging severed the surface roots which were important to the growth and vitality of trees, depriving them of moisture and nutrients. Digging diminished the structural support trees needed to defy strong winds. The practice of burning off the grass and leaves under the trees horrified him even more than the use of the spade, because it damaged the surface roots and burnt the leaves.[11]

Sharp was not totally opposed to flower gardens in parks, but was adamant that they should not be planted near trees. He also argued that annuals required much effort and expense to maintain an attractive appearance and their beds were bare for a large part of the year for cultivation and replanting. Planting trees and shrubs offered a more effective way of creating a pleasing environment in a public park: they should be the first priority in planting .Grass could be allowed to grow near the trees, it would not harm them and conserved moisture. Sharp wrote about the harmful practices he had observed in the Reserve. In a letter headed “Woodman, spare that tree” he wrote that the mistreated trees often ended up “as pitiful objects of misery and ugliness; and surely, a broom stick is not a type of tree.”[12]   Trees could be trimmed to allow people to walk under them as long as the branches were not disfigured and distorted. He believed that the provision of shade trees was essential. For example, he complained that the circular lawn in the Reserve would be barren and shade less if the Council proceeded with its plans to build a Rotunda. The report from Council stated “They should plant a circle of giant myrtles (pohutakawa) so that people could sit in the shade and listen to the band of the 4th Regiment”.[13]

For Sharp trees were the most valuable adornment for a scenic park. A landscape designer should select carefully the varieties of trees to ensure that they flourished and grew decoratively. He said he was sick of some of the trees commonly used in sea side parks in Australia. The Norfolk Island pine (hereafter pine) was ugly and spiky and grew too slowly it would be no good in a pleasure garden. Today he might be surprised to see how well the pines in King Edward Park have grown and how well they suit the large scale of the park and its background). Moreton Bay figs were also unsatisfactory: they kill everything beneath them and cover the ground with litter and debris.[14]

Sharp strongly advocated planting the pohutakawa, the giant myrtle of New Zealand (Metrosideros excelsa, the NZ Christmas tree) because it survived in coastal conditions, it grew to 30 metres, was evergreen and had a handsome spreading crown for shade. It did not create litter. In summer it was covered with attractive red flowers.[15] Pohutakawa trees grew well near the coast in Newcastle, including in King Edward Park, although rarely reaching the heights attained in New Zealand. Unfortunately, from the 1980s, the trees planted in the park and on The Hill began to succumb to a so-far undetermined disease.

Many pohutakawa were planted in the Reserve, many imported by Sharp himself (he recommended 800 in his plan). He stimulated a brisk trans-Tasman trade in these trees and others which he believed would flourish here. In both NZ and Australia Sharp supported the preservation of the native vegetation, but had some unexpected exceptions. He expressed   distaste of Australian eucalypts perhaps they did not suit his ideas of an artistic tree. Given his views on the value of preserving native vegetation is surprising that in Australia. He became a champion of exotic New Zealand trees. Perhaps, having observed the extreme   conditions in the Upper Reserve he advocated for trees which he was confident would survive and present an attractive appearance. This understanding was based on his knowledge of their success in similar conditions in New Zealand.

Sharp wrote often about the importance of paths in a public park, a network   allowing easy access to all parts of the grounds. For an interesting stroll they should be winding with easy grades and wide enough for companionable walking; they should provide access to both the   formal sections and to those parts of the park which might be left as ‘wild nature’. Sharp had great faith in the restorative powers of nature that such a park would provide.

One can also see that, to a believer in Repton’s philosophies of landscape design, how exciting a challenge it was for Sharp to have an opportunity to plan a garden for such a  site as the Upper Reserve. Contemporary writers in the Newcastle Morning Herald strongly approved of his plan. His knowledge of horticulture and his awareness of the problems of gardening in adverse conditions and the ways of dealing with those problems gave him valuable skills to manage the Reserve. It is unfortunate that he was not given the opportunity to contribute more to the early establishment and development of the Upper Reserve.

