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Parramatta Female Factory

Australia's first purpose built institution for convict women, the Parramatta Female Factory, was a secure place of confinement, industry and punishment modelled on the Workhouses and Bridewells of England.


From 1821 to 1840 the Female Factory was the destination for unassigned convict women in the penal colony of New South Wales. Following the cessation of transportation in 1840, it was used as a Benevolent Asylum for sick and destitute convict women, then as an Asylum for Invalid and Lunatic convicts and in 1849 as the Lunatic Asylum Parramatta. Today the remnant buildings and structures of the Female Factory are located within the grounds of Cumberland Hospital Fleet St North Parramatta. 

‘A Large Commodious handsome stone built Barrack and Factory, three storeys high, with wings of one storey each for the accommodation and residence of 300 Female Convicts, with all the requisite Out-offices including Carding, Weaving and Loom Rooms, Work-shops, Stores for Wool, Flax, etc, etc..for the Superintendent, and also a large kitchen garden for the use of the Female Convicts, and Bleaching Ground for Bleaching the Cloth and Linen Manufactured; the whole of the Building and said Grounds, consisting of about four acres, being enclosed with a high Stone Wall and Moat or Wet Ditch.’ Macquarie Letters 1822


Female Factory 3rd class penitentiary


Commissioned by Governor Macquarie in 1816 the Female Factory replaced the earlier Factory above the Gaol. Designed by Francis Greenway to accommodate at least 300 women, building contracts were signed on 4 May 1818. The foundation stone was laid by Governor Macquarie on 9 July 1818 in the presence of builders, Mssrs. Watkins and Payten, Chief Engineer Major George Druitt and convict work gangs.

Built on a 4 acre allotment bounded to the north by Rev Samuel Marsden property Mill Dam farm, its footprint eventually extended to a walled in area of 8 acres. 

Description of Buildings

The Female Factory was a self contained complex of buildings and structures enclosed within 15 ft high perimeter walls built from locally quarried sandstone using convict labour.


The walls of the central 3 storey barrack ranged from 2’6” at the foundations to 20” at its apex with a a cupola over the central axis and a large clock in the arch above the main entrance. Roofed with oak shingles and paved with 6” stringy-bark floors, barred lead-light basement windows and lead glazed windows on the upper floors, this building was flanked to the rear and front by several ancillary buildings, two of which remain today.


In the original plans, 6 pairs of solitary confinement cells were located in the airing yard south of the central area, with 2 more cells added by 1828. A building used as sleeping quarters for the criminal class was constructed to the rear of the site in 1823.

Third Class Penitentiary

In 1839 a sandstone 3 storey 72 cell penitentiary was built south of the main barracks. This cell range featured 36 dark cells 9ft by 5ft on the ground floor with 18 cells apiece on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

The division of the Establishment into Classes was considered essential, and, to enable each to have their separate Kitchen, Workshops and other accommodations, several alterations became necessary; Store-keeper's Rooms and Offices, a Porter's Room, etc. were constructed at the Outer Gate, preventing the necessity of these people going inside the Building at all, the inner Gate being kept by a Portress.  The accompanying Plan of the Building will show alterations which have been made to the penitentiary section.

To prevent the necessity of sending the women outside the building to obtain the supply of water required, a force pump has been erected, and arrangements made for conducting water to all parts of the establishment, thereby obviating the necessity of there being any intercourse between the different classes. The surrounding wall having been considered much too low, not being more than 11 feet, it has been heightened to about 16 feet.

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Entrance to Female Factory complex

Female Factory 1839 penitentiary
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1821 Female Factory central barrack


The factory will have then within its Walls the means of Spinning, Weaving, and making up the whole of the clothing required by Government for the Convicts in their employ. As the first Class of this Establishment is considered as an Asylum and not a place of Punishment for the un appropriated Female Prisoners, Women returned to the first Class will not be considered as having forfeited their Claim to a Ticket of Leave, as it must be inferred that they have committed no offence in their Service, or they would have been punished by being sent to the third Class.’ Governor Darling to Hon W Huskinsson 1 May 1828.


