Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is a place of significant history; its past is a fascinating maze of stories and questions about the early colony, convict women, children and people with a mental health condition who were confined to institutions.  It has a special association with Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations, welfare reform, the Women's Movement. Here are some of those stories....

Around 1 in 7 Australians are descended from convicts are you? Celebrity Chef Maggie Beer discovered her convict roots on 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Tony Windsor MP, convict ancestor was transported to NSW on the ship Midas in 1827. Kevin Rudd MP, convict ancestor Thomas arrived with the second fleet in 1790. Former PM John Howard has convict ancestors through both his father and mother's lines.

Isaac Peyton (Payton)

Born London England 1759, William was a stonemason by trade. In August of 1796, he was arrested and charged with stealing marble and appeared at the Old Bailey on 22nd September 1796 and found guilty.  Sentenced  to 7 years transportation he was  transferred to a Hulk at Portsmouth then in late 1797, selected for transportation on the Barwell. William was independent and cocky with an indomitable spirit,and is credited with the quote “C’mon you pommy bastards, row harder”.  In 1801 Isaac cohabited with another convict Sussanah Harrison, with whom 3 children were born- he later married Ann Blyth.  Isaac was in demand as a stonemason in Sydney and Parramatta.  His son Nathaniel partnered with architect James Houison to build some of Parramatta's finest buildings.

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Convict Connections

Francis Greenway (1777-1837)

Architect,born at Mangotsfield, near Bristol, England, son of Francis Greenway and Ann, née Webb. The Greenways had been stonemasons, builders and architects in the west country for generations. Francis was in private practice as an architect in Bristol when in March 1812 he was found guilty of forging a document. He was sentenced to death but the penalty was later changed to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in Sydney in February 1814 in the transport General Hewitt, and was followed in July by his wife Mary and three children in the Broxbornebury. Greenway was given a ticket-of-leave and in March 1816  appointed civil architect and assistant engineer. He produced some of the finest colonial buildings in Australia including the Parramatta Female Factory.

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Convict Women

Some convict women were able to bring their children with them but many left children behind to fend for themselves. On arrival at Sydney Cove most of the women were transported to Parramatta by boat disembarking near the present day Rivercat wharf and then walking a short distance to the Female Factory where they would remain until assigned, or given a Ticket of Leave or Pardon. 

The Babbler...1822: About one-half of the female prisoners were disposed of in Sydney and its ... women to Parramatta, a water passage of ahout twenty miles, where I took occasion to visit them at the Factory.....more

Ann Brabbin

According to her convict record Ann was married to a John Brabbin in England and had 2 children there. Other information suggests that she was in fact married to a Samuel Brabbin and that one of their children was Alice Brabbin. Her parents were Jas and Alice Webb. Under the name of Ann Brabbin, a dairy woman, she was convicted in Lancaster Quarter Sessions, England on 20/10/1828 for Stealing Clothes and was sentenced to 7 years (Convict No 29/286). She had also had a previous conviction. A plea was made by her husband Samuel Brabbin to Sir Robert Peel pleading that either she not be transported because of the children or that he and the children could accompany her. This plea was apparently unsuccessful as she was transported to Australia on the ship "Sovereign" arriving on 3/08/1829. Ann was apparently sent to Newcastle at some stage as a letter to the Colonial Secretary's Office on 19/06/1830 indicates that she was committed to the Female Factory at Parramatta on 20/05/1830 by a magistrate in the Newcastle Court for the crime of "Pregnancy". A daughter was born at the Female Factory on 19/06/1830. She was later baptised on 3/10/1830 as Elizabeth Brabbin at St John’s Church Parramatta by the Rev Samuel Marsden. The father was shown as Joseph Smith.

Eleanor HALL

Born 20th June 1807, Durham, England. She was the daughter of Thomas Jobling and Eleanor Young, who were married on 5th April 1795 at All Saints, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland. The other children of the marriage were Elizabeth (born 13th May 1798), Ann (born 30th July 1800), John (born 23rd June 1805), Ann (born 24th September 1809) and Jane (born 12th March 1812). On 19th December 1825, Eleanor married Isaac Hall at Gateshead Fell, Durham. On 18th October 1830, Eleanor was tried and convicted at Durham Quarter Sessions, where she pleaded guilty on a charge of simple larceny.Eleanor received 2 months hard labour in the Durham House of Correction.On 4th April 1832, Eleanor was tried and convicted at Northumberland on Tyne Quarter Session for Pledging (illegally pawning). She was sentenced to 7 years transportation to New South Wales. Eleanor sailed from the Downs in England aboard the "Fanny" on 29th July 1832. She was about 7 months pregnant. According to the Surgeons log, she was sick with ‘Fibrus’ on 6 September 1832, and was declared well on 10th September 1832. Eleanor gave birth to a son, John Hall, on 15th September 1832. On 15th October 1832, Eleanor was declared ill with ‘Scurvy’, and was not expected to survive; however she was declared well on 6th November 1832. The "Fanny" docked in Sydney on 2nd February 1833. The Reverend Samuel Marsden refused an application made by Eleanor on 9th November 1833, to marry John Booth. The application was made using her married name, Eleanor Hall, and was refused owing to her shipping indent being noted as being married. John Hall aged 16 months, died on 13th November 1833, at the Parramatta Factory, Parramatta. 

