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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993

[the Boys in the Valley]

page 21

Current debate about the future of Ngawhatu Hospital gives an opportunity to look back at the history of this tranquil valley. Use of the area for institutional housing began in 1885, when the Roman Catholic authorities bought a 373 acre farm as the site for a boys' orphanage. The farm had originally been part of a larger property owned by Thomas Renwick, which had stretched from the Main Road to the top of the Barnicoat Range.

Nathaniel Fowler had bought the 373 acres in question in 1876, with the balance of Renwick's property being sold to Frederick Trolove in 1878. Both men had previously been in the Amuri, Fowler on the Hopefield Run and Trolove at Woodbank, on the Clarence River.

Access to Fowler's farm should have been via a designated road from the top of what is now Songer Street, but it had never been opened up. In 1881 the Stoke Road Board advertised that it was opening a new road along the south side of section 53. Now known as Polstead Road, it provided the necessary access to the property. After the sale of his farm to the Catholic Church in 1885, Nathaniel Fowler moved to the North Island and he died in Tauranga in 1895.

The Church had begun caring for orphans in 1872, following the arrival in Nelson of the Sisters of the Mission. Prior to that, children had been taken by the orphanage run by Richard Wallis at Motueka. Accommodation was provided at Manuka Street for Catholic children, and the Provincial Government made a payment of a shilling a day for each child. The number of children increased considerably after the St Mary's Orphanage was gazetted under the Industrial Schools Act of 1882. Children of other denominations and from other areas were now received and, by 1884, 79 girls and 99 boys were in care.

The categories of those committed under the Act included being destitute, vagrant, uncontrollable, living in disreputable places and guilty of punishable offences. The cost of their care was subsidized by central government. The local Charitable Aid Board sent children whose parents were unable to care for them, through poverty or other reasons, and subsidized them. In some cases families paid for a child's care.

The property at Stoke was bought to provide accommodation for boys of eight years and older. The site was regarded as ideal, being dry and healthy; a place where the most delicate boy would have the very best chance of developing into sturdy manhood. On 14 December 1885 Father William Mahoney gave a picnic for a number of guests at St Mary's Estate, to celebrate the commencement of work on the property. Parts of the estate had been planted in trees or were under cultivation, and it had already been stocked with a number of cattle. The architect of the proposed building, A.F.T. Somerville, was on hand to show guests the plans. The two storied wooden building was to have a 78 foot tower with an open belfry. The water supply was to come from the creek which flowed down the valley.

John Scott's tender of three and a half thousand pounds was accepted and he had completed the building by August 1886. It had two large dormitories upstairs and could accommodate 150 boys. The orphanage was blessed by Bishop Redwood on 18 August and a celebration concert was held in the evening. The 300 guests had to struggle through rain and mud, but it didn't spoil their enjoyment. After the clergy departed, the Bijou Band struck up and there was dancing until 2am. The Stoke branch of St Mary's Industrial School was generally known as the Stoke Orphanage. Dean William Mahoney was in charge, with Mr Murphy as the master and a staff of secular teachers and attendants.

The boys received schooling and were to be trained in gardening, farm work and trades page 22
St Mary's Orphanage, Stoke, after the 1894 addition of the southern wing Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

St Mary's Orphanage, Stoke, after the 1894 addition of the southern wing Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

were banked and they were given an allowance of one shilling a week.

In 1889, after problems with management, Archbishop Redwood asked the Marist Order to take charge of the institution. The French lay teaching order saw advantages in taking up the offer. The climate would make it ideal for retirement or convalescence, it would be a venue for retreats and the farm would provide employment for brothers unsuited to teaching. The Marist Brothers took charge with high hopes, but faced difficulties which their training was unlikely to have fitted them to meet. Their experience in teaching had not included the fulltime care of youngsters, and the orphanage was grossly overcrowded, with 10 brothers responsible for 180 boys. In 1892 Father Mahoney reported that the tone and conduct of the boys had much improved. He considered that discipline was good, although it might be more paternal. Nominally in charge, he left the running to the brothers and this was to be a cause of later trouble.

Further land had been purchased when Trolove's Leadale Farm was offered for sale in June 1891. The 300 acre block stretched down to the main road. The remainder of the Trolove property, covering what is now York Valley and the hill country, was bought by George Norgrove. A new wing was added at the south end of the building in December 1894, which contained a chapel and another dormitory. This increased the institution's capacity to 250 boys. A building was also brought from town to provide classroom and workshop space.

