Cockatoo Island page 4

Convicts and transportation


Maitland Mercury and Hunter 19 July 1883

Official report on Biloela

Official Visit to Biloela.
The Hon. G. H. Reid, Minister for Public Instruction, paid an official visit on Saturday (says the Herald) to the Girls’ Industrial School at Biloela. The Minister was accompanied by Dr. Tarrant, M.L.A., the Hon. R. D. Leefe, M.L.C. (Fiji), the Hon. Rufus D. Wood (member of the Executive Council of Massachusetts), Mr. D. M’Donald (engineer for the Harbour Trust of Auckland), and Mr. George Miller (Acting Secretary for Public Instruction). Mr. Reid was shown through the whole of the buildings at Biloela (or Cockatoo Island), and the working of the system under which the girls are trained thoroughly explained to him. -At present there are 116 girls and 13 boys in the institution. The boys are mere children, who have been sent to this institution until they are old enough to be transferred to the nautical training ship Vernon. The girls may remain at Biloela until l8 years old, but it is very rarely that they remain till that age, as they are eligible for apprenticeship as soon as they are 12. They can only be apprenticed till they are l8, and after that age they are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. They cannot remain in the institution after they are l8, but care is taken that they are fairly well provided for elsewhere. A half-time school is carried on in connection with the institution, and the girls are also instructed in sewing, cooking, and general household work. For the latter purpose each girl is placed for a year in the house of one of the officials, and trained in general housework, to fit them for the position of general servants. There is a constant demand on the part of the outside public for apprentices from this establishment. An average of three apprentices are sent out every week, but at the present moment there are upwards of 100 applications which require to be satisfied. The officers of the institution are :-Mrs. Walker, Superintendent ; Mrs. Rowland, matron ; Mrs. Dunn and Mrs. Brackenberg, assistant matrons ; Mrs. Kelly, teacher ; Miss Walker, storekeeper, and a cook and laundress. Dr. Evans, of Balmain, is the medical officer, and the health of the inmates is uniformly very good. The details of the management were fully explained to the Minister, who closely inquired into the working of i he system, and required that ample information should be furnished to him as to the method and cost of carrying on the institution. Everything was found to be in a remarkably satisfactory condition, and Mr. Reid expressed himself as highly pleased with the result of his visit. The party then proceeded to that quarter of the island opposite the Vernon.
Captain Neitenstein had about 150 of the Vernon boys drawn up here in line, and under his direction they ” marched past,” headed by their band, in an exceedingly creditable manner. The boys were, as usual,
in splendid condition, and went through their drill in first-class style.
The Minister and party then returned to town.

