The rescue of Georgie Porter 1907
14 April 1907, Western Australia
Re: The Swan Boys Orphanage more popularly know as the Coffinage at Middle Swan
conducted by that animated stove-pipe, the Rev. Alfred 'Bully' Burton.
This case came under the notice of The Sunday Times of Western Australia in 1907
and shows up the methods of these sectarian-bossed orphanages at their worst,
and reveals a scandalous abuse not to be borne in a free country.
There was an idea at this time that the days of civil and religious despotism
were done-at least in Australia- But it would seem to have been a fallacy,
There are many people associated with the early days of the eastern gold
fields who will recollect Charlie Porter. He was the typical Australian prospector;
a well-known figure at every rush, one of the first men on Broken Hill, and one of
the multitude, who hit out in the wake of Bayley.
Like so many of his class he died poor, and his widow, after a brave struggle
to support her little family, was obliged to seek the aid of charity.
Through the agency of Warden Finnerty, she got her two eldest boys admitted to
the Swan Orhanage.
The mother was almost heart-broken at parting with her children, but
solaced herself with the reflection--that when the good times dawned on her
she would be able to get them out and lavish a maternal care on them until
the day came for them to quit the family roof-tree.
But she didn't know the sort of 'philanthropy' that rules at Swan Orphanage. It is
four years and four months since her boys became wards of the Anglican Church.
And they are so yet.
In course of time a change came over the fortunes of Mrs. Porter.
She married again, and two of her brothers secured good positions in Westralia.
She thus became in a position to support her boys, and after a
natural delay, due to her anxiety to make sure that
her prosperity was permanent and not transitory--that after getting the,
children from the Orphanage she should not be obliged to send them back—
she finally applied for permission to resume control of her children.
It goes without saying that the latter have not been happy in their Dotheboys Hall.
Apart from their natural preference for the society of their own mother and little
sisters, they, in common with the other victims, complain of the poor fare,
the bitter grind, and the gloomy Puritanism supplied in Burton's Boeotian retreat:
The elder boy, who is now 14, expressed a desire to go out to work,
in order to be a help to his step-father, who—more power to him !—
is perfectly willing to support the children, but doesn't get more than 10s, a day.
This fact was innocently mentioned by the anxious mother to the
Reverend (?) Burton, and the following letter will show how
he made use of it :-
Your application for your two sons, George and Charley Porter,
was considered by the committee at last meeting.
The committee feel quite confident that their interests and
welfare will be far more securely conserved while under the
control of the manager than if returned to you.
It has therefore been decided that they shall both remain here.
If you had applied for them at the time you married again,
as soon as you were in a position, to keep them, and not when
the elder one is, on your own proposition,
ready to go out and earn wages, the application
might have been differently received.
[When the mother brought that amazing document to the "Sunday Times," we were willing
to believe that the last word had not been said on the subject, and arranged that she
should interview Bishop Riley. But the Bishop merely told her, in effect, that
"the matter was in the hands of Mr.Burton." which means that the mother
will not get her children if Burton can prevent her. Which means that his Lordship
Bishop Riley actually considers the paternal (?) rule of Bowelless Burton better
for the boys than the loving care of their mother Which sets up the astounding
proposition that the Anglican Church has more right to children to whom it gave
temporary refuge "for charity's sake" than their own decent, capable and natural
guardian—the mother who bore them. Which asserts that the church owns its orphans,
body and soul until they attain their legal majority; postulates, in fact, that the
Anglican Church (which has no civil rights or powers beyond those of the Hokes or
the Seventh Day Adventists) runs a state within a state, and is above the law
of West Australia.
This enormously impudent assumption of private property in children may have been quite
legal in Italy 300 -years ago. It may also be conceded in the Russia of to day.
But in a free-State of the free Australian Commonwealth in the year of grace 1907 it is
nothing else than a shriekinging anachronism and a gross abuse of privilege.
It is opposed both to law and to human nature; it rests on an injustice;
it can't stand the test of critical examination, from any direction. As we take it,
the only "right" by which the church holds these chil dren is the right of possession;
And if the mother chooses to exercise her natural and legal rights as a parent and
forcibly removes her boys from the Swan Orphanage, what power in W. A.
can punish her for it ?. Certainly not the church, for it doesn't possess any
punitive powers in addition to the flesh and blood proprietorship which it arrogates.
