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Parramatta Female Factory Institutions Precinct



Proclaimed a National Heritage site in November 2017, this institutional precinct covers an area of 7.3 hectares, where the historic buildings of the Female Factory, Lunatic Asylum, Roman Catholic Orphan School, Parramatta Girls Industrial School and the Norma Parker Detention Centre for Women are located.​​


The sandstone buildings and walls that stand along the river were quarried from the land beneath them. The story of the local Indigenous people is still here today: it can be felt in the walls and halls of the institutions and beneath the culverts and streets of Parramatta.

Allowan...we live, we remain. 

Darug Elder Aunty Leanne Tobin

Deep History - Ancient Lands & Traditional Custodians

Australia's First Nations people lived for thousands of years along the beautiful, lush waterways of the Parramatta River. The traditional clans of the area are the Burramattagal, as in ‘burra’ the eel (Parramatta area) and the Wallumattagal (Ryde area) as in ‘wallumai’ the snapper fish of the Darug language group. 

The Burramattagal had marked sites along this river. Some were marked as women’s places and further away, hidden from camp, secret men’s ceremonies would be carried out. Before settlement, where the saltwater from the harbour meets with the freshwater, the north bank of the river, where the convict female factory and later institutions were built, has been said to have once been a women’s site for collecting and gathering and ceremony.

The main street of the new town is already contains at present 32 houses completed, 24 feet by 12 each, on a ground floor only, built of wattle plastered with clay, and thatched. Each house is divided into two rooms, in one of which is a fireplace and brick chimney... More are building, in a cross street stand nine houses for unmarried women and exclusive of all these are several small huts where convict families of good character are allowed to reside. Watkin Tench 1790


Parramatta Township & Gaol c1813. J.W. Lewin, NSWSL

The number of women employed at the Factory is one hundred and fifty; they have seventy children; there is not any room in the Factory that can be called a bedroom...There are only two rooms and these are both occupied as workshops; about 80 feet long and 20 wide, in these rooms are 46 women daily employed; 20 spinning wool upon the common wheel and 26 carding...these rooms are crowded all day, and at night such women as are confined for offences, and a few others who have no means whatever of procuring a better abode, sleep among the wheels, wool and cards.

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Pastoral View from the North east showing Government House in the distance and Parramatta Gaol (Factory Above the Gaol) c1819, SLNSW Attributed to Jacques Arago

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Arrival of Europeans

​In April 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip led an expedition along the Parramatta river in search of arable lands. Arriving at the upper reaches of the river where a vast grassland interspersed with magnificent trees opened, it was here that Phillip envisaged a new gaol town and farm and in November dispatched work gangs to prepare for settlement. 

First known as ‘The Crescent’ then Rose Hill and finally Parramatta in 1791 after the local Burramatta people, until the late 1840s Parramatta was a significant location in the administration and economy of the penal colony of New South Wales. The first 10 Governors of NSW resided at what today is known as Old Government House in Parramatta Park. 

Convict Women & the Factory Above the Gaol

In these early years convict women were assigned as hut keepers to work gangs, marines, settlers, emancipated convicts, or if married, to their husbands. Convict women were seen as a burden on the public purse and a threat to the moral fabric of society. This view was particularly espoused by the Rev Samuel Marsden who agitated for a secure place of confinement and industry for them.


As the population grew, so did the need for a secure place of confinement for convict re-offenders and in 1796 the town's first gaol was built on the north side of the river. This log walled construction was destroyed by arsonists in December 1799 then rebuilt in 1802 with a second floor added in 1804 to accommodate women.

Known as the Factory above the Gaol, by the end of 1804 twelve looms were at work on linen, woollen and sailcloth weaving under the supervision of Dundee weaver George Mealmaker.

The Factory above the Gaol proved both functionally and structurally inadequate and faced with growing criticism, Governor Macquarie selected a new site for a new Factory and Barracks in 1816.

The location chosen originally formed part of Governor Bligh's land grant, bordered to the north by a 30 acre allotment granted to Charles Smith in 1792 which was later purchased by Samuel Marsden around 1810. 

A new Factory & Barracks

Went up to Parramatta early this morning in the Carriage accompanied by Major Antill. — After Breakfast went to the Place Selected for Building the Factory and Barrack for the Female Convicts on the Left Bank of the Parramatta River – where I met Mr. Greenway the Govt. Architect and the Contractors Messrs. Watkins & Payten – and at 12,O'Clock laid the Foundation Stone of this New Building in the usual Form; giving the Workmen Four Gallons of spirits to drink Success to the Building. Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie Archive 9 July 1818 

Parramatta Female Factory

On 9 July 1818 the foundation stone was laid with the occupants transferred from the Factory above the Gaol in January 1821.

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