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Maxted, Sydney (1845–1907)

by Heather Radi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with Edward Maxted

Sydney Maxted (1845-1907), journalist and public servant, and Edward Maxted (1855-1902), charity worker, were born on 15 December 1845 in Sydney and on 30 September 1855 at Newcastle, New South Wales, eldest and fourth sons of George Maxted, English-born printer, and his Australian-born wife Martha, née Spencer. Their father published two short-lived newspapers at Newcastle and Maitland before establishing the Newcastle Pilot of which Sydney was co-proprietor from 1868. His polemical journalism led to a damaging libel action and after his father's death in 1871 the family lost control of the Pilot. Sydney married a widow Sophia Ann Richardson, née Gibb, at Newcastle on 15 June 1874. He was appointed master at the Protestant Orphan School, Parramatta, in 1878. The inspector of charities commended the 'pleasantly confidential relations' between officers and children and in 1881 Maxted became chief inspector and boarding out officer to the new State Children Relief Board. Sophia, after acting as matron, became a salaried officer of the board in 1884.

Sydney Maxted was largely responsible for successfully implementing the board's policy of fostering out orphaned or destitute children in institutions. He campaigned for legislative reforms directed to saving infant life, especially of children born illegitimate: under the Children's Protection Act of 1892 the private arrangements for the care of these children were brought under state control and the board's officers secured improved procedures for establishing paternal responsibility. From 1888 Maxted was also director of government asylums for the infirm (later director of charitable institutions), but had little success in obtaining funds for a rebuilding programme.

Edward had experience as a printer and in journalism. He was appointed manager of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales in 1884, and on 11 November 1885 married Anne Elizabeth Cottle at Darlinghurst. In press articles and in a series of special reports to the Benevolent Society he publicized the hardships experienced by the destitute and especially the unwed mother. Though he consistently ignored the medical and nutritional factors behind the high death rate for illegitimate children, his use of Benevolent Society records helped to confer credibility on the campaign against 'baby-farming' and was important to the passage of the Children's Protection Act.

The brothers looked to more systematic administration of charity and firmer action where family members were in a position to help. They neither believed in separating old couples in asylums nor in removing children to a foster home if a widowed mother was destitute. The State Children Relief Board had no statutory powers to pay the fostering out allowance to a child's own mother. Edward used the Benevolent Society provision of rent allowances to help such women; when the practice was well entrenched amending legislation in 1896 empowered the board to pay widows in need a small weekly sum to keep their children.

That the state had direct responsibility where the family could not help was the principle which the brothers advocated. Hence they looked to the extension of the state's authority and the bringing under state control of the work of private charities. The invitation to Sydney to attend the first Australasian Conference on Charity in 1890 evidences the respect for their work. At the second conference Sydney presented a scheme for appointing charity commissioners with overriding authority. The influence of the Charity Organization Society is apparent but his scheme was distinguished by the proposal that the state should become the co-ordinating authority.

With increasing demands on the Benevolent Society during the depressed 1890s, Edward stepped up publicity. Several pamphlets were published and in 1895-97 the Charities Gazette was sold door to door by the society's collectors. Sydney's evidence before the select committee on old-age pensions, 1896, largely foreshadowed the scheme later adopted. He opposed a contributory scheme as those most in need of pensions would not be able to maintain contributions; if means-tested, pensions would not depress wages; many men at 60 found difficulty finding work.

Both brothers had been in ill health for some time. Edward retired in 1901 and died at his Paddington residence on 30 May 1902, following collapse of his liver and kidneys, and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. His wife and son survived him. From 1892 Sydney was in mounting financial difficulties, having lost in a mining investment, and resorted to borrowing at high rates of interest; the dishonouring of a bill precipitated early retirement in 1897. His wife Sophia lost her position when he went into bankruptcy next year. Both were well regarded among officers of the board, who lent money to Sydney and spoke regretfully of Sophia's dismissal. Sydney mortgaged his pension to pay off the debt, living in penury and suffering from angina until he died on 10 July 1907. His wife, son and two daughters survived him. By their moves to document carefully the condition of the poor, the brothers had made a small but important contribution to the intellectual foundations of the welfare state.

Select Bibliography

  • Select Committee on the Infants' and Children's Protection Bills, Report, Proceedings and Minutes of Evidence, Journal (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1891-92, 49, p 1067
  • Director of Charitable Institutions, Report, 1892, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1893, 2
  • Select Committee on Aged Pensions, 1896, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1896, 5
  • State Children Relief Board, Annual Report, 1881-97
  • Benevolent Society of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1884-1901
  • Australasian Conference on Charities, Proceedings, 1891, 1892
  • Charities Gazette, 1895-97
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Oct 1890, 12 Feb 1891, 9 Mar, 22 July 1892, 1 Oct 1895
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 June 1902
  • Bulletin, 18 July 1907
  • B. K. Dickey, Charity in N.S.W. 1850-1914: A Study in Public, Private and State Provisions for the Poor (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1968)
  • J. D. Moody, The Development of the Newspaper Press in Newcastle 1855-1880, and its Social and Political Attitudes (M.A. thesis, University of Newcastle, 1971)
  • Select Committee on Children's Protection Bill, Report and Minutes of Evidence, 1892 (State Records New South Wales)
  • bankruptcy file, 13030 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Maxted, Sydney (1845–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/maxted-sydney-7532/text13137, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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