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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The comprehensive Medical Officers' reports for 1874


Report of James T. Rudall, Esq., F.R.C.S

Honorary Surgeon Oculist

The total number of inmates on the 31st December, 1873, (not including 8 male adults, who attend daily for instruction in netting, basket work, &c.) was 93, of which 54 were males and 39 females … Of the 54 males, 26 were totally blind - that is to say, had not even perception of light - 22 had perception of light, and 6 were able to count fingers. Of the 39 females, 21 had no perception of light, while 16 had perception of light, and 2 could count fingers. In an Institution of this kind there must be difficulty in gaining from the inmates all the information desirable; but it is thought that the following statements may be taken as generally correct.


* Of the 54 males, 4 were born blind, and in the remaining 50 the blindness was acquired.

* Of the 39 female inmates, blindness was congenital in 5, and acquired in 34.


Blindness was the result of direct injury to the eyeball in 6 males, but direct injury was not traceable as a cause of blindness in a single one of the females. In 3 of these cases, the injury (scratch from a cat, punctured wound with a penknife, wound with a knife) was confined to one eye, but the effects caused loss of sight in the other eye also. In 2 of the cases (blasting accidents) both eyes were damaged or destroyed at once. Injury of the head was the cause of blindness in 1 male (fall out of a swing), and in 1 female (fall off table on her face, without direct injury to either eye). Sunstroke was the alleged cause of blindness in 1 female; keratitis (or inflammation of the cornea) from hereditary syphilis caused blindness (not complete) in 1 male. In 3 males (one had the central incisor teeth notched [caused by hereditary syphilis]) and in 1 female the sight was gradually lost, without known cause. Blindness was attributed to 'fits' in 1 male and 1 female; also in 1 male and 1 female to measles. In 2 males and 1 female the cause of blindness was quite unknown. Cataract, (either neglected or unsuccessfully operated on before admission) was the cause of blindness in, at least, 1 male and 1 female. Glaucoma caused blindness


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in 1 female: she stated that operations (iridectomy) had been performed on her in Dublin. In 2 females the blindness was attributed to whooping-cough. Fever ('brain fever, bilious fever') was named as the origin of blindness in 4 males and 3 females. It is not improbable that, in every one of these cases, 'fever' was merely the prominent symptom of meningitis at the base of the brain, and that the blindness was the ultimate result of a descending optic neuritis. A moderately-practised observer can, with the ophthalmoscope, detect optic neuritis, even before there is very serious impairment of sight. But of all the causes of blindness, ophthalmia is by far the most frequent. Of the male inmates, 30 are blind from this disease, and of the female inmates 20, a proportion of more than 53 per cent. The contagious ophthalmia in the large Government schools has here played a very important part. Some cases have occurred in the different asylums or orphanages, and some have been sporadic, but the larger number have been in the schools.


Report of T.L. M'Millan, Esq., M.D., Honorary Physician

Gentlemen, - In connection with the Annual Report of the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind, it may be interesting to make a very brief statement regarding the health of the inmates during the past year.


During the first half of the year no incident occurred worth noting. The children and inmates generally enjoy good health.


During the month of August an epidemic of influenza prevailed in the district, and ten of the children were laid down with the disease. About the same time measles also appeared amongst them. We had five cases in regular succession. For the reception of these cases I set apart a room in upper story, prohibiting all communication with other parts of the house and we had no further spread of the disease.


Two of the above cases were complicated with pneumonia, but all of them good recovery.


One young man had a slight attack of rheumatic fever.


We had four cases of whooping cough. These were also placed in quarantine until the force of the disease was spent …


One of the senior girls suffered for some months from anaemia and functional disease of the heart. She is now pretty well.


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Another girl was reduced to a very low condition with scrofulous disease of the knee-joint. This case was removed to the Melbourne Hospital, where she was attended by Mr Rudall, and she returned to us in a few weeks in a greatly improved condition …


Another young girl had a bad attack of 'eczema capitis', a most troublesome affliction, requiring much care and good nursing. She is now almost quite well.


Two lads were slightly paralysed when admitted, and one young man was subject to epyleptic fits. This last case is much improved in every respect during the past year.


We have only one death to record - that of Rachael McNeil. She had suffered from an incurable disease of the liver, with dropsy. …


It interesting to notice that this is the first and only death which has occurred in connection with the Asylum since its foundation.


