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




НазваниеA history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind 1866-2004
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Part of the role of the Asylum and School for the Blind was to find suitable children and young persons to enrol. With this in mind, the Secretary, Alex Weir, was sent to visit Geelong, Ballarat, Beaufort, Ararat, Stawell, Pleasant Creek, Lexton Springs and Learmonth. On these trips, Weir also collected money for the Asylum.


By the second Annual General Meeting, held seventeen months after its predecessor, in January 1869, the Asylum had fifty residents: thirty-two boys and eighteen girls. Of the total, twenty-seven had been 'received from the


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Industrial Schools'.29 Of the other twenty-three, only four had parents in a position to contribute towards their children's education. These parents paid pounds 10 per child per year.


For some residents of the Asylum, the attentions of a doctor proved particularly significant. Six children were operated on during the course of the year: two recovered their sight completely, two recovered partial sight and two experienced no change.30 Those whose sight was restored were subsequently placed in the Melbourne Orphanage.


The process of transforming residents into useful citizens began immediately. A live-in basket-maker was employed at the Asylum to teach the older boys, replacing a part-time trainer. This development was celebrated enthusiastically in the second Annual Report: 'the boys are making rapid progress; and the committee look to this branch of industry as a source of considerable income, at no very distant period …'31


By the time of the third Annual General Meeting, in January 1870, the school had a music master, Mr Greenwood, as well as the teacher, Miss Cox.


Reports attest that the Blind Asylum continued to grow. In 1870 it accommodated sixty-two residents: forty-two boys and twenty girls. Yet more operations had been performed, with sight being restored to four children, and partial sight to two.


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According to the third Annual Report, '28 boys and 15 girls were able to read the Bible while 14 boys and 5 girls were reading Elementary Lesson Books'. (It is unclear whether there was any overlap between these two groups.) The books in question were said to be in 'raised type' and the students, in accordance with beliefs of the day, were all attributed with a keener-than-usual sense of touch that enabled them to interpret such works: 'The finger, with the fine sense of touch peculiar to the Blind, supplying to the pupils the place of eyes.'32


Trades were being taught to several residents - basket-making and mat-making for the boys, and netting and knitting for both boys and girls. Some of the resulting goods were sold.


In its third year of operation, the Asylum and School for the Blind received pounds 2,000 from the Victorian Government towards building expenses. However, this sum barely relieved the Committee from their liability to the Colonial Bank and did not stretch to cover the building of kitchens and outhouses that were still anticipated.33 The public continued to support the Asylum liberally, giving pounds 110 to the building fund and subscribing pounds 1,033 to the maintenance fund. The government grant for maintenance was pounds 1,000.34


Gifts from Mrs R. Simpson of a piano and sewing machine were received, and there was another piano from Mrs John Simpson. This began a long tradition of piano proliferation at the institution.


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The development of the garden was noted, with shrubs and trees having been donated by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, Director of the Botanical Gardens.


The first report of the Medical Officers was published in the 1870 Annual Report:


The Medical Officers have great pleasure in stating that the health of the Inmates during the last year has been very good. Although the Asylum was not founded to heal diseases of the Eye - being only intended for those totally Blind - various operations have been performed for their benefit, with the following favourable results: - Out of eleven cases of operation for artificial pupil, four have obtained sight enough to read letters of moderate … size … two others are able to count fingers, and the remaining five have gained little or no benefit. The operation (iridectomy) has in a case or two been performed rather for the sake of its therapeutical than its optical effects; enucleation (removal of a tumour) of the eyeball has been performed in two instances with good result as


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regards relief from pain, and improvement of the general health; some of the operations for staphyloma have also been followed by better health, as well as by the removal of a very unsightly appearance.35


Finally in 1871 the dining hall, kitchens, laundry and two workshops were finished. In the same year, a decision was made for the first time that would later be frequently endorsed - namely to allow only young people to enter the Asylum and School for the Blind. Although this was a beneficial policy for residents, it presented problems too. The Asylum had been established partly to stop people who were blind or vision impaired from begging in the streets. The idea was that suitable employment would be found for them - but who would accomplish this task if not the Blind Asylum? Yet mixing children with adults was regarded as ill-advised - especially in circumstances where many were sleeping together in dormitories. Much better, it was felt, to separate impressionable children from adults who were too set in their ways.


