A history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind 1866-2004




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A History of the
Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind
1866-2004



Judith Raphael Buckrich


Australian Scholarly Publishing
MELBOURNE


(c) RBS.RVIB.VAF. Ltd, 2004

First published in 2004 by

Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd

PO Box 299, Kew, Victoria, 3101

102/282 Collins Street, Melbourne, 3000

Tel: (03) 9654 0250 Fax: (03) 9663 0161

Website: www.scholarly.info


National Library of Australia

Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

Buckrich, Judith Raphael, 1950-

Lighthouse on the boulevard: a history of the Royal

Victorian Institute for the Blind, 1866-2004.

Bibliography.

Includes index.

ISBN 1 74097 070 5.

1. Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind - History. 2.

Blind - Services for - Victoria - Melbourne - History. I.

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. II. Title.

362.41099451


Edited and indexed by Diane Carlyle

Designed and typeset by Green Poles Design

Printed by BPA Print Group


Contents

Foreword p vii

Introduction p ix

Acknowledgements p xi


Chapter 1 p 1

Chapter 2 p 33

Chapter 3 p 72

Chapter 4 p 101

Chapter 5 p 134

Chapter 6 p 163


Notes p 208

Appendix 1: Office Bearers p 214

Appendix 2: Students p 215

Appendix 3: Government Funding p 219

Bibliography p 222

Index p 224


vii


Foreword


It is with great pleasure that I write this foreword to the history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB).


Over the 138 years of its existence, RVIB has indeed been a lighthouse to Victorians who are blind or vision impaired. In 1866, a group of concerned citizens had a dream of being able to provide not only a place of refuge for people who were blind or vision impaired, but also the opportunity for rehabilitation, training and employment for adults and a school for children.


With the generosity and hard work of many Victorians, this dream became a reality and the asylum opened in rented premises on Commercial Road. Two years later, the bluestone building on St Kilda Road was ready for occupation. On 25 January 1868, in 100 F degree heat, the Hon. George Harker laid the foundation stone for the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind. In 1891, with special permission from Queen Victoria, the organisation became the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB).


RVIB has changed dramatically since its inception and has moved from a nineteenth-century asylum to a twenty-first-century organisation, which today provides world-class services to people who are blind or vision impaired. Though times haven't always been easy, there have always been, and still are, many committed individuals involved with the organisation who have passion and foresight. It is because of those people that RVIB has been so successful in meeting the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired.


This is principally a story of clients, workers and supporters. They are the history of the organisation. Dr Judith Buckrich has penned this account with great sensitivity and frankness and it is through this treatment of the text, and a respect for RVIB's history, that the book becomes such a valuable and fascinating read.


Lighthouse on the Boulevard: A History of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind offers a window into an organisation that is almost as old as


viii

Melbourne itself and, as such, should also be read by anyone with an interest in the history of Victoria.


RVIB has made a tremendous contribution to our community over its long history and it has been a great pleasure for my wife and myself to act as its patrons during my term of office. We wish the organisation all the best as it moves into a new and exciting era.


John Landy, AC, MBE

Governor of Victoria


ix


Introduction


For more than 138 years, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind has been providing services to adults and children who are blind or vision impaired. What began as an asylum and school in the post-gold rush colony of Victoria changed with the times to become a leading provider of services for people of all ages who are blind or vision impaired.


When RVIB was established in 1866, Melbourne had hundreds of homeless children roaming its streets, eking out an existence as best they could - cleaning shoes, selling pies and oysters, working as entertainers and begging. Some of these children were blind or vision impaired. Soon they began to be taken in by orphanages, industrial schools and benevolent asylums. Then it was from these places that they came to the newly established Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind.


From this beginning, the institution developed, following contemporary trends and changing as the world became a more enlightened place. In 1891 the Asylum was renamed the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. In 1926, during a period of great advancement in attitudes and services to people who were blind or vision impaired, the RVIB adopted the lighthouse as its emblem.


Its lamp is kept bright by the beneficent interest of its friends and supporters, and its rays of activities and service throughout the State, searching out those in need of its assistance, lighting their paths.

1926 Annual Report


From the 1860s onwards, St Kilda Road itself also developed. It had begun as hardly more than a broad track used by bushrangers, with very few buildings. Over the next sixty years though, it became Melbourne's grand boulevard, lined by stately mansions and beautiful trees. Like St Kilda Road, RVIB experienced bad times as well as good. Yet despite wars and economic depressions, RVIB provided work and education. And it was often in the


x

vanguard of research into aids and training for people who were blind or vision impaired.