At present we have a clean bill of health …


In conclusion, I would remark that in order to the due preservation of health in the Asylum, further accommodation is very much wanted, especially an additional dormitory for the girls. The sleeping room for the females is much too much crowded …


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Annual Examinations and Concerts began to be held in the Melbourne Town Hall. These provided an opportunity for the Asylum and School for the Blind to show some of its achievements to the public and to make money. Children would sing, play and recite. This strengthened the Asylum's position in Melbourne society and brought contributions and patronage. The 1873 concert was held under the patronage and presidency of His Excellency the Governor and Lady Bowen. Lady Bowen would be a great supporter of the Asylum for many years. In 1874 the Mayor of Melbourne, James Gatehouse, presided at a joint demonstration of students from the Blind Asylum and the Deaf and Dumb Institution. The sum of pounds 225 was raised from concerts in 1874.


The total income from sales in this year was a remarkable pounds 533 - pounds 227 more than in 1873. Among the goods manufactured were ninety-five mattresses used in the Asylum. Subscriptions came to pounds 1,097, parents' support came to pounds 43, and the Victorian Government's grant amounted to pounds 1,295 with a further pounds 572 for maintenance of students admitted from industrial schools.


The Asylum and School for the Blind was trying to come to grips with its own growth and breadth of purpose. It now divided its Industrial Department into three sections. The first section consisted of 'juvenile pupils' between fourteen and sixteen years of age. These students served three months probation and were apprenticed to the Superintendent for a number of years, remaining as residents of the Asylum throughout their apprenticeship. They were to have lessons in the school as well as tuition in the workshops, and received a small percentage on saleable articles after their first year. The second section consisted of 'adult pupils' admitted under the same regulations but required to sleep in lodgings paid for by the Asylum. The third section consisted of 'journeymen' who had completed their apprenticeship and were paid per piece of work. They were required to work eight hours a day (six days a week) and provide their own board and lodging, but still came under the supervision of the Committee.41


This period of growth brought problems that were new to the institution. Pressure on the head teacher and Superintendent was considerable and in February 1875 the head teacher, John McPhee, resigned and was replaced by his assistant, Miss R. McKenzie. Less than a year later, in January 1876, the


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Superintendent and Matron, Mr and Mrs Drummond, were replaced by Major Julius and Mrs Lovell.


The reason given for the replacement of the Drummonds was that the 'circumstances of the Institution at the time were such as to require tact, firmness, and kindness'. At a meeting of the Blind Asylum Committee, the Secretary, the Rev. Moss, stated that when Major Lovell took charge, the place 'was in a state of mutiny' and that it was his strict discipline that 'had reduced chaos to order'.42 But if tact and kindness were also needed, these were qualities lacking in Major Lovell. He had fought in the American Civil War before coming to Australia and his military approach may well have brought the Asylum its first public crisis.


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Chapter 2

A tough place


Until 1876 when Major and Mrs Lovell were appointed Superintendent and Matron, the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind underwent constant growth. However, there was a fair amount of confusion about its role. It was a school, a factory and an asylum. Its so-called 'inmates' were to be looked after, sheltered, fed, doctored and educated, but were also required to do everything possible to support themselves. Care was maintained at the most basic level. In 1879 provisions for the whole institution cost pounds 1,008 - on average less than pounds 10 per student per year. Bedding, clothing and drapery cost pounds 271, light and fuel pounds 140. That amounted to very few fires in a bluestone building that was cold even on warm days.


There was pressure to make the students pay their own way. In 1879, pounds 886 was earned from sales in the workshops - only pounds 44 short of what had been given in subscriptions in the same year. The materials cost pounds 482, but


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little money was paid to the workers. Once trained, they remained in the workshops, six days a week.


Adults and children still slept together in rooms with forty beds. There were few bathroom amenities. The worsening conditions may have resulted from the termination of the services of the Ladies' Committee, apparently due to overspending, in 1871. This termination seems to have been followed, without approval of the Board, by the appointment of a Catholic lady and a Jewish lady to the Committee.1 But the Rev. Moss, the Asylum's Honorary Secretary, is quoted in an 1874 press report as saying that when the ladies had been in charge of arrangements in the house, 'there were thousands of bugs in the dormitory and only one brush and comb for 30 girls'.2 Further, there was only one sheet on each bed and, on the whole, the place was far from clean. A motion was put at the Annual General Meeting of 1874 that 'six additional honorary officers, to be styled lady visitors be appointed'.3 It was not carried, and men remained in charge of inspecting the girls' rooms. The newspaper report of the Annual General Meeting hinted at many problems. The cleanliness of the place was one, but the old problem of religious instruction also surfaced again and it was implied that the Board simply refused to look at what was going on. Obviously Annual General Meetings held in the presence of the press presented an opportunity either to whitewash the situation or to set the record straight.


