Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 23, 2016
Webpage updated: November 28, 2020

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The rear of the Royal British Orphan Asylum facing south.
The children are all lined up on the balconies and stairways.
From a postcard.

The foundation of the Royal British Orphan Asylum for Female Orphans of Sailors, Soldiers and Marines at Stoke had a common ancestry with the Devon and Cornwall Female Orphan Asylum in Plymouth.  Both were created thanks to the work of Mrs Mary Tripe, the wife of Mr Cornelius Tripe, surgeon and general practitioner, of Ker Street, Devonport.

The Devon and Cornwall Asylum was started in 1834 and immediately upset some of its subscribers by obtaining a site in Plymouth instead of Devonport.  Because of that and the huge number of applications for places, Mrs Tripe founded the Orphan Asylum on HM Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24th 1839.  Its objective, as its glorious title implied, was the support and education of female orphans of seamen, soldiers and Royal Marines, especially those who had lost their lives in the public service.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria agreed to become the Patron in October 1839 and the prefix "Royal" was added to its title.

Funding for the Asylum came entirely from voluntary contributions.  The girls were supported from the age of 5 until 12, when they were old enough to go into service. In May 1840 a house in Saint Michael's Terrace at Stoke was rented but it was not long before even that accommodation became inadequate.

The founder of the Orphanage, Mrs Mary Tripe, passed away on Friday August 12th 1842, 'sincerely regretted by all who knew her worth'.  Her short obituary said:  'In all the relations of private life she discharged her duties with exemplary diligence, and unaffected goodness.  She was the unwearied friend of the distressed -- her hand was "open as day to melting charity".  To the unwearied exertions and great energy of this lamented lady, we are indebted for the formation of the Devon and Cornwall Female Orphan Asylum at Plymouth, and also the establishment of the Royal British Female Orphan Asylum at Devonport; her chief delight was to console the widow and protect the fatherless.  Her end was peace'.

On Wednesday April 22nd 1845 the foundation stone of its own building was laid with great Masonic ceremony by the Provincial Grand Master, Hugh the Earl Fortescue.  The site had been donated by the Lord of the Manor, Sir E Saint Aubyn.  The building cost 6,000 to erect and was formally opened on Thursday June 18th 1846, the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The Committee of the Lloyd's Patriotic Fund made two large donations to the Orphanage.  The first, in 1860, was 500 and was made on condition that the sum was invested and the twenty-five boarders should be received at 'a liberal payment'.  Then in 1866 an endowment of 15,000 was made in return for the right to nominate 30 orphans. .

It was found necessary to enlarge the building in order to accommodate 50 children to be supported by the Admiralty.  On Wednesday October 7th 1874 the memorial stone of this extension was laid by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.  This raised the accommodation to 200 children by the addition of two wings to the main building.  A new and larger school room was in the western wing, with dormitories above.  The extension was designed by Mr Alfred Norman and the construction was carried out by Mr Jenkin, of Devonport.

In 1890 the Patron was Her Majesty Queen Victoria, with Admiral Sir William Dowell, Kt., KCB., as president.  The treasurer was Admiral J E M Wilson; the honorary secretary was Mr Lorenzo P Metham; the secretary to the ladies' committee was Mrs Batten; and the matron was Mrs Catchpool.

A further extension to the premises was made in 1892.  There were nearly 200 inmates in the Orphanage in July 1895.

At Christmas 1906 the Matron was Miss Dunn and the head Schoolmistress, Miss Chalker, was assisted by the Misses Gurnett, McKenzie, Wright and Moore.  Lady Jackson, wife of Sir John Jackson, sent each child a new silver sixpence.

By gracious permission of His Majesty the King, the name of the institution was renamed the Royal United Services Orphan Home for Girls on and as from January 1st 1907.