The Female Factory at Parramatta was the first purpose built colonial establishment designed to provide accommodation and employment for convict women. It also functioned as a penitentiary and lying-in (maternity) hospital.
Other Female Factories were later located at
Female Factory main building. Photo courtesy of SAG
Matrons quarters Female Factory: photo courtesy T Smith
c1823 'Brisbane' Third class sleeping quarters Female Factory
1838 'Gipps' Third class FF penitentiary photo courtesy SAG
Convict Women - video - from 1788 to 1853 over 25,000 women were transported in the dark holds of ships on a 16,000 mile journey to the other side of the world.
Taking Freedom from the Past - video - interview about women's experiences in the Cascades and Parramatta Female Factories.
Dreaming Transportation -Andrée Greenwell's acclaimed music theatre work explores the emotional weight and humanity that a music interpretation can elicit from a poetic text. Jordie Albiston's beautifully crafted anthology of poems Botany Bay Document is the basis of her composition.
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Irish Convicts comprehensive site on irish convicts with searchable database.
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Cascades Female Factory Historic site for information on convict women transported to Van Dieman's Land, searchable convict women database, site history, tours and research groups.
Convicts to Australia Convict Research on the World Wide Web.
Australian Convict Transportation on Ancestry. com.au
Parramatta Female Factory
Designed by emancipated convict, Francis Greenway the Female Factory was the destination of all unassigned convict women sent to the colony of New South Wales. It played an important role in the provision of medical care for the wider female population and was an assignment depot, refuge, workhouse, a marriage bureau, hospital and prison. This multiplicity of roles made it difficult to administer and it quickly evolved from a place of refuge to that of a prison.
The foundation stone was laid on 4 May 1818 by Governor Macquarie in the presence of builders, Mssrs. Watkins and Payten, Chief Engineer Major George Druitt and convict work gangs. Building work was completed in early 1821 and on the 30 January 1821 the first women convicts were transferred from the nearby Factory Above the Gaol.
In describing the Female Factory, Governor Macquarie wrote:
The Female Factory was administered by a Board of Management made up of 'respectable men' who met every three months, with a Matron and Superintendent in charge of daily operations.
The first superintendent was Francis Oakes until July 1822. His successor William Tuckwell had a long association with the Factory firstly as superintendent, as storekeeper and at times as secretary. The first matron appointed was Elizabeth Fulloon (nee Raine) in April 1824 with her son John as administrator until October 1825. In October 1827 Ann Gordon replaced Fulloon as matron followed by Sarah Bell as matron and her husband Thomas as 'keeper'. In 1838 Mrs. Leach was appointed matron and Mr Clapham superintendent with his wife Agnes as 'instructor'.
Both Leach and Clapham were dismissed in late 1838 and the Bell's re-appointed until 1843 when they together with assistant matron Mrs Corcoran were suspended. For the next 5 months Mr and Mrs William Rogers held the positions of matron and storekeeper but proved unsatisfactory. George and Lucy Smyth were appointed to fill the administrative positions and lasted until 1847 followed by Elizabeth and Edwyn Statham who were the last to take up senior positions. The Stathams remained on when the Factory was proclaimed a lunatic asylum.
Assistant matrons appointed to the second and third class, were often soldier's wives with monitoresses and other staff usually inmates.
Until 1826 women were distinguished as either the Merit Class or the Crime Class. This was refined to a Three class system with First class women eligible for assignment, a Second 'probationary' class and a Third class either on secondary punishment or serving time for offences committed while on assignment.
First and Second class women were employed in a range of tasks such as wool picking, cloth scouring, carding, weaving, laundry, oakum picking, needlework, cleaning duties and straw plaiting for which they received a small payment. Third class women were restricted to menial tasks and hard labour such as stone breaking and oakum picking.
Medical & Maternity Hospital
The Factory provided medical services for aged and invalid women together with a lying in hospital for nursing mothers and for many years was the only institution wherein a deserted infant could be placed with a wet nurse.
Conditions & Clothing
The women had only a trough in the yard at which to wash themselves. No towels, combs or brushes were supplied. After 1826 all women were required to bathe upon admission, were inspected by the matron, searched and any money was confiscated and then issued with clothing or ‘slops’ in blue or brown serge, or Stuff-Gown, white apron and straw bonnet for Sunday with a jacket and coarse apron for week days. After 1824 first class women were issued special Sunday clothes being; one white cap, a long dress with muslin frill, one red calico jacket, two cotton check handkerchiefs, one blue gurrah petticoat, one under petticoat or factory flannel, one white calico apron, two shifts, one pair of grey stockings, one pair of shoes, one straw bonnet, and a clothes bag to hold all. Weekdays; two calico caps, drab serge petticoat, drab serge jacket one apron.