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To be fair, it is difficult to judge the problems of the Blind Asylum in retrospect. Every benevolent asylum, lunatic asylum, orphanage, industrial school and alms house at that time was run in a way that would be considered unacceptable now. All of them had a prison-like air and certainly their residents were allowed no say in what might have been best for them. There were rules and regulations about when residents could sleep, eat, talk and have visitors, and even about who they could talk to within the institutions. Like prisons, these places were meant, among other things, to protect the residents from themselves. There were stringent rules about any kind of association between boys and girls, with general thinking running along the lines that little could be worse than a marriage between residents that resulted in their parenthood of babies who were themselves blind or vision impaired. Alice McClelland, who could remember being a child at the Asylum in the 1890s, called it 'the most bloody minded place' she ever experienced.4


Still each year the number of students grew and conditions did not get easier. A few staff remained in charge of many students, and discipline was tough. No talking was permitted in the dining room - a situation that persisted until the institution moved to Olinda during World War II. Such entertainments as were organised were all for the youngsters, there was no dedicated space for relaxation and it was a tough place for everyone involved.


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In January 1877 there were 103 listed 'inmates' in the Asylum and School for the Blind, ranging in age between eight years and fifty-five. The staff employed to look after them consisted of: Superintendent, Matron, music master, head teacher, assistant teacher, sewing mistress, basket-maker and brush-maker. There were a few part-time servants, but the housework was often done by resident girls who scrubbed floors and did laundry. Residents even made their own mattresses. Twenty-one men were employed in the basket shop, and nineteen in the brush shop. The income from manufactures amounted to pounds 623 for basketware, pounds 191 for brushware, pounds 22 for mats and pounds 62 for woolwork, netting and knitting.


The Asylum's musicians and singers were often on the road. In 1877, the choir gave concerts in Taradale, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Eaglehawk, Echuca, Maryborough, Chinaman's Flat, Stawell, Ararat, Beaufort, Clunes, Learmonth and Ballarat. The band performed in Emerald Hill, Eltham, Dandenong, Footscray, Berwick and other places. They earned pounds 827 for the Asylum.


At every Annual General Meeting, Committee members congratulated themselves on the health and good spirits of the residents, on the improvement in their posture and bearing, on their academic and musical achievements. As for the residents, they learned reading, writing, arithmetic and music, and when they finished elementary schooling, most went into the factories. There were, however, exceptions. Some who excelled academically became teachers of people who were blind or vision impaired, while others became musicians. Education in Victoria was being made more accessible generally, and people who were blind or vision impaired were among the beneficiaries. There were discussions in Parliament during 1877 about ways in which high school students could enter university.


Despite these developments, 1877 was to prove a dismal year for the Asylum and School for the Blind. The first sign of things not being well came with a critical report in the Age on 7 September. In itself, this was an unusual occurrence. The public, and especially subscribers to the Asylum, believed firmly that people there would be treated with gentleness and compassion. Certainly during the ten years of the institution's existence, this belief had never been openly contradicted. But doubts were now raised. The article highlighted the difference between myth and the reality:


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No form of human suffering perhaps calls for the exhibition of deeper compassion than the absence of sight. Those of our fellow creatures who have the misfortune to be devoid of, whether by nature or through accident, the greatest blessing afforded to mankind generally, to the credit of the community at large receive every consideration, and no pains are spared to alleviate their heavy affliction. In this, as in every other civilised country, an asylum for the blind is recognised as one of its foremost institutions, and the unfortunate inmates are treated in a kindly manner, and receive such instruction as will tend to brighten their lives, that must ever, under the most favourable circumstances, be darkened by the shadow of their affliction. Until recently there is every reason to believe that the inmates of the Victorian Asylum have been as favourably situated as those in kindred institutions in other parts of the world, but the rumours that are in circulation respecting occurrences that transpired there last week make it apparent that at present such is not case. It is said that on Friday last the band, composed of members of the asylum, were practising in the school-room, when their studies were constantly interrupted by the disturbance created by Master Julius Lovell, son of the superintendent, a boy about eight years of age, who persisted in creating


