The Sisters of Good Shepherd and the Abbottsford Convent
Bringing 'Lost Sheep' Back to the Fold
Between 1863 and 1865, the nuns of the Order of the Good Shepherd purchased the St Heliers and Abbotsford House properties. The work of the French order was to bring "lost sheep back to the fold - women and girls in need of rescue and reformation". The nuns selected an isolated place that could house and feed many people. By 1865 seventy penitents lived in the reformatory and worked in the vegetable gardens, pastures and orchards. Over the years a convent, chapel, asylum, industrial school, reformatory and day school were built to accommodate the nuns, novices, penitents and children.
The huge Convent provided shelter for orphans, the infirm and the sick. At one time there were as many as a thousand inhabitants within its walls, most of whom dined on produce grown on the properties. The penitents operated a commercial laundry, which provided income for Convent purchases.
Because of the risk of flooding, the river flats were only used to graze cattle and grow lucerne and maize. The main pathway to the grazing paddocks, known as 'the laneway' was laid out by 1880. The Farm barn was built in the early 1900s.
In the Convent's first 50 years, 8,236 people either lived, worked or went to school here.
Reform to the Reforming of Children
Institutional care underwent major reforms in the 1960s and 1970s with needy children being placed in foster care homes in the wider community. In 1974 the Convent closed down. The Victorian Government purchased the property for use by a tertiary education institution. Market gardeners leased the farmland and grew vegetables and carnations. The cost of refurbishing the Convent complex resulted in its sale to private developers in 1997. Community concern has led to the preservation of the Convent and the land.