Certainly not the State, since maternal love is a more precious consideration that
the 'pecuniary welfare of any religious organisation. And although the law is a
strange and inconsistent aflair, and a frail reed to lean a conjecture on we hardly
think any court of law would punish a decent and capable mother for forcibly assuming
her maternal right to feed, clothe, and cherish her fatherless little ones.
We haven't given the woman this advice. We are procuring an opinion as to the
legal aspects of the position in order to enable her to proceed with! certitude.
But the public may take this for granted.
The. "Sunday Times" is going to get those children out.
'This paper is going to burst the bubble of ecclesiastical arrogance which usurps
proprietary rights over human flesh and blood. The real guardian of these
children is the STATE.
The church is merely a deputy guardian liable to be removed at any time.
By a simple exercise of its supreme power, the State, through its executive, can
wipe away the whole com geries of sectarian orphanages and give the guardianship of
the children into secular hands.
And if all the sectarian orphanages—which God forfend !—are run like Bully Burtons barracks
for boy slaves, the soonest the State does this the better.
If the sectarian orphanages have it as a principle that their charter of guardianship
is superior to the God-given right of a mother to feed, clothe and cherish the babes that
she bore, and who were suckled at her breast, it is the bounden duty of the W.A.
Government to sweep them into nothingness, as the Clemenceau Government is doing in France.]
19 May 1907, Western Australia
'This is the narrative of " Uncle Jim"
Being the personal experience of a " Sunday Times" scribe who rescued George Porter from the clutches of Parson Bully Burton, and also forced him, later on, to disgorge George's little brother Charlie.
It was suggested in the office that as the pedagogue-parson seemed impervious to all sense of humanity, kidnapping of at least one of the boys would precipitate matters.
Writer therefore was introduced to, the mother of the boys ; and assumed the name and
family status of their "Uncle Jim" there being such a person in
the Stott menage.
To lend an air of realism to the family expedition in going out to reconnoitre,
writer's status was fully maintained : Christian names on both sides being, allowed.
In this way family feticity was well-established.
The first shock; came' on its way out.
The Rev. Burton was met half-way!
Knowing the mother would at all times endeavor to obtain possession of her babies;
and as she was knowns to the Rev. B. a judicious re-arrangement, and shuffle of Veils,
arms, and waists fully persuaded the passing parson. that it was nothing more deadly
than a two-and-carry-one - picnic.
The mother was dropped near the soon-to-be-historic river and bridge, and
Auntie Hettie and Uncle Jim drove boldly into the fearsome fortresses.
Half-a-hundred anxious-eyed boys attired in all sorts and conditions of clothing,
paused in their work as the buggy stopped and Auntie Hettie went to spy the land.
The matron came down like a Nor' West willy-willy when Charlie Porter
was asked for.
Suddenly both youngsters came running up from the marsh fields wherein
they were working, severe chest complaints being evidently thought a
trifle at this modern "Dotheboy's Hall".
Then the Superintendent sighted the party and also came down at a Postle-like swing.
"Auntie Hettie was Privately "wording" the boys as to "Uncle Jim from the Fields" when
the Super. swooped down, confiscated the silver coin just handed to the lads and,
making an entry re: it being "invested for them until they were 21," offered to show
the party around.
While "the Super, primed Uncle Jim up with the beauties and benefits of being a
juvenile helot under Burton Squeers; the said quick-witted Auntie Hettie ambled around
ostensibly admiring the ducks, pigs, cabbages, mud and other products of the orphan farm.. '
When a mental map of the locality had been made the boys were told to
be in the lane between 7 and 8 that evening, and they might have a chance
Uncle Jim then drove his dearly beloved sisters back to Midland, gave the
buggy up to the livery stable, sent the ladies home by train and walked back
in the dark to the Orphanage.
Four hours of weary crawling and crouching amongst logs, wire fences pig-styes, etc,
failed to find the boys, the only break to the monotony being the sounds of evening
service held in the adjacent church. Eventually, after having, ruined a suit of clothes
per medium of farm slush and wire fencess : and having been severely trodden on
by a vagrant cow ; Uncle Jim deployed furtively back to town, heart-sick
Another rescue expedition was formed on the following Saturday morning-
the parties being a well-known scribe, the step-father of the boys, and Uncle Jim.
