Infant Life Protection Act of 1890

| Updated on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

INFANT LIFE PROTECTION ACT OF 1890.

Compiled by Helen D. Harris OAM

In 1898, Victoria Police took over the administration of the Infant Life Protection Act of 1890, which  had been passed in reaction to cases of infanticide and abuse by baby farmers (women who took in babies to nurse). This legislation tightened controls on both mothers and baby farmers. The police department managed the administration of the Act until 1908, and in so doing created a series of records of immense use to family and social historians. Unfortunately there is no surviving index to the records prior to 1901, making it a difficult task to access them.  Those cases found in files for the period 1898-1908  have now been placed on a separate web page Infant Life Protection Act Indexes.  Please note that they are not all the cases, merely the ones found to date.

From 1901, there exist indexes to the correspondence registers, and the registers themselves.  This series of microfiche has been compiled from both the indexes and the registers, and gives names, locations and relevant file numbers to enable access to the files themselves.  The indexes, registers and files are housed at the Public Record Office, but unfortunately the latter are not always easy to locate, with many not located where they should be.  The microfiche also offers a guide to where to look for the files.

ILPA PART ONE  – THE NURSES 1901-1908

Contains over 5,000 entries listing the name and location of women (and the occasional male) who applied to become ‘nurses’, who renewed their registration or who notified the department of their change of address.

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ILPA PART TWO – ILLEGITIMATE BIRTHS

Lists those people who were charged with failing to register the birth of an illegitimate child within the required three days. The legal responsibility to register the child lay with the occupier of the house in which the child was born, rather than the mother, so friends or relatives could be and were charged.

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ILPA PART THREE – THE CHILDREN & THEIR NURSES

This list contains two indexes; the names of the children who were given to nurses registered under the Act, and the names of the nurses and which children they took into their care. A number of the children were the offspring of women from country areas and interstate or overseas (New Zealand), who came to Melbourne to give birth, leave the child with a nurse, then return home with their secret intact.

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ILPA PART FOUR – ADOPTIONS

Most of the children (although not all) were the illegitimate offspring of working-class mothers, unable to look after babies themselves, and amenable to other people adopting their child. This list shows both the child’s and the adoptive parents’ names. As legal adoption did not commence until 1928, the material in these files is the only way in which these adoptions can be traced.

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ILPA PART FIVE – DEATHS

Lists those children who died while in the custody of a nurse registered under this Act, and includes those people who were investigated for failing to comply with the Act. These people were sometimes the nurse herself, sometimes relatives or adoptive parents.

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ILPA PART SIX – NURSES – MISCELLANEOUS.

Lists women who were investigated by the police department for taking in children when they were not registered as nurses under this Act; women who applied for an exemption because of extenuating circumstances (such as being a relation of the child) and women whose registration as nurses were cancelled, sometimes at their own request and sometimes because of their treatment of the children under their care.

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