Thursday, November 8, 2012


Boys from the Vernon (background)
possibly on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour
Photo courtesy of John Jeremy
 In January 1867, an old hulk, the Vernon, was purchased by the Colonial Secretary for the purpose of being a reform school for deliquent boys, as well as orphans.
It was initially moored in Sydney Harbour near what is now the Botanic Gardens before being moved to up the harbour to Cockatoo Island.
On 20 May 1867, applications for admission to the nautical school-ship commenced.
It was intended that vagrant and destitute boys would receive moral, nautical and industrial training along with elementary schooling.
They were taught tailoring, sail-making, carpentry and nautical skills.

The Vernon was replaced by the Sobraon in November 1892.
The following year, the Vernon was completely destroyed by fire.
It had been sold for a mere trifle for breaking up, but was apparently destroyed by those harbouring a grudge against what had gone on in in when it had been a reform school.

In May 1890, a newspaper report declared that during the previous five years, 1,000 boys had been hired out from the training ship, the Vernon.
So far over 92 percent had turned out well.
At that same time, the Minister for Public Instruction had decided to erect a workshop on Cockatoo Island for the use of the Vernon boys.
In August 1890, The Vernon Inquiry was held following allegations that the reform ship was producing a large number of some of the colony's worst criminals.
These included convicted murderers, thieves, robbers and participants in unnatural crimes.
It was also claimed that Vernon boys were always known by the extreme filthiness of their language.
Some of the Vernon's critics had called for a Royal Commission.
The Minister, however, threw the complaints out and was said to have closed the inquiry 'rather hastily'.

Jimmy Governor, aged 15, was one of the inmates of the Vernon in 1890.
At the time of his admission, he had been found destitute, unable to care for himself after his father had been gaoled for a short time for stabbing another Aboriginal man.
The Vernon had been operating as a boys' reform school for eight years before Jimmy was born in 1875.

In May 1891, the Vernon boys, numbering over 200, were entertained by Sir Henry and Lady Parkes at Balmain.
The boys were given lots of encouragement, and were even presented to the Governor.

More photos of the Vernon can be seen on the Australian Government Cockatoo Island website.


In attempting to present Jimmy in the best light - for instance, his willingness to work and earn his own living rather than living on a reserve and relying on government welfare - many accounts of his life have ignored his brushes with the law before the Breelong murders.
When Jimmy was just 15, he was sent to Sydney to the only boys' reform school in the state, an industrial training ship called the Vernon moored near Cockatoo Island.
He was sent there after being convicted of 'horse sweating', 'borrowing' someone else's horse and riding it without permission until it was exhausted.
Similar to 'joy riding' in a car today.
It was not strictly 'horse stealing' and only became so if the offender attempted to sell the animal, as if it were his own.
Jimmy was apprehended not long after his father was put in Maitland gaol in September 1890 for stabbing another blackfellow at the camp where he and his son were staying after an argument.
The boy aged around 15 then became homeless and without any means of support.
Jimmy's youngest brother, Roy, was a 'career criminal', spending much of his adult life in gaol.
He was in Goulburn gaol in 1918 and Bathurst gaol in 1923.
Roy's main offences were stealing, breaking and entering and attempted burglary, but he also was out to get Mick O'Brien, whose pregnant wife and toddler son his older brothers, Joe and Jimmy had murdered.
Jimmy was in Darlinghurst gaol for around three months from the end of 1900 to early 1901 before he was hanged.
His brother Joe would have been there too if he had not been shot and killed.