Female Orphan Asylum, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The Aberdeen Female Orphan Asylum was founded in 1839 by Mrs Mary Elmslie, daughter of James Calder, wine merchant, Aberdeen, and widow of James Elmslie, merchant in Gibraltar. Her husband died in 1833, and left her childless and well provided for. She purchased two acres of ground at 19 Albyn Place, built her institution and endowed it with £40,000 in 3 per cent Government annuities. During her lifetime she drew the dividends, paid all accounts, and made all regulations for the administration up to her death in 1868 in her 89th year. Her object was to maintain and train for domestic service fifty orphan girls of married parents who had resided in the parishes of St Nicholas, Oldmachar, Nigg, or Banchory-Devenick. The age of admission was from four to eight, and the girls left at sixteen for domestic service provided with a suitable outfit.

Mrs Mary Elmslie. © Peter Higginbotham

A notable contribution to the Asylum was made by Mrs Barbra Reid who, in 1891, had held the post of matron for thirty-five years.

Following the Aberdeen (Endowed Institutions) Provisional Order of 1881, administration of the Asylum was taken over by the Aberdeen Educational Trust. In 1891, the trustees sold the building in Albyn Place to the Aberdeen School Board, who reconstructed it as the High School for Girls, and transferred their pupils from Little Belmont Street. It had cost Mrs Elmslie about £15,000 to build, and the selling price was £4,500.

The Trust replaced the Orphan Asylum with a Girls' Home and School of Domestic Economy in a property on King Street, formerly the premises of the Aberdeen Boys' and Girls' Hospital. The School taught 60 foundationers and maintained up to 30 girls. In 1909, the School and the King Street property were transferred to Robert Gordon's Technical College.

The work begun by Mrs Elmslie was continued by the trustees of the Endowments Trust Girls' Home, Sunnybank, opened in around 1910 on Sunnybank Road, Aberdeen. This home could accommodate thirty girls who, on completing a primary education, were trained in housecraft up to the age of sixteen at the School of Domestic Science. Then with a complete outfit, seven shillings and sixpence of pocket money, they were placed in domestic service.

In 1938, the Sunnybank site was acquired by the adjacent school for the building of an extension. The girls moved to new premises at Ferryhill Lodge, 9 Polmuir Road, where the home continued in operation until 1956 when a continuing decline in the number of inmates resulted in its closure.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Aberdeen City Archives, Town House, Broad Street, Aberdeen AB10 1AQ, and Old Aberdeen House, Dunbar Street, Aberdeen AB24 3UJ. Has varioius items dating from 1792 to 1955 relating the homes and Mrs Elmslie including minute books, registers, menu books, and other information.



  • Cormack, Alexander Poor Relief in Scotland (1923, Wyllie & Son, Aberdeen)
  • None noted at present.