Nelson's orphanages and children's homes

Contents

The Nelson region has supported homes for children since the 19th Century. Details and research resources about these institutions have been provided at the end of this story.  Each institution has its own stories to tell. We feature one of these stories. 

Stoke Orphanage Scandal

Stoke Orphanage, boys & staff, c.1892Stoke Orphanage, boys & staff, c.1892 The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 38418
Click image to enlarge

St Mary's orphanage was established with good charitable intentions, but scandal (or as the Catholic newspaper, the Tablet described it: "persecution"1) was to send the Marist Brothers  packing in 1900.

At the turn of the 20th century, an orphan's lot was not a happy one. The inmates of orphanages were often the bastard children of unmarried women, or were placed in orphanages because of desertion or the death of parents. Orphans endured patronising attitudes, social stigma, and their thoughts and feelings were rarely acknowledged. Orphanages were generally prepared for official visitors, so the public generally did not know what went on inside. 2   

However, in May 1900, two boys ran away from the St Mary's Orphanage in Stoke. When they were caught, one of the absconders, James Maher, said he would prefer to be whipped by police than returned to the orphanage. Rumours of excessive punishment circulated and on May 30, members of the Nelson Charitable Aid Board paid a surprise visit."I have never seen such a collection of oddly dressed youngsters before or since," said board member, Charles Harley.4

The board members were shown around by Brother Augustine.  Refusing to be diverted by the evasive Brothers, they eventually uncovered five tiny, dark cells where naughty boys were imprisoned and flogged. In one of the cells, they found Maher, who burst into tears as soon as the door was opened. 5

Stoke Orphanage, c.1888.Stoke Orphanage, c.1888. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 178766
Click to enlarge

The Charitable Board found plenty to be unhappy about.  It was found that the boys were beaten on the hand with supplejack which was ‘freely used and without doubt, in some cases with great severity'. Solitary cell imprisonment could last for up to three months. They charged that: there were no women to care for such young boys, punishment was too severe, food was inadequate and of poor quality, clothing was insufficient and manual labour was sometimes too hard. 6

The diet was unvarying. The orphanage ran up to 1000 sheep on the orphanage farm, with two animals killed each day: the hind legs for the brothers, and the rest thrown into a pot of Irish stew. The boys were often hungry and stole scraps from the pig buckets, or ate raw turnips, potatoes and carrots, which they found in the grounds. 7

The Government Commission of Enquiry found that the food and clothing were not ideal but adequate and that the farm work the boys were required to do was not too arduous. However they found that the orphanage and children were dirty and that punishment was too severe. They also recommended that more women should be on the staff and that the boys should receive more technical training. 8

As a result of the enquiry, The Industrial Schools Act was amended and a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria swept the country. The Brothers left the orphanage in September 1900 and a lay-staff was appointed.9 

Diamond Jubilee 1902. Stoke Orphanage BandDiamond Jubilee 1902. Stoke Orphanage Band The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 178506
Click to enlarge

In 1905, reporting the opening of a new orphanage building at Stoke, the Tablet said the Royal Commission of Enquiry had "exonerated the Brothers from all allegations of cruelty" and said that "panic legislation was passed by an excited majority of law-makers who sorely needed icebags to their heads."  10

By 1908, things were much improved, according to the Tablet: "On Sunday, August 2, the boys of St. Mary's Orphanage, Stoke', spent a very" enjoyable afternoon, thanks to some kind lady friends.... A capital programme of sports was arranged and several events were keenly contested by the boys,who entered into" the day's proceedings with all the zest and earnestness of' youth..... The day was brought to a happy close by evening devotions in the beautiful chapel attached to the orphanage." 11

But life did not really change for Nelson's most powerless citizens. The Stoke Orphanage became a state training school for delinquent boys and ‘Raymond', who arrived in 1917, reported constant hunger, bad food (stew with maggots) and hard work on the orphanage farm.12

St Mary's Orphanage. St Mary's Orphanage. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Savage Collection:1/2 50
Click to enlarge

St Mary's Orphanage/Industrial School - background:

St Mary's was a Roman Catholic Institution, which had three branches: Manuka St. (1872-1945), Stoke Industrial School, Ngawhatu Valley (1886-1910) and Sunnybank, which became Garindale and operated from 1941-1988.

Nelson's Sisters of the Mission began caring for orphans at Manuka Street in 1872. When the orphanage was gazetted under the Industrial Schools Act of 1882, children of other denominations were accepted.

The St Mary's Industrial School (known locally as the Stoke Orphanage) opened in 1886 and was run by the French lay-teaching Marist brothers from 1889.  The brothers began with high hopes but lacked the skills to cope with the fulltime care of youngsters. On 27 April, 1903, the wooden orphanage was destroyed by fire. An imposing new brick orphanage opened on 24 May 1905 and accommodated 100 boys in two dormitories.  It had wide ranging facilities including a hop garden, a sheep and cattle farm and facilities for teaching boot making, carpentry, knitting and sewing.13 It also had its own cemetery.

More on St Marys Orphanage in Nelson and Stoke [PDF]

Sunnybank14 operated almost self-sufficiently on 18 hectares of agricultural land from the 1940s until the late 1980s. As a Nelson Photo News story of September 196315 described it, five Sisters of the Mission and a priest tended to the material, educational and spiritual needs of up to 50 boys aged between 5 and 15, not to mention 13 milking cows and a flock of sheep.

