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Report from the Quarter-Master General respecting
the Female Branch of the Asylum

(submitted 13 March 1821)

The complaints which have been preferred during a long period of time, against the female children of this Institution for misconduct during their servitude as apprentices, having at length increased to a great extent, it becomes my duty, as one of the Commissioners (and more especially that one to whom reference in such cases has more immediately been made) to bring the whole matter before the General Body of the Commissioners for their serious consideration.

The misconduct which appears to have been most generally complained is obstinacy, unwillingness to work, insolence, disobedience, and profligacy - it must be observed that dishonesty has very rarely been imputed to these children.

These accusations have been usually referred to and investigated by the proper legal authorities, and the result has been, a very unfavourable opinion of the Magistrates of the behaviour of these children, and which opinion has been expressed upon the Bench of the Police Office in Queen Square, that while the boys are an honor (sic) to the Institution the Girls are a disgrace to it.

It is known that a considerable number of these girls are living as prostitutes in the worst part of this metropolis, and that they watch for their former companions as they are apprenticed from the Asylum, and are but too successful in prevailing upon them to adopt their vicious course of life.

Although this business is now more immediately pressed upon the most serious attention of the Commissioners, it is not by any means new to those who have usually attended at the periodical committees, and the vigilant attention of the Commandant has been drawn frequently to the subject. The Commissioners having had reason to believe, that the usual precautions for keeping the children of each sex within their proper limits were not effectual, a further security was adopted, and a strong barrier wall and railing was placed so as to form a complete and total separation between the two branches of this Establishment: but experience has proved that notwithstanding this additional barrier, and in defiance of the utmost attention on the part of the officers and Sergeants of this Establishment it is found that the two sexes contrive to elude this vigilance, and to maintain an improper an licentious intercourse with each other, and which from every enquiry that I have made, I have been given to understand it is altogether impracticable to prevent; but upon this point, I hope the Commissioners will satisfy themselves from the evidence of the officers of the Establishment. I will however just bring one or two circumstances to the notice of the Commissioners, to prove the General result of the girls’ fortunes after they have quitted our protection, and to prove also the dangerous situation in which the two branches of this establishment now stand with respect to each other.

The commissioners are aware, that a Gratuity of five Guineas has been granted to such Children as can produce a certificate of good conduct during their apprenticeship, and the Commissioners know also that the Certificate was so easily obtained, that it was found to be necessary to annex to this testimonial the additional security of an affidavit. The Commissioners will therefore doubtless be surprised to learn that notwithstanding the general, and perhaps natural tendency of the master to grant this certificate as a substantial benefit to the Girl, yet that of the numbers of 454 girls, who have been apprenticed from this Institution, not more than 204 have received their certificate of good conduct, and consequent gratuity; thus of 454 female apprentices, apprenticed from 30 July 1808 to 24 March 1817 - 253 can in no other way be accounted for than as having abandoned their service for a profligate course of life. From this number indeed must be deducted the probable casualties, which however in 253 healthy young females from 14 to 19, cannot be supposed to be very large.

That the Commissioners may understand that this intercourse between the sexes of this Institution is not of a trivial nature, and that the prevention will require some more effectual remedy than vigilance, regulation, and punishment, it will be only necessary to state, that of 850 Boys and of 400 girls, now within these walls, and under the same roof, there are no less than 360 boys and 189 girls above the age of 12 years.

In the frequent discussions to which this relative situation of the children has given rise, much has been said upon the necessity of more strict internal regulation amongst the female branch of this Establishment and that possibly another Matron of time of life more suitable to such a charge might be able to effect a beneficial change in the conduct and demeanour of the girls.

Upon the merits, or demerits of the very respectable lady who now holds the office of matron, it will be for the Commissioners to pronounce, nor could I with propriety say more than that in my humble opinion , no Woman of 70 years of age can be competent to such a charge as this, but it is also incumbent upon me to observe, that from every enquiry and observation which I have been able to make upon this Establishment it will not be in the power of any matron (be she merit, and vigilance what they may) to prevent that intercourse between the elder children of the two sexes, which now takes place under the relative circumstances in which they are respectively situated.

The Commissioners may probably expect that from the frequent opportunities which it has fallen to my lot to have had, of observing this Institution for the last 11 years, that I should submit some proposal as a remedy for this evil (and an increasing evil) and it is on this supposition that I presume to recommend a total and complete separation between the children of the male and female branches of this Establishment.

In offering this recommendation (effectual as it may appear) I must add that I consider it more as a palliative than a cure, convinced as I am that a female Establishment of 400 female children taken from their parents between the ages of 5 and 10 and the greater part of which exceed the age of 9 years, and accustomed up to that advanced period of childhood, to the lowest, and in many case to the very worst scenes of life, must required something more than human care and control to prevent a very large proportion of them from becoming profligate and abandoned and it is in the persuasion that of the female children which are received into this Institution, more than nine tenths of them have previously imbibed the seeds of vice which no after care can thoroughly eradicate, that while I humbly recommend a total separation, I fear it will be more a palliative for the will than a cure for it.

Quarter-Master General
(13 March 1821)

Report of Mrs Margaret Robertson, Matron


In obedience to your commands I beg leave to state some of the circumstances which I consider to operate materially against the young females of this Asylum becoming as worthy members of the community as might be expected from so noble and beneficent and Institution.

First - I conceive the girls to be indulged with too much liberty and that it would be infinitely to the advantage of any interesting charge - if there were not allowed to go out so frequently particularly on the day which they ought to reverence and keep sacred - the Sabbath! instead of remaining at home and endeavouring to benefit by the religious instruction which they would receive from our excellent chaplain they are dispersed all over London and Westminster and with their mistaken relatives frequent places highly improper and injurious to their morals - this evil is greatly increased by their spending whole nights amongst their friends - during that time they become familiarized to every species of vice (instances of which I could if necessary bring forward - and the anxious efforts of their teachers to make them good are thereby entirely frustrated.

They have also been misled by the example of the nurses who being soldiers wives have been accustomed by their mode of life to scenes by no means calculated to enable them to improve the morals of the children under their care - this evil is I (trust considerably by the removal of the most unworthy - and may be avoided in future by using prompt measures in cases of misconduct.

I further take the liberty of observing that although it is a most gratifying and interesting sight - their going to Hyde Park on a Sunday evening is attended by pernicious consequences - as it prevents the girls from getting to their respective employments for several days afterwards they are, also on their way surrounded by an immense concourse of people, which renders them bold and confident and counteracts all my endeavours to teach them a modest and respectful demeanour.

With most respectful deference I presume to mention my wish that the girls may not leave the Asylum before they have completed their fourteenth year; they would then be better qualified to answer the expectation of those who apply for them as apprentices - and I think their conduct greatly depends upon the treatment they experience from their master and mistress.

The benevolent and exalted personage to whom they are indebted for all the blessing they enjoy and the several distinguished protectors of their helpless years, have provided so liberally for their comfort and happiness while within these sheltering walls that the poor children feel severely the chance from so much ease to comparative hardship - and they too often meet with persons who neither make allowances for their extreme youth, or take an interest in them as the children of soldiers who have fought and bled for their country.

I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your most obedient servant
Margaret Robertson, Matron
(19 March 1821)

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