From the 1960s onwards, great emphasis was placed on the decentralisation of RVIB services. At the same time clients, no longer treated as patients, were provided with the resources to achieve independence.


Many individuals have contributed to the rich fabric of RVIB's history: remarkable teachers like Tilly Aston, founder of the Association for the Advancement of the Blind; leaders like Stan Hedger, CEO for more than thirty years; long-time clients like Reuben Ryan, one-time leader of the Blind Workers' Union; and the thousands of tireless workers, volunteers and supporters who have all contributed to making RVIB one of Melbourne's icons.


RVIB was once known for the excellence of the products from its factories - especially its mats, baskets and brooms. Today our product range includes a variety of furniture and household items available through major distributors nationwide. It also encompasses adaptive technology for computers and aids that facilitate daily living for people who are blind or vision impaired.


And for more than fifty years 'Carols by Candlelight' has brought RVIB into the hearts of Melburnians and visitors alike.


Thanks to the involvement and commitment of its clients, employees and volunteers over the years, and to evolving social norms, RVIB has become an exemplary twenty-first-century organisation, focused firmly on the needs of its clients.


In July 2004 RVIB merged with the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales and the Vision Australia Foundation. While this signalled the end of one era, it also heralded the beginning of another. The organisation will, in its new incarnation, continue to deliver the best of services to all its valued clients, ever striving towards the vision: 'To be the leading provider of services, resources and information which enable people who are blind or vision impaired to maximise their independence and quality of life.'


Dr Douglas M. Kent

Chief Executive Officer


xi


Acknowledgements


The successful completion of Lighthouse on the Boulevard would not have been possible without the RVIB History Project. Managed by the History Group, the project is also the result of much hard work by volunteers and the generous support of many informants who provided information and shared experiences and insights.


History Group


Allan Bates, David Blyth, Don Draffin, Kay Hancock, Jamie Kelly, Jonathan Lock, Michele Prentice, Patsy Vizents.


Volunteers


Jill Brooke, Maureen Gibson, Monica Healy, Diana Huggins, Claire Nilsson, Robert Schinaia.


Supporters of the RVIB History Project


Violet Arnett, Rosalyn Bates, Carol Baxter, Jess Blyth, Margaret Bull, Rhona Campbell, Quentin Christensen, Lynda Clarke, Ian Cooper, Peter Cronin, David Ditchfield, Janet Ditchfield, Esme Dunell, Peter Evans, Harry Finlayson, Malcolm Fraser, Sue Fraser, Robert Frost, Tom Frost, Sue Fryer, Dorothy Hamilton, Ted Hanlon, Brian Hewitt, David Horsfall, Steven Hurd, Pat Jones, Doug Kent, Neville Kerr, Elaine Leahy, Ramona Mandy, Sue Mathews, John McCaskie, Alice McClelland, Margaret McFarlane, Graeme McGowan, Arthur McKay, Molly Miller, John Murphy, Joan Niece, Allan Nuske, Maureen O'Neal, Carol O'Reilly, Barry Palmer, Ted Petersen, Kevin Poole, Norm Rees, Reuben Ryan, Jim Smith, Len Stevens, Martin Stewart, Garry Stinchcombe, Dick Sutcliffe, Margaret Tomkins, Liz Trefeli, Harry Warland, Frances Warren, Trudi Westh, Jack Weymouth, Bruce Whitehead, Ray Whiting, Betty Williamson


xii


Thanks are also due to all the RVIB Auxiliaries, who helped with valuable donations of documents and information.


As well, thanks are due to RVIB staff, past and present, and to clients and former students. All have been unfailingly helpful during the research and writing of this book, and towards the History Project in general.


Last but not least, thanks to all the people who contributed ideas for the title of this book, especially to those whose suggestions formed the basis of the final title: Beth Glover, Corey Nassau and Ruth Nicholson.


Author's Acknowledgements


The author would like to thank the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind for commissioning this project, and especially Michele Prentice and Robert Schinaia for their extraordinary assistance with many aspects of the research. Thanks are also due to Patsy Vizents and the RVIB History Group who began the work and to Anna Fairclough at Vision Australia as well as to the many volunteers and staff at RVIB who gave of their time and knowledge. Thanks to Christine Worthington, Tim McKenna and Catherine Milward Bason at the Prahran Mechanics' Institute of Victoria.


