St Johns Reformatory, Kapunda

St Johns Reformatory (Kapunda)




Provider: Catholic – Sisters of St Joseph

Year Opened: 1897

Year Closed: 1909


Also known as Catholic Girls Reformatory Kapunda, Redruth Girls Reformatory

From Finding Your Own Way Home – A guide to records of children’s homes in South Australia:

During the 1870s and early 1880s Sister Mechtilde Woods and a colleague from the St Joseph’s convent made regular visits to Catholic children in the Girls Reformatory at Magill. During these visits they became concerned that Catholic girls in the institution were being discouraged from practicing their faith. In addition they learned that several girls had been boarded out with non-Catholic families. Two particular girls had even been compelled to give up their faith. Over the next decade, the Catholic Church lobbied the government to do something about this situation. It was not until 1895 that a new Act was proclaimed allowing the State Children’s Council to send State Children of particular religious denominations to private reformatories subsidised by the government. This allowed the Catholic Church to establish a separate reformatory for Catholic girls. The State Children’s Council requested that the reformatory be set up away from the City. An old chapel and house, five kilometres from the town of Kapunda, were renovated and the new reformatory was gazetted as an Industrial School under the State Children’s Act of 1895. Sister Helena O’Brien was appointed matron and she, along with four other sisters, moved to Kapunda to prepare the residence. The first group of ten girls arrived in June 1897.

During the first two years a large number of the girls made escape attempts. Some were successful. In 1899 a second class dormitory and a number of cells were added to accommodate escapees and other girls whose conduct was considered unsatisfactory. A number of girls ‘whose behaviour improved’ were placed in service with Catholic families. Due to a lack of government funding to keep the reformatory operating, as well as problems associated with the appointment of a resident chaplain, it was closed in 1909 by Archbishop O’Reily. The eleven girls resident at that time were transferred to the Redruth Girls Reformatory at Burra. During the twelve years of its existence a total of 85 girls were accommodated at the Reformatory, 59 of those were readmitted for a second term. After the reformatory closed the buildings were dismantled and the contents sold at auction. Today nothing remains of the reformatory or the chapel, only several original trees still exist.

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