As I mentioned while in Tassie we visited the Cascades Female Factory, this place is Australia’s most significant historic site associated with female convicts. It was a purpose built, self-contained institution intended to reform female convicts and is the place to discover the stories of Australia’s convict women.
Thousands of women and children were imprisoned there and many never left, due to high rates of illness and infant mortality. Days after the first women were relocated there from the older prison which housed both men and women, the rules and regulations for the management of the house of correction were issued to the principal superintendent. The rules outlined the staff required to manage the establishment including a superintendent, a matron, an overseer and a task mistress for the crime class, a porter and a clerk and two constables. They also outlined how the women were to be divided in class and duties. There were three classes and on no account were they classes to communicate with each other.
The first class consisted of women recently arrived from England who exhibited good behaviour on the journey as well as those returning from service with good characters and those who had successfully seen out their probation in second class. This class was considered assignable and the women were sent to service when the appropriate employment could be found.
The second class was to comprised of those who had been guilty of minor offences and those who by their improved conduct were removed from third class also known as the crime class.
Those is third class or the crime class consisted of women who had been transported for the second time, those guilty of misconduct on their journey to the colony as well as those convicted of offences before the Supreme Court or those who committed offences while in the establishment.
One such offence was the offence of becoming pregnant yes becoming pregnant was an office didn’t matter if the sexual act was consensual or not so even if a woman had been raped and became pregnant it was still an offence to be pregnant. The baby would be born inside the prison and stay there for the first three years of life before being removed to an orphanage where they would remain till around the age of 13.
The class system regulated both clothing and daily tasks of the women, the first class were employed as cooks, task overseers and hospital attendants. The second class were employed in making clothes for the establishment and preparing and mending linen. The crime class was sentenced to the wash-tub, doing laundry for the factory, the orphan school and the penitentiary, they also carded and spun wool but of course all tasks were subject to change at the discretion of the Principal Superintendent.
When we were there is was raining sleet and so bloody cold and there were puddles of water around, we were told that the ground was a metre or two higher then it was back when it was in operation so during the winter months the women would be out doing their work in icy cold water up to their knees, they often did the washing in cold to icy cold water.
During the summer months the inmates spent many long hours usually around 12 hours a day working and even the slightest disobedience to the rules was punishable.
“Females guilty of disobedience of orders, neglect of work, profane, obscene, or abusive language, insubordination, or other turbulent or disorderly or disrespectful conduct, shall be punished by the superintendent with close confinement in a dark or other cell, until her case shall be brought under consideration of the Principal Superintendent.”
When convict transportation to “Van Diemen’s Land” as Tasmania was once known as ceased in 1853, parts of the Female Factory site were used by new institutions with the main site being proclaimed a gaol in 1856 with its running being transferred to local authorities although it remained to be known as the Female Factory. The site housed a male invalid depot, a female invalid depot and a boys reformatory in 1869.
It was at this time the Female Factory was scaled back to yards 1 and 2 and rear of yard 5 at it’s hight the Female Factory took up the whole of the street it is housed in but only a small part of it is left and it is now a historic site.
The years to follow saw other institutions come and go including a Contagious Diseases Hospital a Living-in-Home and Hospital for the insane. The Women’s Prison site finally closed in 1877 and by 1904 the place was no longer used at all.
In 1905 the site was auctioned by the government to private buyers at that time nearly all the buildings had been demolished with a number of industrial buildings constructed across the site. It was in the early 1970’s that the Women’s Electoral Lobby sought out a Federal government grant to purchase yard 1 handing over management to the Parks and Wildlife Service.
It was between 1999-2004 that the Female Factory Historic Site Ltd acquired yard 3 and the Matron’s Quarters and in 2008 the Tasmanian Government purchased the remaining part of yard 4 to form the Historic Sit as it is today.