Female Factory Storekeepers residence later 

Lying In Hospital

Convict women, crime & sentence

Convict women were viewed as ‘beyond redemption’ yet this is not reflected in the crimes for which they were transported with 65.3% having no prior convictions. The types of crimes punishable by transportation varied between England, Scotland and Ireland. Theft predominated among the English and Scottish convicts, whereas riot and sedition predominated among the Irish. While the English were more concerned with crimes protecting property and existing social order, the Calvinistic Scots had severer sanctions for religious violations such as adultery, immorality, breaking the Sabbath and denial of the existence of God. Most were transported for 7 years, lesser numbers for 14 years or life and usually after 2 or 3 years good behaviour, were given a Ticket of Leave.

Admission & Clothing

On arrival at the Factory the women were inspected, searched, then after bathing, supplied a uniform dress suitable to their station consisting of blue or brown serge, or Stuff-Gown, white apron and straw bonnet for Sundays;  and a jacket and coarse apron for week days with a common straw bonnet of strong texture - all made by the women. Crime Class women were required to wear a cloth badge (badge of degradation) to distinguish them from the Merit Class.


After 1824 First Class women were issued special Sunday clothes consisting of, 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 and one apron.


On first admission all women except for those condemned and sent as a punishment by the magistrates, or courts of justice, consisted of one General Class in which there were three divisions: Aged, Married and Young. After six months, well behaved women in the General Class were denominated the Merit Class. After a period of one month in the General Class, women who were disorderly, dirty, or disrespectful, or behaved in any manner to deserve punishment, were formed and denominated to the Crime Class.

The division of women into Three Classes introduced by Governor Darling in 1826, required several alterations and additions to the site. First Class women were eligible for assignment; Second Class were on probation, or otherwise not available for assignment because of medical or maternity needs and the Third Class  were confined to cells and put to hard labour.

Discipline & Control

For women confined to the Factory, punishment for rioting, absconding absent, insolence, or disorderly conduct included demotion to the Third class, head shaving, breaking stones, oakum picking and confinement to cells. For those on assignment or released, punishment was usually 3 months imprisonment in the penitentiary and hard labour for offences such as theft, stabbing, forgery, found in ‘carnal connection,’ drunk, vagrant, pregnant or of ‘bad character.’   

Work & Routine

Classification also determined the type of work women could do, their clothing and their diet. First and Second Class women could work as hat makers, wool pickers, cloth scouring, carding, weaving, laundry, needlework, cleaning and straw plaiting for which they received a small payment after completing their daily quota. 

In summer, hours of labour were: 6am to 8am, 9 to 1pm and 2 to 6pm with an hour allowed for breakfast and dinner. In winter from 8am to 12 and 1 to 5pm. All household work of the Factory, such as washing, baking and cooking was done by the women in rotation.

Marriage Factory Style


A man desiring a wife, and being unable to suit himself elsewhere, proceeds to the female factory at Parramatta, and presents himself to the matron and master of that institution... Notice is here given that a wife is required, and such as are willing to be married step forward, and are marshalled in batches into the presence of the would-be Benedict. On they pass, the man speaking to individuals as they attract his attention, inquiring their age, etc. till some one is met with who pleases his taste, and possesses the required perfection's.  Twelve Years' Wanderings in the British Colonies, from 1835 to 1847 (extract), J.C. Byrne.


'I told you when I was in Sydney on Tuesday that I expected the women in the Factory would excite a riot again. They began on Wednesday night to be very troublesome and this morning they struck work. This was also the day for their hair to be cut. They one and all are determined not to submit to this operation. 40 Soldiers with their officers were ordered to attend the constables to the factory – the women had collected large heaps of stones and as soon as we entered the third class they threw a shower of stones as fast as they possibly could.'

