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 death of Mary Ann Grace


'It seems there is a tower in which refractory pupils are in the habit of being immured, and fed upon something less than gaol diet.'10


Mary Ann Grace, a twenty-two-year-old woman, had been at the Blind Asylum for four years before her death in 1877. She had come there from an industrial school. Mary Ann's run-in with Major Lovell occurred on a day when, after working at the Asylum for several hours washing clothes, she and several other young women were asked to scrub floors. She refused.


Many of the young women at the institution spent most of their time doing housework. They were either deemed incapable of doing anything else, or were put to such labour because there was no one else to do it. A good deal of money was saved by making residents undertake housework themselves.


The problem was that Mary Ann had been told on medical advice that she was not to scrub.11 She was apparently 'in a consumptive state'12 - in other words, she had tuberculosis. When she was nonetheless ordered to scrub, she had had the courage to refuse, despite being bullied and slapped by Major Lovell. The latter decided that Mary Ann must be punished and so locked her in a room in the tower of the Asylum. This room was allegedly filled with old


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boots and dirty mattresses and its windows were nailed down. There were rats, too. As well, it was the depth of winter. For a week, Mary Ann was kept there, living on bread and water and with a single blanket for covering. Nothing is said about sanitary arrangements, but it can be assumed that either she was expected to wait until someone opened the door for her or she else was provided with a chamber pot. One person who went to the tower to get tobacco from his box testified that a 'most frightful smell' came from the room.13


After a week of this treatment, Mary Ann was released. But her health deteriorated to such a degree that she died nine months later, on 5 May 1877.


The death of Mary Ann Grace became the most written-about event in the Blind Asylum's brief history. The revelations about the institution's workings had two consequences: on the one hand, they led to changes in the way the place was run; on the other, they ensured that in future there would be a great guardedness about any public exposure of matters relating to the Asylum.


Judged by early twenty-first century understandings of human rights, the incident was appalling. But the treatment meted out to Mary Ann Grace was similar to that experienced in other institutions throughout the world. An


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official enquiry eventually found that Mary Ann's harsh treatment had been normal.


Included in evidence taken at that enquiry was this letter from the female residents of the Asylum and School for the Blind:


Blind Asylum, Sept. 17, 1877

To The Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee


We, the undersigned, female inmates of the Blind Asylum, respectfully request that you will allow these statements to be read, and are quite prepared to come forward and prove them to be true. In the first place, on the morning of the 21st August, 1876, at the breakfast table, immediately after singing the first grace, Mary Ann Grace asked Mr Lovell if it were true she had to scrub. He said, 'Yes; along with other girls.' She said she was not able to do so. Mr Lovell said, 'Then come along.' She followed him, and he put her in the tower - a small room that had three large clothes' baskets full of old boots, the boys' left-off ones that had been collecting for years, and also four old dirty mattresses, and the windows nailed down. The room has since been cleaned out to allow Mr Lovell's stable boy to sleep in it. The room adjoins the boys' dormitory. Mary Ann was incarcerated from the 21st until the 28th August not in the spare room as stated but in the north tower. After locking her in Mr Lovell went away with the key in his pocket, and not returning till evening, the door could not be opened, and so Mary Ann had no food nor drink from one tea-time until the next, that is just 24 hours. Mrs Reilly as well as Mary Ann told us this, and others know about it and she has often told us girls that she could not sleep for fear of the rats that ran about, and often sat up all night crying; and some of the boys know this, having heard her, and one night Mr Langford had to give her a drink as she was choking. On the 25th, Mr Lovell took her out to the third story landing, and ordered her to scrub, and said if she did not he would send her to the Reformatory Schools. She said, 'I never came from there, but the Industrial.' Mr Lovell said, 'It is all the same. Who are your parents? You are only a pauper.' He then commenced to slap her, her screams causing Mrs Lovell's own governess to suspend teaching and run out to see what was going on … She was not allowed out for two hours a


