St John's Boys Home


Boy’s Badge

Courtesy: Robin Da Costa-Adams

The first home for boys in Victoria established by the Church of England, was at St Martin's, 791 Burwood Road, Auburn. It was opened in 1921 under the direction of the Reverend Eric Thornton. Expansion became possible with the generous gift by Mrs Hindson, of the Shrublands mansion. St John’s Home for Boys, as it was to be known, was officially opened on November 22nd 1924 by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Harrington Lees.
It soon became evident that it was necessary to consolidate St Martin’s and St John’s and the timber buildings from Auburn were relocated to Canterbury and placed alongside the Shrublands mansion on additional land purchased by the Board of Management. These timber buildings (known as the Kimpton buildings) consisted of an open quadrangle providing sleep out accommodation and a Chapel, later to become the reading room. The younger boys were housed in the Shrublands mansion, and the older boys housed in the temporary buildings known as St Martin’s. These combined homes were officially opened by the Governor, Lord Somers in 1926.

The boys, now totalling seventy to eighty in number, ranging in ages from five to eleven years, attended Balwyn Primary School and the local community supported the work of St John’s and St Martin’s in every way.

The basement of the Shrublands mansion built on bluestone foundations with arches of handmade bricks had been earmarked early on for the new Chapel. The final result after lowering the floor and other ingenious ideas from Eric Thornton became a very special place indeed in which to hold the daily services for the boys.

Mrs Hindson and her daughters continued their support and made a present not only of the furnishings for the sanctuary of the Chapel and the materials for the Eucharistic vestments, but also supplied four specially designed and beautifully worked frontals for the altar – one for each of the liturgical seasons together with a constant red velvet frontal. Dame Nellie Melba (who had officially opened the original St Martin’s home for boys in Auburn) presented to the Chapel an antique brass Caroline lantern. This lantern once hung in Nelson’s flagship ‘VICTORY’. Melba also gave St John’s Nelson’s own cabin bell, as well as two spars from the famous ship, which were adapted to hold two large candles.

And some years later a stone from Canterbury Cathedral was also donated to the Chapel.

At the foot of the stairs leading to the Chapel was an interesting stained glass window. The original had been damaged when the mansion Maritimo in South Yarra was demolished. An early member of the Ladies Committee collected the fragments and donated them to St John’s. The result is the beautiful window you see today.

The country was plunged into economic depression in the late 1920’s, and not all parents were able to face bad times with the courage and resourcefulness necessary to survive as a family. It was therefore a most generous gift indeed when Mr H.B. Howard Smith donated the entire cost of a new wing for the mansion in memory of his late wife Violet. The foundation stone was laid in June 1934, by the Governor of Victoria, Lord Huntingfield.

The wing was designed by architects, Messrs. Stephenson and Meldrum to blend as much as possible with the original building. Graham Phillips, the builder, completed the work quickly and the formal opening by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool, took place on 16th November.

The Rev Eric Thornton had the ability and enthusiasm to organise women’s committees for fund raising and rendering many other practical services and he established the first ladies’ auxiliaries in Victoria working for a charity – a pattern soon copied by others.

The new dining room, kitchen facilities and staff accommodation helped considerably as the number of boys living at the home grew to nearly 100, and with the arrival of the first ‘English’ boys in 1949, The St John’s Homes became the first church migrant agency in Victoria.

A period of considerable building activity took place over the next few years. A Working Boys Hostel opened on November 29th 1953 and the following year a gymnasium was completed. To allow for four ‘cottages’ to accommodate forty four boys to be built, it was necessary to remove the timber buildings that had been relocated from the early days at Auburn. On 5th June 1954 the Bishop of Geelong laid the foundation stone for the four new cottages and on June 12th the following year, the cottages were opened by His Grace, The Archbishop of Melbourne.

The site surrounding the Shrublands mansion became a hive of even greater activity. Concerts, as well as sporting events took place in the gym, and in 1959 another cottage was opened by Sir George Coles. The ideas of institutional care were changing throughout the world and under the guidance of the Reverend Neale Molloy (later Canon Molloy), St John’s took a leading role. Institutional care was replaced by the Cottage System, where 8-10 children would each be under the care of a house father and house mother. Under the Cottage System, St John’s Homes now officially cared for both boys and girls, and St John’s was the first Agency to introduce the Cottage System. A family clinic opened, half way houses for youths commenced and in 1969, Shrublands mansion was refurbished as a Hostel for Boys from the Country.

The Hindson link continued with the generous gift in 1970, of their holiday house Seacombe located at Sorrento, by their last surviving daughter Miss Elsie Hindson, whose mother had given the Shrublands mansion to the Home in 1923.

The need for new approaches, new knowledge and greater skills became evident and by the year 2000 the Shrublands mansion had fallen into disrepair and many of the outer buildings, once brimming with the sounds of youngsters, lay silent and empty. The property was sold to a developer and for several years the local residents worked hard to ensure that the Shrublands mansion and its historic link to Canterbury, was saved for generations to come.

The property was listed on the Heritage Victoria Register in 2003 and the Shrublands mansion was purchased by the Williams Family.

© Robin Da Costa-Adams. Reproduced by permission.
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