Architecture, Deaf Children Australia, Photography

If the Walls Could Talk

Today saw me back at the Bluestone building for Deaf Children Australia, though not really for photos.  Today was more to find out about some of the plans for the restoration and the future.  A really interesting meeting, though not something I am going to talk about today. I need to read some information and look into it more and I don’t have the time right now.  Time is something that just keeps running out right now.

Boys Dormitory Right now the above space is empty, but it was once the boys dormitory.  The room was full of beds for the kids that stayed at the school.

Someone WatchingThis is a room off the dormitory, and I thought it had been sectioned off at a later date, but down the other end where the girls dormitory is, there is a similar room in the corner where the matron slept and kept an eye on the girls, so I am going to assume that this room was where the man who looked after the boys slept.

It was an interesting day, I got another tour and learned a lot more about the history.  I didn’t realise that the girls and boys were segregated so much, the boys had their own areas to play and the girls theirs.  They were in class together, and had meals together, but that seems to be about all.

One of the most intriguing things about these places is how they started.  I had heard this story before, but I have it here again and this time I am going to copy what was written in a book, so please bear with me.

“The origin of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution and its subsequent progress was on this wise.” On the 14th February, 1859, there a letter in the Melbourne Argus over the signature “G”, setting out the tragic position of the deaf and dumb in the colony of Victoria, stating that it was the writer’s belief there were more than 50 deaf and dumb children receiving no instruction.  Two days later appeared a letter from Mrs. Sarah Lewis, under the nom de plume “Widow”, in which she appealed for help in the instruction of her little eight-year-old daughter.  She concluded the letter thus: “If nothing can be done speedily in this colony, I shall be put to the peril and danger of a sea voyage to get her educated in Old England, but should such an institution arise here, I would enrol myself a life subscriber.”

At the time Mr. Rose was residing at Bendigo, carrying on the occupation of a builder.  He immediately responded to the appeal.  It seemed providential that an educated deaf man should at that time be working on the gold fields – a man fully qualified, having the skill and necessary missionary zeal to accept the challenge and responsibility, with little prospect of adequate material reward.

Mr. Rose wrote to the Argus on 24th of February, 1859, confessing his ignorance of the fact that there were so many deaf children in the colony and offering to establish an institution for their instruction for a fair remuneration if sufficient numbers were forthcoming.

After winding up some contracts on which he was engaged at the time, Mr. Rose inserted the following advertisement in the Argus on the 28th and 30th April and the 2nd May, 1859:- “Education of the Deaf and Dumb.  It is in contemplation to establish an asylum to educate the Deaf and Dumb in this Colony should there be a sufficient number to warrant such.  The parents and guardians of Deaf and Dumb children are requested to communicate with the undersigned stating the ages, sex and address of any wishing to become pupils.  F.J. Rose, Haymarket Hotel, Bendigo.”

The first school was set up in Prahan in Peel Street,  and was opened with four resident boarders.  One of those was the daughter of Mrs. Sarah Lewis.  Her daughter is the first person registered in the book of “inmates” ( I can’t believe that is the term that was used for them.)

The First EntryToday I was lucky enough to be shown the book of “inmates” that had the first entry and there she is Lucy Lewis and all her information.  Sorry about the photo, I had to take it with my phone and the lighting wasn’t great, but hopefully you get the idea.

I hope you can read what it says, when she went deaf and why.  This next part is on the following page.

LeavingThis is on the adjoining page.  She left the year the “Institution” got the new building.  I wonder if she was ever in it?

I hope you haven’t minded the history lesson, not so much photography, sorry, but I love the history and wanted to share it with you.  I need to get back to the images from the Manchester Unity Building now, so much work to do on those and the time is running out.


  1. great story and pictures, loving it. Kind of got a streak of investigative jounalist in you, dontcha?

  2. salilr says

    Your blog is rather interesting, and those are some really nice photos you’ve taken! Thank you for stopping by my blog, it’s great to get encouragement from the blogosphere :)


  3. I really enjoyed the history lesson. It changed my whole perspective from “isn’t that interesting about the school” to recognizing what an accomplishment it really was, thinking back to it being a colony and how this effort and the “providential” good fortune of having Mr. Roses available at just the right time.

    I have been learning so much from you blog, not just about art. Through your photography and words, I’ve gained a feeling for the life of the early settlers in Victoria. It’s wonderful.

    Investigative reporter and historian.

