Remuera Children’s Home

New Remuera children's Home

In 1893 a home for destitute children was founded by the congregation of the former Union Free Church, Wellesley Street West, whose minister, the Reverend William Birch, discovered two children making their home in a barrel and took them into his house.

Rev. Birch and Mr Robert Fry, a prominent businessman and JP, then built a small cottage in Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland, beginning with five children. [1]

The Union Free Church Children’s Home was officially opened on October 19th 1893 by Lady Ranfurly, the Governor’s wife, and grew to capacity with 20 children. [2]

When it had been open some two years, Miss Margaret Carnie became matron.The Samaritan Society of the Union Free Church in Auckland, a group of Christian women, raised funds and managed the running of the children’s home.  Children were admitted to the home if they were homeless or destitute, or if one parent had died and the other parent couldn’t look after the children anymore at a time when there was no social welfare assistance for families.

The Baptist Union was approached to become the home’s sponsor and undertake responsibility for the home. The church “readily accepted the trust, and undertook the responsibility of the home. In doing so, however, they received no privileges, for the home is not a Baptist institution. All children, no matter what their creed or religion, were admitted if they are orphans or destitute. This is the sole condition of admission”. [3]

However deserving children were being turned away due to lack  of space. A property in Portland Road Remuera came on to the market which could accommodate three times the number of children. The Portland Road house on the corner of Westbury Crescent had been until 1900 the location of Mrs Catherine Law’s Remuera Ladies College which had moved close by to Cleveland House off what is now Garden Road. The new home was described as a spacious double-storeyed villa of 22 rooms on three eighths of an acre of land, capable of accommodating sixty children, and was purchased for £800, a sum which was “acknowledged to be much below its value”. [4]

Pupils outside the building in Portland Road which was built by Mrs Catherine Law & used as Ladies college whn it shifted to Cleveland House in 1900.

The Remuera Children’s Home was officially opened on the 16 February 1903 by the Premier Richard Seddon in the presence of ministers of several denominations and missions, politicians and dignitaries:

* Reverends George. B. Monro, St Luke’s Presbyterian Church Remuera, William Ready, Pitt Street Methodist Church and Rev. Job Benning, Methodist Church; R. S. Abel (New Zealand Baptist Union), the pastor of the Ponsonby Baptist Church Rev. A. North, C. H. Poole (Helping Hand Mission) and J. Wilson (Central Mission)

* The Hon Thomas Duncan, Minister of Lands and Agriculture; Messrs William Napier, Joseph Witheford, and Alfred Kidd, MPs for Auckland City, with Frank Lawry, MP for Parnell.

* John Mitchell of the Education Board and Mr R B Heriot, Headmaster of Remuera Primary School.

After speeches, there was a “presentation to the Premier by Mrs. Hay (the secretary), of a solid silver key, suitably inscribed, as a memento of the occasion.” The Premier said he it gave him great pleasure to open an institution which received children from all denominations. He then granted the home the privilege of a free telephone. Votes of thanks were accorded to the Premier, the chairman, and the Ladies’ Committee. “Afternoon tea was then served, the Garrison Band, under Bandmaster Hunter, which was present, discoursing some capital selections.” [5]

The funds for running the home were raised by voluntary subscriptions, under the auspices of the Union Free Baptist Church. Many fund-raising at-home afternoons, church bazaars and campaigns were held by the Samaritan Society’s Ladies Committee. Although the Remuera Home was opened debt-free, funds were required for renovations and new furniture. At a bazaar opened by the Countess of Ranfurly, wife of the Governor-General, in June 1903, the chairman said the children were well provided for at a cost of £12 5/6 per head. The sale of work raised £60 while afternoon refreshments and selections were played by Mr Carbine’s orchestra. [6]

