Sulina Sutherland

Sulina Sutherland (1839 – 1909) nurse and child welfare worker
Sulina Sutherland was fearless in her search for children in back streets and alleyways, brothels and gambling houses, going in perfect safety, recognizable in her ‘no-nonsense’ habit of firmly fitting coat and skirt, mannish hat and umbrella. Although only of average height, her dignity and confidence gave her undeniable authority.

After brief periods of nursing at the Melbourne Lying-in and Alfred hospitals, Sulina Sutherland became captured by the plight of destitute children. By August 1881 she was ‘lady missionary’ with the Scots Church District Association which on her advice set up in October a Neglected Children’s Aid Society.

She also superintended the Scots Church Sunday school and, with her close friend Mrs Maria Lord Armour, conducted a Saturday afternoon class and savings bank for local children.

In 1885 at her suggestion her society rented premises, which she supervised, for children needing temporary care. By March 1883, also at her instigation, her association in co-operation with all Church denominations had established the Society in Aid of Maternity Hospital Patients. She urged the establishment of a skilled nursing service for the sick poor in their own homes, and remained a lifelong active committee member of the Melbourne District Nursing Society formed on 17 February 1885.

In May 1886 the Presbytery of Melbourne appointed Miss Sutherland missionary within their bounds. Next year her society was the first to be approved under the provisions of the Neglected Children’s Act, 1887, and she was ‘specially authorised’ to apprehend children in brothels.

By now well known and much respected, she was fearless in her search for children in back streets and alleyways, brothels and gambling houses, going in perfect safety, recognizable in her ‘no-nonsense’ habit of firmly fitting coat and skirt, mannish hat and umbrella. Although only of average height, her dignity and confidence gave her undeniable authority.

Convinced that, except in some cases of severe handicap, ‘family life, in however humble a home, is far better for a child than that in any institution, however well regulated’, she appealed through country clergymen of all denominations for permanent foster homes for her children, while encouraging the formation of local groups to support the work of the society.

She pronounced with conviction on all social issues, offering strongly critical comments on all stages of the Neglected Children’s Act, 1890, and the Infant Life Protection Act, 1890. In November she gave evidence to the royal commission on charitable institutions, advocating her foster home system and arguing that voluntary aid alone could not solve the problems of poverty. In 1891 she wrote an important paper on slum life in Melbourne for the second Australasian Conference on Charity.

By now ‘Miss Sutherland’s Children’s Society’ was highly regarded, receiving particular praise from the inspector of charities who supported her call for expansion in a time of growing unemployment. However, in September 1893, fearing financial embarrassment, the society’s committee ordered limitation, and she and fourteen committee members resigned.

By November, through her advocacy, the Presbyterian General Assembly had set up the wider-based Presbyterian Society for Destitute and Neglected Children with Miss Sutherland as agent. The society flourished, but criticism led the General Assembly’s commission to direct that it receive children only under legal guardianship, give preference to Presbyterian children and use only Presbyterian foster homes. A bitter press debate on these issues was intensified when she stated that resentment arose from her denunciation of Church office-holders receiving rents from houses used for immoral purposes. She was arraigned before various Church courts and admonished by the General Assembly on 15 November 1894. Next day she resigned and was followed by her entire ladies’ committee. On 7 December a public meeting organized by her committee resolved to inaugurate the Victorian Neglected Children’s Aid Society with Miss Sutherland as agent, a controlling ladies’ committee and an advisory council of twenty-five gentlemen.

The new society prospered. To their city receiving centre a home in Parkville was added, twice extended and in 1905 named the Sutherland Home: ‘The value of Miss Sutherland’s noble work’, wrote Alfred Deakin in 1906, ‘is simply incalculable’.

Miss Sutherland died suddenly of pneumonia in Melbourne on 8 October 1909, the day which was to take the children to Diamond Creek. Her tombstone in the Melbourne general cemetery, erected by public subscription, paid tribute to her twenty-eight years as ‘an unwearying friend’ of Melbourne’s poor. While her brusqueness and impatience with ineptitude, her zeal and disinterested honesty in exposing social evils often ruffled the feelings of others, she gained and kept the strong loyalties of those with whom she worked closely. Her work must rank with that of Catherine Spence and Caroline Chisholm and, Christian rather than sectarian, is perpetuated in the continuing services of the societies she established.

Complete article :

Catherine Spence –
Caroline Chisholm  –

Victorian Children’s Aid Society (1893 – 1991)
As a result of a bequest Mrs Maria Amour left to Selina Sutherland, the Presbyterian Society for Neglected and Destitute Children was formed to continue the work that she and Selina Sutherland had begun in Melbourne. The founding president was the Reverend A Stewart. The Reverend J Thomson was the other man involved in the early committee.The founding committee comprised Mesdames Armstrong, Young, Sinclair, McCallum, Picken, Stewart, Hughes, Gunn, Munro, Roberts, Lambie and Misses Lorimer, Sutherland, Houston, Catt, Thomson, Sinclair, Gunn. Miss Selina Sutherland, as Agent of the Society, assumed responsibility for the care and placement of the destitute children. She was a Scottish nurse who had come to Melbourne via New Zealand, where she had been visiting her married sister. She met Mrs Maria Amour in Melbourne who had been involved in caring for homeless children. Selina Sutherland understood the importance of such work and decided to stay and assist with the children.

As the Victorian Neglected Children’s Aid Society, it comprised five Honorary medical officers, and two Honorary Auditors. Mrs Bevan became president, with the Reverend Stewart as chairman. Miss Laws and Mrs McCallum were secretary and treasurer. The Council included Alfred Deakin, who was to become a prime minister of Australia, and Alexander Peacock who was premier of Victoria at the time of Federation. The Society worked from premises in La Trobe St from 1895 until 1901 when it moved to Swinburne House in Parkville.

In 1908 Miss Sutherland left the Society and died shortly after in 1909.

Complete article :

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