Nick Walker at Australian Scholarly Publishing always inspired confidence.


Finally, thanks to my mother, Erika Buckrich, and to my daughter, Laura Buckrich-Hegyesi, for their constant love and support. I could not have done it without them.


1


Chapter 1


Establishing the Victorian Asylum for the Blind


The Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind was established in Melbourne in 1866, in rented premises on Commercial Road. By then Melbourne had been changed irretrievably by the gold rushes of the previous decade, which had brought huge numbers of immigrants and unimagined wealth to the colony of Victoria. It was a time of extremes. On the one hand, Melbourne was still a raw and inequitable town. On the other, its population included a sizeable number of civic-minded citizens. People who were blind, deaf, sick, old or poor were suddenly the focus of much middle-class activity. There was genuine concern for people who were blind or vision impaired, especially children, and a feeling that, rather than being left to fend for themselves on the streets, they should be provided for by the community as a whole. Marcus Clarke, a journalist who understood well the Melbourne of the 1860s, described the city in the Argus newspaper two years after the establishment of the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind:


Perhaps, for its size, Melbourne is as vicious a city as any in the southern hemisphere, but the artificial impetus given to crime by the outbreak of the gold mania is subsiding, the permanent settlement of a large number of industrious persons having in a great measure absorbed the floating criminal population. The dens of infamy and vice, which were for a long time the disgrace of the city, and which were used as schools to train the young of either sex for the gallows and the hulks, are rapidly being destroyed by the demand made upon house-room by the respectable working population.1


Melbourne was just thirty-two years old. It had a population of about 200,000 and its economy was based on gold, wool and other primary industries. As well, there were 'factories making foodstuffs, soft goods, clothing and footwear, both for local consumption and for export to the


2

neighbouring colonies'.2 Melbourne had some heavy industry too - engineering and iron founding, ancillary to the mining and transport industries that were so important to the city. Further, it was the main centre of the colonial re-export trade, with overseas cargoes being unpacked and redistributed to the Riverina, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand. The city was a tea centre second only to London.3 The port was so busy that the Turning Basin at Queen Street was routinely described as being thick with masts. The goods were loaded on to lighters that slowly made their way up the tortuous bends of the Yarra River to the city wharves.


Against such a background, the year 1867 saw the establishment of many of Melbourne's now familiar institutions. It also Heralded the first royal visit to Australia. This conjunction was commemorated by Prince Alfred's laying of numerous civic foundation stones - among them those of the Melbourne Town Hall, the Alfred Hospital and the Alfred Graving Dock. The Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind, however, was not so royally favoured. The foundation stone of its own purpose-built premises was laid early the following year, 1868.


The anomaly of a colony so young being modelled on traditional British culture, with its new institutions based on those long established in the


3

motherland, was observed closely by Clarke. In the 1860s the new middle classes of Melbourne were eager to establish institutions that would overcome the riotous goldrush atmosphere and remove homeless paupers from the streets. Although an Immigrants' Home had been established near the Yarra on St Kilda Road before the gold rush, the city's destitute were more numerous than could be accommodated there. Other institutions were therefore founded, including hospitals, industrial schools, and separate asylums for people who were aged, deaf, blind or vision impaired.


Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, immigrants continued to arrive in Victoria in considerable numbers - 300,000 people between 1852 and 1860. By the 1880s Melbourne was one of the world's larger cities, with about half a million people.


Assisting the needy

An Immigrants' Aid Society had been established in 1853. At various times, the Society used timber buildings on either side of St Kilda Road to accommodate people, initially about four hundred of them. Buildings on the west side of the street were converted in 1857 to house hundreds of destitute children. By the early 1860s, when a minor economic depression occurred in Melbourne, there were 6,500 people calling on the Society for assistance. Many were children, some were blind or vision impaired.


With their city developing at a rate matched by few others in the world, thanks to the gold rush, Melburnians witnessed the flourishing around them of every kind of person and neighbourhood. New businesses were sprouting everywhere, and new industries. An increasingly wealthy pastoralist class, a growing middle class and many people who were poor and homeless lived in close proximity. Alcohol abuse posed a huge problem and drunks abounded on the streets, especially among the underclass. This, along with a lack of sewerage, poor sanitary conditions and ignorance about the way disease is spread, accounted for much of the city's social and medical problems.


