Health and welfare records

A guide to researching health and welfare records for family historians

How to find welfare records

There are a variety of documents that might record the details of an ancestor spending time in a welfare institution. These include:

  • death certificates
  • court documents
  • welfare institution records
  • newspaper articles (about trial verdicts, accidents, deaths of family members, etc.)
  • family correspondence

Searching for records may be difficult because they can be located in many different places:

  • government departments
  • church and charitable organisations
  • libraries
  • archives

When searching for an ancestor who lived in a  welfare institution, a great place to start is the Find & Connect website. Australian orphanages, children's homes and other institutions, including disability homes, can be sourced from this website.

Information you may find includes: 

  • where the records can be found if they have survived
  • who to contact
  • how to apply for access

For further guidance on where to find records related to child welfare in Australia, see our guide to Adoption and Forgotten Australians and the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV).

You can find information on issues of family welfare via the Victoria Police Gazettes - including maintenance announcements for family disputes. For information on how to search this resource see the State Library's blog, Using the Victorian Gazette to research your ancestors.

 

Features a number of women and children knitting or playing with toys

Children in recreation room, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. August 28, 1912.  H94.107/82
 

State Library Victoria collections

State Library Victoria holds original records of a number of orphanages, children's homes and welfare institutions. Some of our key collection include:

Melbourne Benevolent Asylum records from 1849 to 1999

The collection includes general registers of applicants and inmates 1852-1936, deaths and departures 1882-1917; books of bequests 1871-1898; medical officer's report book 1896-1923; clothing book 1886-1902; diet ledgers, rations book, minutes and financial records. You can find a detailed list of the contents of this collection in our online finding aid.

This collection is restricted because of the size, fragility, and complexity of the volumes. Contact Library staff with a name and date of death of a resident so they can undertake limited searches.

 

Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, North Melbourne. H92.330/267
 

Melbourne Orphan Asylum (Vic.) records from 1845 to 1989

The collection comprises case files, ca. 1858-1959, admission book ca.1850-1986, official register of inmates, 1887-1975; reports on apprentices, 1913-1917, minute books, annual reports and other documents. You can find a detailed list of the contents of this collection in our online finding aid.

The Admissions book is a very large, heavy volume so the information has been transcribed into the typescript pictured below. This typescript can be consulted for you by Library staff and if files are found they can be viewed in the Library's Heritage Collections Reading Room.

Access to records that are older than 99 years are available without restriction. To access records 99 years and under please contact OzChild for permission.

Victorian Children's Aid records from 1893 to 1993

The collection includes case histories, court committals, fostering and adoption records of children under the care of the Society and correspondence relating to children under the control of the Society. The finding aid for this collection is not available online but can be viewed by contacting Library staff.

Access to records that are older than 99 years are available without restriction. To access records 99 years and under please contact OzChild for permission.

Children's Protection Society (Vic.) records from 1896 to 1985

This collection includes files relating to children (1921-1985); copy letter books; minute books; ledgers; cash books; press cuttings; printed material relating to the Children's Services Acts and related matters; photographs; statistical sheets (1961-1970); and letters and press cuttings concerning St Martin's and St John's Homes (1936-1939) and Newhaven Boys' Home (1934).

This collection is restricted but has an online finding aid. Any person wishing to view material must contact Kids First Australia (previously known as the Children's Protection Society) who handle all requests.

Gordon Homes for Boys and Girls records from 1887 to 1947 and 1960 to 2012

There are two collections for this institution:

Records of Gordon Homes for Boys and Girls 1887-1953
This collection comprises case files, correspondence 1902-1904; letterbooks 1906-1936; minute books 1904-1947; boys' registers 1887-1937; children's registers 1900-1910; cash books and records of expenditure; visitors' book; records of application for work 1889-1902; and miscellaneous papers. You can find a detailed list of the contents of this collection in our online finding aid.

Records of Gordon Care ca.1960-2012

This collection comprises case files from Gordon Care's residential program which closed on 30 June 2012. Also included are some administrative records such as Committee of Management meetings 1961-1974, and financial records. Four boxes of plans concerning new buildings, renovations, and extensions are included.