The institution was growing apace. There were eighty-five people residing in the building on St Kilda Road and a new wing was planned to be named after Melbourne's Lord Mayor of the previous years, Thomas McPherson. McPherson was a great supporter of the Asylum - he chaired the Annual Meeting of 1871 and donated pounds 464, the entire proceedings of a concert given at the Melbourne Town Hall, towards the building fund. The McPherson Wing would 'relieve the boys' dormitory' and 'give additional workroom accommodation', as well as providing a display and sales room for goods made by residents.


From 1871, the 'friends of the blind' were invited to visit the Asylum on Tuesdays and Fridays, between 2 pm and 5 pm, to watch the making of baskets which they could then purchase.


At this time also, the Rev. William Moss was elected to the Asylum Committee. Moss was a man of extraordinary energy. Born in 1828 at Farnham, Surrey, England, he was brought to Australia in 1850 by a hopeful squatter who wanted him to educate his sons and 'conduct religious services' on his property. The voyage took nearly seven months but Moss never taught the squatter's sons. Instead, on arrival in Melbourne, he became a member of the Collins Street Congregational Church and was invited to take a Sunday afternoon service in the new suburb of Prahran. Less than a month later, he


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commenced a ministry in Prahran that would last until the 1880s. Moss took on many other duties as well, becoming corresponding patron to the Prahran National School in 1853 and an instrumental figure in establishing the Prahran Mechanics' Institute in 1854. He was elected Honorary Secretary to the newly established Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1861 and became a member of the Committee of the Asylum and School for the Blind in 1871. He would eventually become the Asylum's Superintendent in difficult circumstances in 1877.


Meanwhile in 1871, the existing Superintendent and Matron, Mr and Mrs Robinson, were asked to leave. According to the 1872 Annual Report, this severance was 'for reasons which it is desirable not to particularise'.36 The couple were replaced by Mr and Mrs Drummond, and a new position of head teacher was also created.


Coincidentally, the Ladies' Visiting and House Committee was abolished. This occurred without any explanation being given in either the Annual Reports or the newspapers of the day. Instead a House Committee, selected from the General Committee membership, took over the supervision and management of the institution. Judging by the new rules and regulations, it seems that some mismanagement of funds had provoked the changes. The rules in question appeared in the 1872 Annual Report:


Rules and Regulations for the Guidance of the Committees

Superintendent, Inmates, Teachers and Servants


I The General Committee shall meet for the transaction of business monthly. Three members of Committee shall form a quorum. The meeting shall be held on the first Friday of each month at four o'clock p.m.

II The Secretary, at the instance of two members of Committee, shall call a special meeting, whenever circumstances may require it.

III The Committee shall have power to appoint, to discharge, and to fix salaries of all paid officers and servants of the Asylum. The officers consist of a Superintendent, Matron, Teachers, Secretary and Collector, and such other officers as the Committee shall deem needful.

IV All provisions and other articles required for the use of the Asylum


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shall be supplied by contract according to tender, unless their purchase otherwise be specially sanctioned by the Committee: All payment of contracts, &c., shall be under the sanction of the Committee.

V Tenders for supplies shall be invited for stated periods, and the particulars of all tenders shall be duly recorded in the Minute Book. No member of Committee of Management shall supply any article for the use of the Asylum for which he may receive pecuniary or other compensation.

VI The Committee shall at their first meeting after every annual meeting of the Asylum elect from among themselves a House Committee of five, and a Finance Committee of three, who shall consist of the Treasurer for the time being and two ordinary members of the General Committee.

VII The duties of the House Committee shall be, to meet on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Asylum, and oftener if necessary, to examine all tradesmen's bills, and see that the arrangements for the general management of the Asylum are duly carried out. Two to form quorum.


