Margaret Whitlam Galleries: Virtual Tour

Interior of Female Orphan School (West Wing)

Interior of Female Orphan School (West Wing)

Interior of Female Orphan School (West Wing)

Gallery Space

Gallery Space 2

Gallery Space 3

Female Orphan School opening disk

Margaret Whitlam Galleries Virtual Tour

At Western Sydney University, the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and broader community is our highest priority.

We are following all of the latest Australian Government and health authority advice; taking all of the necessary precautions; and doing our part to slow the spread of the virus.

In line with the latest advice, the Margaret Whitlam Galleries will be closed until further notice.

We look forward to welcoming you back to our gallery spaces, artist talks and other events, when possible in the future.

In the meantime, you can access our gallery online at



Western Sydney University became custodian of the Female Orphan School when the New South Wales government transferred ownership of the nation's oldest institutional site to the University in 1995 and entrusted it to bring new life to one of Australia's most significant heritage assets. Restoring the central wing to its original condition was made possible by a partnership between the Heritage Council of New South Wales and the University, and was  formally re-opened to the public in October 2003. During its restoration, the ground floor of this building was developed into a gallery and exhibition space. The building has since been a venue for meetings, conferences and exhibitions, a place used by the wider community for cultural events and other public activities.
The Female Orphan School 1813-1887
Building commenced in 1813 and the first pupils arrived in 1818. By 1829 there were 152 girls in a building designed for 100. Boys attended the school from 1850 when the Male Orphan School at Cabramatta closed and the building became known as the Protestant Orphan School.
By the 1880s Government policy favoured placing orphaned children with families and the Protestant Orphan School closed in 1887.
The Psychiatric Hospital 1888-1985
Patients from the overcrowded Parramatta Hospital for the Insane were moved into the Orphan School buildings in1888.The site continued to develop as a Psychiatric Hospital with additional facilities being built up to the mid 1960s.
By the 1970s innovations in the care and treatment of metal illness including medicines and community integration rather than isolation led to the Hospital gradually closing down between 1985 -1989.
Building and Conservation
In 1813 Governor Lachlan Macquarie laid the foundation stone of the Female Orphan School, which was to be modelled after Mrs Macquarie's family home in Scotland. By the standards of the Colony in 1813, it was an audacious scheme of a building and represented a major undertaking for the Colonial government.
The quarrying of stone, making of bricks, manufacturing of lime, cutting of timber and application of labour was a slow process, but the Female Orphan School was finally ready for occupation in 1818.
In 1850 the building became the Protestant Orphan School and was redesigned to house both boys and girls. It was altered again at the turn of the 20th century by Government Architect W L Vernon, who added a somewhat grandiose central porch, balustraded copings to the linking galleries and a new service tower to the rear. Vernon also removed the splendid paired flights of stairs.
The conservation work and fittings left throughout the building display the almost 200 years of occupation. The many various painted schemes revealed by the works are snapshots into the history of Australia's oldest three-storey public building and evidence of the earliest days of the colony of New South Wales.
Restoration has also reinstated the grand central paired staircase in a sympathetic yet contemporary way, regaining the building's original circulation patterns. The reconstruction of the northern verandah once again allows the ground floor rooms to open out to the northern courtyard.

Make an educational day of your visit to Western Sydney University. Other activities include: the Whitlam Institute permanent collection exhibition, the Parramatta sculpture and heritage walk.

Educational Resources:

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