By Anne Casey

In meticulous script,

Dr Harris has recorded

A Synopsis of the inmates

of the Newcastle Industrial School,


each girl assigned a number—

recorded in the first column

next to her Name, her Date

of Admission blank


in all cases—to be filled in later

perhaps (after he had checked)

but never completed;

Age, Previous Life


and State of Health appearing

in orderly form before

the final completed column,

the last Remarks remaining blank.


So, Maryann, aged 7, for instance,

had been Living with Thieves,

and Emma, aged 6, Living

with Prostitutes, both in good health,


both showing the usual Signs

of Virginity according to the doctor’s

exacting hand, Jane and Eliza—

at 15 and 16 having none


(of the usual Signs) and Eliza

with evidence of Syphilis

(twice underlined

for stress),


the pages torn in places,

frayed at the edges,

and bearing a browned stain—

a wonder how


they survived at all.


This poem was shortlisted for the Bedford International Poetry Prize 2021 and was first published in the Bedford Competition 2021 Anthology.


Note: This is an ekphrastic poem inspired by an original document (pictured) from the Newcastle Industrial School for Girls viewed at the State Records Office of New South Wales, Australia. The pages referenced record the outcomes of a ‘virgin test’ performed by a male doctor, as a matter of course, on girls as young as six years old following their committal to the institution. The practice later fell under scrutiny. (Image taken by Anne Casey.)