Newspaper Article 1992 – 100 years of caring for children

100 years of caring for children

By Marion Morris
Staff reporter, Hastings

Out of bed at 5.30 in the morning. Windows opened wide. Small hands brushing boots to a high shine. One boy heads for the kitchen. Its his turn to empty the heavy slop-buckets. Two children follow. They have a mountain of potatoes to peel. Four others start making the beds.

Two hours later with duties over, its time for prayers and finally breakfast. Porridge, bread and dripping with jam or golden syrup washed down with tea or milk and sugar.

A Dickensian scene?

No. This was life for the children who lived in the Burlington Rd children’s home in Napier in 1894.

It was better of course than what they had been enduring, according to a history written by Max [Mack] Swinburn to mark 100 years of the charitable organisation, Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home.

The reasons given for admission to the home at the time were grim.

Girl, 8, mother deserted and leading a dissolute life.

Girls, 4 and 6, mother in asylum.

Boy, 3, father in prison for bigamy, mother dissolute.

Girls, 8, 6, and 4, All illegitimate by different fathers. Mother dead.

Since then hundreds of Hawke’s Bay children have called various properties “home”.

Began by Baptists

The story of the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home started at a usual monthly May, 1892, meeting of the Napier Baptist Women’s Society when the question of two destitute girls was raised.

Those present went on to discuss the advisability of starting a home where neglected children would be cared for.

The history continues:
“In May, 1892, a two-roomed cottage in Onepoto Gully was rented and five children placed in charge of a respectable widow. Within a week this was found to be two small and a larger house on a lane off McDonald St was found. This in turn was found to be unsuitable and a six-roomed house standing on an acre of land was secured in Burlington Rd and 11 children were admitted in the care of a matron on July 1890 [1892].

“During the next 10 years many alterations and improvements were carried out including three water closets in 1895 [in 1896[, a telephone in 1900 and gas lights in 1902 as the present method of using candles in the dining room was ineffective, expensive and dangerous. Storm lanterns has [had] been used in the hall prior to this.

“In 1906 when applications were made for a Government subsidy, the trust was informed that unless the home became incorporated as a separate institution under the Hospitals and Charitable Institutions Act 1885, no subsidy could be given.

In 1906 the home was incorporated and a subsidy of £202 received in February, 1907.

“In September 1907, arrangements were made to rent a cottage in Coote Rd and by December four boys and a matron were installed.

Built by prisoners

“In 1910 when the cottages were not proving satisfactory the trustees sought alternative accommodation. A new building was erected on a shelf cut out in the hillside off Priestley Terrace with prison labour building the basement.

“The boys moved from Coote Road in 1913 to the house name Gordon House. A new wing was built in 1917 and, in 1924, older girls moved in while the older boys moved to France House.

“It was soon realised there was a need for older boys to learn a trade and a farm seemed the obvious answer. In May, 1918, Thomas Clark offered 40 acres at Eskdale at £50 an acre and 47 acres was finally bought. The cost was £8569 and it was decided to name it in memory of the late Robert France.

“The new building was opened by Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, on February 1, 1924. By 1928 the farm was in full production.

“Applications for admissions continued to exceed the beds available in spite of the building programme.

“There were 105 children in the homes in 1930, and it was being discussed as to whether the children of divorced parents should be allowed to be admitted.

“However, the house committee decided that ‘such tended to make divorce easier and parents to shirk their responsibilities’. Cases would be considered before approving an admission.”

Quake a catastrophe

“The earthquake of 1931 was a catastrophe for the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home.

“France House (brick) was destroyed and both Randall and Gordon Houses were rendered inhabitable [uninhabitable] for several months.

“Fortunately the Auckland Sunshine League offered to take all the children to their camp at Motoihi [Motu-ihi] Island where they remained until November.

“As if the earthquake did not damage the trust’s finances enough, the slump (Depression) was now in full swing [force] with income from all sources falling. Only grants from supporters, including £5000 from T. H. Lowry allowed the homes to continue.

“In 1938 the Esk River flooded and water entered France House. It was several years before the farm recovered and was back in full production.

“Although the war had little direct effect on the homes, the indirect effects were substantial. Income fell and staff became difficult to find. Children were left in holiday homes in Te Pohue and Tutira because of the possible danger of shelling and bombing by enemy forces. Bomb shelters were built for Gordon and Randall Houses. France House contributed to the war effort by being formed into a Home Guard detachment.

“In 1941 it was decided to buy the late Sir Douglas McLean’s property of 2½ acres on top of Napier Hill next to Central School.

“Randall House girls moved in in March, 1945, leaving the old buildings empty.

“Falling numbers because of the increasing role of Child Welfare Department and increasing public prosperity saw Gordon House close in 1948, Randall House in 1966 and finally, France House, in 1973, when only four children remained.

“In 1965, when it was clear that institution-type homes were no longer viable, the trustees decided to build two family homes – one in Havelock North (Rochfort) after Guy Rochfort and one in Taradale (Edgley, after Harold Edgley).

“By 1968 a third family home in Flaxmere was bought and named Nelson House after J. F. Nelson.

“In 1964 it was clear that long-term changes were coming for children’s homes. The Department of Social Welfare was placing emphasis on short-term work with children and their families with the aim of reuniting families as quickly as possible.

“The passing of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act had no provision in it for the continued operation of children’s homes. From 1990, therefore the registration of the three family homes was withdrawn from April 30, 1990.

“Social Welfare then rented out Rochfort and Nelson and sold Edgley and administered them.