How the Park Developed

The following examines how the park developed. The many phases of use are discussed as well as particular areas of the park that had a specific purpose.

King Edward Park Headland Reserve is the name given recently to an area of now level land at the top of Watt Street on the prominence on the northern edge of the park. This area of the park is relatively small and was a part of the original grant of land. It offers a great overview of King Edward Park, has been open to visitors and is socially and culturally a significant part of the Park. The area has also been of special significance to the Aboriginal people of the area. The headland, Yi-ran-ni-li means ‘the place of falling rocks’ reflecting Dreamtime stories of Awabakal people.[16]

The headland became the site of a coal mine, one of the first in Australia. It was probably established by 1817 but perhaps earlier, and continued to the1830s. The position of the shaft is unclear there has not been a thorough archaeological or heritage assessment of the site to investigate the location. The deep shaft was worked by convicts who carried coal down the hill to the harbour on a wooden railway which ran down along a track which became Watt Street. The mine was later operated commercially by the AA Company (Dates unclear). From 1887 the Borough Council used the mine shaft to dispose of night soil from the city. Accumulation of gases and a workman’s lamp caused a loud explosion and much alarm to those living the prestige of The hill.[17] In the same period seepage of night-soil contaminated water from the mine shaft caused pollution of the marshy ground at the bottom of the northern gully (see later)

The Headland was also known as home to a prosperous bowling club and has extensive views over the ocean and shoreline cliffs.   There was little development on the headland site until the Newcastle City Bowling club was given a lease in 1890. Over 115 years the Club land constructed three greens and two tennis courts. To level out the site for recreational use the ocean end (east side) required 4000 yards of the land to be filled. A small club house was built on the west side of the lease but was later moved to the south side and progressively enlarged. There were complaints that in these processes public land had been alienated and given to a small exclusive group, but to no effect.[18]For financial reasons the bowling club collapsed. Attempts by various groups, including a commercial enterprise failed to revive the club. In 2005 the government revoked the lease and under regulations relating to the use of coastal reserves opened the headland to commercial development. In 2013 the buildings have been demolished and the area is out of bounds and fenced. Headland reserve has been the subject of disputes between a developer, Newcastle City Council and community groups.


The Northern Gully- upper section above The Horseshoe

As mentioned earlier immediately to the south of the headland is the northern gully, which begins near the junction of Reserve Road and Bingle Streets. In its natural state the gully drained the surrounding hills into an intermittent water course which ran down  between steep slopes   to spill over the cliffs onto the rocky ocean shelf. This gully is the most developed part of the Park.

However well before the park began the gully had been used for recreation. In the 1820s Major Morisset, the Commandant of the penal settlement, frequently walked from his quarters at Government House in what would now be Fletcher Park up the hill to the headland and down across the gully to the Bogey Hole. The Bogey Hole is an ocean swimming pool dug by convicts under control of the Commandant. Apparently Morisset was “fond of sea bathing”.[19] The path he took was referred to as The Horseshoe. This track was progressively upgraded for foot traffic, for horse and carriage and for motor cars in the twentieth century. It has become a roadway but many people continue to name the as The Horseshoe, a landmark of King Edward Park.


The Cricket Ground

In 1890 the higher part of the gully was levelled. It was called the ‘Cricket Ground’ and used. It continues to be used for many leisure activities, including informal games, for picnics and from time to time for concerts and cinema performances. Below the land slopes steeply to the next levelled area, the rotunda lawn. Between the two areas there are plantations of pines which extend around the rotunda lawn. This is where the first plantings took place in the park and where there were attempts to find the most useful trees and shrubs. In the plantation there is the Fountain. Unlike many city parks in Australia King Edward Park has very few monuments. In 1879 the fountain was first, in 1879, placed in Scott Street outside Newcastle Railway station, partly because it was one of the few places in Newcastle with reticulated water. It was described as having   drinking troughs for dogs, cattle and horses. It is an imposing monument, more than two metres high and one metre across with several basins and drinking spouts. Its origins are unknown. After reconstruction it was moved to its present site in the Reserve in 1888. It has unfortunately been the object a number of incidents of vandalism. From the fountain area a number of paths radiate, up to Reserve Road, several to The Terrace and up the hill to York Road. The paths reflect the design philosophies of Alfred Sharp. Below the fountain is the curve of York Road‘ which runs around the western end of Rotunda Lawn, curves around the central prominence then around the western end of the southern gully up to the exit gates at the top of The Terrace.