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day; she was only taken out for necessary purposes, and then hurried back under the care of an attendant. She had no time to speak to the girls. On one occasion two girls bought some German sausage, which they secretly gave her, as Mrs Reilly had strict orders from Mr Lovell to give her nothing but dry bread and water. On one or two occasions Margaret, the cook, sent her something. It was almost impossible for Mrs Illingworth to have given her food, as M.A. Grace would have told us of it, which she never did. Mr Lovell took away her blanket in the daytime because she used to wrap herself up in it on account of the cold. He also took away a blanket, 'the only covering,' from a girl named Adelaide Dunsford who was confined in his bathroom at the same time, from the 21st to the 25th August for the same offence, but, giving in on that day, she was let free. The last few days of Grace's confinement she was not taken on the girls' side at all, as used she to try and speak to her companions. Mary Maxwell was also towered from 9th May to 15th for refusing to scrub stairs after a day and a half's hard washing, and it was not her appointed work. During her confinement she had only one blanket and an old paillasse, without sheets or pillow, and she never took off her clothes for seven days and nights, on account of the excessive cold. Her fare was dry bread and water. Mr Lovell even took away the prisoner's knitting. Louisa Sedgewood testifies that during the up-country trip she heard people remark what a bad cough M.A. Grace had, and Grace Williamson was often kept awake with her distressing cough. Annie Mead also can prove she had a hollow, hacking cough. The good attention Mr Lovell speaks of was after she came back from the Alfred Hospital, and not before. Louisa Sedgewood was with Olinda Smith when the poor girl died, and they were the only ones there. Mr Langford can testify to the boot tower windows being nailed down while the girl was in it; he said the people that did it were brutes, and should hear of it some day … Mary A. Grace told some of us that she would not tell Father Quirk about the affair, lest he might blame her for bearing malice, and she made a statement to Esther Tuff just before she died. In conclusion, gentlemen, we ask your protection, and that this scandal may be put down. We are quite prepared to substantiate the above statements, and we sign our names on behalf of the girls.


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Mary Maxwell

Esther Tuff

Mary Flannagan

Louisa Sedgewood

Olinda Smith

Kate Krogan

Adelaide Dunsford

Constance Heine, &C.

For the other girls.


A letter was also read from thirty of the Asylum's residents, who requested that they might be allowed an opportunity to state complaints.14 Witnesses from among them were duly called up to testify about Mary Ann Grace and other issues. But the questioning was conducted in such an intimidating manner that the witnesses largely backed away from their criticisms of the Asylum and Major Lovell. It is evident that all were scared of either expulsion or punishment. The Committee made a great fuss about the inadmissibility of information derived from hearsay. And as many of the witnesses were blind or vision impaired, and others had simply been told in the course of their duties about the awful treatment meted out to residents, their testimony was held to be invalid.


One adult fee-paying resident accused Lovell of stealing his letters. It was within Lovell's rights to open and read all letters, incoming and outgoing. When the resident objected to being treated like a child, his complaint was dismissed as being ridiculous.


Many more problems were brought out into the open. The food at the Asylum was unappealing and it was suggested that some food was stolen from residents. A donation of 'forty pounds of apricots', for example, had never made its intended way to them.15 The transcript resounds with the complete lack of attention paid to any request or complaint made by residents.


That many of these people were adults being treated like children, and that in all cases it was considered acceptable to hit and abuse them makes for a sad picture. But worse is that during this enquiry, many staff and Committee members were more interested in protecting the reputation of the Blind Asylum than in ensuring the well-being of its residents.


The Age continued to report throughout September 1877 on Lovell's treatment of residents and it noted that after yet another Committee meeting, one of the Committee members, C.M. Officer, had declared Lovell to be 'a man of ungovernable temper and unfit to have control of the asylum'. The report concluded that 'this should be the strongest of reasons why [the


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Superintendent] should be restricted within a certain set of rules and lines of conduct'.16


In November 1877 a sub-committee was appointed to prepare a new code of rules and regulations for the internal management of the institution. In practice, hardly any changes were made.


The result of the whole affair was that Lovell was exonerated but resigned citing 'urgent business in London'. He left in 1878. His replacement was the Rev. Moss, who remained Superintendent until 1891.


The decision to appoint Moss was an interesting one, considering his views throughout the crisis. Yet Moss had the ability to win over public support. He had good contacts and could count on Members of Parliament and other prominent citizens to throw their weight behind his charitable causes. Since contributions to the Asylum and School for the Blind had slipped considerably as a result of the negative publicity, the institution needed all the support it could muster.


After the crisis had died down, the Blind Asylum continued to grow, though little of significance occurred under Moss's leadership. The Braille system was officially adopted as the standard for reading and writing. And the


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Musical Department made steady progress. The choir and band brought in a much-needed cash-flow and the outreach program that they undertook continued to be most important. A number of students were training to become professional musicians.