The daily routine for the orphanage boys was one of work on the farm in the mornings and school classes in the afternoons. Fr Mahoney complained that farm work tended to encroach on class time. A bathing hole was formed in the creek so that the boys could learn to swim. In October 1890, thirteen year old John Rogers ran away when some boys threatened him with a dunking. Despite extensive searches he was not found, and his page 23body was discovered in the hills in March 1891. He was buried in the newly dedicated cemetery on the property. The boys were given outings, such as a gala day with sports hosted by the Nelson Jockey Club at Richmond Park in 1891. There were running and novelty races, with great interest taken in the Brothers' race which was entered into with enthusiasm. John Naylor, the master at Stoke School, organised a drum and fife band and, later, there was a brass band under Arthur Leaper.

In the community at large, a strong feeling of unease about the running of the institution came to a head in 1900. Two boys, James Maher and Albert James, absconded in May of that year. They ended up with the Drummond family in the Moutere and had work arranged for them on local farms. One of the boys wrote to a friend at the orphanage and this resulted in their being arrested and taken before a magistrate. He ordered their return to the institution for punishment. An alternative open to the magistrate was to order whipping by the police and one boy expressed a preference for this. Punishment at the orphanage was by supplejack on the hand and solitary confinement for the number of days absent. Rumours of excessive punishment circulated in the town and members of the Charitable Aid Board paid a surprise visit. They found evidence of solitary confinement and the Nelson Evening Mail called for an enquiry into the different regimes between state and private industrial schools. George Hogben, the secretary to the Department of Education, came to Nelson and concluded that the community's unease could not be allayed or the exact truth be ascertained, without an enquiry.

The Commission of Enquiry opened in the Provincial Hall on 22 July 1900. Its terms of reference covered the previous two years but, after protest, were extended to five years. Charges brought by the Charitable Aid Board were that:

1.The institution was managed by unmarried men, with no matron for the younger boys.
2.Punishment was more severe than in state-run schools.
3.Food was insufficient, poor and unvaried.
4.Children were poorly clothed.
5.The work was too hard.
6.Boys who died were buried on the property
7.The school was on a different footing from government Industrial Schools.

The enquiry took three weeks and was covered exhaustively in the newspapers. Its report was presented to parliament at the end of August 1900. The Commission found that the buildings were good and the playgrounds and swimming baths were excellent.

There were insufficient inside baths.

On the particular charges it found:

1.The lack of women staff was self evident and it recommended the appointment of at least two, for duties in the laundry, infirmary and dormitories.
2.The punishment was not covered by regulations and was more severe than in government schools. Strokes on the hand with supplejack had been used freely, and with great severity in some cases. Incidents outside the brothers' own rules were reported, involving cuffs, blows and kicks by Brothers Wybertus and Killian. Both had been removed from the school. There was more solitary confinement than should be allowed. It had been ordered by the director, Brother Loetus, without the knowledge of Fr Mahoney.
3.The food was sufficient in quantity and wholesome but lacked variety.
4.The clothing was of rough material but adequate in quality.
5.The work referred to in the charges related to boys being sent up a hill to bring down posts and poles. The Commission found that it was no more than bush page 24
Orphanage washroom, 1909 Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum

Orphanage washroom, 1909 Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum

settlers' sons of the same age were required to do. Neighbours said that the work was done with great hilarity and the boys regarded it as a holiday.
6.Burials on the property did occur, but the five acre cemetery had been properly gazetted in 1890.
7.The different standing of the school was a matter of law and it recommended that the Act be amended.

Reviewing the evidence given by current and ex-inmates, the Commission felt that a great deal of it was tainted with exaggeration. This resulted from antagonism towards the two brothers who had since been remove. It criticised Fr Mahoney for letting the management of the school pass from him, but accepted that he had not known what had been happening. It recommended that he remain as Manager.

In general the Commission felt that standards of cleanliness were not high enough, outside work needed to be more systematic, a doctor should be appointed to inspect periodically and a classification system for inmates was needed. The school authorities had acted promptly and with good spirit to make changes, and welcomed being placed under the same regulations as others.

