Australia in the 1820s


Female convict factories


During the 1820s, women convicts were confined in places termed 'female factories'. These factories were both prisons and places of work. Employers could obtain a domestic servant there, and it was even possible for a free settler or pardoned convict to select a wife from among the inmates. They acted as shelters for women convicts between work assignments or for those who were pregnant or ill. Conditions in the factories were poor, with overcrowding and harsh treatment. Punishments included the cutting of hair, wearing of iron collars, solitary confinement, reduced rations and hard labour. More than half of the 25,000 female convicts sent to Australia were placed in female factories in Tasmania.

In 1821, the Female Factory was opened at Parramatta in New South Wales. It was designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway (1777–1837) to house 300 women in a three-storey stone building. By 1829, the population had increased to 537 women and 61 children. The women wore clothes such as 'slops' in blue or brown serge, or a stuff gown, white apron and straw bonnet for Sunday with a jacket and a coarse apron for weekdays. Children remained with their mothers at the Factory until the age of four, at which time they were placed in Orphan Schools. Women who tried to escape had their rations cut, their heads shaved, or suffered hard labour and solitary confinement.

The Cascades Female Factory was built in Van Diemen's Land, and was the main place of imprisonment for women. In 1828, its first year of operation, its population was 100 women. In 1829, a list of rules and regulations for the management of the factory were published in the Hobart Town Gazette, and the newspaper reported that the convict women were employed in washing, sewing, carding and spinning. There was a hospital, kitchen, nursery and workrooms, and a chapel was also on the site. Cascades became known for its overcrowding, disease, exposure to extreme temperatures and high mortality rates for women and babies.

Female convict factories_1820


A snapshot of 1828

  • February
    • The Cape Grim massacre took place in Van Diemen's Land.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became Surveyor-General following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • Australia's first bank robbery took place. The robbers broke into the vault of the Bank of Australia in Sydney.
    • The holey dollar currency was withdrawn from circulation.

  • November
    • Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur declared martial law against Aboriginal peoples in the settled districts of Van Diemen's Land.
    • The first census was held in New South Wales, showing that 24 per cent of the total population was born in the colony. Children under 12 years comprised only 16 per cent of the total European population. The Indigenous population was not included.

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