Heritage is about the things from the past which
are valued enough today to save for tomorrow.

Perth Girls’ Orphanage

This building, constructed between 1899 and 1904, was originally the Perth Girl’s Orphanage and was the first purpose-built orphanage built by the Anglican Church in Western Australia.  However, the association of the orphanage to this site dates back to the 1860s.   

In 1868 the first Girls’ Orphanage, with seven girls, was established on this site in Adelaide Terrace using existing cottages that were purchased and adapted by the Church from the money raised.  The cottages were set on a generous block of land with enough land to cultivate for food supplies for the Orphanage, and also to add other outbuildings and sheds required.  The formal opening of the Orphanage was arranged for 1 June 1868 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the founding of the colony.  Although originally set up just to take in girls the number of boys needing similar care was also becoming critical.  Exactly a year later, a Boys’ Orphanage also opened on the same site, in a new building but with a high fence built to separate it from the girls’ accommodation.   

As the number of orphans grew, assistance from the Government was sought as the original Perth Girls’ Orphanage complex could no longer cope, with its facilities stretched and becoming inadequate.  To relieve some of the pressure, the boys were transferred to the newly built Swan Boys’ Orphanage in Middle Swan in 1876.  However the number of girls was still growing and in 1882 a substantial brick building was added to the Orphanage to provide additional accommodation.  

Once the gold boom struck it not only brought with it more wealth to the State but also an increasing population and therefore potential orphans.  The Church focused its attentions to building a brand new and more commodious Orphanage.  In 1899, Stage 1 which comprised the east wing and Chapel was completed.  Stage 2 was finally realised in 1904 when the west wing was completed and opened.   

In 1941, in the midst of World War II trenches were dug around the building for protection from potential Japanese bombing.  However, with the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 and a month later at the WA pearling town of Broome, the threat of a Japanese invasion was felt even more keenly.  As a result, the Orphanage – mainly because of its close proximity to the East Perth Power Station which would be a key target for bombing – was closed and the girls transferred to the Swan Boys’ Orphanage.  The evacuation in World War II really signalled the end of the Perth Girls’ Orphanage as after the war ended, the girls did not return to Adelaide Terrace but remained at the Swan Orphanage.   

When the Orphanage had been vacated it was taken over by the Army until 1949.  By then the Church had transferred ownership of the site to the Crown and the building became primarily used as offices for various State government departments for the next 50 or more years, including Fisheries and Wildlife which was the main and most consistent occupant.  In 1996, the Heritage Council of WA moved into the building and it was immediately entered onto the State Register of Heritage Places.   

The former Perth Girls’ Orphanage, with its striking Arts and Crafts design, makes a major contribution to the streetscape of the eastern end of Adelaide Terrace and is one of few remaining late nineteenth century buildings in this part of the Terrace which was once dominated by buildings from this period.  The design of the Orphanage is also an important reminder of the more institutional style of accommodation that was prevalent at this time, but which was later replaced by family cottage type care and even external fostering.  

Detailed Description

This building, constructed between 1899 and 1904, was originally the Perth Girl’s Orphanage and was the first purpose-built orphanage built by the Anglican Church in Western Australia.  However, the association of the orphanage to this site dates back to the 1860s.   

From the time the Swan River Colony was established until at least the mid nineteenth century, the care of orphans relied very much on Churches and other similar benevolent organisations.  This care also extended to others in the community who needed assistance in housing and care such as the poor and destitute and including neglected children even if they had parents.  Although the State Government did have some responsibility to provide facilities for children at risk or destitute, under the State Children’s Act, these were operated slightly differently and mainly called Workhouses.  The Government did also subsidize some of the institutions run by benevolent organisations.  Orphanages were also known as Industrial Schools as one of the purposes of them apart from providing food and shelter was to provide an education, including industrial and technical training to give the children vocational skills, such as sewing, boot making, carpentry, laundry and food production. 

When it was first mooted that the Anglican Church were looking into establishing an Orphanage in Perth (there was already an orphanage set up by the Catholic Church in Leederville) fundraising events were organised and donations were also received.  In 1868 the first Girls’ Orphanage, with seven girls, was established on this site in Adelaide Terrace using existing cottages that were purchased and adapted by the Church from the money raised.  The cottages were set on a generous block of land with enough land to cultivate for food supplies for the Orphanage, and also to add other outbuildings and sheds required.  The formal opening of the Orphanage was arranged for 1 June 1868 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the founding of the colony.  Although originally set up just to take in girls, who were considered most at risk, the number of boys needing similar care was also becoming critical.  Exactly a year later, a Boys’ Orphanage also opened on the same site, in a new building but with a high fence built to separate it from the girls’ accommodation.   