This time a complete swaggy's disguise was assumed out in the bush by Uncle Jim, who,
leaving the others secreted under the river bridge, trudged over the ploughed paddock
past the spot where by the aid of a powerful pair of field glasses he located George Porter.
Stopping momentaräy, and pointing over toward Ferguson's vineyard
as if inquiring his way, the disguised Uncle Jim passed a hurried word to the boy to be
at a certain spot on the river bank while the other boys were busy at lunch.
"Bring Charlie," he whispered. "If that isn't possible, come alone."
'An hour later Uncle Jim, the other pressman, and the step-dad, crouching in the river
reeds, saw with quickly-beating hearts a pathetic little figure stealing warily
from tuft to tuft of sheltering grass and bush, from boulder to tree stump,
and from hill to gully.
Nearer and nearer he came, stumbling and slipping by the muddy ooze of the river sedges,
until he came to a big Willow tree, lying prone by the bank. Here the little hero,
opened his guernsey, slipped something grey and alive into the hollow log, and
continued his journey of escape.
The something grey and alive was a half-grown possum, caught by George. at that spot
a week before, and thinking his brother might be soon also rescued, and not having
confidence in leaving his pet with others, he gave it its liberty !
A minute later he reached a spot opposite his rescuers, and began to strip for the swim across.
A whispered shout was wafted to him to cross by the bridge. -To this he shook his head meaningly.
His rescuers soon saw the reason. The bridge stood up and out, in full view of not
only the Orphanage, but of the parsonage, the church, and the cottages of half-a-dozen
local farm laborers.
- He was half undressed, when Uncle Jim and the daily scribe, stripping! in
lightening time, plunged in, crossed the river, and escorted the gallant little kiddie across.
After a necessarily, hurried towelling with soft dry grass, the party set out for home and mummy,
the scribe and the step-dad going away ostentatiously towards Midland Junction.
Uncle Jim and the boy Georgie snaking along, slow, tortuous skirt along the entire river
bank to Guildford,
Before half a mile was covered, a score of stops were made to allow the boy to convulsively
cough and rack his poor iittle frame until he lay panting and exhausted on the river bank.
So slow was the progress that at the end of two hours a mile and a half only had been covered.
After crawling and creeping through rail and wire fences, through and under prickly bushes
and hurdles that barred the track, Uncle Jim called a halt in a gully, planted his weary
little, charge in a hollow covered with boughs, and passing himself off as the skipper of
a broken-down motor-launch, hypnotised a farm slavey for a bottle of milk.
That slavey is hereby asked to forgive the fiction, as is also the presiding genius
of the Lord's Recording Diary.
Further down the river, as the poor little truant was now thoroughly done up,
a punt was commandeered and, using a bough as a paddle it was gondoliered down stream.
Owner of said punt is likewise apologised to, and asked to forgive the sin and trespass.
Near the Guildford bridge, George was again planted, while Uncle Jim, giving him an amazing
list of fictions in case of an inquisitive bail-up, made his apparently casual way to
the Rose and Crown, where the daily scribe and step-dad were unearthed (by appointment)
-assimlating their fifth pint of shandy.
A, 'phone to Perth brought out a pair of speedy nags and a double seated waggonette for
the drive home, the police by this time, right through from Midland to Perth, being busy
examining each and every carriage and trap on railway and road.
Uncle Jim, going back to the poor little, waiting waif, with lemonade and biscuits,
found him still huddled under his covering of leaves and bark, and it was, glad arms,
and hearts beating with thankful emotion, that an hour later swung" him from under the
seat into his. mother's arms.
When Uncle Jim and Georgie separated from the others at the "Sunday Times" office,
and had invaded a restaurant, a barber's shop, and
Sir.James Brennan's emporium (that gentleman having generously clothed the boy from top to toe),
the ultimate destination, Applecross, was reached about midnight.
