This collection contains records for destitute children and vagrants that were sent to the Vernon and Sobraon, between 1867 and 1911. The Vernon and Sobraon were ships that served as all-boy public industrial schools and reformatories. The Vernon was replaced by the Sobraon in 1892 and both were moored in Sydney Harbour during their use from 1867-1911.
Boys under the age of 16 were sent to these schools by Justices of the Peace. The children would remain there until they were apprenticed out after the age of 12, discharged, or reached 18 years of age. The schools included religious instruction, moral, industrial, and nautical training, as well as elementary schooling.
The information in the records include:
- Birth year and place
- Date received
- Father’s and/or Mother’s name
One of the more well-known former residents on the Sobraon was Australian swimmer Bernard ‘Barney’ Kieran.
Born in Sydney in October 1886, Barney was the youngest child of Irish parents Patrick and Annie. In 1891, Patrick died in a train accident, leaving behind a widow and six children. He attended the local convent school, learned to read and write, but at 13 became delinquent.
According to the Entrance book for the Sobraon, Barney Kieran was: “found habitually wandering about [the] streets in no ostensible lawful occupation”. The evidence from his mother stated that ‘the boy will not go to school, that he stops out at night and that she has no control over him’.
After being committed by the Water Police Court on 1 March 1900, Barney was sent to the Sobraon. Given the opportunity, he made a success of his time on the Sobraon and his mentor W Hilton Mitchell encouraged him to take up swimming, which turned his life around and saw him become a world champion swimmer.
Learn more about Barney’s swimming career and untimely death at the State Records NSW Digital Gallery dedicated to Barney Kieran. There you will also find a number of photographs and digital records telling the story of his short but eventful life.
Barney was one of around 5,000 boys admitted to the nautical training ships Vernon and Sobraon between 1867 and 1911.