Maitland Mercury 18 Oct 1881

Report on Vernon training ship boys<br>

The Vernon Nautical School.
The report of the Superintendent for 1880/81 is before us. It states that on the 30th June, 1881, when the report ended, 165 boys remained on the ship. During the previous twelve months 108 were admitted, and 92 discharged, 74 of these having been apprenticed. The ages of the boys varied from 7 to 17 years, the largest number of the series being 33 between 12 and 13 years. The health of the boys had been good, and maintained a previous high standard. No deaths had occurred during the previous six years. The state of the health of the ship’s inmates was the more satisfactory, considering the privation, neglect, and squalor from which many of them were sent. During the year, the usual drills had been performed regularly, and Mr. Neitenstein dwells a little on the value of a systematic course of drilling, as being conducive to order, improvement of bearing, and personal neatness. A proof of the excellence of the discipline of the boys was given on one occasion, when at three o’clock in the morning an alarm of fire was given. They behaved well and quietly, and showed promptitude and coolness under trying circumstances. Besides drills, much other work has been performed, including that which is computed to be of the money value of £1323. By way of recreation the boys had a good library to resort to; they practiced solo and chorus singing; played cricket and other games on Cockatoo Island; and were taken on excursions in the harbour. Net and line fishing at suitable times formed a great source of amusement. Competing at regattas was also permitted, and deprivation of these various amusements constituted the principal and an, effective correction for misconduct. Corporal punishment was seldom resorted to, and the conduct of the boys, notwithstanding previous bad training, had been satisfactory. Mr. Neitenstein quoted a number of letters from boys out in service, to show the good feelings generated in the institution towards the master and ship companions. The educational attainments, testified to by the district inspector were good. During the year, the net cost of each boy’s maintenance was £23 13s l0d, a reduction of £4 upon the previous year. Parents and friends pay reluctantly, even when able, and must be compelled to recognise their obligations. £150 was received from this source being £34 more than the sum for 1879-80. As usual, some difficulties had arisen from the action of parents and relatives, who had enticed apprenticed boys, to their hurt, from situations. During the four-teen years of the Vernon’s existence as an industrial school, 1012 boys had been sent to her, chiefly from Sydney, of whom 847 had been apprenticed or otherwise discharged, and 165 remained on the ship at the end of June, as stated above. Respecting 153 apprentices, whose time at the date of the report had not expired, the report was good, as to 9 it was indifferent, 5 had absconded, of 8 the indentures were cancelled and the boys returned, respecting 23 no report was received. Subsequently to the preparation of the report, the Superintendent obtained further information about the 23 last cases, which raises the “good” reports to 174, a better state of things than had been recorded in any previous year. The report closes with a long series of extracts from letters written by employers of boys to Mr. Neitenstein, speaking in uniformly favorable terms of the lads.

The Argus 18 April 1884

Report on success and failure of Vernon boys.

Sir,-In accordance with your directions I have visited Sydney for the purpose of gaining information with regard to the questions raised upon your visit to Ballarat when you were accompanied by the Hon. Mr. Coppin and other members of the Legislature. I have the honour to inform you that I visited twice the nautical school ship Vernon moored off Cockatoo Island,
There is at present no reformatory for boys Sydney but in many cases an evasion of the law has taken place so as to send young criminals on board the Vernon rather than to prison. At the time of my first visit to the Vernon viz on 31st March 1884, there were 216 boys on board and 12 at Biloela (an industrial school for girls at Cockatoo Island) awaiting the age of seven years before being transferred to the Vernon where they would have to remain for five years. Boys are committed to the Vernon at the early age of four years but the superintendent places them with the industrial School girls until they are seven. 1 saw the boys mustered and at their usual occupations and estimate their ages to be as follows -Between 30 to 40 appeared to be between 7 and 10 years of age, 60 to 70 between 10 und 13 years of age the balance over 13.

Five or six hammocks were slung that I might see what supervision during the night could be exercised. It appealed to be sufficiently good and safe. The Industrial School Act provides that every boy shall remain in the institution for not less than 12 months; that no boy shall be apprenticed until he be 12 years of age; and all must attend school until 14 years of age. Lastly, all remain under the control of the department until they reach the age of l8 years.

I pointed out several big boys, certainly over l6 years of age and I was informed they were troublesome young criminals, but there was no attempt made to separate them from the younger boys

There was not what can be described as any regular work going on in the Vernon excepting school which occupies half the day for each inmate. There were 31 boys (all but one under 12 years of age) in the tailor’s class, but these seemed to be under instruction more for the purpose of keeping their own clothing in repair than for anything else; Captain Neitenstein agreeing with me that the tailoring, as an industrial instruction did not offer a satisfactory future for the boys.

I can only summarise the general duties as keeping the ship clean, school, drill (not sail drill I understand) and boating. In the Vernon the boys have a pleasant time amid pleasant surroundings. A sojourn on board is not a punishment, nor do they learn beyond personal cleanliness and obedience what will help them in after life.

A boy committed after the age of 12 years, at the expiration of 12 months, obtains his liberty by being apprenticed until he shall reach l8 years of age. This liberty is gained without reference to his conduct. Even frequent cases of insubordination or laziness would only involve present punishment. In fact good or bad conduct makes no difference in the term of detention onboard.

I have the honour to be
J. Evans.

