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Caroline Emily Clark (1825–1911)

This article was published:

Caroline Emily Clark (1825-1911), by unknown photographer, c1885

Caroline Emily Clark (1825-1911), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 47543

Caroline Emily Clark (1825-1911), philanthropist and reformer, was born on 6 September 1825 at Birmingham, England, daughter of Francis Clark and his wife Caroline, née Hill. Delicate as a child, at 6 she was sent to the country where she became interested in natural history and had her own garden. At 11 she went to Miss Wood's school near Tottenham and at 12 to near-by Hazelwood School, where her grandfather, Thomas Wright Hill, a disciple of Joseph Priestley, had introduced many democratic practices. In 1848 two of her brothers died; the family moved to the Isle of Wight and then reluctantly decided to migrate to South Australia. They sailed in the Fatima and arrived in June 1850. Caroline had to learn to bake bread, to starch and iron and to make dresses for herself and her two sisters; later she helped to establish the family home at Hazelwood, Burnside, and cared for her father who died in 1853.

Her mother had been connected with various benevolent movements in England and Caroline inherited her solicitude for the helpless poor. In Adelaide she was dismayed by the inadequate care of pauper children, their numbers swollen by the heavy immigration of young Irish females and desertions to the goldfields. Although abuses had led to amendment of the Children's Apprenticeship Act of 1848 and to changes in methods of placing children with foster parents, the Destitute Asylum remained a disgrace, young and old herded together with 'the rheumatic, the imbecile and the blind'. In 1863 some reforms were made at the asylum but the Destitute Board had little power and less funds and parliament was told that the subject was 'not very important'.

Caroline was a staunch Unitarian and had studied their many proposals of reform, including those for reformatories by her uncle, Matthew Davenport Hill, and for 'Children of the State' by her cousin, Florence Hill. She was especially stirred by a report on eighteen years of boarding-out children from the Department of Charity Workhouse in Edinburgh. Her brother, John Howard Clark, had lately acquired a share in the South Australian Register and she persuaded him to publish on 14 March 1866 her letter, signed 'C', appealing for adoption of this Scottish plan. With strong distaste for 'the taint of pauperism' and harsh discipline in institutions, she wanted to replace them where possible by 'the free and cheerful environment of ordinary [family] life … guarded from injustice, neglect and cruelty by effective and kindly supervision'. Her proposal was applauded by the press and many children from the asylum were transferred to the Grace Darling Home at Brighton. In July Caroline was permitted to adopt a two-year-old girl from the asylum. Her example was followed by others, although she feared the irrevocability of adoption.

The Destitute Persons' Relief Act of 1867 provided for the removal of all children from the asylum by building new industrial and reformatory schools and by subsidies to encourage the expansion of denominational institutions. Disappointed, Caroline pleaded for an agricultural colony 'where separate dwellings for families could be added as needed, or perhaps for 12 boys with a father and mother supervisor'. While the Magill Orphanage was being built Caroline, her brother, Catherine Helen Spence, Neville Blyth, C. B. Young, Mrs Samuel Davenport and Mrs Mary Colton formed a deputation to the premier to seek a trial of the boarding-out system. Their proposal was rejected but, after the orphanage was opened and quickly over-crowded, the Destitute Board quietly adopted the system in 1871. Next year the Destitute Act was amended to permit the placing out of children with suitable persons who for a weekly subsidy of 5s. would 'care, clothe and educate' them. Caroline promptly organized the Boarding-out Society, with herself secretary and Miss Spence treasurer, to give voluntary help to the Destitute Board in supervising the system. At first homes were hard to find but the position was soon reversed. Several members took two children; Caroline also took two and four more after her mother died in 1877 and a visit to England in 1878-79. Apart from a few unfortunate incidents the boarding-out system had an impressive record. By 1888 nearly 700 of the 800 'State' children were boarded out, and the system had been substantially adopted in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

In 1887 Caroline was appointed to the newly-created State Children's Council and in the 1890s helped to win such reforms as the establishment of the Children's Court in rooms separated from the Supreme Court and the suppression of children's names in published reports of trials. In 1905 she successfully protested against boys being sent to the reformatory because parents would not pay their fines. In August she retired from the council because her hearing and sight were failing. In 1872 she had written an 'Account of the aims and methods of the Boarding-out Society', and in 1906, living alone with a faithful maid in the old home at Hazelwood, she wrote her recollections. She died on 18 November 1911 and was cremated at the West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. Spence, State Children in Australia: A History of Boarding Out and its Developments (Adel, 1907)
  • C. M. Davey, Children and Their Law-Makers (Adel, 1956)
  • Register (Adelaide), 21 Nov 1911
  • Observer (Adelaide), 25 Nov 1911
  • C. E. Clark papers (State Records of South Australia)
  • Clark papers (privately held)
  • private informationl.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Clark, Caroline Emily (1825–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Caroline Emily Clark (1825-1911), by unknown photographer, c1885

Caroline Emily Clark (1825-1911), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 47543

Life Summary [details]


6 September, 1825
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England


18 November, 1911 (aged 86)
South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.