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1912 to 1952 - Families

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'No friends or relatives'

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In order to compare Victoria with other parts of the world in this matter, the following investigation was made at the Idiot Cottage, Kew, which has 317 patients, of which 169 are males and 148 females.

W.A.T. Lind, 'AETIOLOGY OF CONGENiTAL MENTAL DEFICIENCY', The Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. II, No. 16, 16 October 1916, page 313.

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‘Sorrowing parents’

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Overcrowding at the Kew Mental Hospital will be relieved by a programme of reconstruction in other parts of the State which is being carried out by the Department of Mental Hygiene. This week a requisition has been approved for the expenditure of about £16,000 at Beechworth Mental Hospital. 

Mental Hospitals: Reconstruction Programme', 
Argus, 10 December 1935, page 11.
Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.

... Sorrowing parents are almost heart broken because of the threatened removal of their loved ones from the Children's Cottages, Kew Mental Hospital, to Ararat Mental Hospital, which is 131 miles from Melbourne, and to Beechworth Mental Hospital, which is 171 miles from Melbourne.

W. G. HIGSS (Hon. Pres., Welfare Society for Mental Patients, 369 Collins Street, Melbourne).

‘Seeks Royal Commission’, np. nd., Mental Hospitals Auxiliaries of Victoria Manuscript Collection, PA 89/140, State Library of Victoria

In reference to the request not to transfer the above named patient from the Kew Cottages to a country institution, I desire to state that on 7/2/38, in response to my enquiries, Dr. Rogerson of Kew submitted the following report concerning the patient -

"She is an idiot of hemiplegic type. She is defective in her habits and unable to attend to her own wants. She is unable to speak and understands simple directions only. She is in fair health and is in the airing court during the day. She is not a hospital case."

On 9/2/38, Mrs. R. S ... who was making enquiries concerning the child was informed that it was likely that in the future she would be sent to a country institution.

Objections such as that attached will be numerous, and no doubt a great deal of pressure will be brought to bear to retain these patients in Melbourne. It is proposed that Janefield will be a farm colony, that is, its inhabitants must be capable of a certain amount of training, either mental or physical, in the endeavour to fit them for an independent existence, or, failing that, to enable them to live happily in the institution as useful and industrious components of the colony. The lower grades of mental defect must necessarily be sent to the country institutions where accommodation is being provided for them. There is nothing to prevent relatives making other arrangements for the care of these patients if they so desire.

Director of Mental Hygiene to Under Secretary, PROV, VPRS 3992/P, Unit 2095, 1938/Q2271, 15 March 1938.
© State of Victoria - Reproduced with the permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office Victoria, Australia.

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Letter, Under Secretary to Mrs V J., PROV, VPRS 3992/P, Unit 2095, 1938/Q2271, 22 March 1938


With reference to your letter of the 10th inst., protesting against the transfer of your daughter from the Children's Cottages at Kew to the Mental Hospital, Beechworth I am directed by the Chief Secretary to inform you that, whilst the closing of the Children's Cottages will necessitate the transfer of the children to other institutions, every effort will be made to retain in the metropolitan area those cases, such as your own child, whose relatives are living near Melbourne and desire to continue to visit them.

The Chief Secretary has already discussed with the Director of Mental Hygiene the necessity of providing near Melbourne accommodation for such cases, and this matter is having attention.

Yours faithfully
Under Secretary


Letter, Under Secretary to Mrs V J., PROV, VPRS 3992/P, Unit 2095, 1938/Q2271, 22 March 1938.
© State of Victoria - Reproduced with the permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office Victoria, Australia.

Re attached

Mrs Thomas should be advised to make representations to the Med Supt. at Kew.

The relatives of all the patients at the Children's Cottages are receiving a Communication regarding the possible transfer of patients to the Country Institutions. Patients who will be transferred, will for the present be restricted to those who have no friends or whose relatives do not object to the transfer.

Memo, Dr Catarinich, Director of Mental Hygiene to the Under Secretary, PROV, VPRS 3992/P, Box 2097, 1938/P3198, 14 April 1938.
© State of Victoria Reproduced with the permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office Victoria, Australia.

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Letter From A Mother 

Sir.-My husband and I have been married for 7½ years, during which time he has served four years with the A.I.F. We married, when Jim was 22 and I was 18, with the intention of having our family while we were young.

But war intervened and it was five years before our little daughter was born.

When the baby was coming, how thrilled and excited we were! We planned names and I made all the personal things and clothes, for we felt that nothing we could buy would be good enough. Jim made toys by the dozen; he has learnt how to do it while in the Army hospital.

Finally, after all the preparation, our baby arrived in January, 1947. The doctor who had been our medico since childhood would not allow my husband to tell me for six weeks that the baby we had longed for was a Mongol.*

I put in six weeks of planning what our daughter would be when she grew up, and imagined what she would wear for years ahead: but in about the fifth week after her birth I realised that something was wrong. So, under instructions from our Doctor, I took the baby to a Collins Street specialist and there, in his quiet consulting room, he had to tell me that the Child was a Mongol and had a congenital heart which meant that she would not live long. There in Melbourne, from a strange man, I received the most dreadful shock of my life, but it was softened by the kindness of this doctor. He suggested that the baby be taken to Kew, as I had no possible hope of handling one so difficult. This we did and at first I broke my heart over the place; but I went regularly to visit our baby and each time I went I realised more what wonderful work the staff was doing. And on each occasion, they had time to stop to explain about Mongols to me; and through those people of the Children's Cottage and the doctor I at least came to understand that it is no fault of ours that she came as she did; and to me that meant a lot, as our local doctor had been a little harsh about it. The child died after six weeks at Kew. We don't talk about it among our friends now, as they don't seem to know anything of such a sadness in life. So we just go on laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. We are not wealthy, and we had had lots of heartbreaks (or so we thought) before in our life; but after knowing that kind of sadness I feel we now know heartbreak at its very worst.

I'm sorry to write such a lengthy story to you, but I read the article "Hillside of Sadness" in The Herald.

We feel a little rested to know that others can appreciate and write about something that a mother of one of those unfortunates can feel but not express.

Sincerely thanking you for that fine article, and for your support for the stout-hearted staff at Kew.


*A congenital malformation in which the child is born with a Mongolian appearance.

‘Letter from a Mother’, The Herald, 5 October 1948, page 4.
Courtesy of The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd.

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