At night, many of the homeless gathered around the Immigrants' Home in St Kilda Road, hoping for shelter. Those who could not find a place remained in the streets, or slept in crates and other receptacles around Melbourne's docks. Clarke's own 'address', when using his pen-name 'The Peripatetic Philosopher', was 'No. 2 Gaspipe, Cole's Wharf'.


4


Clarke reported movingly about what he called 'Lower Bohemia' in 'A Night at the Immigrants' Home':


Has it ever occurred to you, reader, what you would do if by some wild chance you were compelled to sleep out all night. It is possible you would walk about until morning, or go into some friendly public-house, and sit down on the bench there. But suppose that you had to repeat this process every night. Suppose that you were too ragged and too miserable to be admitted into the glowing circle near the tap-room fire, what would you do then? … I suppose that you never considered at all how many people there are in this city who have no home - in the city, mind you. A man in the bush can coil under the nearest tree, and if his legs will carry him so far, he can always obtain shelter and food at a station. But in the city here you would not be able to do this. You could not lie down on a doorstep, because the first constable that passed would warn you away or take you in charge … you would go to the only place in the city - to the Immigrants' Home. There you could get food and shelter, and no questions asked. The Immigrants' Home is the only place in Melbourne where a man can obtain a supper and a bed for nothing.4


According to Clarke, there were the more permanent dwellers of the Immigrants' Home and then there were the casuals. Among the former were 'some twenty sick and blind, coughing and snoring in fitful slumber'.5 These men (the women were in a separate section of the Home) were the lucky ones, with beds. There were always many more in need of proper bedding. On the night that Clarke joined Lower Bohemia at the Home, sixty casuals - children among them - were sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the dining room. But the place was clean and the food adequate.


Clarke complained that 'subscriptions [to the Home] were meagre, and the Government aid wholly inadequate'. He had a good deal to say about the lack of support for such institutions:


Charity begins at home, and seems nowadays to end there. We have no intention of preaching a canting sermon on the lusts of the flesh and the iniquity of dance music; but, in venturing to disturb the placidity of that particular class of Christian who has daughters to marry, by a comparison between the crowding elegance of last night's Mayor's ball and the


5

crowding misery of last night's Immigrants' Home, we believe that we may shame Charity into going abroad a little.


We have been frequently told that 'there are no poor in Victoria'; that the unfortunate men who sleep on stone heaps are simply drunken scoundrels, whose misery has been induced by their own criminality. We have so many rich, and therefore respectable, people among us, that poverty has come to be considered a crime, and the poor are treated as malefactors … To be rich is to be admirable, aristocratic, talented, and well-born; to be poor is to be despicable, plebeian, ignorant, and infamous. There is poverty here, sore poverty, but it is the terrible poverty of shabby gentility, the poverty that patches its broken boots, lies in bed during the washing of its only shirt, and goes without a dinner to pay for the darning of its black coat. There is the poverty of old age and incapacity, the poverty that works till it can work no longer, and without friends, money, or strength, is trodden down in the fierce press and crawls away to some corner to die …


… while Melbourne Society and the Melbourne Corporation are feasting and dancing, the Melbourne poor are turned away from their only refuge because Society and the Corporation 'cannot afford to pay for more accommodation'.6


Sickness among the homeless was endemic. Partly to blame were bad food, inadequate shelter and poor sanitary conditions. Partly, as well, the chronic alcoholism of much of the population and the spread of disease due to ignorance about hygiene. Blindness or vision impairment in infants was often caused by these diseases and by syphilis. The city was unsewered, so each summer brought cholera and typhoid.


An 1873 report in the Australasian Sketcher, entitled 'About the City', gave the following description:


… the streets are well-lighted, and the supply of water is abundant, we have generally the aspect of a people whose material wants are well cared for … But for all this we are not a clean people, and we do not recognise the necessity of building our houses in accordance with climatic necessities.7


The report continued with an assessment of some public buildings, including


6

the new Melbourne Town Hall which was soundly criticised. Also criticised - for their lack of ventilation - were hotels and lodging houses. On the other hand, the report praised the fact that 'within a stone's throw' of the Argus newspaper's office 'there were back yards in which vines flourish and peaches grow that could win a horticultural prize'.8


The city had many beggars and pedlars, and the streets were alive with animals and with children working, lounging around, selling papers, cleaning the streets of horse manure, selling coffee, oysters and meat pies. The struggle for life in a frontier town often resulted in deserted children. Until 1864 they survived as best as they could on the streets, but by the following year 'neglected and delinquent' children were being committed by courts to industrial and reformatory schools.9


These schools were far from adequate. A report by the Inspector of Industrial and Reform Schools in the Argus Supplement of 4 June 1870 gives an idea of just how bad the situation was:


I have the honour to transmit for your information the Industrial and Reformatory Schools Report for the year 1869. In doing so it affords me much satisfaction to report that the net increase of inmates for the year had been about 60; less than a third of the increase of the preceding year.