Monday brought the staggering news that the Rev. Squeers Burton had invoked the
combined forces of Law and Order to hound down the dastardly miscreant who had dared
to prefer his mother's arms and domestic joys to the cold comforts of thc barracks on the Swan Riven,
Then Richard Haynes, K.C., took the said law by the large, ignominious ear, and pointed
out the fact that the law was the same old ass of aforetime, and any impulsive John Hop,
burgling the bough-shed of Uncle Jim at Applecross would land the Government into a
financial muddle that would take some thousands of bright, golden quids to square.
Before the squelching of the warrant came, a dozen policemen and troopers
had scoured the landscape in search of that abandoned felon, to-wit, George Porter,
their instructions being to place him in the lowest and darkest dungeon of the Swan Coffinage.
The acumen of Haynes, K.C., the good sense of Gus Roe, P.M., the whole-hearted ardor and
generosity of Dr. Taaffe, and sundry 'assistance from friends and sympathisers,
eventually squelched the illegitimate criminal warrant and to-day young Georgie Porter
is revelling in God's great glad sunshine on the hills of Applecross,
in place of fretting his little soul out, behind the prison boundaries of Squeers Burton.
Yesterday he was a child grown into man's moodiness, through harshness
and restraint." To-day he is a real, live boy, albeit a sickly one, but a boy with
bright, sunny surroundings, and all that youth should' have, before the woes of manhood
dry the blood, and sour the heart to sordidness.
This was the menu for the boys
in the orphanage up until the Burton Regime finished;
-Breakfast Porridge (made very thin, with no milk,
and the sugar boiled with it for economy's sake),
dry bread to mop it up with.
Dinner/lunch -Soup and bread (no meat or vegetables except what are in the soup-
very little soup if you happen to be late).
Tea-One slice of bread and jam or bread and honey, dry bread to fill up with, and a mug of cocoa.
Butter is seen by the boys, at the very-most, never more than three times a year !
Many of the boys attended the State School at Middle Swan and relied on crusts
of bread and anything else they were given by the non-orphanage pupils.
The West Australian, Monday 12 June 1911
THE SWAN BOYS' ORPHANAGE.
RESIGNATION OF THE REV. A. BURTON.
The inquest concerning the death of the boy George Jones, who died recently
in the Children's Hospital, whither he was taken by his mother from the Swan Boys' Orphanage,
will be resumed at the Coroner's Court on Tuesday, June 20.
The case is exciting a great deal of interest, and Detective Dempsey, who is conducting t
he investigations, has subpoenaed a large number of witnesses.
It was ascertained last night that the Rev. Alfred Burton, the manager of the orphanage,
tendered his resignation to the committee of management, after
Mr. F. D. North, C.M,G., had concluded' his recent inquiry into several charges
relating to the conduct of the institution, and that it was accepted.
George Jones was only 9
He died from a cut on his leg which was left untreated.
He was told he was shamming and although he was in excruciating pain
he was made to walk to school for four days, aided by his brothers.
Georgie and Charlie's mother was
Maria Charlotte Leary b: Hotham, Victoria in 1872 and
died in Brunswick, Victoria in 1948.
In Melbourne in 1890 she married 1st. Husband Charles Porter,
b: abt. 1865 died in Kalgoorlie in 1900.
When Charles Porter died he left five children living.
3 girls and 2 boys.
Mini Gertrude Porter b: 1891 in Norwood, South Australia and twin
Roseina Porter b: 1891 in Norwood, South Australia
George Henry Porter b: 1893 in South Australia
Charles Leary Porter b: 1896 Brunswick, Victoria
Ada Victoria Porter b: 1898 in Coolgardie WA.
Her second husband was William Henry Stott,
b: in Victoria in 1878 and died in Richmond, Victoria in 1942
they married in Perth in 1904. Moved to Victoria abt 1917
Young Georgie was born George Henry Porter on the
4 April 1893 in South Australia.
I'm uncertain about the following, but perhaps George married
Joyce Mills in Western Australia in 1936 and remained in Western Australia.
Charlie was taken from the orphanage 4 days after Georgie.
Charlie's full name was Charles Leary Porter b: 1894 in Melbourne.
He joined the 16th Battallion A.I.F at Blackboy Hill, WA
on the 19 July 1916
Embarked from Fremantle on the 'Argyleshire for
France on 9 November 1916
Poor Charlie died of wounds on the 27 September 1917 at the
2nd. Canadian Casualty Clearing Station in Belgium.