Records 99 years and under are restricted. To gain access, permission must be sought from the Care Leaver Record Service at the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

William Forster Try Boys' Society (South Yarra, Vic.) records from 1887 to 1986

This collection includes annual reports; letter books: minute books; ledgers, receipt books; bank books; rule books; roll and attendance books; members' subscription records; list of employers and lads employed; copies of the "Try Boys' Excelsior News" and the "Australian boys' paper"; society histories; programs and tickets; and correspondence and minutes of reports of various related institutions, e.g. City Newsboys' Try Society, Hawksburn Girls' Club, Melrose Boys' home.
The finding aid for this collection is online.

Access to material up to the end of 1940 is available. To access records from 1941 onward, permission must be sought from Sparkways.

Carlton Refuge (Vic.) records from 1875 to 1949

This collection is of an administrative nature, the only personal records are of baptisms 1931-1938 and marriages 1936-1937. All records are available for consultation. There is no finding aid for this collection.

Melbourne Newsboys' Club Foundation records from 1897 to 1976

This collection includes correspondence, annual reports, minutes of meetings , finalised bequests and legacies, photographs and miscellaneous material relating to the club.

You can find a detailed list of the contents of this collection in our online finding aid

All records in this collection are available for consultation.

Old Colonists' Association of Victoria records from 1869 to 1966

This collection comprises letter books, 1880-1927; cash book, 1898-1966; members' register, 1869-1945; biographical register; statements of receipts and disbursements, 1928-1942; statements of receipts and expenditure, 1901-1928; press cuttings books, 1925-1955, including theatrical clippings and Old Colonists' photographs; donations register, 1911-1912; index of receipts; record book listing Council members, 1869-1872, 1909-1915; and a ledger, 1921-1937. The records also include a history of the Association.

You can find a detailed list of the contents of this collection in our online finding aid.

This collection is available apart from the members' register which is not issued due to its size and fragility. There is an alphabetical card index of the transcription of members' names which can be consulted for you by Library staff.

Access conditions

Some welfare records are restricted. Any access conditions can be found in the 'details' section of an item's catalogue record, as well as more detailed contents notes. To find out if the Library holds original records of a particular facility, search the catalogue for the facility's name, refining the search to 'Manuscripts'.

Indexes in the State Library Victoria collection

The detailed lists of the pupils of 1860-1904 as found in the annual reports of the Victorian Deaf & Dumb Institution as collected by Bernard C. Grayden.

Index to children in Victorian institutions, 1860-1863 [microfilm] compiled by Helen Doxford Harris. This information arranged alphabetically was compiled from PROV Series  (VPRS 1189), inward correspondence files from the Colonial Secretary's Office.

Children's registers of state wards in the colony of Victoria, 1864-1897 [microform]: receiving house vols. 10-17, 1889-1895. 

Deaths at the Alfred Hospital & the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum compiled and privately printed by Terry Foenander. Data from the Melbourne 'Argus' in two parts: Part 1, October 1872 to December 1877- Part 2, January, 1878 to December, 1879.

The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum : haven of rest : a register of patients from the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, Cheltenham who lie buried at the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, Melbourne, Victoria  by Travis M. Sellers.

Melbourne Benevolent Asylum register 1851-1858, Victoria [microform] Indexed by John Forster Holt; edited for microfiche publication by Sue McBeth.

Darragh index to the Melbourne German Sick and Relief Society membership, 1861-1924. Translated and compiled by Dr. Thomas A. Darragh.

A selection of published histories held at State Library Victoria

The first hundred years: being a brief history of The Melbourne Orphanage from 1851-1951/ J. C. Bulter, (comp.). The next decade compiled by J. C. Janicke.

The Gordon Homes: a history and tribute by Walter Gherardin.

For a history of the Children's Protection Society, Lucy Bracey and Fiona Poulton have written Journey of hope and resilience: safeguarding children for 120 years.

Children's Protection Society Inc. [electronic resource] : working together for children is an online resource which features the Children's Protection Society new organisation name Kids First Australia.

The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum : Hotham's premier building by Mary Kehoe is a history of the asylum.

Selina's legacy : from VCAS to Oz Child by Della Hilton discusses the development of this child welfare organisation from the Victorian Neglected Children's Aid Society to Oz Child.

100 years, Melbourne German Sick & Relief Society : 1861-1961.