Children were allowed to remain with their mothers at the Factory until they reached the age of four years at which time they were sent to Orphan Schools thereafter all contact with their children was lost until their release and often times longer depending on their circumstances. With the influx of female immigrants from the 1830s onwards, the Orphan School became too crowded to accept ‘Factory’ children and an Infant school was established. In 1834 the Board of Management recommended that a certain sum be offered to small settlers and others to take children out to nurse in an effort to reduce numbers. In effect this was the first attempt at a ‘boarding out system’ (foster care) in New South Wales.
Riots & Punishments
The first recorded riot occurred in 1827 followed by others in 1831, 1833, 1836 and 1843. Most riots occurred as a result of overcrowding and inequitable arrangements. Secondary punishments applied to women who rioted, absconded, were absent, insolent, disorderly in their conduct and for women on release for theft, stabbing, forgery, found in ‘carnal connection,’ drunk, vagrant, pregnant or of ‘bad character.’ Punishment included demotion to the Third class, head shaving, hard labour and solitary confinement fed on bread and water for up to 21 days or exile to Moreton Bay.
Attendance at morning and evening prayers and Sunday services was obligatory with women attending prayers in the mess rooms - Roman Catholics in one and Protestants in the other, further divided by class with the first class stood along one wall and the second on the opposite. In 1838 Matron Leach declared that of the 600 inmates, 500 were Roman Catholics.
In December 1838 five Irish Sisters of Charity arrived in the colony to begin their missionary work starting at the Female Factory in early 1839 where they later established a Nunnery School. The Sisters continued their involvement with children at the neighboring Orphan School when completed in 1844.
In 1823 Governor Brisbane ordered the building of a sleeping ward for the Third (criminal) class women This building was later adapted as an ‘itch ward’ when in 1838, Governor Gipps ordered the building of a three storey penitentiary range containing 72 cells.
An estimated two thirds of the 12,600 or so convict women sent to the colony spent time in the Factory. The institution was frequently overcrowded with numbers peaking in 1842 with 1203 women and 263 children in residence. Records for 1827 show 322 inmates, 1828: 405 women, 1829: 537 women and 61 children, with an average turnover during the first decade of around 1,200 per year. In the 1830s the monthly average remained around 500 for women and 130 children, with the annual turnover around 6000 women and 1600 children. 1840: 887 women 405 children and 1845: 370 women and 123 children.
Transportation to the colony of New South Wales ended in 1840 however this did nothing in decreasing the population of the Factory. Faced with a new wave of migration suggestions were made that the Factory be used to accommodate Female Emigrants however this was dismissed and an alternative proposal for its use as a Benevolent Asylum for sick and destitute convict women was taken up with the transfer of 21 women from the Tarban Creek Asylum in 1846.
In 1847 the Female Factory was re-assigned as a convict Invalid and Lunatic Asylum and in December 1849 a portion of the establishment was proclaimed a Public Asylum.
For information on Female Factory records here
References & resources
History Studies - Students learn about what life was like for different groups of people in the colonial period and examine significant events and people, political and economic developments, social structures, and settlement patterns.
Topic: Women and the Female Factory
What does the history of the convict female Factory tell us about women in the early 19th century? National Archives of Australia website
Hidden Heritage, 150 years of Public Mental Health Care at Cumberland Hospital, Parramatta 1849-1999. Smith, T. WSAHS, 1999
These Outcast Women- The Parramatta Female Factory 1821-1848. Salt A. Hale & Iremonger 1984
Botany Bay Document - A poetic History of the Women of Botany Bay. Albiston, J. Black Pepper, Nth Fitzroy, 2003.
Convict Women, Daniels, K. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest 1998
The Hatch and Brood of Time, Robinson, P. Oxford, Melbourne 1985
Australia's Birthstain, Smith, B, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest 2008
A Cargo of Women, Smith, B.Pan Macmillan, Chippendale 1988
Convict maids; the forced migration of women to Australia.Oxley, D. Cambridge University Press, 1996