The Rotunda Lawn

The Rotunda lawn, which was constructed in the 1890s, is the main ceremonial area on the park. It is a level area of lawn surrounded by steep banks in which now large trees, mostly pines and a few figs have grown to a very large size. In the centre is the Rotunda, “a classic example of a late Victorian structure with its finely moulded iron roof and cast iron lace, placed in an English garden setting”.[20] It was built in 1898 and was used for brass band concerts. Rotundas and brass bands have a particular significance for Newcastle, NSW, because in the second half of the 19th century it had a large British born population. British custom came to Newcastle, in the naming of many suburbs, in culture and recreation and in the creation of brass bands and the building of rotundas. Brass bands were a creation of early Victorian Britain. In that period brass musical instruments were becoming affordable for members of the working class who were beginning to experience leisure from work. They could afford and were free to perform their music. Brass bands flourished, specifically in the coal-mining areas of the Midlands. Rotundas were built for public performances and competitions were held between the many bands formed. Apart from their leisure bands were seen a socially desirable. The tradition came to Newcastle: Plans for a rotunda in the Upper Reserve featured in a number of park plans, including those of Alfred Sharp.[21]

Until the opening of Civic Park in 1937, Newcastle held its main civic occasions, the festivals, the welcoming of visiting dignitaries, Anzac Day ceremonies and other celebrations on and around the Rotunda lawn. Perhaps the most momentous event occurred in 1911 to mark the coronation of George V. After a day of street marches 20,000 people gathered in King Edward Park to sing the national anthem and other patriotic songs. Today the lawn used for play, for picnics and for weddings.

From the Rotunda lawn steps descends a short terraced slope where there are several varieties of trees, perhaps examples of those trees tried in the park and growing here with varying success. There is also maintenance and workmen’s sheds. Then there is the curve of The Horseshoe which encloses a deeper part of the gully running down to the cliffs

The northern gully – Lower section below The Horseshoe. In shaping this part of the Park one perhaps might have expected those responsible to have taken greater advantage of the spectacular terrain, the deep gully with its water course, the steep sides and in the distance the cliffs and the expansive ocean, a vista for an artist.      There were problems in gardening here, the steep slopes and the salt laden winds, although this was as better protected area than other parts of the park. There was also the problems of drainage, water normally ran into the sea but was often impeded by silt. The gully drained the surrounding hills and then when houses were built on the hill there was more storm water and even sewerage at times.   Storm water from the streets is still piped under the western part of the park into the gully. There was also the period around the 1887 when night soil dumped into the mine shaft on the bowling green site contaminated the water seeping into the gully. Apart from the unpleasant odours citizens were concerned about the health risks.

There were other drainage problems to be dealt with. With swimming becoming popular, the Council enlarged the Bogey Hole in 1884 and wanted to make it more accessible from the city. A path was constructed from Newcastle beach along the base of the cliffs and another down from Watt Street. To allow the flow of water bridges were built over the two water courses, the one from the northern gully and the other that curves around the middle prominence from the southern gully. In the 1930s there was the extension of Shortland Esplanade to the Bogey Hole, a road which had to be built up with filling, which again interfered with drainage. Sumps were dug and water piped under the road to carry it to the cliff, but siltation was and still is a problem.

