Date of Submission



This thesis examines the Ballarat Female Refuge, the first such institution on the Australian goldfields, as a case study of the interrelationship between charity and power. Established in 1867 by a group of twenty-six Protestant women with the intention of reforming prostitutes, the Refuge became a shelter for single mothers. An analysis of its history over the period 1867 to 1921 highlights attitudes towards female sexuality, and demonstrates how moral authority was exercised through this highly-gendered institution. The thesis locates the Ballarat Female Refuge within both an international history of female refuges and the network of voluntary charities which developed in nineteenth-century Ballarat. It argues that such charities were influential in the consolidation of class barriers in the goldfields city. While they were founded as a result of both evangelical religious fervour and humanitarian concern, they sought to impose middleclass moral values on their inmates, simultaneously conferring status and prestige on their committee members The thesis analyses the Protestant Ballarat Female Refuge through an examination of its committee, staff and residents in order to identify aspects of both power and mutuality in the charity relationship. It also looks at the symbolic systems operating at the Refuge, in particular the meanings of the wall and the laundry in the processes of exclusion and reformation. Drawing on narrative, biographical, statistical and genealogical sources, it details the ways in which moral authority was exercised through the Ballarat Female Refuge.


School of Arts and Sciences

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


207 pages


Faculty of Arts and Sciences