    Thank you for your efforts!

    • Thanks Nia, I am glad you are getting something out it, I sometimes think I am boring everyone. So it is good to get some acknowledgement.

  4. Liana says

    …and you, too, are “writing” your name on their wall…one of them who is now part of that story… :)

  5. So glad we stopped using the “dumb” label for people who don’t speak! BTW – I love your banner photo

    • We were talking about that yesterday, how we have changed a lot of those horrible terms. I agree with you.

  6. The history is indeed fascinating…I am not sure how to feel about it all. On one hand, the goal is noble; on the other, they still seemed “lesser.” Maybe it’s the term “inmate” that caught me? Is this a difference in dialect? Does inmate have the same connotation in Australia that it does in the u.s. I wonder?

    • I am sure the word now does, and it is a word that they stopped using there a long time ago, it didn’t mean prisoner as we now think of it. I am sure it was an innocent term that referred to them being boarders, or enrolled in the school. I have never thought they were lesser, and the school provided a place where deaf people could learn to communicate and because valuable members of society. I must put a link to a wonderful story written by someone who was a student there.

      • Awesome! I would love to see the link when you find the time (LOL). Your posts help broaden my borders and I super appreciate them! History’s important, ESPECIALLY when it’s imperfect!

      • I need to find out if I am allowed to and if so, I will have to work out how to do, then I will include it in the next post I do on the DCA.

  7. Great shots … but how terrible to call some dumb and to get it on paper … many years ago – thank God that we have moved away from that. Love the colors of that … to me massive rooms. Maybe it’s good that the walls can’t talk, I think we would struggle to hear it’s stories.

    • I have learned with my time there, that though they were at the school, and they were deaf, they were just kids, exactly as you would expect them to be. From stories I’ve heard, they were cheeky, inventive and did much as what normal kids did. I do believe we need to think of this place as a haven for them, as a place that was nurturing and caring, it was no different to any school, they had boarders, and they had day students, the only difference was that all the students were deaf.

      • Interesting information – but to call somebody dumb because they are deaf – I know it happen in Sweden at that time.
        I’m glad that kids was like other kids … at heart and soul.

  8. I have been finding your work at this location very interesting. About 30 years ago, I worked for a bank in Philadelphia, PA, USA, and one of my customers was the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. At the time they occupied a spacious campus of large stone Gothic buildings, and I was given a tour of the entire school. It had several dormitories along the lines you describe. Since the school was still in operation, I saw everything in use. Due to declining enrollment and the trend toward educating the deaf in their local schools vs. sending them away to a boarding school, the campus was sold a few years later and now the school operates a day school in a smaller campus nearby. Thanks for the information and the photos – it really brings it alive to me.

    • Very good seeing it, but such a strange name, we were trying to work out why it was called that. I don’t really know myself, the word, I am sure, did not have the same meaning as it does now.

  9. Interesting to know in the beginning having a school for deaf and dumb was progress, an accomplishment, but it is good that people with special needs are now integrated rather than segregated now.

    • They aren’t always, there is still a deaf school there, though not in the building, I would imagine it would still be hard for deaf children to be integrated into normal schools if the teacher doesn’t sign and the other kids don’t as well. though cochlear implants are now making that more possible for many children and the number of students at the school has great reduced because of the implants.

  10. Thank you for stopping by my blog and liking my post Happy Spring. I, too, love to look at old buildings and photograph architecture. Nice photos and story.

  11. Thank you for the back story! There are so many “little” stories in the world that will never be heard, and yet occupy the memories and lives of so many people, and therefore, are not little at all.


  12. This really is an intriguing piece of history and you are so fortunate to be able to capture it and learn of its story. Thank you for sharing it with us Leanne.

  13. Does it say that she was deaf because her mother went mad? thank goodness we’ve moved beyond that !

  14. Thank you for including the history of the school. The term “Deaf and dumb” was still being used when I grew up.

  15. Thanks Leanne, this is a fascinating insight into another era but I find it really poignant. Poor little girl…I do hope that she never stayed there and that her mother’s madness was momentary only.

    • She did stay there, for many years, though it was her stepmother who was caring for her, quite unbelievable the reason for her deafness, I am sure there was some other reason. Her mother went “mad” when she was four and by the time she was eight, Sarah Lewis was her stepmother.

  16. Pingback: In the Beginning | Leanne Cole PHOTOGRAPHY

Comments are closed.