Rev Samuel Marsden

‘It will perhaps be necessary to observe that this Establishment the receptacle (with the exception of a single Ward, appropriated to Females in Sydney) for all the Females in the Colony who require medical aid.’ Governor Darling to Hon W Huskinsson 1 May 1828. 


Children could remain with their mothers at the Factory until they reached the age of four years at which time they were sent to Orphan Schools. In most cases mothers would not see their children again until they had left the Factory. With the influx of female immigrants from the 1830s onwards, Orphan Schools became too crowded to accept ‘Factory’ children and an Infant school was established at the Factory. In an attempt to reduce numbers, a small sum was offered to free settlers and others in 1834 to take children.  This was the first attempt at a ‘boarding out’ (foster care) in New South Wales.


On 26 October 1827 women of the third class rioted in response to reduced rations. On the following day tea and sugar was deducted from their rations as punishment. Rejecting this, women made a destructive and violent exit from their confines with about 100 of them making their way to the township of Parramatta. After a series of sorties, soldiers of the 57th Regiment convinced the women to return to the Factory. Other riots occurred in 1831,1833, 1836 and 1843.

Maternity & Medical

The Factory provided medical services for aged and invalid women together with a lying in hospital for nursing mothers. For many years it was the only institution where a deserted infant could be placed with a wet nurse.


Attendance at morning and evening prayers and Sunday services was obligatory. Increased arrivals of Irish women saw the Catholic congregation swell with the Matron declaring in 1838 that of the 600 inmates, 500 were Roman Catholics. To quell concerns that their spiritual needs were not being met, 5 Irish Sisters of Charity began their missionary work at the Female Factory in 1839. In the following year construction commenced on an orphanage for children of Catholic parents on an allotment of land adjoining the southern boundary of the third class penitentiary yard.

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Sisters of Charity Memorial Plaque 2015


1826 Crime Class Sleeping quarters

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Deadhouse (mortuary) beside entrance to 3rd class penitentiary yard


1821 Matron's residence Female Factory

Management & Staff

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.

Francis Oakes who had previously been in charge of the Factory above the Gaol was the first superintendent followed by William Tuckwell in July 1822.  Elizabeth Fulloon (nee Raine) was the first matron (April 1824 to October 1827)  and her son John, as administrator until 1825. Next was Ann Gordon then Sarah Bell with husband Thomas as 'keeper' until 1838 followed by Mrs. Leach and Mr Clapham as Superintendent. Leach and Clapham were dismissed in late 1838 and the Bell's re-appointed until 1843 when they and assistant matron Mrs Corcoran were suspended. For the next 5 months Mr and Mrs William Rogers were in charge followed by George and Lucy Smyth until early 1847. Lastly were Elizabeth Statham (Matron) and Edwyn Statham (Superintendent/Storekeeper), both of who retained their positions when the Factory was proclaimed a Lunatic Asylum.  Other staff included assistant matrons and monitoresses selected from women of the first class.

Last Days

Transportation to the colony of NSW came to an end in 1840. Efforts to empty out the Female Factory began with many given a Ticket of Leave, or Pardoned. Faced with a new wave of migration in the late 1830s and early 1840s, suggestions were made that the Factory be used to accommodate Female Emigrants. This was dismissed in favour of a proposal for use as a Benevolent Asylum for sick and destitute convict women. In 1846, 21 women from the Tarban Creek Asylum at Gladesville were transferred to the site and in 1847 the Female Factory was re-purposed as a convict Invalid and Lunatic Asylum.

What Remains?

There are only 3 Female Factory buildings remaining, the 1826 crime class penitentiary, storekeepers residence and the matron's residence. The clock that once graced the arch above the entrance to the main barrack is a prominent feature in the northern tower of Asylum ward 1 (Health Education Training Institute ).

Parramatta Female Factory Institutions Precinct forms part of the Parramatta North government heritage site which is now subject to redevelopment under the Parramatta North Development Plan.  Work is currently underway on the Parramatta Light Rail which intersects the Cumberland Hospital site.


Family History Research

We are unable to assist with family history research and recommend the Society of Australians Genealogists or 

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