It was on a concert tour that the Asylum discovered its first real star - a student who would play a vital role in changing the lives of people in Victoria who were blind or vision impaired. In her Memoirs, Tilly Aston tells how she came to the Asylum and School for the Blind:


One day there appeared at our door in Carisbrook a very interesting stranger. He was tall and sturdy, loud-voiced and sociable, with a broad Cornish accent that had the cheerful up-and-down intonation of the cousin-jack dialect. In due time we learned that he had lost both eyes and one arm in a mine explosion, and had set out to make a life work for himself as a kind of missionary and home-teacher to the blind, with the help and patronage of the Hon. Richard Baker and a few other Christian philanthropists of this colony.17


This was Thomas James, a home teacher employed by the Mission to the Outdoor Blind.18 Tilly continues:


All over the country this rugged old missionary travelled, led by his dog through streets and highways, until he halted at some door, such as ours, where some blind person, young child or octogenarian, needed the light of an embossed alphabet and the comfort of an understanding friend …


… His mission was quickly explained at the Aston door, and he was at once taken in, with his intelligent and friendly canine off-sider, Fido. Out came his A.B.C. card, his embossed texts, his Braille writing-frame, each in turn seized upon by the eager young pupil hungering and thirsting for knowledge, and for fresh occupations to sharpen her wits upon. When he departed on the following day, he left the wherewithal for me to continue my studies … I soon learned to read Braille, and this was the start of my education as a blind child, but it was merely a ripple on the pond. Within a few months the choir from the Asylum and School for the Blind in Melbourne came to Carisbrook to give a concert, and the superintendent, Rev. William Moss, urged that I should be sent to school without delay.


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Even through the somewhat rosy glow of her retrospective Memoirs, Tilly gives us a useful insight into the experience of a student taken from a loving home to an institution. While parting from her mother caused her no small impact, it was necessary in as much as the Blind Asylum accepted students only on a live-in basis. This partly explains the reluctance of some parents to send their children there. Aston's writing also gives us an idea of the dynamic between younger and older residents of the imposing stone building on St Kilda Road.


The complete change from a home, where I had been the loved and cherished baby, to a large and comfortless building where I was by no means the cynosure, was, perhaps, a trifle hard on a rather sensitive child, nevertheless, it was a wise move, for here, among my fellow pupils, blind like myself, I must give as well as take, must share the extremely plain food, the discipline, and the work that were appointed for all. One circumstance lightened the road considerably; there were many older girls, young women in fact, who found an outlet for their maternal instinct in caring for the little ones, and my two kindly guardians were very devoted to me, and kept me well protected from many mistakes into which I could have fallen …


At the head of the institution was the kindly and benevolent William Moss, who proved a veritable father to the little orphan from Carisbrook. In the light of later knowledge I have realised that his views upon the education and training of the blind were well in line with the times, and in some particulars ahead of them. He believed in the ability of his charges, and encouraged them to try out life for themselves, as seen by the list of those who made their way in the outside world in those early days. In addition to this influence, the companionship of my fellow pupils was a gain to me, for we tried our powers against one another and practised useful rivalries …


We had some earnest and conscientious teachers, too. These led us through the mazes of the ordinary curriculum, reading to us, dictating lessons as we copied them in Braille, and aiding us in tracing the few embossed maps available. Our studies in music were fostered eagerly, for we must demonstrate our ability at concerts and church services. Handicrafts were taught, and as soon as our work was good enough to


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sell, it went out to the limited markets. I made good progress in all spheres with ever increasing hope that, after graduation, I should find a successful career and a chance to earn a living for myself …19


Tilly Aston arrived at the Asylum and School for the Blind in 1882. It was the same year that a large addition was made to the school's supply of lesson books in Braille and that new writing frames and other items were imported from England 'at a cost of pounds 64 14s 10d'. The school library was also extended by the legacy of Miss Greig, who had bequeathed to the institution eighty-three volumes in Dr Moon's type. During her working life, Miss Greig, herself blind, had been a teacher of other Victorians who were blind or vision impaired.20 Although instruction at the school was by then given mainly in Braille, a number of people 'whose sense of touch may be, or has become blunted by manual labour' were taught to read in Moon's type. Alston's type was taught as well.21


The Asylum's school was run by Miss C. Stamp with three assistant teachers who themselves were blind or vision impaired. The number on the roll in 1884 was fifty-nine, including students at the knitting class (usually about fifteen girls).