The health of the children has been satisfactory, if the accommodation provided for them is taken into account. At Sunbury the school is seriously overcrowded, about 700 children being lodged there, with room for 500 only. The Prince's-bridge school, with 300 inmates, is wholly unfit for occupation, the buildings being so dilapidated as to render them insufficient to shelter the children from the inclemency of the weather; they are also infested with rats, and the decayed timber is full of vermin … at the end of 1869 the number of sick in all the schools was 204, of which 42 were at Sunbury, 33 at Princes'-bridge; 21 at Ryrie-street, Geelong; 54 at Lyers-street, Geelong; 29 at Ballarat, 17 at Sandhurst, 5 on board the Nelson, 1 on board the Harry Smith, and 2 at Abbotsford. Nearly all the children (including the Infants) are received at Prince's-bridge, where they are kept until fit for removal to other schools … Of the children admitted during the year, 47 were sickly when received. The deaths during the year were under two per cent, being 43 in all the schools.10


7


The activities in which the children were engaged in the schools is also interesting, in as much as the Asylum and School for the Blind followed a similar pattern in education and made a like effort to 'give children steady working habits'.


Religious instruction, educational training and industrial training were the three facets of instruction at these schools.


The religious instruction imparted to the children has been such as to make them well acquainted with the leading doctrines and historical facts of Holy Scripture. The schools are also visited by clergymen of the various denominations for the purpose of imparting religious instruction to the children.


8


The educational return … It has to be borne in mind that there are 651 children in these schools under eight years of age. The children are generally attentive in school, behave well, and are making fair progress with their lessons.


In the industrial training the effort has been to give the children steady working habits. This training has not been so successful … but allowance must be made for the youth of the children when sent to service, and for their meeting with employers in a few cases who have little sympathy for or patience with them while under their care.11


Among these children were most of those who, on account of blindness and vision impairment, would be taken into the Asylum and School for the Blind built in due course on St Kilda Road. The street and the Asylum would change considerably over the next 138 years.


In 1867, the street we know as Melbourne's grand boulevard was developing from a dirt track into a road, but there were few buildings. The road was sealed, but badly, so driving along it in horse-drawn vehicles was not always easy. Moreover, the road was extremely prone to flooding at the Princes Bridge end.


By 1866 the Victoria Barracks and Immigrants' Homes had been built. These were close to the city. The Melbourne Church of England Grammar


9

School was also in existence - begun as the Diocesan School, its foundation stone had been laid in 1856.


Between 1864 and 1867, land around St Kilda Road, Punt Road and Commercial Road was allotted for various civic purposes: the Freemasons' Alms Houses (and schools and an orphanage which were not built on the site), Wesley College, the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Alfred Hospital and the Jewish Alms Houses. Allotments for houses had been subdivided in 1865 but the 1868 Sands and Kenny Directory of Melbourne listed very few private occupants of buildings on the east side of the road. Among those few though were Barnett Isaac, R. Meares, Thomas Moubray and J. O'Sullivan. By the next year the pioneer pastoralist, Edward Henty, had also bought an allotment on which he would build his famous house, 'Oberwyl'. Towards St Kilda Junction were the Water Reserve and the Police Station.


Land had been set aside, too, for Fawkner Park. This area continued for a long time to be used as a campsite by Aboriginal people as well as Europeans.


The west side of the street was much flatter and therefore prone to flooding, so its development began later. But the Warehousemen's Cricket Ground, now the Albert Ground, was already marked on early maps.


Melbourne's development at this time was underwritten by the wealth that gold had brought during the 1850s. As a colony, Victoria separated from New South Wales in 1851, the same year that the gold discovery was made public. While the first finds had been in Clunes in 1850, Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe had managed to keep things quiet for a few months. On the one hand, he feared the chaos that a goldrush would bring, and on the other, he wanted that control of the riches found in the soil should belong to the imminently separated Victoria rather than to distant New South Wales.


With wealth and a sudden increase in population came increased problems. However, a greater identification with the institutions of Britain was also noticeable. Melbourne was becoming a respectable city, with yearnings for libraries, theatres, universities, museums and charitable organisations in which to house and regulate those colonists unable to provide for themselves.


