Fairfield City Open Libraries: Heritage Blog

Male Orphan School Part 2

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The Male Orphan School Land:


Orphan School land, top of the map.

By 1803 Governor King had awarded a land grant of 12,300 acres to the north of Liverpool to the Female Orphan School, with the object of leasing the land for farming, to support the orphanage.

In 1813, the foundation stone of a new Female Orphan School was laid at Parramatta, but it was not complete until 1818.The female orphans moved there, vacating the building in Sydney, which was then occupied by a new Male Orphan School, opened on 1 January 1819.

After only a few years in the George Street building, it was considered unfit for the School, due to its dilapidated state and proximity to the tank stream.

2A new school was proposed to be built on the Orphan School land at Liverpool which would also operate as a farm in order to educate the boys in farming skills to increase the level of farming knowledge in the colony. The boys were moved to the site on 17 March 1824, travelling up the Parramatta River by boat. On 16 March 1824, the first Master of the School, Thomas Bowden reported they were not able to accomplish the journey as intended, as they did not obtain the boat at daylight:

“…there being little or no wind or rather a head wind, the Boat laid to at the Salt Pans near the Brothers. I was then compelled to procure a Boat and take the Boys on to Kissing Point, in a very wet condition at about One O’Clock where I procured them some refreshment and dried their clothes- It was after four O’Clock when the Government Boat reached the Point, and knowing we could not reach the farm that night I concluded they had better remain and get themselves thoroughly Dry and take the morning to prosecute their journey… I expect to arrive at Bull’s Hill by Dinner time tomorrow.”

Developments on the Male Orphan School Site:


Sketch of Orphan School , 1840 .

The boys were soon put to work to make the farm more productive. Prior to that time the site had only included a small farm and a timber farmhouse constructed in 1806, stockyards and a grindstone erected in 1807 under the charge of the stock keeper Thomas Rose. This was known as the Old Farm and was at the intersection of what is now Cowpasture and Edensor Roads.

Construction of the New Farm begun in 1824 which was built near Edensor, Smithfield and Boomerang Roads, Bonnyrigg. Timber dormitories were constructed at this time, although the buildings were soon considered unfit and no water was available at the site.

In August 1826 the ‘New Farm’ as the Male Orphan School became known, ceased operation briefly, while the administration of orphans changed from the Orphan Committee to the Church and School Lands Corporation. At this time Government Engineer Alexander Kinghorne selected a new site nearby and the orphanage was relocated. This new site was known as Bull’s Hill. Work began again on the New Farm site by June 1826, and it continued as the agricultural wing of the School, where some of the older boys lived and worked.

By July 1826 tenders were being called to begin work on the Master’s residence and other buildings at Bull’s Hill. By October 1826, thousands of sandstock bricks had been made and fired on the site and the Master’s residence was completed by December 1827. The Master’s residence is attributed to Colonial Architect Francis Greenway and Government Engineer Alexander Kinghorne and built by Thomas Moore. It is the only surviving standing structure on the site today and is known as Bonnyrigg House or The Homestead, on Brown Road, Bonnyrigg. The complex eventually included the Master’s Residence, dormitories, a dining room, school rooms, a probationary school, an infant schoolroom and nursery, staff bedroom and kitchen, watch house, hospital, stable and yard, coach house, offices, tailor’s shop, bakehouse, storekeeper’s house, clothing store and privies.

The water supply at the site was always uncertain. In 1825 John Busby was employed to sink boreholes. At Bull’s Hill, he sank one just ‘a few yards to the southwards of the buildings’ to the depth of 61 ½ feet, but this proved unsuccessful in reaching substantial water. He also sunk bores at the site at which it was proposed to move the School, where he found good sources of water, which must have influenced the move of the school to that site. He recommended that cisterns be dug on the western side of the Bull’s Hill for collecting rainwater. These would be four feet by 12 feet and six feet deep and covered with roofs.

James Busby was appointed farm manager in 1825 and he taught the boys viticulture, and planted a vineyard on the site. The school farm grew grape vines, wheat, barley, hops, maize, vegetables and cotton and the stock included sheep, pigs, beef and dairy cattle. Vegetables continued to be grown in abundance at the farm in later years, with Richard Sadleir ordering ‘600 weight of Potatoes for seed, 4 oz of onion seed, ½ lb of Carrot seed, 2 oz of Cauliflower seed’ and two boys spades, in July 1829. Sadleir also requisitioned white turnip seeds and cabbage seeds in August that year.

Busby recognised the agricultural potential of the land and was one of the first in the colony to attempt commercial grape growing for wine production. He introduced the boys to vine growing and wine making, which was continued at the School farm well after he left the school. The boys were employed in the vineyards, paddocks and cotton crops surrounding the buildings and at the New Farm which was linked to the school by a track.

Land Subdivision and Sale:


Simpson’s land near the Orphan School Creek.

In the 1840s admissions to the School steadily declined and on 30 April 1850 the Male Orphan School was closed and the boys were relocated to the Female Orphan School at Parramatta. The buildings remained vacant and fell into disrepair and the surrounding land was leased to local families. In the late 1870s and early 1880s the Church subdivided the estate for sale. William Stimson purchased a large tract of land along Orphan School Creek for two pounds an acre, and his family occupied Bonnyrigg House for many years. William and his sons cultivated grapes and market gardens along the edges of the creek. Stimson’s land was again subdivided in 1912 and much of the land was taken up by poultry farmers.


Property ad. from Fairfield Champion.


Google Map [-33.891506, 150.877836]

In more recent years, the area has been subdivided further for farm allotments and then housing estates. The photograph from the Fairfield Champion shows the remainder of the Male Orphan School Estate in 2016. Bonnyrigg House can be seen in the centre background (white house) and the Homestead Rd (cul-de-sac), on the left hand side of the photograph.

Bonnyrigg House or Master’s Residence:


Bonnyrigg House stood on the top of a rise with views across the district. The upper floor of the residence was used as a Court House for the meeting of Magistrates. The original building was incorporated within present structure, is the two storey brick section and the original main entrance was probably on the western side. In 1827-1880 a single storey wing was attached and this was replaced at the end of the 19th century by the existing two storied weatherboard section.  A single storey front addition was added c.1914 and a timber verandah and two-storey extension were added to the rear of the building in 1914.

Photographs from c.1950 show a large bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) – far taller than the house, and probably dating from at least the 1870s. Also shown in these photographs was a picket fence northwest of the house, and a star picket fence separating the vacant Orphan School site. Oleanders (Nerium oleander) had been planted by the 1950s, and remain on site today. In the 1950s the house was surrounded by vacant paddocks, market gardens and distant produce sheds (Stedinger, 2003).


[Exerpt taken from ‘…vicious and rebellious’?: Life at the Male Orphan School, 1819-1850 by Fiona Starr & Rebecca Wheller]


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