Lady Plunket 1908

At an At-Home in March 1905, Lady Plunket, wife of the Governor-General, was received by the Mayor of Auckland The Hon. E Mitchelson to celebrate the second anniversary of the occupation of the new Home and the recent completion of repairs to the building. These repairs cost about £150, and included the renovation of the building inside and out. “A notable improvement was the placing of a dado of oilcloth on the walls throughout the house to get over the difficulty of keeping it clean—above the dado is rather a pretty wall-paper. The whole of the debt on the building except a small sum of £30 remaining on the repairs account has been paid off and the small deficiency will, it is hoped, be cleared off by a sale of work that is to be held.” [7]

The house was decorated in the Governor’s colours of chocolate and gold and tea was served for the visitors in a marquee on the lawn, and Her Ladyship was entertained in the drawing-room. As Lady Plunket left the building, the orchestra struck up with the National Anthem. In the evening the children sang the pretty cantata, “Soot and the Fairies”, in the dining-room. [8]

On the third anniversary of the home in Remuera in March 1906, another at-home was held with the President Mrs Giles and Hon. Secretary Mrs Hay receiving guests. “Afternoon tea was served in a marquee on the lawn, and from the verandah floated the strains of an orchestra under Mr. Tremain. In the large dining room and in the children’s playroom a quantity of plain and fancy work and articles of bijouterie, left over from the recent sale of work at St. James’ Hall, were exposed for sale, and although no one was pressed to buy, the articles found many ready purchasers.” 9 In the evening “a very enjoyable concert, arranged by the Rev. Jas. Wilson, was held in the large dining room, which was quite filled for the occasion. The programme consisted of songs by the Misses McLeod and Mrs. Kasper; piano solos and duets by the Misses McLeod, and recitation by the Rev. J. Wilson. Coffee, etc was subsequently served to the guests.” [10]

While fund-raising was a constant need, the home prided itself on being run very efficiently. In the course of speeches for the 12th anniversary in 1905, Mr. Goldie spoke in ‘exceedingly high terms’ of the way in which the home was conducted and financed, and stated that while the children at the Government’s Home at Mount Albert cost £39 a head to maintain those at the Remuera Home were maintained very happily at £9 a head. [11]

In 1907 the home was officially vested in the Baptist Union of New Zealand from the Ladies Committee of the Samaritan Society. It was proposed to set up a board of management, which would meet monthly, but the inner control of the home would be left to the Ladies’ Committee. [12]

In 1908 tragedy struck when a boy at the home was accidentally killed. A neighbour had invited some of the older boys to go and pick quinces in his orchard. A loaded gun was discovered in the stables and Thomas Humphries had picked it up and dropped it, causing it to go off, shooting him dead. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death. [13]

Then in 1913 the Remuera Children’s Home received a legacy from Mr Isaac Butterworth of Wairoa. He and his brother had arrived as orphans from Yorkshire, England in the 1870s, and had become prosperous farmers. The Church of England Orphanage at Papatoetoe, the Remuera Children’s Home at Portland Road, and the Children’s Home in Richmond Road each benefited from between £700 and £900. [14]

In 1913 the home received notice from the Health Department that the present premises were unsuitable and insanitary and had to be vacated at as early a date as possible. There had been an outbreak of ‘fever’ and a 12 year old girl Vera Stitchbury had died of meningitis in 1910. 15 Children were having to sleep five to a room with little space outdoors or indoors for play. The home had become cramped with no separate areas for boys and girls. The building was also deemed a fire risk. [16]

Ten Auckland business men promptly contributed £5O each and purchased a block of some seven acres of land at Manurewa, which they presented to the board, for a new building. 17 Miss Spedding, the honorary organiser, embarked upon a national fund raising campaign travelling throughout New Zealand and raising over £1,000 of the £8,000 required. As the result of the public appeal, with the proposed sale of the old Remuera property, about £6800 was available towards this amount, leaving a balance of between £l400 and £I500 still to be raised. In 1912 and 1913 permission was received to hold street appeals which raised close to £1,000.