It was in this atmosphere that the Asylum and School for the Blind was


10

proposed. Various people have been given credit for instigating the institution. An Argus newspaper report on the opening of the St Kilda Road building of the Asylum, dated 21 August 1868, gave the credit to a Mr and Mrs H. Stevenson. They, along with L. and H.G. Stevenson, 'subscribed considerable sums for a start'. From this initiative strong support soon followed and pounds 2,500 was collected. H. Stevenson was a member of the Benevolent Asylum Committee and it was there that his attention had been drawn to the 'wants of the blind'.12


Yet Dr Farrage, Honorary Physician to the Asylum in 1868, stated that 'the institution was indebted to none more than the Rev. James Mirams'.13


The 91st Annual Report of the RVIB Board of Management in 1958 recorded:


The birth of the Institute took place in the rooms of the Eye Clinic conducted by Dr Andrew S. Gray, in Spring Street, Melbourne, early in the year 1866. The Rev. James Mirams, who had already lost the sight in one eye, one day attended this Clinic as his remaining eye had become affected. Before leaving the Clinic that day, he made up his mind that if his remaining sight were spared he would devote his time and energies to the setting up of a suitable centre for maintaining and training blind children and adults.


Mr Mirams did retain his remaining sight and, true to his promise, he set about organizing for the formation of a suitable training centre. This he did in the short period of a few months …14


But even before the first formal meeting of the Blind Asylum on 21 August 1866, some controversy occurred because of the proposal to run the Asylum under 'general Protestant management'. Many Roman Catholics felt uneasy about it.


The Argus published a letter written on 2 June 1866, from Thomas Dickson, who would become a member of the Blind Asylum's Committee of Management. Dickson thought that 'it is a thousand pities that a religious difficulty should be brought on the carpet in the midst of a successful campaign to gather in the necessary funds for its establishment at an early period'.15


The Orphan Asylum and the Deaf and Dumb Institution were run under


11

Protestant management, while the Melbourne Hospital and Benevolent Asylum were 'mixed'. Dickson declared that since the main aim of the Blind Asylum was 'to teach the young to read and receive religious, moral, and general instruction … [i]t would not be expedient, or wise to have it otherwise than it is now submitted to the public, viz., under Protestant management.' But the Catholics felt strongly. They had managed to establish their own orphan asylum with government assistance. And separate Protestant and Catholic education systems were in place. On 8 June 1866, 'Two deputations, one from the Roman Catholics and the other from a Protestant committee waited on the Chief Secretary … In reference to the proposed asylum for the blind, near St Kilda.' The Catholics wanted a 'dispensary on mutual principles' and a reserve adjoining the Protestant Asylum for the dispensary as well as 'some joint action in teaching trades'. The Secretary, Mr McCulloch, discussed their requests with the Protestants. 'They left with the understanding that a piece of land would be given them, they having no objection to the Roman Catholics having an adjoining piece reserved for them.'16 However, this did not eventuate.


In the nineteenth century, religion was much more important in society than it is now, and sectarianism was rife. Protestants and Catholics were not encouraged to mix in schools or socially. The first statistical breakdown of residents of the Asylum and School for the Blind that appeared in an Annual Report (1873) was by religion. 'The Blind Inmates of the Asylum now number 96, of whom 35 are Church of England, 17 Roman Catholics, 17 Presbyterians, 7 Wesleyans, 2 Primitive Methodists, 2 Baptists, 2 Independents, 9 Protestants, 2 Jews, 1 Plymouth Brethren, 1 Disciple of Christ, 1 Bible Christian. Total 96.'17 In the following year, the list was ordered by name, age, religion and the place from which residents came.18


The first formal meeting was held on 21 August 1866 to secure temporary premises at 'Leal House' in Commercial Road,19 which had also been used by the new Deaf and Dumb Institution. The annual rent was pounds 100.


The meeting was chaired by the Hon. George Harker, a Cabinet Minister and Treasurer for the Colonial Government. The Rev. James Mirams was elected the first Honorary Secretary, but by the time the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind Committee met for its first Annual Meeting in 1867, Mirams had died.20


12

At Leal House, the Asylum initially enrolled seven children from the industrial schools, two from Melbourne Orphanage, and then a further twelve, making the total of twenty-one at the end of the first year.21 Some had previously lived at the industrial schools, the Melbourne Orphanage and the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum. The rest had lived with their families in various suburbs of Melbourne, including Brighton and Collingwood, or in country areas like Clunes and Hotham.22 The pupils' parents were expected to pay for their child's maintenance and education if they could, but some paid more than others. 'In accordance with Rule VI, the parents of one of the pupils pay pounds 20 a year for maintenance and education, and half that amount is paid by the parents for each of four other pupils.'23 Twenty more were asking to be admitted, but the Blind Asylum could only take another six.


