Collingwood Notables Database
Violet St Clare Langley
Always formally referred to as Miss Langley throughout her employment, Violet St Clare Langley was matron of the Collingwood Crèche for nine years, from 1889 until 1898. The Crèche was established by the Reverend Dr Charles Strong and his wife Janet to provide a safe affordable place for poor working women of Collingwood to leave their children to be cared for. Matron Langley, known in family circles as Clare or Clara, lived in and had a long working day.
Miss Langley had migrated to Australia in 1882 in the company of her mother Kezia and two sisters, Laura (Dorothy) and Ada. She was a certificated teacher in England, her last position being as governess to the wealthy Warren family at Capel Manor House in Enfield. Her sisters and parents taught in workhouse schools. The women were accepted as bounty immigrants to Tasmania, which was still in need of additions to its workforce, and the ship’s papers described the daughters as nurses, perhaps because this calling was in demand. Mrs Langley obtained a land grant of 30 acres.
Clare obtained a position at Hobart General Hospital but in 1884 applied to the Board of Education in the hope of resuming her former position. her supervisor Mrs Wane wrote in support:
I can testify to her uniform gentleness patience and carefulness in the execution of her duty ... thoroughly conscientious and most obliging, neat and orderly in her work, and quiet and firm in her manner towards patients ... she is fond of children and they of her ... I believe Mrs Langley has brought up her daugters very well and that they in consequence are peculiarly fitted to have charge of children.
Clare was approved for employment by the Board of Education but decided instead to return to England. Whether she did so is unclear, but in late 1886 and 1887 she again applied to the Board. Eventually she gave up and moved to Melbourne. There her appointment may have been connected to her acquaintance with the wife of the Governor, Lady Elizabeth Loch, who took an interest in the Crèche.
During the 1880s there had been much controversy in the Presbyterian Church involving Dr Strong, minister at Scots Church. This led to the establishment of the Australian Church with Strong as its minister. Charles and Janet Strong were very concerned with social issues, especially in Collingwood. The new church created the Social Improvement, Friendly Help and Children’s Aid Society aimed at helping the poor, one of its projects being the establishment of the Collingwood Crèche. In late 1888 control of the Crèche was handed over to a separate body called the Crèche Society. This was run by a committee of ladies, mostly from other, more well-to-do, suburbs but soon attracting a number of Collingwood identities including Helen Horne, Caroline Earle, and Helen Bowie. Dr Strong remained president.
The first matron was a Mrs Edwards. The Crèche operated in a small house in Oxford Street but rapidly outgrew it. By September 1886 Strong was renting a corner shop in Cambridge Street, called Liverpool House, owned by John Robson, a member of St George’s Presbyterian congregation. The Crèche attracted its fair share of newspaper entries: notices and reports about fund-raising events, letters to the editor from office-bearers seeking donations in money and in kind, and longer articles about how the Crèche was conducted. These two articles, written after Miss Langley had replaced Mrs Edwards, are fairly typical:
The Creche has proved its usefulness, and its value is fairly recognised in Collingwood where many mothers are unfortunately compelled to support their families by washing and other means of earning an honest living. Whilst engaged at work their infant children are taken care of by the matron and nurse of the Creche. The children are well looked after, washed and fed and carefully attended to … At half past 6 o’clock in the evening the mothers are expected to call and take home their infants. The charge made for tending each child is 3d, and 4d for two. These sums are totally insufficient to defray the expenses incurred …. One of the ladies on the committee, Miss Henderson, has established a kindergarten class for the teaching of the children of three years and upwards. The present structure is two storeys high, provided with three rooms on the bottom floor and four on the top. Two of the rooms are set apart for the accommodation of the matron and nurse. The rooms occupied by the children are of small dimensions, and the average attendance numbers about 30 per day.
The Creche Society The Argus 29 June 1889 p 12
Hard as a man finds it to maintain a wife and three or four children in moderate comfort on £2 a week, just reflect what a fearful struggle it must be for a wife to maintain her husband and children on 24s a week. She has to leave her home all day to earn the money, and her husband is too sick – or more often too dissolute – to even mind the children during her absence, much less take a turn at house work. Yet there are hundreds of women in Melbourne who have to do this or sink to the lowest depths of social degradation … Think of the lives the babies of such households have to lead. Infants a few weeks old left to the care of some old woman who charges 1d or 2d a day to give the little mite a modicum of the preserved or skim milk brought by the mother, and who leaves it … to cry till it sleeps from exhaustion in its damp unclean cradle. If the infant survives this neglect … the industrious mother … will … lock it up in a room in charge of a brother or sister some 2 or 3 years old, a piece of bread and a drink of water their sole nourishment between a breakfast of bread and butter … and a supper of the same or potatoes and gravy after 7 o’clock. … A visit to the little house … will show what can and ought be done to help the industrious poor. There Miss Langley, aided only by one servant, keeps the house clean and bright … 17 little mortals under her charge being as bright and plump as if they always lived in the old-time farm house, instead of in damp cottages and tumble down tenements on Collingwood flat. The moment the children arrive they are bathed … put to bed …. Those children old enough and strong enough to go to school start off to return at dinner time and take their fill of savory soup and delicious pudding. The little ones when they wake … play under the guardianship of Miss Langley, or else have an hour or so instruction on the kindergarten system ... The children … wonderfully well behaved … 2-year-old cherubs… maintained by kindness. It is strange that the philanthropic people of Melbourne have not come forward to aid (in getting a larger building).
Minding the Babies The Age 2 Aug 1890 p 13
Fund-raising efforts were re-doubled to amass sufficient funds for a better building. By November 1892 land had been purchased in Keele Street. On 30 November 1893 the new crèche building was opened by Lady Madden in architect-designed premises. Always spoken of in glowing terms, Miss Langley continued as matron until May 1898, when she resigned from her position and was presented with an engraved teapot.
She returned to Tasmania, as had her sisters; there she married farmer John Edgcumbe. Later she was licensed under the Infant Life ProtectionAct to care for up to four children at her Beauty Point home.
|Slough, Buckinghamshire, England
|Date of Marriage
|John Henry Duncanson Edgcumbe, c. 1861 – 24 May 1926
|8 July 1898, Deloraine
|Status of Building
|66 Cambridge Street, northeast corner Langridge Street
|179 Keele Street
|Church of England
|10 March 1938
The Age; The Argus; Mercury and Weekly Courier; The Herald; Examiner (Launceston); Advocate (Burnie); Daily Telegraph (Launceston); The Tasmanian (Launceston); MMBW Detail Plans 1208 and 1236; Victoria. Royal Commission on Charitable Institutions (1890-1891); Archives Office of Tasmania, Applications for Teaching Positions and Associated Correspondence, ED2/1/660, 826 Laura Lydia Langley and 826A Clare Langley.
Photographs courtesy Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre, Tasmania