Neglected & Forgotten

The Barber Children

If you take a walk through the Yackandandah Cemetery, Roman Catholic section row twenty three, grave number three – you’ll find yourself at a bare patch of ground. This is the final resting place of Elizabeth Barber. Elizabeth passed away in 1865 at age 28 – only months after the birth (and death one day later) of her daughter Mary Ann.

Elizabeth’s death sealed the fate of her other five children (Walker, William, Ellen, Elizabeth and Francis) – who, left in the sole care of their father William Barber, were soon convicted of the offense of being neglected children.

In 1864 the Neglected and Criminal Children Act was brought into force which aimed “to provide for the care and custody of “neglected” and “convicted” children and to prevent the commission of crime by young persons”.

There were a range of criteria for being classed as a neglected child – being found begging in public, being found wandering or sleeping in the open air, residing in a brothel or being the associate of a thief or prostitute. Though, the most likely reason in the Barber’s case was the following:

“Any child whose parent represents that he is unable to control such child and that he wishes him to be sent to an industrial school and gives security to the satisfaction of the justices before whom such child may be brought for payment of the maintenance of such child in such school”

And so it was on the 3rd of October 1865 a hearing was held at the Yackandandah Court House and all five children were found guilty of being neglected children, each sentenced to a seven year term in the industrial school system and sent to the Princes Bridge Reformatory School in Melbourne.

By November it was evident that William Barber was not interested in the welfare of his children. He was summoned to the Yackandandah Police Court by Senior Constable Steele for neglecting to pay anything towards the support of his five children. Steele noted that Barber had “been spending money freely at the public houses during the last week or two”.

Here is what is known about the children of Elizabeth and William Barber after becoming wards of the State:

Ellen Barber, the eldest of the children at seven years old was sent on to what appears to be the Sunbury Reformatory (not quite legible in the records…) school in February of 1866 where she remained until late 1867 when she returned to Princes Bridge. In November of 1868 she was sent to Ballarat where she remained, being licensed out to work for Joseph James – a gardener in Mt Pleasant near Ballarat in 1870. At the end of Ellen’s seven year term she was fourteen and was subsequently recommitted for another two years. This saw her returning to the orphanage in Ballarat for a few months before returning to Mr James in Mt Pleasant to serve out the rest of her term.

Elizabeth Barber, at six years of age, spent two years at the Princes Bridge home – separated from her siblings for most of that time. Due to various outbreaks of diseases in the home, Elizabeth (along with a number of other children) was sent to Sanatory Station at Point Nepean for quarantine in July of 1867. She returned briefly to Princes Bridge in mid 1868 before being sent to Ballarat – where she was reunited with her sister Ellen. She remained at Ballarat until the end of the her term, and was recommitted for an additional three years which she spent in the service of an engineer by the name of George James, residing in Barkley Street, Ballarat East.

The story of Walker and Walter Barber is a short and tragic one. One week after arriving at Princes Bridge both boys were sent off to Geelong with their younger brother Francis. All that is known from that point on is that Walker Barber died of an ‘intermittent fever’ on the 25th of November 1865 and Walter succumbed to measles in December of 1866. They were both aged four when they passed. What is truly sad is that their death certificates do not mention their family at all – listed as the children of unknown parents.

Francis Barber was only one year old when he was sent to Melbourne – soon arriving in Geelong with his older brothers. Francis remained at Geelong until October 1871 when he was transferred to Sunbury where he served out the rest of his term. Like his sisters, Francis was re-committed, but due to his age he was committed for a further seven years. He was sent back to Melbourne in 1875 – managing to abscond for a day in August of the same year. The following year Francis spent five months aboard The Nelson – a training ship docked at Williamstown which drew criticism during the Royal Commission on Industrial and Reformatory Schools in 1872, which called for the ship to be closed, declaring:

“a ship … is not … a fitting place for either the industrial or moral training of boys who are not expressly designed for a sea-faring life. The associations connected with ship life also induce, in the majority of them, a unsettled and roving disposition, quite at variance with them afterwards betaking themselves to steady industry on shore”.

Between 1876 and Francis’ discharge in 1878 he spent time at the Sunbury and Royal Park homes and was licensed out twice. In November 1876 Francis was licensed to Dr James P Ryan, Surgeon residing at 166 Collins Street and in June 1878 with Mr John Tanner, Contractor of Brighton (where he undertook paid work).

The last entry in Francis’ record shows him working for Mr Morris Lonergan, a farmer at Strathfieldsaye.

There are many unanswered questions regarding Ellen, Elizabeth and Francis Barber – and the fate of their father William – stay tuned.