The first teacher was Miss Jones, who had taught at the Blind Institute in Bristol, England. She taught 'reading in raised type, according to Moon's system', mental arithmetic, writing, spelling and music. The girls also learned knitting and sewing, and the boys, basket-making. It was always the intention of the Committee that the students of the Asylum and School for the Blind be made useful citizens and eventually pay their own way, at least in part. Though some elementary education was deemed necessary for all the students, it was considered unlikely that many would work at trades beyond those regarded as 'traditional' for people who were blind or vision impaired.


13


The Moon system


Many people know about the Braille system of reading by touch, but fewer have heard of the Moon system of embossed reading. Invented in England by Dr William Moon in 1845, this is a simple method based upon the standard alphabet.


The Moon alphabet is made up of fourteen characters used at various angles, each with a clear, bold outline. An easier system to learn than Braille, it has been particularly appreciated by elderly people and by others wanting to build confidence before moving on to the more complex system.

Dr Moon himself lost sight at twenty-one, after being partially sighted throughout childhood. Though he soon mastered all the existing systems of embossed reading then available, he found none very satisfactory.


In 1847, while teaching some boys who were blind, Moon issued his first booklet using in his own system of embossing. Entitled 'The Last Days of Polycarp', it was followed a month later by 'The Last Hours of Cranmer'. The boys quickly came to grips with the new system and, as


14

word of the innovation spread, requests for sections of the Bible flooded in.


Since Moon was producing all the documents at home, outside of teaching hours, he needed to find a way of mechanising the process, with special printing plates. In 1856 a small workshop was built near his home in Brighton, with the help of Sir Charles Lowther, a friend and benefactor. Afterwards Moon travelled widely, establishing libraries and home teaching societies throughout the British Isles and beyond and setting up printing presses along the way.


After Dr Moon's death in 1894, his work was carried on by his daughter, Adelaide. On her passing, the Moon works became part of the (Royal) National Institute for the Blind, in Britain.


The election of an Honorary Surgeon to the Asylum and School for the Blind took place on 11 September 1867 and caused something of a stir in the newspapers. The two candidates were Dr James Rudall and Dr Andrew Gray. Dr Rudall won, though it had been Dr Gray who successfully treated the Rev. Mirams. Further, the election took place several minutes before it was scheduled, apparently because no one had a watch accurately set. A protest was lodged from Dr Neild but nothing came of it.24


Among staff at the Asylum were a married couple, Mr and Mrs George Robinson, installed as Superintendent and Matron. The Robinsons answered to a Ladies' Visiting and House Committee, formed to


embrace the supervision of the general arrangements of the house, directing the matron as to the employment of the girls in such domestic work as they may be able to do; advising with the teacher as to the work to be taught them in the school; and with the General Committee, as to the clothing of the children and the general management of the Institution …25


As with similar institutions, the method of fund-raising at the Asylum and School for the Blind was by subscription. Each subscriber paid at least ten shillings a year. Donors of over pounds 20 were made life members. Subscription entitled the donor to vote at Annual General Meetings and special meetings on the running of the Asylum. A list of promised donations was submitted to


15

the August 1866 meeting, amounting to pounds 2,054. Of this, pounds 1,906 had been received by the first Annual General Meeting, in August 1867. As well, pounds 351 had been raised for the building fund. The Victorian Government had also placed pounds 2,000 for the Asylum on estimates (the annual budget) for 1867.


At the first Annual General Meeting, the Asylum Committee took the opportunity to call for designs for a new building. They wanted something to house 120 'inmates, at a cost not exceeding pounds 6,000 when completed. The present intention is to erect a portion of the building only.'26 A building fund was established immediately, on the assumption of land granted by the government, consisting of 3 acres 3 perches on Moubray Street. The Committee decided also to buy the land fronting St Kilda Road, for pounds 350. This block was owned by a Mr J. Clark.