New Children's home at Manurewa Auckland

The plans for the new home at Manurewa comprised a single storey brick building with 3 dormitories for 60 infants, girls and boys with three recreation rooms, several bathrooms, a modern kitchen, a 50ft by 25ft dining room and a future isolation block, which, in addition to the isolation ward, will contain a bathroom and a staff bedroom. In October 1913 tenders were able to be issued for the building of the new home at Manurewa. Four foundation stones were laid, one each by the Rev. E. A. Kirwood (as president of the Baptist Union of New Zealand), Mr. A. C. Caughey (as representing the public who had subscribed to the home, Mrs. Hay (hon. secretary of the Ladies’ Committee from 1893 to 1944), and Mr. G. C. Garlick hon. secretary of the board). The layer of each of the four stones was presented with a suitably-inscribed silver trowel. Beneath one stone was placed a sealed jar containing copies of the current daily papers, the Baptist handbook, the annual report, and a list of the names of the donors of the land. [18]

The building was completed in June 1914 and a national campaign to raise £1,500 in 7 days was instituted in order to have the home open debt-free. The sum of £1649 was raised by teams of collectors, securing the future of the home. The new Manurewa Children’s Home was opened on Saturday 17th October 1914 by the Hon. George Fowlds, ex-MP for Grey Lynn and a keen Congregationalist. Also present were the trustees Messrs. K. H. Swales. F. M. Hay and J. W. Robinson, Mr. V. C. Garlick as president, Mr. Thomas. E. Whitton secretary and treasurer, Mrs. Howie chairman, and Mrs. Hay hon. secretary of the Ladies’ Committee.

Showing the Hon Geo Fowlds

Mr. Fowlds then gave a word of warning to the trustees of such institutions. He said that in his experience as Minister of Education, he believed that it would be unwise to enlarge the Home beyond its present capacity. Personally he believed the best results in the care of neglected children were secured in the boarding-out system, and under any circumstances he considered it unwise to have big institutions of that character in New Zealand. Experience had proved that in the best managed institutions there was a danger of the institutional stamp being fixed to the children, which handicapped them in later life. Moderate private homes, to his mind, gave better results in developing individual child life. The Rev. George. B. Monro. M.A. (president of the Leslie Orphanage) referred briefly to the good work done by the Home while at Remuera and also testified to the faithful way in which the Ladies’ Committee looked after the welfare of the children. [19]

Manurewa Children's Home 1989

The Manurewa Children’s Home ran successfully until 1989. The Children Youth and Families Act of 1989 moved to put children in foster homes rather than orphanages, so the Manurewa Children’s home closed and the work was moved into family homes with caregivers. In 2006 Iosis was formed amalgamating Merivale Women’s Refuge, Baptist City Mission and Baptist Family Services. Iosis adopted a fresh vision and created an agency for families facing complex challenges. The Baptist Children’s Trust is still an active and a major supporter of Iosis, which is located on part of the site of the former Children’s Home. In 2014 it hosted a centenary commemoration for the children’s home and its services for families. [20]

Manurewa Childrens-Home, Russell Road, Manurewa, ca 1949.-(Footprints no. 30, Manurewa Historical. Society Collection-MNA-I-2-noD6. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, MJ-1722)

The home is listed on Auckland Council’s Historic Heritage Schedule as 01452 Manurewa Children’s Home (former) 25 and 35 Montilla Place, Manurewa LOT 1 DP 443366; LOT 2DP 443366. Established by the Baptist Church in 1914, the Manurewa Children’s Home (ID 01452) demonstrates the important role the church played in providing for orphaned and destitute children before the government introduced social welfare policies. The place has a strong association with the development of important ideas about the physical and mental health of children and the emerging understanding of the impacts their environment and upbringing can have on wellbeing. The place also reflects important ideas held by the Victorians and Edwardians who prized philanthropy and charity. One of the ways these ideas manifested was through constructing institutions, such as the Manurewa Children’s Home, to serve the vulnerable within the community. [21]