Local Historian, John Gribben was guest speaker at the general meeting of the Murchison Historical Society this month. He spoke about his research into the life of a young boy called John Edge, who met a sad and lonely death while working on an isolated property near Molka, south east of Murchison in 1894.
During a tour of Euroa Cemetery recently, John became intrigued to know what had led to this child, supposedly an orphan, to be lying in an unmarked grave in the Euroa Cemetery. There were many twists and turns and confusing information as John tried to find out the background to the life of this young boy who was found dead on the side of a nearby creek.
The sad circumstances of disjointed, violent family life, neglect and abandonment, were revealed through the research and this obviously affected the health and growth of John Edge. His father had handed the boy, who was in a filthy and ‘wasted’ condition, to Miss. Sutherland, who helped abandoned needy children on the streets of Melbourne. Her work was to eventually lead to the foundation of the Sutherland Homes for Neglected and Destitute Children in 1908.
Miss. Selina Sutherland, pictured with children at a Christmas party at Sutherland Homes in Carlton, 1908, courtesy of Diamond Valley Local History Digitisation Project, Yarra Plenty Regional Library.
Miss. Sutherland had arranged for John Edge to be placed with a family near Euroa, and it seems his ‘cleanliness’ and health improved there, but he was described as partly deaf and “slow witted” no doubt due to malnourishment and many years of possible abuse. He was moved for employment to a farm nearby and according to an account of the inquest into his death, did not appear to receive the same care and attention there.
Following the inquest, and together with other similar cases, many questions were raised throughout the community, in the press, and also in the Victorian Parliament, about safeguards for vulnerable children. This led to the establishment of the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1896, to assist children that found themselves in dire circumstances like John Edge, a small undernourished child who sadly only lived to be 8 years old. So perhaps John Edge’s death was instrumental in bringing about significant protection for neglected and abandoned children and he did not die entirely in vain.
John Gribben plans to place a plaque on a sizable rock near where John Edge died, telling his story so that he is not forgotten and his short, sad life can have some recognition.
It was a tortuous journey trying to piece this tragedy together but John Gribben persisted, trawling through newspapers and official documents, til a clearer picture emerged and all this work will now have a positive outcome.
Marg Brown thanked John for his intriguing presentation and presented him with a gift of local produce.
Kay Ball, President, Murchison and District Historical Society Inc.