In his plans Alfred Sharp had an ambitious plan for the low northern gully. He designed ta series of three dams each 10 feet high and 80 feet long and 10 feet deep at the lower end. They formed three ponds a half to one and a half chains long and thirty five feet wide. They would be stocked with fish and planted with water lilies. The southern protected side of the gully would be “thickly planted with hanging woods … with paths winding in and out amongst the trees…that is, if the right kind are planted.”[22] Sharp recommended the pohutakawa.

However despite the opportunity offered, a later gardener chose to create flower beds in the gully in ‘U’ of The Horseshoe. Although flower beds were conventional decorations in many Victorian parks, the result would not have pleased Sharp, it was not natural, In the 1920s after filling with large amounts of soil the resulting level area was planted with lawn and ten separate flower beds created. They have long provided a bright display of annuals for short periods each year interspersed with long periods when the beds are largely bare. They require much labour for maintenance, an increasing problem in times of Council austerities. These are the Garside Gardens named after an earlier head gardener.

Below the Garside Gardens as the gully slopes down much effort has been spent in dealing with the problems of the drainage as well as trying to make the area attractive and accessible to the public. Recently the Council has created an artificial water course lined with large boulders and in its course built several storage ponds. Reeds and other water plants have been planted. At the lower end the soil is still marshy, although the flow of water is moderated. Here it has been planted with native grasses, shrubs and trees. There is then a large sump to catch water and convey it by pipes under Shortland Esplanade.

In 2004 this sides of the lower part of the gully were further modified by terracing and by filling, processes which were severely criticised, because they changed the natural appearance. It was a convenient step for the Council. The nearby cliff overlooking the Bogey Hole had to be reduced in height to reduce the risk of boulders falling into the pool. The spoil from the excavation, the rocks and soil, was dumped into the gully, a cheap method of disposal. This action prompts the need for a proper plan of development for King Edward Park, and reminds us that such a plan has never been produced.


The southern gully  

The southern gully is wide with gentler slopes than those of the northern gully. The mouth is widely open to the ocean so that it is a windswept area. It also has an intermittent water course flowing down it but now there is only a soakage area at the bottom. From here accumulated storm water is carried under York Drive to a small ravine which runs northwards, between the middle prominence and a cliff-side ridge, to near a sump near the Bogey Hole where it enters the sea via a pipe. In this ravine the flow of water is slowed and absorbed by a mixture of natural and planted native shrubs and grasses, which are now growing strongly, reducing erosion. Their vigorous growth demonstrates the benefits of the protection provided by the adjacent seaward ridge. Before human intervention the outflow from the southern gully flowed down this water course to enter the sea not far from the outflow of the northern gully.

The main southern gully and the surrounding hillsides are mostly covered with native grasses, largely Themeda australis, a short, clumping reddish green grass. Before European settlement this grass was widely distributed along the NSW coast. Now in King Edward Park there are about four hectares of it and one of the few areas left in NSW and thus of heritage significance. There is the occasional stunted tree the results of earlier plantings, and under the protecting brow of the top of Shepherds Hill on the southern wall of the gully a group of trees and shrubs and grasses, Acacia sophorae, Banksia integrifolia, Westfringia ruiticosa and Lomandra longifolia have been planted. They are growing well and are self-seeding, reflecting their protected position, their planting in dense clumps and that they are native to the coast. At the top of the gully, along The Terrace is a row of well-grown palm trees in their position they are partly shielded from the wind as well as having a degree of salt tolerance. Apart from the plantings mentioned and roads and paths (the Bather’s Walk crosses it) the southern gully has been little developed. It attracts walkers, children and free-roaming dogs.

At the top of the southern gully, where York Road enters The Terrace are two sand stone pillars, all that remains of the four pillars and ornate wrought iron gates which marked the original entrance to the reserve at the top of Watt Street. With the coming of motor cars that position proved dangerous, they could easily run over a cliff. The gates were moved further up Ordnance street and then to their present position. Mr Joseph Wood, a brewer and prominent citizen, donated the gates in 1907.

