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Corbin, Laura Mary (1841–1906)

The death of Mrs. Corbin, the wife of Dr. T. W. Corbin. the well-known Adelaide surgeon, and daughter of the late Mr. Alfred Hardy, deprives one of the most deserving charities of the city of its founder and most untiring supporter. During the last quarter of a century South Australia has been exceedingly fortunate in having among her citizens many ladies who have worthily represented the best traditions of philanthropy. The South Adelaide Creche, or day nursery, has for its object the relief of mothers who have to earn their own living, but who are handicapped by having to attend to the wants of a young family. This problem weighed heavily on the kind heart of the deceased lady, and following the main principles upon which day nurseries had been founded in the old country, she decided in 1887 to endeavour to found a nursery where young children could be cared for during the day, while their mothers were compelled to be away from home. Like many another benefactor of the race, she had to be content with a small beginning, for when the institution was opened at 218 King William street, on May 17, 1887, it consisted of a single rented room. For six weeks only one child was admitted on an average daily. This might well have damped the enthusiasm of a less earnest worker than Mrs. Corbin, but instead of abandoning the project she decided to visit all the mothers' meetings and missions in the city in order to explain her scheme. At first a charge of 4d per child per day was made, but later it was found that this was beyond the means of the women to whom the nursery would be of the greatest benefit, and accordingly it was reduced to 2d. per day. Four months after the nursery was opened it had an average of six children daily, and by the end of the year the committee were appealing for funds to secure larger premises. During the first year the admissions totalled 1,618. The first annual report contained the following clause:— 'The committee feel that they must not close without congratulating Mrs. Corbin upon the success of a charitable work which she has worked so hard to establish. They feel that to her personal efforts are owed the success and usefulness of the day nursery, which has now become an institution.' During the second year as many as 17 children were present on one day, and there were 65 mothers constantly using the Creche: and the average number of children admitted per week was 41. In 1801 Mrs. Corbin paid a visit to England for the sake of her health, and while there she visited most of the day nurseries in both England and Ireland. On her return she was presented with an address, which had been subscribed for by the mothers to whom she had proved herself such a friend.

During the severe depression which followed the financial crisis of 1893 Mrs. Corbin accomplished another splendid work by establishing a soup kitchen, from which the destitute poor could obtain on four days each week hot soup for the nominal price of 1d. per quart. In 16 days 300 quarts of soup was thus distributed to almost starving men, women, and children. In addition she started a fund to assist the most distressing cases, and many a despairing family were thus enabled to tide over the worst months of that dismal year. Meantime the Creche had gone steadily forward, until in 1895 the total number of admittances had reached the high figure of 21,887 since the opening of the nursery. From King William street the nursery was transferred to Nelson street, and later a site was purchased in Gouger street, and a permanent home was erected. In 1898 the foundress had the gratification of seeing the institution freed from debt, and so efficiently organized and governed that it would bear favourable comparison with any similar institution in the world. The Creche was from the first run on commonsense lines. As soon as they were admitted the children were washed and dressed in Creche clothing. Two meals per day were provided, and no religious instruction was attempted.

While this institution stands as a monument of her worth her name will never be forgotten by those whose labour has been rendered easier by the forethought and work of the founder of the South Australian Day Nursery.

The deceased lady has left a widower, three unmarried daughters, and four sons—Dr. Cecil Corbin (of Perth), Dr. John Corbin (of Adelaide), Mr. Hugh Corbin (who distinguished himself in scientific and metallurgical circles, and has received an appointment in Sumatra), and Mr. Alfred Corbin (of Elder. Smith. & Co. Mr. C. K. Hardy (of Messrs. Fenn & Hardy), Dr. James Hardy (of Sydney), and Mr. G. N. Hardy (of Perth) were brothers.

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'Corbin, Laura Mary (1841–1906)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/corbin-laura-mary-12857/text35379, accessed 19 October 2019.

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