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Childrens Memorial Garden
Past to Present

Memory to Action

Dedicated by Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Governor Marie Bashir on Childrens Day 9 March 2014, the Children's Memorial Garden connects past to present and memory to action in remembering children who died at the Roman Catholic School.


Kamballa Children's Memorial Garden surrounds the orphanage hospital building known today as Bethel and is maintained by Parragirls Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project volunteers.


Operating from 1844 to 1886 the Roman Catholic Orphan School was built on Governor Bourke’s order ‘to make provision for children of catholic parents and for other catholic children of female convicts, newly arrived in the colony; or those in a state of servitude who had children born to them, or those on decease of their husbands were returned to the Government, and who were placed beyond the means of maintaining and educating their own offspring.’

The Roman Catholic Orphan School is the first purpose-built government orphanage for Catholic children in Australia and from 1859 was managed by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan (Good Shepherd).


Depending on their circumstances children could remain in the institution for many years, other times for months or weeks; some never left. Those who died here were buried in unmarked paupers graves at St Patrick’s cemetery North Parramatta. Flowers did not mark their graves and over time, they were forgotten.

Upwards of 8,000 children passed through this institution in its 42 years of operations. At times the orphanage held up to 300 children and was frequently criticized for overcrowding and poor conditions. 

Among the first admitted were children whose mothers were confined in the adjacent Female Factory such as Mary Sheedy whose mother had left her in the care of Matron Bell at the Female Factory in 1841.  Fortunately, Mary was reunited with her mother in Sept 1844

RCOS Memory Quilt

An Inquest was held at the Roman Catholic Orphan School, on Tuesday, 8th utl., before Mr. C B. Lyons, coroner, on view of the body of Margaret Kennedy, then and there lying dead. The first evidence adduced was that of Dr. Bassett, who being sworn, stated that he was Assistant Colonial Surgeon, and visited the Roman Catholic Orphan School in that capacity. He knew the deceased by sight; he had been told on the previous day (Monday) that she was not well, but he did not see her; she had been shivering with cold and was sent to bed. That morning (Tuesday) he was told that she had been found dead in her bed. He saw her, she appeared bloated, her face very much congested, froth issuing from her nose; there were external marks on her body, but he had since made a post mortem examination, and found from opening the lungs that death was caused by suffocation and, upon careful examination, found that she had been choked by some matter which she had vomited, apparently cruel or arrowroot; her heart was very weak and flabby – a cause that would not have produced suffocation in a healthy person, would have done it in such a subject; she was about fourteen or fifteen years of age. Margaret Fitzpatrick next stated on oath that she was laundress in the institution; she called the girls every morning; she knew that Margaret Kennedy was not well on the previous day, and had gone to bed; soon after six that Tuesday morning witness went to her bedside to see how she was; the sheet was over her head; witness took it off, her head was in the hollow formed by the joining of her bed and the next; witness tried to raise her, found her heavy, and upon feeling her forehead found it cold, and she was dead. Witness informed Mrs. Sutherland, the matron. Deceased had had some gruel on Monday; witness had known her for years, she was generally healthy. The bed on each side of her was occupied; the room in which she slept was occupied by the elder girls from twelve to fifteen years old. In the room of the younger girls, a nurse slept. There were two bedrooms immediately joining deceased’s room, Mrs. Sutherland slept in one and a teacher in the other. The door of the girls’ room was never locked. The jury returned a verdict that ‘death was caused by suffocation, arising from natural causes.’ The Coroner, in his remarks, observed that Dr. Greenup and Dr. Bassett both suggested the propriety of an inquest, as the death was very sudden, and occurred in a public institution. The jury expressed themselves highly gratified with all the arrangements of the institution.

The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 12 June 1852 p.2

On display inside the Bethel building, this large hand sewn quilt is a tribute to the 129 children who died at the Roman Catholic Orphan School and are buried in unmarked pauper’s graves at St Patrick’s Cemetery, North Parramatta.

Each child is represented by a hand embroidered cross (red for boys; black for girls) detailing the name, age and year deceased sewn onto a plain background. Crosses are assembled in a grid 10 rows across and 13 down on plain calico bordered with 1850 reproduction printed cotton. Brown crosses at the centre represent children whose gender was not identified in burial records.

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