In 1886 a class was formed to study 'the rudiments of Latin, French, Algebra, Physiology, and Physical Geography'.22 It was attended by six boys and two girls, 'some of whom have manifested considerable aptitude'.23 One of these students was Tilly Aston. By then the band and choir had thirty members. There were twenty-two students learning piano and five, the organ. Also in the same year, examples of students' work were sent to the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London. While in the past similar examples had been sent to Intercolonial Exhibitions in Australia, this was the first time that a showing was made abroad.


In 1888 students began to learn piano


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tuning from Walter Home, who had taught at the Normal College and the Academy of Music for the Blind in London.24 The Music Department at the school was by this time headed by Miss Moss, daughter of the Super-intendent. Members of the choir and band numbered twenty-nine, and some students were members of both. Eighteen students were being taught the piano and two, the organ. Many concerts had been given during the year and this activity had earned the institution the tidy sum of pounds 480 after expenses. It seems that the choir and band now enjoyed free travel on the railways.


The Francis Ormond Music Hall for the Blind was opened on 24 June 1891 by Lady Clarke, wife of the President of the Blind Asylum and one of Melbourne's most notable philanthropists. The building was named after the Hon. Francis Ormond, who had bequeathed the Asylum the very substantial sum of pounds 4,500.


Under the Rev. Moss's leadership, the Asylum built a small hospital in which residents afflicted with infectious illnesses could be isolated from the the institution's healthy population. This was a most useful asset in a city that still coped with annual typhoid and cholera epidemics and that still possessed no sewerage system. A gymnasium was also constructed to improve residents' physical well-being.


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No doubt Moss's greatest contribution to the Asylum was his unwavering focus on education and on giving to those who had the ability to learn the means of doing so. He believed strongly that people who were blind or vision impaired could become teachers, musicians and valued members generally of the broader intellectual community. Possibly his most gifted student of all was Tilly Aston. The insitution's 1891 Annual Report states:


It is with pleasure that we report that one of the pupils of this class, Matilda Aston, aged 17, has been successful in passing the Matriculation Examination at Melbourne University. Having been entirely taught in the Institution, this achievement reflects great credit on the teaching staff as well as on the pupil herself. By the kind exersions of the Austral Salon, as well as a number of friends at Carisbrook, a special fund has been raised to enable her still further to pursue her studies.25


Despite help from the Austral Salon and other friends, Tilly was not in the end able to complete her university studies. There were simply too few textbooks accessible in Braille to allow her to keep up with students who were sighted. The death of the Rev. Moss also played its part in her withdrawal from study, as she missed his support. Due to the heavy expectations that had


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been placed upon her, Tilly imagined that by dropping out, however regrettedly, she was letting down all people who were blind or vision impaired, as well as disappointing her supporters. As a result, she suffered a stress-related breakdown. Eventually though, she recovered and went on to play a pivotal role in improving life for people in Victoria who were blind or vision impaired.


Meantime a new Superintendent, J.T. Hogarth, was employed in 1891. Hogarth had come from the Bendigo Hospital and, before that, the Newcastle-on-Tyne Union Workhouse (England). His wife became Matron.


In the same year the name 'Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind' was changed to 'Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind'. 'The special permission of Her Majesty the Queen [Victoria] having been received to use the prefix "Royal." New and more explicit Bye-Laws have been adopted, and the institution has also been incorporated.'


Hogarth's period as Superintendent began with decisive changes at the Institute following a Report of the Inspector of Charities. Some of the problems raised by the Report were perennial ones - such as the confused role of the institution, operating as part asylum, part school and part boarding house for those who laboured in its workshops. But other problems were


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newly brought to light - including the use of young women at the Institute as domestic servants and the substandard sanitary arrangements for all residents. The following extracts come from Hogarth's summary report to the Board, dated 10 November 1891.


Gentlemen


By direction of the Board of Management I have the honor to report as follows upon the matters mentioned in the last Report of the Inspector of Charities.


Briefly summarised; the Inspector's Report adversely criticises the arrangements, and system of management of the Institution generally.


He condemns:-


I Employment of Inmates in domestic and laundry work; pointing out that 5 or 6 inmates are required to do the work of the one person with sight, and then doing the work most imperfectly. They might also be employed in other work of a more profitable nature, both for themselves and the Institution. He therefore suggests that proper appliances for laundry should be procured, and one or two additional servants be engaged, thus dispensing entirely with inmates' labor.


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Hogarth agreed, as did the Board, and this practice came to an end. Hogarth's recommendation for laundry appliances worked by a gas engine, to be fitted at the cost of pounds 150 to pounds 200, was also taken up, 'thus freeing at least a dozen girls nearly all of whom could be profitably utilized'. All domestic work was to be done by servants from now on.