Arcadia Park

Arcadia Park (it was given that name to honour an American sister city) is and always has been part of King Edward Park, although separated from the main part by road, Reserve Road and the continuation of Wolfe Street . The park is a small triangular parcel of land to the west of Wolfe Street. It is an area where plants will thrive because it slopes downwards away from the prevailing winds but has largely been neglected until the 1970. For a time it contained a quarry. Alfred Sharp suggested only planting trees there but no other improvement, they would come later. However in 1978 the Newcastle Council landscaped the area and planted a large number of trees, which have flourished. It is an area which is little used but could be a valuable adjunct to the main park.[23]


The Bogey Hole

The Bogey Hole, the ocean swimming pool in King Edward Park, sits in the rock shelf   below the cliffs at the bottom of the northern gully. Convicts gouged   the pool out of the rocks on the ocean shelf in about 1820 for the personal use of Major Morisset, the Commandant of the colony of Newcastle from 1818 to 1823. The pool was first called Morisset’s or the Commandant’s baths but later the Bogey Hole, a name believed to be related to an aboriginal term ‘to bathe’. There have been suggestions that the excavations made use of a previously existing cavity in the rocks, perhaps made by aborigines, but there is no confirmatory evidence.

In the 1850s an English traveller, John Askew visited the Bogey Hole on several occasions for a swim. “I have stood upon these rocks and listened to the hoarse voice of the ocean, while lashed into fury by the north-east wind, and have been awed by the thundering sound of its seething waters, as I never have by any of the awe-inspiring phenomena of nature. The feelings awakened by this majestic scene are indescribable: and I never stand on any spot which so heightened the impressiveness of a scene so terribly sublime”.

In 1863 the Newcastle Council   assumed control of the Bogey Hole and made the pool accessible to the public, but at first only by males. It became the most popular site for sea bathing in Newcastle. Newcastle was endeavouring to acquire an image of a holiday resort. In 1884, responding to public demand for more facilities for safe sea bathing the Council enlarged the   Bogey hole to about seven times of its previous size, still irregular in shape and approximately 105 feet long and 50 broad and sloping from five and a half feet deep to three and a half. Steel stanchions and chain were placed on the ocean side for safety. The surroundings of the pool were tidied and access to an almost inaccessible place improved by cutting broad steps in the rock. In the cave in the cliff behind the pool better provision was made for changing where a caretaker provided clean towels. “The Bogey hole has been metamorphosed into one of the finest swimming baths in NSW, we might almost say, about the finest in Australia, and challenge contradiction.”[24] In 1911 after receiving a petition from 199 women, the Council permitted women to use the baths on certain days of the week.[25] Over the years changing rooms have been built above the pool and on the entrance path, and demolished, sometimes by falling boulders.

With their increasing popularity the City Council made it easier to get from the city to the Bogey Hole a path with a series of steps was formed from the Reserve near the Hospital for the Insane down to a path running over two bridges across the mouth of the northern gully. Past the Bogey Hole the path, a sidling track continued along the cliffs to what was known as the gulf bathing place.[26]

The Bogey Hole is one of the earliest visible artefacts of European occupation in Newcastle. It is still used by bathers and much visited by tourists. It has recently (June 2013) been refurbished.


The Shepherds Hill defence installation

On top of Shepherd’s Hill to which the name Khantarin has been applied, on the southern boundary of King Edward Park, is the heritage recognised defence installation. It contains the remains of a sunken gun emplacement for a 9-inch disappearing gun, and related range finding bunkers dating from 1890. They were constructed to meet fears of Russian incursion. At the same time the Gunner’s Cottage, which now house the Marine Rescue group was built to accommodate the troops who manned the gun. The other prominent structure is the reinforced concrete tower which was built in the early 1940s to defend the port of Newcastle against Japanese attack. The tower, now disused, included the control post for a string of defence positions which extended from Port Stephens to Redhead. It also had observation and communication functions and there was a large radar antenna on the roof. There were two guns mounted nearby; a 6 inch gun emplacement on the cliff on Strezlecki Lookout, and an emplacement of the central prominence in the Park. On the cliff below the bowling-green site was a concrete searchlight bunker and behind it the engine room which housed the generator for the light remains of both still exist.