“So ended the last of the residential homes after 98 years.

“However, back in 1973, it had been realised that there was a need for pre-school care for disturbed children. Social Welfare would subsidise the day care.

“The activities of the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home into the field of day-care centres occurred with the building of Swinburn House on a section of the Pirimai School grounds. It was officially opened on May 31, 1978.

“In 1977 the Onekawa Day Care Centre transferred its children to Swinburn House – making 16 full-time and 12 part-time children. Alterations in 1968 [1988] allowed for six more children.

“In 1988 the Department of Education took over from Social Welfare and bulk grants were received.

“The intention when Swinburn House was built was that it cater for children in need of special care. However, when the Onekawa Day Care Centre was taken over many of the children were from normal families whose parents paid fees.

“As these children passed out they were replaced by children referred by Social Welfare, general practitioners, area health boards and family group conferences.

“Today, Swinburn House has up to 40 children from 2-5 years each collected daily in a mini bus. Eight staff members care for the children’s physical, emotional and educational needs. They are given lunch and are settled down for an afternoon sleep.

“Deputy principal Carolyn Proctor says Swinburn House is unique in New Zealand.”

Needs have changed

The needs of today’s children are not the same as those of children when the home’s first aims and objects were decided 100 years ago.

Then they were:
“The reclaiming of children under 15 years of age from possible degradation, the result of vicious associations, for children whose parents are undergoing long sentences of imprisonment or who have deserted them, for orphans who have no friends able to support them and others who cannot be received into the France orphanage.

“To endeavour to place the children out on their arriving at the age of 15 and to exercise kindly supervision, as far as possible after leaving the home until they arrive at the age of 21.”

Financing the homes was a problem then.

“In spite of generous support of the subscribers and the public, shortage of finance continued to be a worry for the whole period. Of the 17 years, 11 showed a cash deficit and the remaining six were in credit only because of special legacies or in the final years, receipt of a Government subsidy.

“Assistance was given in many forms. Donations of bread, meat, milk, vegetables, clothing, coal and firewood were received. One year eight loads of firewood were donated, but there were still occasions when the supply did not coincide with the demand. It was discovered when the matron once asked for potatoes they had been without for months because no one had happened to give them any.

“Clothing was always a problem. The wardrobe committee was formed to deal with this and was assisted by the ladies of the Sunbeam Circle, the Helping Hand Circle of Kings Daughters, the Dorcas Societies of the Cathedral of St Paul’s, Wesleyan Circuit, Society of Christian Endeavour, YWCA and the Dannevirke Clothing Club.

“In 1893 Mr Tiffen (president 1893-1895) gave sufficient blue serge for uniforms for all girls and in 1902 the Mosgiel Woollen Company gave a large supply of cloth for winter cloaks which were made by Mr Blyth who also supplied 24 school hats and 24 best hats.”

Today the organisation runs only one property, Swinburn House at Pirimai School, where up to 40 children under five arrive each day to be cared for. The trust owns two other residential houses but these are now rented to Social Welfare.

Its assets, 100 years down the track, total $1.5-million.


Orphaned at 2½

John Hird was a Gordon House boy for 10 years from 1939 and a France House boy until 1952.

He was 2½ years old when he was taken into Gordon House and until three years ago believed he had been an orphan.

In fact his father still lives in Taradale and John is just sorry he is not able to enjoy the company of two half-brothers and half sisters he has learned he has.

He also feels that he has been deprived of knowing a great-grand-mother because his father would not acknowledge him.

However, he has found many of his relatives and has attended a family reunion in Gisborne.

Gordon House he remembers with mixed feelings. He describes two of the matrons as vicious, uncouth women but remembers others with affection.

The bad times were getting up in the middle of the night to go to a toilet and having to climb down three storeys of a fire escape in the dark to get there.

Or not shining his shoes well enough and having to run to school barefooted – two miles away and in 15 minutes.

The good times were going to church and Sunday school or down to the beach which was then rocky and covered with paua.

Or a Christmas party at the hall at the Methodist Church in Clive Square.

France House, when John went when he was 11 years old, he says was so different.

“Mr and Mrs Shaw treated us like their sons. I had never known what a mother was until I went there.”

Being a France House boy was, and still is, reason for pride for John.

“We had our own code of honour. We would never tell on each other and we would never let France House down.

“We were given the opportunity to become independent. We had a dairy farm, a huge orchard, a market garden and each one of us could have our own garden. I had a wonderful garden”

When John finished school he continued to work at the farm at France House for £4/6/8 a month.

“Two of us looked after 50 acres.”

John then worked on a farm at Raukawa for 2½ years and then he joined the Navy and was at sea for eight years.

He married in Auckland when he was 21 and came back to Napier and built a house in which he and his wife still live.

They have a daughter Corrina and a son who is married and lives in England.

John was to speak at this afternoon’s function.

Photo captions –

Max Swinburn who, on Wednesday, was made a life member of the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home Trust in recognition of the work that he has done with the organisation. The trust’s only home now operating – the day-care centre for children with special needs at Pirimai School – is named after Mr Swinburn.

Carol Proctor, the deputy principal of Swinburn House reads to a group of children who have special needs and arrive each day in the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home mini bus.

France House before the 1931 earthquake.

John Hird, owner of John Hird Ceramics, Onekawa … proud of his years in a Hawke’s Bay Children’s Home.

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Format of the original

Newsletter article

Date published

26 September 1992

Creator / Author

  • Marion Morris


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


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