The second point raised by the Inspector was more complex and more difficult to resolve:


II Association of persons of all ages; retention of inmates without apparent limit of time; also of those incapable of instruction; either from age, weak mind or other disability, in connection with which he points out the incompatibility of combining the functions of a training school with those of an Asylum if only by reason of the unsuitability of the buildings. He suggests that the older male inmates who are proficient at their various trades should be paid as journeymen and boarded outside of the Institution.


Hogarth was of course in agreement about this - but how could appropriate change be effected? Other institutions did not want to take in adults who were blind or vision impaired, designating them as 'unsuitable'. There was, however, 'no difficulty disposing of the Imbeciles'. Hogarth considered a greater problem to be that of procuring work for people who had been trained


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at the Institute. 'Many of the young men now in the workshops are likely to become a permanent burden on the Institution under the present arrangements … many of them become disheartened, and appear to put forth but little effort to become proficient in their trades, and shirk work on the slightest pretext.'


There were other issues, as well - the language and behaviour of some of the men was affecting the younger boys. The Superintendent wanted to see these mature residents leave the institution. He felt that while some of them should still be employed there, they should board outside. This also was agreed to by the Board, but it was less easily executed.


The arrangements for hygiene, which had been discussed back in 1877 as a result of Mary Ann Grace's death, were still as bad as ever.


III Plan and construction of all closets also bath and lavatory accommodation for boys.


The closets are of the most crude, and rough description; those of the girls being almost sinuous, thoroughly impregnated with foul matter, and in spite of disinfectants, smell beyond description horrible.


Ventilation is absent, and thorough cleansing impossible. They are also in each case badly placed. I would recommend that those for boys should be rebuilt at the back of the stables at the boundary of grounds; and those for girls at the side of drying ground furthest from buildings. Special arrangements to suit the circumstances of inmates as well as to ensure easy cleansing and ventilation should be made in any new erections.


Hogarth further noted that there was no room for servants to have meals in or sit in during evenings. And there was no store for house linen and like supplies - these had to be kept partly in the Superintendent's private apartment and bathroom, and partly 'wherever [space] can be got'.


Hogarth had ideas to address these problems and the Board decided to get an architect to look into them. His own apartment was also inadequate:


… the four rooms allotted to me has thoroughfares on two sides of it. The drawing room is used very largely by the public as a reception room, and as a natural consequence very little by me; the dining-room has also to do


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duty as an office, and during the day - and night sometimes - it is in considerable demand; between these rooms is the passage to the adjoining pantry which does not decrease our discomforts; our bedrooms also are surrounded by a continual traffic and noise: in addition to which it is impossible to escape from the indescribable noise of 11 pianos and organ; harp; tuning; and singing lessons; band practice etc; which goes on from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the only possibility of obtaining the slightest quiet is to go outside altogether.


The cost of making these improvements amounted to between pounds 1,400 and pounds 1,670.26 While the sum was not large, its impact was keenly felt during the 1890s, which were particularly difficult for the Institute.


The 1892 Annual Report reflects the changes recommended by the Inspector of Charities. The Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind was by this time twenty-five years old and apparently at a turning point. Although the period had amply tested the institution's resources, the report states that


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unique possibilities had been revealed in the development and training for people who were blind or vision impaired. Nonetheless, 'the time has arrived when a remodelling of its system in certain directions has become necessary'.


Until this time, the institution had generally been seen as an asylum - its function, to look after people from the cradle to the grave. However, in the view of the Committee, it had been set up to educate and train and, having fulfilled these functions, it could reasonably return its former students to the care of family or friends. Often, though, this aim had not been realised and 'some inmates came to be retained in the Institution far beyond the period contemplated'.27


No adults were taken into the institution unless they had been schooled there. Tilly Aston wrote in her Memoirs:


As the children came out of the school-room, training was begun for a life programme. Where there was musical ability it was developed, and some fine teachers and church organists were turned out. Some of the pupils, of course, returned to their families, to take a share in the work of the home, or assist in other common interests. The rest stayed on, some to learn the trades of mat making, brush and broom work, and heavier basketry, and generally, when trained, these were employed in the Institution workshops. They lived in, together with a few unemployable cases, so that, altogether about two hundred of our one thousand blind were under the care of this Asylum and School …


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It would have been easy at that time to liberalise the policy, so as to admit the young adult blind to enter for training and employment; but it was not done, and out of this narrow view of its obligations, the determination to hold to the out-of-date programme, came much suffering to those for whom the organisation existed.