The Shepherds Hill defence offers existing evidence of changing approaches to the land’ based coastal defence systems in NSW. The site is used often for picnics and wedding parties. The Bathers Track which runs through the site brings many visitors.

The Obelisk Hill

The Obelisk Hill is situated on the northern edge of King Edward Park. It was originally contiguous with the rest of the main park area but was separated by the construction of Reserve Road in the 1880s. On the other sides of the Hill are Ordnance Street and Wolfe Streets (extended in 1870s). Inside the triangle of roads the Obelisk Hill is surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs, which emphasis its height which provides 360 degree panoramic views of the city, the ocean and the rest of the Park. On the top is the Obelisk, a typical tapering monolith. It was built in 1850 to commemorate the Government Flour Mill, a brick and stone structure, a windmill, with huge Dutch sails, which was built in 1820 at the instigation of Major Morisset the commandant of the penal colony. There was shortage of food in the colony and while he did not want to reward the convict by providing too much food, they had to have sufficient to mine the coal without getting sick or dying. The mill met the needs until flour became available from other sources in the Hunter Valley. The Mill, with its height and distinctive shape became a valuable navigation aid for mariners entering the difficult passage to Newcastle Harbour. When the mill was demolished in the 1850s, as obsolete, on orders from the Government in Sydney navigators and ship owners demanded a suitable replacement so the Obelisk was built. Despite lightning strikes and earthquakes, the Obelisk remains today as a tourist attraction and a reminder of Newcastle’s harsh convict origins and of the importance to Newcastle of shipping and the coal trade.

The park is an amazing part of our coastline, and unique because of its diverse heritage. Today it continues a much loved place to spend time with friends and family, a short walk from urban spaces and a park that has many stories to tell.



Albrecht, Glenn. “Yi-Ran-Na-Li: A Cliff Face at Newcastle South Beach.” <http://healthearth.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Yi-ran-na-li>.

Beattie, James. “Alfred Sharpe, Ruskin and Australasian Nature “The Journal of New Zealand Art History27, (2006).

Bingle. Past and Present Records of Newcastle. Newcastle: Bayley & Son & Harwood, Pilot Office, 1873.

Docherty. Newcastle the Making of an Australian City. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1983.

G.B.Grimm. History of Newcastle City Bowling Club 1809-1939 Newcastle: The Club, Unknown.

Metcalfe, A.W. Metcalfe and Andrew. “Mud and Steel: Thee Imagination of Newcastle.” Labor History 64, (1993).

Reedman, Les (2008) ‘Early Architects of the Hunter Region: A Hundred Years to 1940′.

Vagabond, The. “At Newcastle ‘the Vagabond’.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 1878.


[1] Docherty, Newcastle the Making of an Australian City (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1983).

[2]Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle (Newcastle: Bayley & Son & Harwood, Pilot Office, 1873).

[3]A.W. Metcalfe and Andrew Metcalfe, “Mud and Steel: Thee Imagination of Newcastle,” Labor History 64 (1993).

[4] Docherty, Newcastle the Making of an Australian City.

[5]Alfred Sharpe sometimes added an ‘e’ to his name.

[6]Newcastle Morning Herald, Newcastle Morning Herald 27 August 1890.

[7]James Beattie ‘Alfred Sharpe, Ruskin and Australian nature’ The Journal of New Zealand Art History, 27, 2006, 38-56.

[8]Les Reedman, ‘Early Architects of the Hunter Region: A Hundred Years to 1940′.

[9]James Beattie, “Alfred Sharpe, Ruskin and Australasian Nature

The Journal of New Zealand Art History 27 (2006).

[10]Newcastle Morning Herald 18 March 1889.

[11]Newcastle Morning Herald19 November 1891.

