The Convent of the Good Shepherd at Abbotsford is a large, relatively intact and architecturally distinctive example of a Roman Catholic convent complex. It includes ecclesiastical, residential, educational and utility buildings constructed during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a rural setting on a bend of the Yarra River close to the city as well as to the inner suburban slums. This secluded site was chosen by four Irish sisters from the Good Shepherd's mother house in Angers, France, who arrived in Melbourne in 1863, and established the Order on what had been two large 1840s villa estates, St Heliers and Abbotsford House. From the late 1860s the site accommodated the Magdalen Asylum, which was essentially a women's refuge, a reformatory for young offenders, and an industrial school complex for the care and training of children who were disadvantaged or neglected. At the end of the 1870s a Catholic day school was added. More land was purchased in the 1880s and 1890s to include all of the land between Clarke Street and the Yarra River. This allowed for the construction of the large laundry buildings, which were to become the primary source of income for the convent. The institution provided for the care of thousands of women and girls through a variety of welfare and court-based rehabilitation and protection programs. There was a massive expansion program in the early twentieth century, with the construction of a new Convent building and adjacent contemplative garden, and new buildings for classrooms, a refectory and dormitories. Most of these were designed by the architectural firm Reed Smart & Tappin. The convent became one of the largest self-sufficient convent and farm complexes in Australia: at its peak it housed, fed and clothed a population of over a thousand, and hundreds more children attended the day schools. There were extensive vegetable gardens and orchards on the southern slopes, grazing land for milking cows and horses to the east, and large numbers of pigs and poultry were kept.
In 1975 the site was purchased by the Victorian Government as a higher education campus, with funding from the Federal Government. The proposed redevelopment of the site in the late 1990s led to a massive community-based heritage battle which resulted in 2004 in the transfer of the convent site south of St Heliers Street to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation for community use. The site is now divided into three parts: the north-west part of the site, including the chapel, which has been retained by the Order; the Collingwood Children's Farm, established in 1979 on the former farm land to the east; and the remainder of the former convent site, including the gardens, controlled by the Foundation.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is a cohesive complex of picturesque ecclesiastical, residential, educational and utility buildings, largely two- or three-storey brick buildings in a Gothic Revival style, set amidst magnificent grounds. To the south of the convent is a picturesque garden with a central lawn and surrounded by shrubberies, a timber rotunda, curved paths and formal paths lined with elm and oak avenue plantings associated with the former grounds of Abbotsford House. The lower garden contains a former orchard area, and to the east is former grazing and farm land. The site retains remnant River Red Gums and vistas to the indigenous bushland of Yarra Bend Park and the Yarra River.
The main building on the site is the Convent building and annexe (containing the former kitchens) (1900-1903), one of the key buildings of the early twentieth century expansion, notable for its use of roughcast on the walls. Other major buildings are: the two-storey brick Industrial School for neglected children (1868); the Magdalen Asylum (or Sacred Heart) (by the architect Thomas Kelly, 1877); St Euphrasia's school (1879); Mercator, the main laundry building (from c1885 to 1964); the North Laundry (c1885-1925) and the South Laundry (1907); Providence (1887, 1905), built as school accommodation; St Anne's (1906), part of the Magdalen Asylum, which completed the enclosure of the Magdalen Asylum courtyard; Rosina, the former Sacred Heart Class (1908), designed in the Baroque Revival style; and St Mary's Preservation Class (1911), also in the Baroque Revival style. Many notable interior features survive. Part of the original boundary wall survives from the 1860s.
How is it significant?
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is of historical, architectural, scientific (botanical), aesthetic and archaeological significance to the state of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is historically significant as the only existing former monastic or convent farm surviving in a substantial manner within a city in Australia. It is the site of the largest self-sufficient convent and monastic building and farm complex in the state, with extensive vegetable gardens, orchards and grazing land. The large-scale agricultural operations were remarkable for an inner-city location. The farm and the massive laundry buildings were major symbols of the convent and of the objectives of the Order.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is historically significant as the birthplace in Australia of the Good Shepherd Order, one of the most important religious institutional complexes within the Catholic Church in Victoria, which provided for the refuge and care of thousands of women and girls through a variety of welfare, rehabilitation and protection programs during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was the first convent of the Order in Australia and New Zealand, and was the Mother House and Novitiate for the Order in Australasia.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is historically significant as a demonstration of changing approaches to the institutional care, reform and education of disadvantaged women and children in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is historically significant for its role during the early years of church-based education after the 1872 Education Act ended state funding to Denominational schools, and the subsequent expansion of church-based education.
The former Convent is historically significant for its association with two of Melbourne's earliest villa estates, Abbotsford House and St Heliers, built by two of its most prominent citizens, Edward Curr and Samuel Orr, which occupied this site from the 1840s, and of which traces still remain.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is architecturally significant as an outstanding example of a nineteenth century religious complex, with buildings constructed in various periods but in a consistent Gothic Revival style, reflecting the contemporary interest in Medievalism and strongly influenced by the French Mother House. These include the early buildings designed by Thomas Kelly, and those designed in the major building campaign of 1900-1911, mainly by William Tappin, with others by Reed, Smart & Tappin, one of Victoria's major architectural firms of that period. It is significant for the intact interiors, notably in the convent buildings, kitchens and laundries.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is of scientific (botanical) significance for its collection of mature shrubs and trees of considerable age, including two outstanding English Oaks (Quercus robur), a fine Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) remnant River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), some rare plants including Dombeya tiliacea, and Vitex lucens.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is of aesthetic significance for the architectural cohesion of the complex, for the designed landscape elements and natural attributes,for the bushland vistas, and for its rural setting on the Yarra River, which has been retained despite the development of surrounding areas. It is a key visual landmark in the area, and notable for the views of the site from the Johnston Street Bridge, from the Kew side of the river, and from the Children's farm.
The former Convent of the Good Shepherd is of archaeological significance for its potential to provide evidence of the former occupation of the site.