Hartnett House (1900 - 83)


  • Auspice: Melbourne City Mission, Sister E Hartnett
  • Title or Name: Hartnett House (1955–83)
  • Other name: Melbourne City Mission Maternity Home (1900–55)
  • Address: Albion Street, Brunswick


  • Auspice: Melbourne City Mission, Sister E Hartnett
  • Title or Name: Hartnett House (1955–83)
  • Other name: Melbourne City Mission Maternity Home (1900–55)
  • Address: Albion Street, Brunswick

Hartnett House history in brief

In 1900, Sister E Hartnett founded the Melbourne City Mission Maternity Home.

Until 1903, it was situated in rented premises in East Brunswick, and then moved to Albion Street, Brunswick, to a building formerly used by the Salvation Army as the Brunswick Girls' Home.

It functioned as a 'pre-maternity home' for pregnant women and was registered to care for babies. Sister Hartnett arranged the adoption of some of the children in the home's care and supported other mothers to maintain their parenting role.

In 1913, a new maternity home was built on the Albion Street site. In 1935, a nursery, kitchen and reading room were added. In 1942, the home accommodated 22 infants, some mothers, and one state ward.

In 1949, there were eight state wards and 34 infants in residence under the infant life protection provisions. In 1947, a new children’s home for residential care was built, adjoining the pre-maternity home, and in 1950 a nursery was added.

From 1948–75, the facility was classified as a category 2 home. For category 1 classification, it was modified to include residential care of children; day kindergarten; family care centre; and a day nursery.

In 1955, The separate components of the home were amalgamated. It was to be a short-term residential unit but, in practice, was used for long-term placements.

In 1958, the home was renamed Hartnett House. Circa mid-1960s, the Melbourne City Mission’s residential units became approved children’s homes.

A report from 1969 indicated that an individual file was kept on each child, containing reception centre material, medical history, copies of correspondence and a very brief general report made by the matron about every six months. The same report stated that adoptions averaged about 100 per year, the babies being born to either girls living in the house or referred by local doctors.

In 1971–72 Hartnett House was providing the following services:

  • a 24-bed maternity home for single girls
  • a counselling and casework service, with a focus on single mothers
  • an adoption agency (completing an average of 90 adoptions per year)
  • a 32-bed babies’ home
  • a 25-bed children's home, with children cared for in small groups.

By 1973, the Melbourne City Mission was renamed the Community Welfare Foundation and had a new board of management, including two departmental representatives.

In 1972–73, the numbers of single mothers using the maternity home had declined to a weekly average of only nine, and finalised adoptions were down by 53 from the previous year. In 1973, Hartnett House ceased its maternity home and adoption operations but continued as a children's home.

In 1974, the department provided additional funding to Hartnett House following the recent closure of the Methodist Babies Home, The Haven, Alexander Toddlers Home and Overton Residential Nursery.

By the mid-1970s, Hartnett House's children's home was catering almost exclusively for wards and it was reclassified as a category 1 Children's Home. In 1975, Hartnett House established a family centre for vulnerable local families.

In the late 1970s Hartnett House became a multipurpose organisation focusing on the residential care of children, a registered day kindergarten, the family care centre and a registered day nursery, and also provided family support.

By 1982, Hartnett House was a multiservice agency. It operated a longer-term residential unit for eight children with rostered staff; a short-term/emergency unit for eight children with rostered staff; a family centre providing family support services; and the child development and enrichment centre.

In 1982 Hartnett House was allocated 'conversion funding' to allow it to stay in long-term care, provided it closed its long-term residential unit and established two family group homes in the north-west region. In 1983, the Melbourne City Mission terminated family support services at Hartnett House.

In 1984, the Melbourne City Mission converted its medium and long-term residential care of children from a campus program to family group home. During the mid-1990s, the longer-term residential program and the Child and Family Development Unit were phased out. In their place, Melbourne City Mission established additional temporary care units and a long-term youth accommodation unit.

The Albion Street property is now the Melbourne City Mission's base for its northern region operations.

Warning about distressing information

This guide contains information that some people may find distressing. If you experienced abuse as a child or young person in an institution mentioned in this guide, it may be a difficult reading experience. Guides may also contain references to previous views, policies and practices that are regrettable and do not reflect the current views, policies or practices of the department or the State of Victoria.  If you find this content distressing, please consult with a support person either from the Department of Health and Human Services or another agency.


Please note that the content of this administrative history is provided for general information only and does not purport to be comprehensive. The department does not guarantee the accuracy of this administrative history. For more information on the history of child welfare in Australia, see Find & Connect.


Department’s compiled agency histories.
Guide to out-of-home care services 1940–2000: volume one – agency descriptions, compiled by James Jenkinson Consulting, North Melbourne, November 2001.  

Reviewed 24 August 2016