In Their Footsteps - Children of the Orphan School

Children were placed in care for a myriad of reasons including being orphaned; family dislocation from domestic violence, divorce or separation; family poverty and parents' inability to cope with their children often as a result of some form of crisis or hardship. Irrespective of how children were placed in care, it was not their fault, however until the 1980s child welfare authorities considered institutions were the best way to care for destitute and neglected children.

In most cases children placed in the Orphan School were not orphans but children whose parents were unable to support and care from them. 

"We were barracked together like a lot of young criminals subject to tasks beyond our years, fed on the scantiest diet; we dared never to ask for more...most of the children slept two to a bed however a few of the bigger girls had a bed a piece. Girls over the age of 12 were put to work in the laundry ...our hands became blistered, and the wet inside the blisters burst and bled."

Life for children in the orphan schools was dull, tedious and unforgiving. On rising at 5am in the summer months, children would start with prayers,then cleaning and breakfast at 8am. More prayers then school and work duties till lunch time, more prayers, school and work until early evening, dinner and then to bed. Emphasis was placed on religious instruction, basic education and training with the children required to carry out domestic duties with girls put to work in the laundry washing, ironing and mending. On reaching 12 years of age they were eligible to be placed in service as 'apprentices' with suitable families. 

"The boys have a very good room to bathe and wash in; the girls have no place of this kind, but a wretched little cellar…The dining room, if it can be termed, is a large verandah, which has been closed in by jealousies. These are capable of such adjustment as to admit the light and exclude the burning rays of the sun, as well as to throw off a shower of rain…. the playgrounds are large, yet they are hardly roomy enough for so great a number of children. There is a broad covered way, leading from the main building to the schoolrooms, etc, in the rear, and this covered way affords one of the refuge for the children in wet weather. ….The hospital arrangements are as good as the place will allow, although the infirmaries are not near so commodious or so well situated as at the Protestant Orphan School….A sum of £1,000 [pounds] has been voted this year for the erection of an additional wing…..The new wing will contain a bath room for the girls, as well as additional dormitories etc. Another wing is to be added hereafter, and when the whole shall have been completed, the main building will be in the form of a letter H. of which what is at present the principal building will form the central bar. The chapel is a large and handsome one with the cost of its erection and fittings and those of a small sacristy adjacent, chiefly defrayed by private contributions". SMH 19 Dec 1866

The Fight for Child Welfare reform

Creating a Space - the Life of Bessie Guthrie
ABC Radio Hindsight 2007
Bessie Guthrie (1905-1977)

Designer, publisher, feminist and campaigner for children's rights, was born on 2 July 1905 at Rosalie, Church Street, Camperdown, Sydney. Seemingly constrained by personal circumstances and a dreary job, in the 1950s she opened her house to young girls who were the victims of domestic violence, abuse, drunkenness, homelessness and the welfare system. From the day when one young girl who claimed that she had been raped 'was taken from my home and I was unable to find where she was', Bessie became a crusader for children's rights against the Byzantine madness of the State child-welfare system. She researched every aspect of the Children's Court, the welfare-home system, Church homes, the morality of existing policies and a large group of individual case histories. She bombarded bureaucrats, journalists and politicians with letters demanding changes and disclosure. Her focus and information were always street-based, her loyalty always to the girls. Over the years her network of contacts grew. Young runaways became adolescent, moved on from homes to gaols, had babies or abortions, disappeared and returned—bashed, drunk, tattooed. Some survived, some did not. 

n 1970 Bessie Guthrie walked into 67 Glebe Point Road, the political home of the Women's Liberation Movement, with her files and stories. She joined the collective of the newspaper, Mejane (first issued in March 1971) and quietly began to educate the predominantly younger women. She published much of her material in Mejane, systematized her theories and demands, and worked co-operatively to plan mass protests outside Bidura Girls' Home, the Metropolitan Girls' Shelter, Glebe, and Parramatta Girls' Training School. These demonstrations achieved wide press coverage in 1973-74.

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