22 February 2014
14 members joined the walk around the Orphan Schools & St John’s Park Precinct at Newtown which was led by Dr Diane Snowden.
Our tour commenced with a visit to St John’s Church where the guide outlined the history of the church and the problems experienced regarding funding maintenance and repairs. Just inside the door there is a paper model of the church which was designed by John Lee Archer. St John’s Church is part of the New Town Parish which also includes St James’ Church, New Town, and St Andrew’s Church, Lenah Valley.
The Orphan Schools are located on either side of the church. They operated from 1833 to 1879. Part of the Female Orphan School was demolished in the 1950s spoiling the symmetry of the schools on either side of the church.
The first residents were actually free migrant women who were accommodated there when their ship, Princess Royal, was stranded close to Hobart in September 1833.
The Orphan Schools housed destitute and orphaned children, including some Aboriginal children and children of convicts. Most children were admitted when they reached 3 years of age, sometimes younger. Girls were trained to be domestic or farm servants and the boys were trained to be farm workers or other typically male occupations at that time. The names of children known to have died at the Orphan Schools are recorded on brass plaques low on the wall of the Sunday School.
Dr Snowden states in her Excursion Notes that 306 burials were recorded in the St John’s register between 1834 and about 1859. Headstones were moved to Cornelian Bay in 1963. The one remaining monument is that of Chief Police Magistrate Matthew Forster. It is likely it is still there because it is or was too large to transfer to Cornelian Bay.
The site overall has had many uses and that is so today. Some of the services there are administration offices of Southern Cross Care, Network Tasmania, Police Forensics, Bowling Club, Cricket Ground/Cycling Track, Ostomy Tasmania, Meals on Wheels administration, dialysis centre, accommodation for elderly people. In earlier times there were hospitals for sufferers of tuberculosis, children with infantile paralysis, and those suffering mental illnesses.
The final stop was for a cup of tea or coffee in the Sunday School where we were able to see many photos of the site on display.