V is for Vegetarian

The only relative on my father’s side that I ever met apart from his mother, was Les Bailey, Linden’s cousin.  Adelaide Ridgway was Ella’s sister, born in 1864, eleven years before Ella.  She married Charles Bailey in 1886 and had four children  including Leslie Owen Bailey who was born in 1890, seventeen years before my father.

Bailey 1945
Les Bailey with the Hopewoods

I actually got to meet this much admired relative in the flesh one day around 1959 when we drove to Hopewood in Bowral.  I was told this was a home for war orphans who had excellent teeth because they ate good food and had no lollies or sugary drinks.  When my dentist filled all my decaying molars with amalgam my father was beside himself with rage as I would now never rival the children of Hopewood.

The meeting was brief.  We drove the truck into the sweeping driveway.  Les Bailey talked a while and we drove away.  Maybe my father told him we were now living in the area but I never saw him again.

Hopewood in 1942

Years later Les Bailey hit the headlines.  He had died by that time (in 1964) and was no longer considered to

be the wonderful reformer he once was. He was accused of mistreating the orphans and even of keeping them from their rightful parents. Using information from the “Find and Connect” site I have tried to convey his controversial  legacy.


Above is  a digital copy of an image reproduced on 30 August 2012 from Jack Dunn Trop in A Gift of Love: The Hopewood Story.

In the late 1930s L.O. Bailey, a wealthy lingerie and clothing manufacturer, decided to test his ideals of ‘natural living’ and ‘natural health’ by conducting an experiment.  He founded the Youth Welfare Association of Australia (YWAA).  Bailey gathered 43 male and 43 females from unmarried mothers from 1942 until 1951 and raised them at Hopewood, and at smaller institutions in New South Wales, using his principles of ‘natural health’.

The 86 ‘Hopewood Children’, or ‘Hopewoods’, were told they were orphans and raised as ‘brothers and sisters’, although they were not adopted, or legally fostered. Bailey fed them all a vegetarian diet of mostly raw food, never allowed vaccination and avoided modern medicine. He recorded their progress, with assistance from doctors and dentists, and published widely about the success of his methods.

‘Hopewood’ was a grand mansion, built in 1884 for Ben Marshall Osborne, who named it after his own son, Hamilton Hope. The YWAA converted the flower gardens to vegetable patches to feed the children, closed in the verandahs and converted the stables to The Pavilion, to make room for the children. The new Hopewood Home was officially opened by Acting Prime Minister Frank Forde in November 1944. A full-time staff was hired and Bailey and his assistant, Mrs Cockburn, visited weekly.

The Hopewood diet was of food ‘in its natural state’: milk, salad vegetables, fruit, nuts, dates, honey, dried fruits, linseed and wholemeal porridge, bread or biscuits, cooked vegetables, molasses, wheat hearts, prunes, cheese, soya beans, treacle, eggs, butter and unpolished rice.

There were problems of course.  Getting adequately trained staff who would not abuse the children was difficult.  The children had to attend school and from there they would pick up germs and become sick.  Then as they became teenagers there was the problem of what to do with them. They were moved into group homes, in Maroubra, Manly, Narrabeen, Mosman and Canberra. Some of these children remained under supervision, but as one woman who grew up in Hopewood reported to the Senate Inquiry Into Institutional Care, girls were also sent out as servants, or placed in the Convent of the Good Shepherd. By the late 1950s Bailey had stopped publishing about the children’s health. By the early 1960s, the only children left at Hopewood were boys who were studying or running the dairy.

Bailey died suddenly in 1964, but his ideas continued to be promoted by Mrs Cockburn. The YWAA gave Hopewood, together with money for its restoration, to a Catholic order, the Society of St Gerard Majella.

Bailey’s ideas live on in the Natural Health Society, which maintains a strong stance on vegetarianism and against vaccination, and in Hopewood Retreat, a vegetarian health spa.

Hopewood is now a bespoke wedding venue.

Although the Hopewood children grew up close, it seems that rifts have developed in the group over time. While some Hopewoods feel certain they were loved and raised well by ‘Daddy’ Bailey and his assistant, Florence ‘Madge’ Cockburn, others recall abuses and feel exploited by Bailey’s experimentation. Some have found adult life to be extremely challenging, leaving a sad legacy for their own children and grandchildren. The differences in the memories of the Hopewoods is a source of pain and confusion.

As with many institutions it seems that all was not as it seemed at Hopewood and the children were not prepared adequately for life in the real world.  Les Bailey has fallen from grace as revered benefactor to the perpetrator of a failed eugenic vision of a new order.

7 thoughts on “V is for Vegetarian

  1. Organisations like this, whilst set up to do good, too often fail to live up to expectations, don’t they. In fact, human nature being what it is, these efforts are bound to come undone eventually. So sad that vulnerable children can be so badly affected.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating! Wealth = Power, doesn’t it? Les Bailey wanted to use his power to do good, to raise healthy children and provide a shining example of the merit of his ideas. But he made the same mistake so many “experts” make – he failed to see the whole child, to recognize the many needs not related to the simple physical body.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi there
    My father John Bailey (87) is Les Bailey’s son. So we are related 😀. Not sure if you are still monitoring this old blog. There are so many different opinions about LO. Seems he is part sinner and part saint.

    Megan Rule, Melbourne.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Megan, when I wrote that blog I thought I was related to Les Bailey because he was my fathers cousin. However I did a DNA test and found that my father Linden was not related to me. My father turned out to be someone totally different. I don’t know if my Dad ever knew. I wrote a whole A to Z about it in 2018 on the same blog site. As for LO I was brought up to think he was a hero but things were not all as they seemed. Has there been a documentary made about him? It would be interesting material.


  4. This is absolutely fascinating. Linda. These utopian lifestyle people are interesting and seem to have the best intentions in some cases, but experimenting on orphans , even with the best of intentions, is something which doesn’t sit well with our contemporary thinking. I heard about this terrible situation where scientists separed multiples months after birth and adopted them out to eparate families and didn’t tell the adoptive parents what they’d done. Here’s a link: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2018/10/01/records-from-controversial-twin-study-sealed-at-yale-until-2065/
    You also mention here that you had a bloodtest and found out someone else was your biological father. Have you written about that on your blog? Were you surprised?
    I hope you don’t mind me asking. You’ve roused my curiousity.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It amazed me too. I had a rather productive unproductive day yesterday reading yours and Crystal’s A-Z’s and I even found myself listing to a podcast from Ireland about the coronavirus and reaction in the Netherlands. It was fascinating and loved their accents. I could pretend I was in Ireland.


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