Brief history of welfare in Victoria

The earliest institutions that were established in Victoria in the 1850s were the Immigrant's Aid Society, Melbourne Orphan Asylum, Lying-in Hospital, Catholic Orphanage and Victoria Benevolent Asylum (later named the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum). Before children's homes were formed children were housed in adult institutions. Adult and children's institutions were mostly established by voluntary organisations until the 1970s.

Adults were admitted to the benevolent asylum because they were in need of care and were able to leave. Children were placed in institutions because they were without financial support - meaning that their parents were either poor or that they had sole fathers or single mothers.

Institutions were modelled on a boarding school, with children housed together by age and sex. They were provided with minimal education so they could be apprenticed as domestic servants or agricultural labourers at an early age. Children remained in contact with family members who often helped with the cost of their care. In the 1970s dormitory care of children ended, in favour of other types of support for children and their families.

 

Children, Melbourne Orphanage, Brighton, Victoria. H2001.20/5

Those who were placed in care may have also been classed as a 'state ward' or 'ward of the state'. These terms were used to describe a child under the guardianship of a state child welfare organisation. The term 'ward' first was used in the 1887 Neglected Children's Act. From the 1920s it was common for state wards to be placed by the government in orphanages or children's homes. These places were run by religious or charitable organisations. This trend continued up until the 1950s when the government established state-run institutions for children and young offenders. 

Public Records Office Victoria (PROV)

Access to records may be closed for the following reasons:

  • Privacy
  • Preservation
  • The time the records were created is also considered. Records are closed generally 75 years for adults and 99 years for children.

Please be aware the language of these records can be disturbing and reflect the attitudes of the time.

For access to closed records at PROV under the Public Records Act 1973 see PROV's guide to closed records.

Information that may be found includes:

  • name
  • date of birth
  • birth place 
  • ability to read or write
  • cause of admission to State care
  • dates of admission to State care
  • the court which ordered the child into care
  • details of parents and other family members
  • where they were placed location and date of placements in government or government approved private institutions

Records held by other organisations

Family Search
Log in to or create a free account to access these records:

Fred Walter Website:

  • Index to the Admission Books of Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum 1861-1923

Ballarat Historical Society:

  • Ballarat Benevolent Society - Consolidated Register 1860-1925

Bendigo Family History group:

  • Bendigo Benevolent Asylum Index to Admissions 1861-c1940
  • Bendigo Benevolent Asylum General Return of Children in care 1861-1862 
  • Bendigo Benevolent Asylum Index to Children's Registers 1868-1885

Castlemaine Historical Society Incorporated:

  • Castlemaine Benevolent Asylum Patient Register 1860-1938 (indexed to 1922)

 

Benevolent asylum, Castlemaine, Victoria about 1917. H90.140/656

 

There are resources available to assist you in acessing records from other institutions :

Find & Connect has two guides:

Information concerning access to many records from both government and non-government welfare agencies and institutions can be located via the Department of Health and Human Services, as can information about records from departmental functions for disability services, youth justice, and mental health services. You can find more information about the records they hold, what can be accessed, and how via the Department website

What was life like?

State Library Victoria has an extensive collection of primary and secondary resources that can help you gain an understanding of what life was like for people living or working in welfare institutions in Victoria. These resources include published histories, official documentation such as annual reports or other institutional records, pictures and photographs, maps and architectural drawings. You can find first hand accounts of life inside welfare institutions. Try searching the Library catalogue for the name of the welfare institution of interest - you may find a variety of results, from photographs and architectural drawings through to histories and annual reports. For example, searching the catalogue for "carlton refuge" returns a number of histories, such as Reminiscences of the Carlton Refuge 1854 to 1919 by M. J. Kernot which has been fully digitised.

Other resources include:

Thomas E. Yates has written a personal account in Growing up in Melbourne orphanage 1939 to 1948.

How I drifted into the Benevolent asylum : an inmate's story. A personal account written in the 1870s available to explore online.

Love, sweat and tears : the story of the enduring battle for survival of Joshua and Daniel Szwarc by Barbara Szwarc. A very personal story of two children who found shelter at the Children's Aid Society. 

Single mothers and their children : disposal, punishment and survival in Australia by Shurlee Swain with Renate Howe. A historical account of illegitimate care of children.

Confronting cruelty : historical perspectives on child abuse by Dorothy Scott and Shurlee Swain.

Sketches at the benevolent asylum. AN13/05/85/72