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a great noise, although frequently requested to be quiet. One of the elder lads then threatened to turn him out of the room, when the youngster dared any one to touch him. Joseph Walker, a lad only partially blind, so the report goes, thereupon boxed his ears, and the boy went away and complained to Mr Lovell, who sent for Walker and lectured him on the enormity of the offence he had committed in touching one of his children. Mr Lovell is then said to have struck him in the face and then went out of the room, shortly afterwards returning and striking the boy again, repeating the same treatment a third time. The boy, who was only partially blind, was under medical treatment, recovering the sight of his right eye, and had become able to distinguish colors and large objects with comparative distinctness. All this has now gone from him, and his ultimate recovery, if it can ever be brought about now, will be retarded, perhaps for years. But this lad was not the only one who is reported to have suffered. A young man named Cockburn, who was also in the band, was suspected by Mr Lovell of having been instrumental in getting his son turned out of the room, and it is alleged he accordingly went to him, and after accusing him of having taken part in the proceedings, struck him in the face, and gave him a black eye. Throughout the asylum tales are rife as to many other acts of violence on the part of the superintendent. But we have said enough to draw the attention of the committee of management of the Institution.5


This report was the first in a series of articles in the Age during September 1877. It appeared on the same day as a monthly Committee meeting was being held. At the meeting there was a brief enquiry about the issue. The Rev. Moss, the Honorary Secretary of the Asylum, declared that 'the statement should not have been published before taking the trouble to inquire whether they [the residents who had complained] were capable of giving any information on the subject'.6 At the meeting, Lovell and the young men were brought up for questioning and Lovell was 'informed that this committee cannot justify his mode of punishment on the present occasion'. But the young men were also 'admonished for their misconduct in assaulting Mr Lovell's son'.7 Yet Moss was determined to defend the authority of the Superintendent, despite the Committee's decision to admonish him. And Lovell was so sure of himself that he even vowed he would do the same thing


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again. With Moss standing firm in his belief that Lovell should be allowed to mete out punishment, the newspaper asked why hitting with the fists was regarded as the only suitable method. No justification was given in the Age regarding Lovell's conduct.


Moss is reported to have continued insisting that corporal punishment was necessary for the boys. But the Chairman, Mr C.E. Strutt, made the point that such punishment should not be administered to young men, adding that discussion about it was in any case not the main point at issue, but rather that they should be deciding what action to take.


Moss continued to push the line that discipline needed to be maintained, even warning that 'they should be very careful because those lads were sure to become acquainted with the report of that meeting. They should do all they can to sustain the superintendent's influence over the inmates, and not put anything in the boys' mouths which they would be able to use against him.'8


The Reverend Moss


The Rev. Moss was a much-respected man in Melbourne, having been instrumental in establishing the Prahran Mechanics' Institute and the Deaf and Dumb Institution. Indeed Prahran's main business thoroughfare, Chapel Street, got its name from the chapel where he was Congregational Minister. It was only later that Moss came to the Asylum and School for the Blind and it seems that his attitude towards the students of that institution differed markedly from his attitude towards those of the Deaf and Dumb Institution. An explanation for this difference can be found by comparing the origins of the two asylums.


The Deaf and Dumb Institution was based on a private school run by an educated deaf man, F.J. Rose. Rose read a letter published in the Argus on 16 February 1859 from a mother pleading for assistance to teach her daughter who was deaf. He had been working as a builder in Bendigo at what was still a time of intense gold mining. He replied saying that he was willing to set up a school for children who were deaf and dumb. Soon afterwards he placed an advertisement in the Argus offering his services. By November 1860 he had rented a cottage in Prahran in which boarders who were deaf would live and be educated. (This cottage,


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Leal House, would later be used by the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind while their St Kilda Road premises were being built.)


Rose met Moss early in 1861 and together they forged ahead to establish the Deaf and Dumb Institution, which opened in 1866. The History of the Victorian School for Deaf Children emphasises the institution's great good fortune in having had as its founder and first headmaster such an educated deaf man.


In contrast, the Asylum and School for the Blind was established effectively to solve an administrative problem: it took out of the industrial school system 'neglected' children who were blind or vision impaired and provided them with a home.


The Age then referred to rumours of other occasions on which Lovell had overstepped the 'just limits of discipline'. It mentioned a letter 'calling attention to the circumstances under which one of the inmates of the asylum, a young girl, recently died'.9

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