Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Remembering the Papatoetoe Orphan Home

Fifty years ago on 5 August 1963 the Health Department's Division of Mental Health began using the former Papatoetoe Orphan Home as a hospital for intellectually handicapped children. The home, also previously and variously known as St John’s Orphanage, St Mary’s Home and the Church of England Orphan Home was now renamed St John’s Home. St John’s Home eventually became a satellite home of the Mangere Hospital (in Robertson Road) for young people with intellectual handicaps.

Papatoetoe Orphan Home had been laid out according to a 1907 plan by the architect George Selwyn Goldsbro’.

Ref: AWNS-19070815-5-1, plan for the proposed orphanage in Papatoetoe, 1907, Sir George Grey Special Collections
However because of budgetary constraints it would be built in stages.  Only three of the four dormitory blocks were built initially. (The fourth dormitory block was never built). The blocks were linked by corridors.  There was a dining hall and laundry building behind the dormitories and outlying school and infirmary. Papatoetoe Orphan Home was opened on 1 April 1909 accommodating 64 children. The official opening was held one month later

Ref: AWNS 19090506-4-6, dedication and opening of the new orphan home at Papatoetoe, Auckland on 1 May 1909, Sir George Grey Special Collections
In 1918 the Orphan Home Trust Board decided to create a Home Chapel for the orphans and the people of Papatoetoe. The orphans themselves helped raise funds for this project. The chapel's foundation stone was laid in September 1918 and construction was completed in 1919. The chapel was consecrated as the Chapel of the Holy Saviour.

Ref: Footprints 01462, Chapel of Our Saviour, Papatoetoe Orphan Home, c. 1960, photograph reproduced by courtesy of Trevor Penman and Mrs Gladys Penman, South Auckland Research Centre
In the home’s first decade there were many applications to admit children and to relieve some of this pressure a two-storey central administration block, which included an extra dormitory for older girls, was built during the 1920s. It was opened in May 1923.

Ref: Footprints 02142, former Orphan Home, Papatoetoe, 2005, photograph reproduced by courtesy of Papatoetoe Historical Society, South Auckland Research Centre
Orphans were usually aged between 2 and 9 when they were admitted to the Papatoetoe Orphan Home. Boys could stay until they turned 14 and girls until they turned 16 years of age. When they were not at church, school or play, young boys had to work in the home’s vegetable garden. Boys aged between 12 and 14 worked on the home’s farm. Young girls were taught housekeeping duties, and older girls aged between 14 and 16 were trained as domestic servants.

Ref: AWNS-19270106-14-1, Archbishop Averill with two orphans from the Papatoetoe orphanage, 1927, Sir George Grey Special Collections
 Author: Christopher Paxton, South Auckland Research Centre


  1. I was a young resident there during the 1940's. How can I find out more of the history of this place ?

    1. Hi John,

      The best place to start would be getting in touch with the South Auckland Research Centre as they hold the Papatoetoe Orphan Home Photograph Collection as well as some other related materials. Some of the records are restricted access but the staff at the South Research Centre will be able to give specific advice around that. Contact details for the South Auckland Research Centre are on the main Auckland Libraries website and the phone number there is: Tel: 09 261 8637.

      Thanks for your enquiry,


    2. More information on the Papatoetoe Orphan Home Photograph Collection is available here:

    3. Hi John
      I'm part of the team who are working on restoring the old Home. Another place you can get information about the place is the Papatoetoe Historical Places Trust. Main contact is Jenny Clarke.


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