Female Orphan School, Parramatta



Participants: Rowena Gilbert - Vice President AGHS - Castle of Spirits
Michael Williams, Photographer for A.L.E.R.T.

Date: Thursday 10th August, 2000.

Equipment Used: Digital cameras - Kodak DC210, Sanyo TRV 900 Digital Video
SLR cameras - Pentax, Cannon, Pentax.
Film: 400 ASA, Infa Red Film
Other Equipment: Thermal Scanner, EMF meters x 2, Trifield Meter

Old Orphanage

Beyond Productions are using the Female Orphan School as part of a new show tentatively titled "Scream Australia" - the premise is (at this stage) to put volunteers from the public in a haunted old house and ask them to do tasks of sorts take full video diaries and hopefully freak out and have a real-life paranormal experience. The production company is planning to induce and create a ghostly situation including contrived paranormal experiences if no real ghosts come out to take a look around.

Michael Williams was hired to investigate and photograph the site before it is used in the television production - I was very kindly allowed to join him on this investigation.


The Female Orphan School now rests in the middle of University of Western Sydney Parramatta Campus - it is boarded up and the University & Historical Society hope to restore it sometime in the future. The building is historically significant. It is the first 3rd storey building in Australia and dates back to the very early 1800's.

Erected by Governor Maquarie between the years of 1813 and 1919 who was sick of the street urchins in Parramatta and decided to build this charitable institution to house the female orphans.

The building was not built like most buildings of those days; with the use of convict gangs. It was built by contract labour of those men who's sentences had expired.

The first shipment of female orphans were 70 girls who arrived by boat on the nearby Parramatta river in June 1818. By 1929 there were 152 girls in a building designed for 100. Numbers in the 1830's averaged 170. Some of the children were orphans with no parents but many of the girls came from single parent families. Most were the children of convicts still under sentence. Some had fathers in the military while others had been orphanage during the long sea voyage over to Australia. From 1924 Aboriginal girls came to the orphanage from the Native Institution at Blacktown.

Orphans in the Female Orphan School - the School accepted Boys later on - the two sexes were always kept apart and never allowed to associate with each other.

Girls were accepted from the age of 5 but almost immediately this was lowered to two years because of demand. They received a basic education and were apprenticed as domestic servants when they reached thirteen. A large number were reunited with family members and spent only a few years in the institution.

The girls were instructed in sewing, weaving, religion, writing, cooking, laundry and other domestic work.
On Sundays they were taken by boat to church in Parramatta. When they left the School at thirteen they were given a Bible and prayer book and a cow when they married if they showed outstanding conduct.

A matron, assisted by her husband, the Master, managed the Female Orphan School. She was paid the same salary as the Master of the Male Orphan School.

In 1850 the Female Orphan School became co-educational as boys were moved in from Bonnyrigg. It was then renamed the protestant Orphan School. Orphaned children whose parents had been Roman catholics were sent to the Roman catholic Orphan School, which was also at Parramatta.

Some of the above text was taken from "If these walls could talk - An institutional history of Parramatta Campus from 1814-2000" - Associate Professor Carol Liston. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of UWS Parramatta Campus for their help and assistance with the investigation of the Old Orphan School.


Orphanage from the outside during daylight
The Orphanage from the outside today.

After hearing a brief hint of some of the going's on inside the old orphanage I would now like to share a small amount of information with you:
The place was not run all that badly, the children did not suffer abuse and were treated quite well. However there were instances of children being chained to logs as punishment for not stopping climbing trees. Some girls were locked in the dark cellars underneath the orphanage as punishment, and various diseases went through the Orphanage and wiped out a great number of children. These diseases include Scarlet Fever, Small Pox, Cholera, Whooping Cough, Influenza and other childhood diseases and illnesses.
I also have it reported that due to the large amount of children that were crammed inside the orphanage (the building was originally built for 100 or so children but ended up with over 200) the sleeping quarters apparently had a terrible smell to them. Due to the large amount of matter that fell to the floor and seeped into the floor boards there are reports of the terrible smell not leaving the place for quite a number of years after it closed as an Orphanage.

The Female Orphan School is scheduled for Refurbishment by the University - however it is quoted at approx. AU$40million. And fair enough - the place is in a great state of disrepair and urgently needs attention.

Tours are still run through the Orphanage - You can book a tour through Past Times Tours Ph: (02) 9686 6861.

There are many reports of ghosts and ghostly happenings inside the old building. Many people touring through the building have reported of hearing children's voices, seeing children and also having strange and unusual feelings when entering a room. The Matron's Bedroom seems to cause some problem with the occasional person not being able to enter or even walk near the place..........this is one place where we had a trifield meter set of and we both experienced goosebumps.

Security guards have reported a "Whistler" ghost inside the building - on occasion when showing some late night tourists through they have experienced this "Whistler" for themselves (and made a quick escape)...the ghost apparently carries a happy whistling tune........It is believed he may be the ghost of the mortuary assistant who worked next door at the morgue. Security guards have also seen floating black figures outside the building that appear to float down the gravel road - along with a strange mist like substance that hangs over the Morgue in the early hours of the morning.

orphanage during daylight hours
The Outside of the Girls Section.


I met up with Michael Williams at approx 7.00pm. We were escorted into the old Orphanage Building by Security who keep a close watch on the building as they have previously found vandals and homeless people inside the historic building. The building needs to be protected due to its historical significance - it will be a marvellous place once restored!

Our first worry was the fact that the building was lit up like a Christmas tree - it was lit from head to foot by bright white fluorescent lights (great....) - this does not make for good ghost hunting, to light and far too bright!!!.

The place is a labyrinth of stairways, rooms and halls, it was both confusing and disorientating. The floors are all wooden with thick walls - there is a main middle building that has 3 floors with 2 walkways on the 2nd floor that lead off either side to two side buildings each with 2 floors - these two buildings also contain various rooms and staircases - like I said - it's VERY confusing in there.....It's a wonder there still wasn't lost tourists walking around inside there!!

one of the old cellsWe found our way up the back stairway to the upper 3rd floor of the main building where there was a darkened area with no lights. The place was littered with pigeon debry as pigeons had been roosting in the roof of the building (everywhere) for quite some time dropping feathers and pigeon poo all over the floor building up into small piles all over the place.
Michael and I set up to explore this darkened area first.

The Trifield meter was set in the darkness and we took plenty of photos, both normal and IRED. After spending approx 1 - 1 1/2 hours in this area we soon decided to explore further into the building as we were not picking up on any activity in this area.

We then proceeded down onto the 2nd floor where a walkway led across to the extension on the left side of the building which was the girls section (the boy's section was at the other extension on the opposite side).

This section was 2 storeys high and also had 2 separate sets of stairs at different sections within - it also contained many more rooms, much more pigeon poo, and more smaller stairways in the backs of some of the rooms. It also had 2 floors of cells where very violent psychiatric patients were kept when the building was used as an Asylum.

We photographed and took readings slowly and surely of each room - finding nothing out of the ordinary. We explored the with the cells hoping to pick up on some of the residual energies that may have perhaps seeped into the walls forever to remain within the orphan school. But unfortunately we did not pick up any evidence of paranormal activity or anything out of the ordinary in this place either.

We did manage to make one important discovery during our investigation - we discovered that digital cameras WILL pick up dust and show them as anomalies which we all know as "orbs". Whereas a normal SLR camera will not pick up the same thing.


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