Five months later, on 25 January 1868, in 100 F degree heat, the Hon. George Harker laid the foundation stone for the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind. Buried under the granite stone, donated by the Hon. H. Miller, was a time capsule containing a perspective of the building as completed, the first Annual Report of the organisation, copies of newspapers of the day - the Argus, Age, Herald and Prahran Telegraph - and contemporary coins of the realm. The partially complete building was opened formally on 21 August 1868, exactly one year after the first Annual General Meeting. Designed by Crouch and Wilson (1867) and built in the 'Tudor Gothic' style by Billing and Sons for pounds 5,955, it was the first institution in Australia to offer accommodation and tuition to people who were blind or vision impaired.


Dr Moon himself lost sight at twenty-one, after being partially sighted throughout childhood. Though he soon mastered all the existing systems of embossed reading then available, he found none very satisfactory.


In 1847, while teaching some boys who were blind, Moon issued his first booklet using in his own system of embossing. Entitled 'The Last Days of Polycarp', it was followed a month later by 'The Last Hours of Cranmer'. The boys quickly came to grips with the new system and, as


14

word of the innovation spread, requests for sections of the Bible flooded in.


Since Moon was producing all the documents at home, outside of teaching hours, he needed to find a way of mechanising the process, with special printing plates. In 1856 a small workshop was built near his home in Brighton, with the help of Sir Charles Lowther, a friend and benefactor. Afterwards Moon travelled widely, establishing libraries and home teaching societies throughout the British Isles and beyond and setting up printing presses along the way.


After Dr Moon's death in 1894, his work was carried on by his daughter, Adelaide. On her passing, the Moon works became part of the (Royal) National Institute for the Blind, in Britain.


The election of an Honorary Surgeon to the Asylum and School for the Blind took place on 11 September 1867 and caused something of a stir in the newspapers. The two candidates were Dr James Rudall and Dr Andrew Gray. Dr Rudall won, though it had been Dr Gray who successfully treated the Rev. Mirams. Further, the election took place several minutes before it was scheduled, apparently because no one had a watch accurately set. A protest was lodged from Dr Neild but nothing came of it.24


Among staff at the Asylum were a married couple, Mr and Mrs George Robinson, installed as Superintendent and Matron. The Robinsons answered to a Ladies' Visiting and House Committee, formed to


embrace the supervision of the general arrangements of the house, directing the matron as to the employment of the girls in such domestic work as they may be able to do; advising with the teacher as to the work to be taught them in the school; and with the General Committee, as to the clothing of the children and the general management of the Institution …25


As with similar institutions, the method of fund-raising at the Asylum and School for the Blind was by subscription. Each subscriber paid at least ten shillings a year. Donors of over pounds 20 were made life members. Subscription entitled the donor to vote at Annual General Meetings and special meetings on the running of the Asylum. A list of promised donations was submitted to


15

the August 1866 meeting, amounting to pounds 2,054. Of this, pounds 1,906 had been received by the first Annual General Meeting, in August 1867. As well, pounds 351 had been raised for the building fund. The Victorian Government had also placed pounds 2,000 for the Asylum on estimates (the annual budget) for 1867.


At the first Annual General Meeting, the Asylum Committee took the opportunity to call for designs for a new building. They wanted something to house 120 'inmates, at a cost not exceeding pounds 6,000 when completed. The present intention is to erect a portion of the building only.'26 A building fund was established immediately, on the assumption of land granted by the government, consisting of 3 acres 3 perches on Moubray Street. The Committee decided also to buy the land fronting St Kilda Road, for pounds 350. This block was owned by a Mr J. Clark.


Five months later, on 25 January 1868, in 100 F degree heat, the Hon. George Harker laid the foundation stone for the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind. Buried under the granite stone, donated by the Hon. H. Miller, was a time capsule containing a perspective of the building as completed, the first Annual Report of the organisation, copies of newspapers of the day - the Argus, Age, Herald and Prahran Telegraph - and contemporary coins of the realm. The partially complete building was opened formally on 21 August 1868, exactly one year after the first Annual General Meeting. Designed by Crouch and Wilson (1867) and built in the 'Tudor Gothic' style by Billing and Sons for pounds 5,955, it was the first institution in Australia to offer accommodation and tuition to people who were blind or vision impaired.


The existence of separate sleeping quarters for boarders and the relegation of others to the dormitories was a new development. At Leal House, there had been no 'distinction made between those pupils whose parents pay wholly or in part for their sustenance, and those who are sent from the Sunbury School and the Protestant Orphanage'.28


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