This sorely needed change did not take place until some years after the founding of The Association for the Advancement of the Blind.28


As the twentieth century edged closer, the Blind Institute was to experience its most difficult times. With Melbourne in the grip of a terrible depression and unemployment high, there was little money for improvements at the Institute.


Yet one source of funding that remained reliable was the concerts given by its various bands, orchestras and choirs. In 1892 the following concerts and performances took place.


The brass band played at:

Southern District United Friendly Societies Association Gala

Royal Agricultural Society Annual Show

Richmond Bowling Club

St Francis Xavier College Sports

Roman Catholic Bazaar, Albert Park


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Miss Turner Grammar School Sports

Cairns Memorial Church Cake Fair

Christ Church South Yarra Gymnastic Club Gala and Cake Fair

Caulfield Grammar School Sports

St Kilda Cricket and Football Club Gala and Art Union


Concerts were given at:

Flemington and Kensington Hall, Newmarket

Shire Hall, Malvern

Ormond Hall

Town Hall, Hawthorn

Town Hall, Brighton

Shire Hall, Camberwell

Shire Hall, Caulfield

Town Hall, Essendon

Town Hall, Fitzroy

Town Hall, Northcote

Town Hall, St Kilda


There was a Gippsland tour of the choir and orchestra, covering the following places:

Mechanics' Hall, Morwell

Mechanics' Hall, Mirboo North

Mechanics' Hall, Traralgon

Mechanics' Hall, Toongabbie

Theatre Royal, Bairnsdale (two concerts)

Mechanics' Hall, Stratford

Mechanics' Hall, Briagolong

Guild Hall, Maffra

Victoria Hall, Sale (two concerts)

Mechanics' Hall, Rosedale

Public Hall, Warragul


And a north-eastern tour:

Perrons Hall, Seymour

Public Hall, Euroa

Mechanics' Hall, Albury (two concerts)


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Wodonga

Town Hall, Rutherglen

Hall of School of Arts, Corowa

Theatre Royal, Wangaratta

Old Fellows' Hall, Beechworth (two concerts)

Shire Hall, Benalla

Athenaeum Hall, Benalla


As well as a Goulburn Valley concert tour:

Bendigo and Eaglehawk (three concerts)

Temperance Hall, Echuca

Mechanics' Hall, Tatura

Public Hall, Mooroopna

Mechanics' Hall, Numurkah

Public Hall, Shepparton

Shire Hall, Rushworth

Mechanics' Hall, Murchison

Mechanics' Hall, Nagambie

Oddfellows' Hall, Kilmore


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As well as providing much-needed money and publicity for the institution, touring clearly played an important and challenging role in the lives of singers and musicians. Tilly Aston recalled being so tired during one of these tours that she almost missed talking to Joseph Furphy, known to his readers as Tom Collins, the author of Such is Life. The incident took place in Shepparton, where Tilly and another choir member were kindly being billeted by Furphy and his wife. Such private accommodation was frequently enjoyed by choir and orchestra members while on country tours. After supper, although desperately tired, the two young women were trying to be attentive as their host questioned them about their reading habits. When Furphy asked Tilly if she had read any of his poetry, she replied that she didn't remember. To jog her memory he started reciting for her, but she kept nodding off until Mrs Furphy rescued both sleepy guests and saw them safely to bed.29


At the institution's school in 1892 there were thirty-four students (seventeen girls and seventeen boys). Via the Braille system they were taught a curriculum similar to that in government schools. It included reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history, grammar and composition, as well as lessons from the Old and New Testaments. The teachers at that time were the Misses M.F. and A. Campbell.


Two milestone events occurred in the 1890s that affected people in Victoria who were blind or vision impaired. Though neither occurred at the Blind Institute, both impacted on the institution and on its residents. The events were the establishment of the Braille Library in 1894 and of the Association for the Advancement of the Blind in late 1895. Tilly Aston was instrumental in the founding of both.


Once the Braille Library had been established and kept separate from the Blind Institute, it became evident that people who were blind or vision impaired had many other needs that were not being met by the Institute. For example, those who had lost their sight after the age of sixteen were denied access to the Institute's services. They had little option but to beg in the streets. Others were kept by their families, sometimes hidden away because of the stigma then associated with blindness. Tilly Aston moved to meet the needs of such people. Believing that the only proper managers of the affairs of people who were blind or vision impaired were those people themselves, she held a meeting to establish an organisation that was both of and for them.


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