At the time the Orphanage opened, this part of Adelaide Terrace was sparsely developed particularly on this eastern side of Bennet Street.  The main buildings that were present were predominantly the large, gracious residents of Perth’s more wealthy families set on large blocks.  Having the orphanage situated relatively close to town but far enough away to provide an almost semi-rural setting was ideal.  However, the location did come with its downsides as it was low lying and resulted in quite damp conditions and consequently cases of diphtheria and sore throats were quite common. 

As the number of orphans grew, assistance from the Government was sought as the original Perth Girls’ Orphanage complex could no longer cope, with its facilities stretched and becoming inadequate.  To relieve some of the pressure, the boys were transferred to the newly built Swan Boys’ Orphanage in Middle Swan in 1876.  However the number of girls was still growing and in 1882 a substantial brick building was added to the Orphanage to provide additional accommodation.  

Once the gold boom struck it not only brought with it more wealth to the State but also an increasing population and therefore potential orphans.  The Church focused its attentions to building a brand new and more commodious Orphanage and by 1898, had engaged architects Wilkinson and Smith to prepare plans.  For financial reasons, the building works were approached in stages.  In 1899, Stage 1 which comprised the east wing and Chapel was completed.  Stage 2 did not commence until 1902, made possible by the generosity of prominent Perth citizens of the time including the Hon. W. H. Loton and Walter Padbury.  The full building, as designed by the architects, was finally realised in December 1904 when the west wing was completed and formally opened.  The completed Orphanage had a Chapel, dormitories, classrooms, bathrooms, dining room, kitchen, pantry and scullery as well as bedrooms and a separate bathrooms and dining room for the staff. 

By 1908, further extensions were required and a generous bequest the Church had received from the late Archibald McKellar, who had died in 1904, enabled these works to go ahead.  The architects Hobbs Smith and Forbes were engaged to prepare plans for the extension and remodelling of both the east and west wings.  As part of the works, a memorial window was placed in the Chapel in remembrance of McKellar. 

In 1941, in the midst of World War II and the entry of Japan posing a real and close threat to Western Australia, trenches were dug around the building for protection from Japanese bombing.  However, with the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 and a month later at the WA pearling town of Broome, the threat of a Japanese invasion was felt even more keenly.  As a result, the Orphanage – mainly because of its close proximity to the East Perth Power Station which would be a key target for bombing – was closed and the girls transferred to the Swan Boys’ Orphanage.  The evacuation was not just for the children at this Orphanage but applied to all children who attended schools or were living in other institutions in the city.  The evacuation in World War II really signalled the end of the Perth Girls’ Orphanage as after the war ended, the girls did not return to Adelaide Terrace but remained at the Swan Orphanage as directed by the Archbishop.  When they left, they also took the memorial window in the Chapel and had it installed at St Mary’s Church in Middle Swan.  

Once the Orphanage had been vacated it was then taken over by the Army.   In 1945, the title for the site was transferred from the Church to the Crown.  By 1949 the Army was removed and the building then became primarily used as offices for various State government departments for the next 50 or more years.  The first was the Agricultural Department, then Fisheries (which later became Fisheries and Wildlife/Fisheries and Fauna) which was the main and most consistent occupant.  Other occupants included State Housing Commission, Police Traffic Branch, Shops and Factories and Second Hand Car Dealership Authority.    

Various modifications, alterations, additions occurred to accommodate these departments but mainly to the internal layout, toilets and rear verandah as the exterior remained much the same as it was built.  The other buildings dotted around the site, including the original cottages and sheds of the Orphanage were all gradually demolished.  Works also included some restoration to protect the building as it was already considered an important historic Perth building having been recognised by the National Trust as early as 1971.  In 1984 when the Chapel windows were being restored, a reproduction of the McKellar memorial window (removed in 1942) was installed. 

In 1996, the Heritage Council of WA moved into the building and it was immediately entered onto the State Register of Heritage Places.  The Heritage Council remained there until 2012, carrying out extensive conservation work on the building fabric during their occupancy.  A reunion of former residents of the Orphanage was also arranged in 2002 exactly 60 years after they had vacated the building.  

The former Perth Girls’ Orphanage, with its striking Arts and Crafts design, makes a major contribution to the streetscape of the eastern end of Adelaide Terrace and is one of few remaining late nineteenth century buildings in this part of the Terrace which was once dominated by buildings from this period.  The design of the Orphanage is also an important reminder of the more institutional style of accommodation that was prevalent at this time, but which was later replaced by family cottage type care and even external fostering.  

 

Perth Girls’ Orphanage (fmr), 108 Adelaide Terrace East Perth, Conservation Plan (Hocking Planning and Architecture/Robyn Taylor, 2006)

Location