[12]Newcastle Morning Herald19 February 1892.

[13]Newcastle Morning Herald26 February 1892.

[14]Newcastle Morning Herald7 September 1891.

[15]Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 August 1891.

[16]Glenn Albrecht, “Yi-Ran-Na-Li: A Cliff Face at Newcastle South Beach,” <http://healthearth.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Yi-ran-na-li&gt;.

[17] Maitland Mercury 21 January 1888

[18]G.B.Grimm, History of Newcastle City Bowling Club 1809-1939 (Newcastle: The Club, Unknown).

[19]Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle.

[20]Jeans and Spearitt

[21]Docherty, Newcastle the Making of an Australian City.The Vagabond, “At Newcastle ‘the Vagabond’,” The Sydney Morning Herald 27 February 1878.

[22]Newcastle Morning Herald, 29 August 1890.

[23]Newcastle Morning Herald 17 November 1978.

[24]Newcastle Morning Herald 22 Dec 1894

[25]Newcastle Morning Herald 11 Feb 1911.

[26]Newcastle Morning Herald 18 June, 2 September, 18 November 1884

The Newcastle Industrial Girls’ School


View of Newcastle East circa 1870 Courtesy Bert Lovett Collection, University of Newcastle (Australia)

View of Newcastle East circa 1870 Courtesy Bert Lovett Collection, University of Newcastle (Australia)

The Newcastle Industrial Girls’ School, ‘…the little volcano slumbered’

The Newcastle Industrial School for Girls opened in 1867 and was the beginning of a new era at the Government Domain (James Fletcher Hospital). The story of the girls at Newcastle is notorious and there were many riots. They displayed resilience and vigour that tested the management skills of authorities placed over them.  The girls’ institutions introduced a new use for the Domain that was associated with care, education and an attempt to implement civil regulations to help improve conditions for children in the colony. In the previous decades, many children had suffered socially and government inquiries into poverty and child destitution in the 1850s and early 1860 had shown that the rising generation needed support to prosper and have healthy lives. The rationale behind developing institutions for girls was to address the long standing problem of child neglect and poverty in Sydney.
Jane Ison a member of the CRWP is currently researching the girls at the Newcastle Industrial Girls School, further information visit http://nis.wikidot.com/

Videocast – Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801–2012


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“ ‘Here is an Asylum open…’ Constructing a Culture of Government Care in Australia 1801–2012” by Ann Hardy PhD candidate in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Presented on the 7th September as part of the 2012 History Seminar Series in Cultural Collections Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle (Australia)

Abstract: The nineteenth century saw a burgeoning of Government institutions in the Colony of New South Wales. Rapid social change in the course of that century generated a need for state-sponsored provision of care and a reorganisation of the management systems that oversaw those services for the state’s growing population. The Newcastle Government Domain (also known as the James Fletcher Hospital) is used in this paper as a case study to demonstrate how administrators used such institutions to alleviate a variety of problems in the Colony. By considering the many uses and policies introduced at the Newcastle hospital, this study explores whether a planned approach was intended, or whether it was simply a ‘testing ground’ aimed at dispersal.

Whatever the case, the result was an ‘accidental’ institution that remains in place as a government institution in 2012.

Videocasts – Spendour in the Park


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Splendour in the Park Public Meeting was held on the 29th August 2012 in the Mulubinba Room of Newcastle Town Hall to raise the awareness in the community of the issues relating to King Edward Park and its environs, the Obelisk, Arcadia Park and the Headland Reserve.

Distinguished speakers included world renown architects, Professors Richard Leplastrier and Peter Stutchbury; Archivist, Gionni di Gravio and Cultural Heritage Researcher, Ann Hardy.

Together, they presented an overview of our vitally important public open spaces, the heritage, history, and essential need for public participation.

Dr Bernard Curran acted as independent chairperson to conduct the meeting and open it to general discussion and questions from the floor.

For further information: http://www.friendsofkingedwardpark.org.au/