Other orphanages established in the Nelson region

 

Wallis Family Children's home, also known as Hulmers (Private, Motueka, 1867-1887)

For more information see:

For an image see: Mairs, Elspeth, fl 1980s-2000s :The Wallis Family Children's Home, Motueka [1867-1887, drawn 1980s?]
http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=33255


 St Andrews Orphanage/ Family home (Church of England & interdenominational from 1923) 

This institution had the following branches: Waimea Road, 1887-1911; Kawai Street 1911-1966;  Richmond 1967- date.

For more information, see:


Whakarewa Home  (Church of England, Motueka, 1887-1975)

For more information, see:

Note - More information about each orphanage can be found on Papers Past by searching under the names of the institutions.

2010 

Sources used in this story

  1. Rabid Enemies (1900, December 20) New Zealand Tablet, p.18.
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NZT19001220.2.41&srpos=25
  2. Crawford, P. (1995) Only an orphan : first-hand accounts of life in children's institutions in New Zealand. Lower Hutt [N.Z.] : MJC Pub pp 2-5 
  3. Smith, Dawn (1993). The boys in the valley. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 2,(5) 21-26
    http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ05_05-t1-body1-d4.html
  4. Ansley, Bruce (1993, 4 Dec) In the brothers' keeping.  Listener, 1993; 141 (2800), 24-26  
  5. Ansley
  6. Stoke Industrial School, Nelson (Report of Royal Commission on, together with correspondence, evidence, and appendix) Govt. Print 1900 as monograph, or, in NZ. Appendices to the Jnls of the House of Representatives, p 2- 3
  7. Stoke Industrial School: p 19-21
  8. Smith
  9. Webby, M.M. (1991) From prison to paradise - genealogy of Ngawhatu Hospital previously known as Nelson Lunatic asylum 1840-1991 and St Mary's Orphanage of Stoke. Nelson: The Author. (no page numbers)
  10. St Mary's Industrial School, Stoke: solemn opening new building at Stoke.( 1905, 29 May)  Colonist, XLVII, (11344), p. 6.
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=TC19050529.2.36 (Tablet 1905).
  11. St Mary's Orphanage, Stoke. (1908, 13 August) New Zealand Tablet ,  p.13. 
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NZT19080813.2.15.2
  12. Hunt, C. (1982, November 13). Stoke Industrial School. Nelson Mail
  13. Smith
  14. Postance, P. (2016) Sunnybank - the forgotten boys' home. Journal of the Nelson Marlborough Historical Society (8)2 , p.61-71
  15. A new life at Sunnybank (1963, 14 September) Nelson Photo News. No 35
    http://photonews.org.nz/nelson/issue/NPN35_19630914/t1-body-d35.html

 

Want to find out more about the Nelson's orphanages and children's homes ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment

Comments

  • I would like to catch up with someone I went to Motueka South School with
    in 1974 and he stayed at what we called Whakarewarewa Boys Home I think. Qite a few kids came to our school from there. He was then fostered to a Mr Carpenter who lived at 302 High Street, Motueka. His name was Clifford Rickets I think. Can you help at all?

    Posted by Kathleen Puha, 27/08/2013 10:51pm (4 years ago)

  • I am wanting to know what orphanage my father was sent to approx 1923? His name was Lionel Neill/ONeill. Is there any lists of children I could identify with being that of my father or his brother Bert Ernest, please help.

    Posted by Helen Roberts, ()

  • would their be any information on myself at sunnybank thanks

    Posted by michael kiley, ()

  • My grandfather James Blane was placed into Stoke Orphange along with his brothers George and Arthur who passed away aged 7yrs and was the first child to be burried in the St Marys cemetry after their father William Blane passed away in 1886. William was a Sargent of Police in Hokitika and Ross. As far as I know their mother Honorah never returned for them and I have been searching for where she may have gone. These boys had 4 sisters one married and the other 3 were also placed in a convent of where I am not sure. I grew up hearing awful stories about my grandfather in Stoke and how bad it was for all of the children. We were also told that James and his brother George ran away so that is all I know but If anyone has a story or connection to either George or James (jimmy) Blane I would love to hear from them. Also would there be any photo's of the children or records. what could be so bad that a mother wouldnt return to her children and how terrible would it have been for a 7yr old to be that sick you die and have no mother to cuddle and sooth you.

    Posted by Raewyn, ()

  • I am a descendant of George Rout who was the chairman of the Chariatble Aid Board which investigated the Stoke Orphanage. I have the gold pocket watch presented to him in appreciation of his services. It even still ticks for a while if you wind it up. see http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DTN19001108.2.14

    Posted by Nick Rout, ()

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Nelson's orphanages and children's homes

Books

 

Articles

 

Other

  •  St Mary’s Boys and Girls Orphanage Registers & Sunnybank Boys Home Registers. Some Registers as early as 1850. Held St Mary’s Parish Archives/Museum, 18 Manuka Street, Nelson. Phone NZ 03 5489527 (or contact the Archivist, St Mary's Parish, P.O.Box 37, Nelson)


Web Resources