An amendment to the Act, prohibiting the control of private Industrial Schools by overseas organisations, compelled the departure of the Marist Brothers in September 1900. General community hostility and the requirement to employ women would, in any case, have made it difficult for them to remain. An article in the Auckland Weekly News likened the Stoke Industrial School to Dickens' Dotheboys Hall and expressed sadness that such conditions existed in a New Zealand institution which came under the nominal heading of 'charitable'.

page 25

Fr Mahoney was shattered by the whole experience and left for overseas where he died in 1903. The two brothers who had been singled out appeared in the Wellington Supreme Court on twelve charges of assault and two of indecent assault. Ten charges were dropped and verdicts of not guilty were returned on the other four.

Fr George Mahoney became the new manager and Mr & Mrs Fitzgerald, formerly of Seaview, took charge. A report at the end of 1901 expressed satisfaction with the results of reorganisation at the school. A great change for the better was noticed in the tone and the boys looked remarkably healthy. It stressed the importance of systematic and varied industrial training being part of school life.

Even under the new regime, life was no picnic for the boys. Alf, who was born at Bedstead Gully in 1893, was sent to the Nelson orphanage when his mother died in 1896. When he turned eight he was sent to Stoke, and his main memory was of hunger. Breakfast was porridge, often burnt, skim milk and a mug of tea. Midday dinner was stew and at teatime a slice of bread and dripping, jam and a mug of tea.

Various strategies were used to get extra food. They blew bird's eggs and ate the contents, selling the shells to farmers for a penny a dozen. Eggs from the fowlhouse were wrapped in mud and cooked on a fire. There were eels in the creek and swedes and turnips in the hills. The breadcart was raided as it went up the hill, and tins were concealed in buckets of dirty water during kitchen chores. Sugar and butter were taken to make toffee.

Alf recalled the harsh discipline and rote-learning. When a boy died of croup, he helped carry the coffin up the hill. He learned to stand on his own two feet because he had to, to survive.

On 27 April 1903, the orphanage building was destroyed by fire in the early hours of
St Mary's Orphanage, Stoke, 1910. Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum

St Mary's Orphanage, Stoke, 1910. Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum

page 26the morning. One of the 112 inmates, eight year old William Wilson, died in the fire. Temporary accommodation was arranged and George Mahoney began organising a new building. The architect was John S Swan and the building foreman was William Grant. The tenders received were considered to be too high and it was decided to use day labour, saving a thousand pounds over the lowest tender. Contracts were let for plumbing and some other work, and the bricks were made on the property. The brickworks were on what is now the lower Ngawhatu playing field. A map from Catholic archives shows a pipeline to them from a reservoir, fed by a water-race from a dam on Orphanage Creek. The new building was opened by Albert Pitt on 24 May 1905. Lit by acetylene gas, it accommodated 100 boys in two dormitories. There was a detached hospital, the workroom had knitting and sewing machines, and there were facilities for instruction in bootmaking and carpentry. The brickworks were sold and other sources of revenue were poultry, a hop garden, 800 sheep and 100 cattle.

In 1910 the property was sold to the government and the institution was then run by the Education Department. Additions were built in 1912, with 114 boys in residence at that time. The institution became known as the Boys' Training Farm.

Memories of this time come from Raymond, who was born in Westport. He was taken out of school at the age of eight to work on his parents' farm. When this was reported to the authorities in 1917, Raymond and a brother were sent to the Training Farm. Numbers had dropped to about 20. His memory was also of being hungry all the time. The bill of fare has a familiar ring, although there was a roast dinner on Sundays. He had indoor chores to do and also worked on the farm. He recalled being hit with a stick if he talked after lights out. When he turned thirteen, Raymond was sent to live on a farm.

Changes in policy led to the closure of the institution at the end of March 1919. With decentralisation and the use of cottage homes, the need for it no longer existed. For a short time it was used as a special school for backward boys, and it was sold for use as a mental hospital in 1920. The brick orphanage building was condemned in 1962 and was finally demolished in February 1967.

Today, the only sign of the hundreds of boys who passed through the Stoke branch of St Mary's Industrial School is in the cemetery on the hill, behind the Ngawhatu chapel. In a grove of pine trees lies a broken memorial stone listing the names of the boys who are buried there. Iron railings surround the grave of Patrick Byrne, a seventy-two year old farmer who died at Richmond in 1894. There is also a gravestone for John Brosnahan, a nineteen year old former inmate, who drowned in the creek while on a visit in 1919.