By Anne Gibson.
The need for a female orphanage and education of the children of the colony had become apparent in Sydney. When Philip Gidley King returned to New South Wales as Governor, he and Mrs. King perceived the need to establish a class for girls similar to the one he had founded on Norfolk Island. After discussion with the Reverend Richard Johnson, King wrote to the Duke of Portland setting out his plans for an Orphan School.
A committee was formed consisting of Rev. Johnson, Dr. William Balmain, Dr. John Harris, Rev. Samuel Marsden, John Palmer, Commissary, Mrs. King and Mrs. Patterson, wife of the Commander of the New South Wales Corps. Captain Kent’s house in George Street was purchased for the purpose until the building of an extensive and appropriate building at Parramatta. The orphanage was supported financially by port duties and the income generated from allocated parcels of land.
Reverend Marsden officially opened the Female Orphan School on Sunday 16th August 1801. By December that year there were forty-nine girls between the ages of seven and fourteen years in residence under the matron, Elizabeth More Kennedy Hume. The Committee paid an annual allowance to each of three older and well-behaved orphan girls who taught the younger girls needlework, spinning, weaving, reading and a little writing. Reverend Marsden gave them religious instruction, but the committee reported to Governor King in 1803 that ‘the want of proper persons as teachers ………… is of the utmost importance.’
While it was called an Orphanage, many of the girls in fact had parents but there was such poverty that the children were unable to be properly cared for. As the town of Sydney burgeoned, the position of the Female Orphan School in its centre became increasingly at odds with its founders’ desire to protect the girls from the corrupting influence of urban society. The mission of the institution was to train girls with the skills they would need to work as domestic servants and to escape the life of idleness, poverty and prostitution that they could easily fall into.
In 1813 Governor Macquarie, continuing the good work of Philip Gidley King, laid the foundation stone for the new Female Orphan Institute on the north bank of the river at Parramatta. In 1818, the girls were relocated to the new building on Arthur’s Hill (now Parramatta) overlooking Parramatta River, away from the moral turpitude of Sydney Town. The original George Street site became a Male Orphan School in 1819. In 1833 the Orphan Schools came under the control of the Colonial Secretary. The Female Orphan School functioned at Parramatta until 1850.
Governor King, in 1801, saw the purpose of the institution as the protection of the next generation of Australians:
“Finding the greater part of the children in this colony so much abandoned to every kind of wretchedness and vice, I perceived the absolute necessity of something being attempted to withdraw them from the vicious examples of their abandoned parents.”
One of the first girls to enter the Female Orphan School in Sydney after it was opened in 1801 was Elizabeth BOGGIS, born on Norfolk Island, 3rd February 1792. Elizabeth’s parents were Elizabeth SMITH, Second Fleet, Lady Juliana, and William BOGGIS, First Fleet, Scarborough. William had left Norfolk Island prior to 1801, leaving his wife and child dependant on Government stores and his school aged daughter considered an orphan.
At the request of Major Foveaux, Governor King agreed to accept “five real orphans over the age of seven years” from Norfolk Island for the Female Orphan School in Sydney. It is thought that this is when the child, Elizabeth, became a pupil at the school. Her mother Elizabeth departed from Norfolk Island for Sydney in March 1806.
The Home Office in England encouraged suitable marriages of the girls at the Orphan School, and fourteen years of age was made the legal age for marriage and the completion of their tutelage at the Orphanage. Charles TOMPSON, thought to be a part time tutor there, was granted consent to marry Elizabeth. They were married on 8th June 1806 at St. Phillip’s Church, Sydney, by Reverend Henry Fulton.
Charles Tompson was an educated young man whose family originated from Witchingham Hall, Great Witchingham, Norfolk. Charles was arrested at age 18 for stealing two books from Mr. Burrish of Birmingham. He was found guilty at his trial at Warwick on 23 March 1802 and sentenced to transportation for seven years. Charles arrived at Sydney harbour on the convict ship Coromandel on 7 May 1804.
Men who could read, write and calculate were sought after for clerical work in administrative posts, as teachers or tutors to children. Charles was directed to work as a clerk for John Palmer at the Commissary Office. It is unclear what circumstances led to Charles encountering no objections when he sought permission to marry the 14 year-old Elizabeth Boggis from the Female Orphan School.
Article featured in the First Fleet Folio, April, 2023
Richard Johnson, Chaplain to the Colony of New South Wales By Neil Macintosh.
Female Orphan School. www.findandconnect.gov.au
Where Honour Guides the Prow. By Elisabeth Curtis and Gillian Doyle.