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Working children: a social history of children's work in New South Wales, 1860-1916

posted on 2022-03-28, 02:44 authored by Maree Kathleen Murray
In the 1860s work performed by children was reflected the wider labour market. Children undertook paid employment in formal situations and work of a more casual nature on city streets. They also performed unpaid work at households and farmsites. Children working at the homesite contributed to home based production and service, and also, through domestic duties, to the daily reproduction of labour. Children's participation in the workforce was significant in the three main sectors of the economy. Small-scale farming, most commonly on selections, made significant use of children's labour. Selection, and its appropriation of children's labour power, continued throughout the entire period. The colony's infant industrialisation utilised cheap, child labour in its development from craft-based to more intensive, larger-scale industry. Children's labour power was usually of financial import to their households and usually allocated with regard to age and gender. In times of intensive demand or financial difficulty, the need for children's labour could lessen gender strictures. Demand for children's labour power was, at times, in conflict with the expanding liberal state, which was extending its training and supervision of future citizens through primary education. Mass education was generally accepted, although many families used schools on a casual basis so that children could alternate work and schoolwork. The 1880 Public Instruction Act pragmatically reflected common practice by making some schooling compulsory. -- By 1916 patterns of children's work participation which held for much of the twentieth century were set. Children were virtually excluded, through attitudinal and legislative change, from the paid main-stream workforce. Their effective, and permanent, removal from the urban, industrial workforce had been closely controlled. Their use as casual labour, was circumscribed by adherence to daily, all-day compulsory schooling. Children's work on city streets was limited and regulated. Their work at the home site and in the rural sector continued, now fitted around demanding schooling requirements. -- Pressure on the state, from organised labour and other concerned interests, to remove children from employment in factories and streets had intensified from the 1890s. These demands were echoed by educational authorities, who, since the beginning of the period, had called for strict adherence to their full-time ideal model of school. The state, reflecting and consolidating attitudinal change, responded in an incremental fashion with increasing regulation and control. State action included the 1916 Education Act which could enforce adherence to the ideal school model. The withdrawal of children from mainstream labour was accompanied by an increasingly widespread, accepted and entrenched ideology of protected, nurturant and dependant childhood.


Alternative Title

Social history of children's work in New South Wales, 1860-1916


Bibliography: leaves 427-449

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, School of History, Philosophy and Politics

Department, Centre or School

School of History, Philosophy and Politics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jill Roe


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Maree Kathleen Murray 1995. Only title page information, abstract, acknowledgements, table of contents and conclusion are accessible. Complete digital version suppressed for copyright reasons. To request access to this copy, please contact




New South Wales


[9], 449 leaves

Former Identifiers

mq:5994 1343883

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