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.