Argus May 2 1884

Response from Capt. Neitenstein

“A fortnight ago I classed the entire ship’s company of 216 according to their antecedents on shore. One hundred and thirty two had been guilty of theft, 14 were doubtful, and against the remainder I was unable to discover anything, although many of them have shown vicious traits.

Adelaide Advertiser 15 August 1913

The closure of Fitzroy Dock

Melbourne, August 13.
Remarkable disclosures regarding the condition of the plant at the Cockatoo Island dockyard were made by the Minister of Defence (Senator Millen) today. – “I should like to get a little into the history of the case,” began Senator Millen, “seeing that it has culminated in the closing down of a property which was acquired by the Commonwealth at a cost of £867.000 without Parliament being consulted. According to the papers in the department, negotiations were opened between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales for the building of cruisers at Fitzroy docks early in 1911. In March of that year the New South Wales Government agreed to do the work, stating that the whole of it would be completed in 26 months from the receipt of the plant and the ordering of the material. The terms of the New South Wales Government were accepted by the Commonwealth a month later, but it was not until August of that year that an agreement was prepared. In this agreement the date of the contract was fixed as August 1. The keels of the Brisbane and the two destroyers were laid in January 25 last, and the keel of the third destroyer has not yet been laid. Concurrently with the negotiations for letting this contract, correspondence took place as to the transfer of the island and the dockyard!« to the Commonwealth. This project was strongly reported against by Captain Clarkson, the member of the “Naval Board, when urged that a shipbuilding establishment should be erected on some other site. A little later Captain Clarkson further, reported:- ‘In my opinion Cockatoo dockyard has neither the staff, organisation, nor facilities for building vessels for the Royal Australian Navy with neither efficiency, economy, or dispatch. I consider that if the proposal to build vessels there is carried out the result will be disastrous.

“Position Very Unsatisfactory.”
Matters at the dock apparently did not proceed to the satisfaction of either the “Naval Board or the State Government. The latter appointed a committee to administer the yard, while the Naval Board was anything but satisfied with the reports reaching it as to the conduct and progress of the work. I will give some idea as to the condition of affairs if 1 give the following extract from a report of the Naval Board at Fitzroy dock. “The material, that is the material arriving for the construction of the Brisbane, is now lying on the island exposed to the weather, and if something is not done to put it in a proper rack many pieces will be ruined and others will be rendered much harder to work into shape. I consulted the engineer superintendent in the matter, but he said be would have nothing to do with the material until the contract was signed and he received definite instructions. The multiplicity of matters of this kind evidently induced the board on July 9, 1912, to represent to the Minister that the- position at “Fitzroy was very unsatisfactory, and that there was grave risk, of failure by the State Government to complete the building of the war-vessels. The board painted out that action by the Commonwealth seemed urgent, and that the only solution seemed to be the taking over of Cockatoo Island by the Commonwealth Government. Negotiations to this end followed and were completed by the end of 1912,

“The Boilers “Secondhand.”
Soon after taking over of the island the electrical engineer of the City of Sydney wrote pointing out that there would soon be required increased power at the dock. This communication was referred to the board, which replied that the position at the Fitzroy Dock was a very tenuous one, as the power plant was running with a heavy overload, and might at any time break down. The board recommended calling in an independent engineer, and Mr. G. A. Julius, of Sydney, was deputed to inspect and report. That was on March l8 last. His report was received on July 30, and here arc some extracts from the document:- “The whole of the boilers, of which there are six, are radically worn out. All of them were, believe, secondhand boilers when installed and at the present time ‘ considerable repairs have to be effected every week to keep them running for another week. Many of the motors are excellent machines, whilst others are obsolete and practically worn out”. The cables transmitting power from the power station to various parts of the island are in a bad condition, being run without system and in such a way as to break every regulation for the safe running of electric cables. The electrical equipment, as a whole, is in a very faulty and inefficient condition, and it is, quite impossible for the electrical engineer, on the island to meet the requirements of the dockyard with the present plant.”