Fairfield City Open Libraries: Heritage Blog

Male Orphan School Part 1

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4,980 hectares (12,300 acres) was awarded originally to the Orphan School Estate in 1803 by Governor King. In 1806, tenders were called for the construction of a timber building which later was used as a farm. In 1819, the farm became know as the Male Orphan School Farm and was officially opened by Governor Macquarie.

A brick dormitory was built but was subsequently demolished, the foundation is the only surviving remain. Some of the original bricks, made on the site, were recovered and are now mounted in the Fairfield Council Chambers at Wakeley. After 1822, the Male Orphan School was moved to the southern portion of the Orphans School Grant at Cabramatta.

This is what James Blackhouse had to say when he visited the Male Orphan School in his travels around Australia –

child-2“We next went to the Male Orphan School, about three miles distant, which is under the charge of a pious, retired lieutenant, of the navy. This establishment contains about 160 boys, of from twenty months, to fourteen years of age. They are chiefly the children of prisoners; many of them illegitimate. They exhibit, in numerous instances, the effects of the drunkenness and profligacy of their parents; many of them are unhealthy for two or three years after coming to the institution. They receive a plain, English education, and are taught the rudiments of tailoring, shoe-making, gardening, and husbandry. The premises are on a reserve, of 10,000 acres, in a district that is badly supplied with water, the springs being salt. This circumstance, with the distance from the town, and other inconveniences, renders the removal of the institution to another site, desirable. The buildings are of a very temporary structure. It is inconvenient to have the children from the Factory brought hither so very young; but when they remain longer at that nursery of vice, they learn so much iniquity, that their early removal proves the less evil.” 

Bonnyrigg House was built in 1826 as the master’s residence, and is the only complete example of Alexander Kinghorne’s building design. Kinghorne was a civil engineer whose name has been briefly connected with colonial institutional building programmes at this time. Construction began in 1826. The upper storey of the residence was used as a court house for the local meeting of magistrates. The Male Orphan School was located at Bulls Hill while the agricultural fields were located at Bossley Bush Recreation Reserve.The originally holding was gradually broken up and the church eventually sold this portion as a farm. B0nnyrigg House is now privately owned and still used as a residence.

childThe first master that took up a post at the Male Orphan School was William Walker. The Rev. Robert Cartwright succeeded him for a period of four years, followed by Lieutenant Richard Sadlier, RN, who held the position until 1851. The last master, James Busby was made Farm Manager in 1825 and did his pioneering work in viticulture in the grounds of this institution.

To discover more fascinating facts about the Male Orphan School, please refer to our Museum/Library’s e-publication ‘…Vicious and rebellious’?: Life at the Male Orphan School, Sydney & Liverpool, 1819-1850.” here.

[Source : Backhouse, James. A narrative of a visit to the Australian colonies. Hamilton Adams. London. 1843]


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