The responsibility of the Superintendent was enormous and the conditions of his work, draconian:


The Superintendent to live in the Asylum, and shall not leave except necessary occasions: he shall not be absent for more than three hours at any one time, nor after ten o'clock at night, without the consent of the House Committee; he shall have the entire management of the scholastic and domestic arrangements, and the immediate superintendence and general control of the entire establishment, the power of hiring and dismissing servants; he shall see that the house and grounds are kept in a state of cleanliness and order; he shall inspect the food of the inmates and see that it is properly prepared and of good quality; he shall superintend the industrial department, and keep an account of all the work done; he shall keep an inventory of all the property of the institution, and be held responsible for the whole; he shall order and receive the stores and supplies as furnished by contract from the tradesmen, and see that they


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are of proper quality and quantity, and shall not suffer any waste, or allow any provision or other property to be taken from the premises; he shall enter all goods received, and keep the books of the Institution under the guidance and subject to the regulations and orders of the House Committee; he shall attend Divine service every Sunday with the inmates, i.e., weather permitting.


The Matron shall live in the house, and shall not leave it without the consent of the Superintendent, and shall attend to his directions; she shall have the superintendence of the female domestics, and enforce personal cleanliness, neatness, and obedience to orders on their part; she shall see that the girls are properly washed and clothed; she shall daily inspect the beds, and see that they are properly made and kept clean; also attend to the proper cooking of the food.


The Matron or female assistant shall accompany the girls to the appointed place of worship every Sunday, and none of the children will be permitted to attend any place of worship without one of the attendants accompanying them.


By 1873, the Committee had decided that the role of Secretary and Collector was to be terminated, 'owing to the growth of the Institution'. But in fact the secretarial responsibility was passed to the Superintendent, to be added to all his other duties, and the 'annual subscription [was] to be collected by means of circulars'.37 That year's Annual Report did not mention that this saved the Asylum more than pounds 200 each year in commission paid to the Collector. A clerk was engaged 'at a small salary to aid the Superintendent'.38


The number of 'pupils' (as they were called in the Argus) in 1873 was 115, thirty more than in 1871. The McPherson Wing was opened with a promenade concert on 25 April, but the necessity of another extension was already felt.


Concerts by students were now often given as a method of fund-raising - a pattern that would continue until the 1960s. In 1873 a concert took place at the Melbourne Town Hall, raising pounds 195, and there were others in Geelong and Ballarat. To visit towns and entertain was a great diversion for the students, and it was also a useful way for the institution to make itself known to children in Victorian towns who were blind or vision impaired.


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From 1874 the students' details were listed in the Annual Reports. There were ninety-six students in that year, all recorded alphabetically by name, as well as by age, religion and place of origin. Many were listed as coming from Sunbury Industrial School, the St Kilda Road Industrial School, Melbourne Orphanage or the Benevolent Asylum.39


Although all students were referred to as 'children', there were among them several adults, including: forty-four-year-old John Robertson, a Presbyterian from Camperdown; forty-one-year-old Mary Smith, a Presbyterian from the Benevolent Asylum; and twenty-six-year-old Samuel Cashmore, a Hebrew from Melbourne. In all, there were twenty-five 'children' more than twenty years old. There was also one George Naphew, thirty-six years old, of the Plymouth Brethren Faith from Prahran. Thirty-eight others were aged between fifteen and nineteen years, while only forty-three were under fifteen years old.


The year 1874 was significant because it Heralded the start of replacement of the Moon system for writing and reading with the Braille system. The latter consisted of 'six dots, which represent letters and words according to the position in which they're placed'.40 Melbourne's adoption of the Braille system followed a similar trend in Europe and North America.


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The growing number of adults seeking assistance from the Asylum and School for the Blind was of great concern to the Committee. Many who had come to the institution as children were now adults, but there was also a growing pressure to admit other adults still residing in benevolent asylums or begging in the streets. The role of the Asylum was again called into question. As often as the Committee stated that the institution was only for children, the unresolved issue of what to do with adults was revisited. It was decided that more training should be made available - brush-making for boys, chair-caning and some finer basket work for girls. The Committee proposed increasing 'domestic and industrial' accommodation in the Asylum. Many more people who were blind or vision impaired were coming to the attention of the Asylum, and the causes of blindness and vision impairment were being more rigorously explored by the Medical Officers whose knowledge of these subjects was consequently improving.

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