The infants of female convicts were held in nurseries until the age of between 2 and 3 years. Many of them died. Female convicts accompanied their infants until they were weaned.
Because of the high death rate of infants in the convict nurseries, much discussion about the conditions of the nurseries occurred in the local newspapers and public pressure meant the nurseries were often relocated in (vain) attempts to redress the high infant mortality.
High infant mortality rates at the nurseries were attributed in many cases to their unhealthy condition. On 30 March 1838, the following article about the condition of the nursery at the Cascades Female Factory (then in Yard 1) appeared in the Hobart Town Courier.
The Coroner's inquests recently held on the body of the child Vowles, and Barbara Hemmings, in the Female Factory and House of Correction, have excited considerable sensation in the public mind. There can be no doubt of the existence of some very serious defects, both in the internal domestic economy, and in the necessary discipline of this establishment, which require prompt and rigorous examination. The very anomaly which exists of complaints on the one hand, of the sufferings and misery of the women confined there for their misdemeanours, contrasted with their usual insolent cry (when spoken to by their masters or mistresses, in private service) of - " Well, if I don't suit you, you can send me to the Factory ;" or, " I'd sooner by half be in the Factory, there isn't half so much work there," is proof sufficient that the code of discipline is somewhere defective or misapplied. We entertain no doubt but that the Principal Superintendent will shortly be able to submit some plan for the consideration of his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, which may prevent the recurrence of scenes so much to be deplored. We subjoin the verdicts of the Jury in the two cases of death above alluded to, together with the address, which was attached by the Jury to Sir John Franklin.
' The verdict upon the body of the child was : " That the said Thomas Vowles came to his death in a natural way by Diarrhoea, induced by teething and weaning, and that he died on the 12th instant. And the Jury are strongly impressed, that the confined state of the nurseries, and want of proper precaution at the time of receiving the child, Thomas Vowles, at the House of Correction, and in the nursing, induced the same."
The verdict upon Barbara Herrings was as follows :
"Died of Diarrhoea and fever, produced by being confined in a crowded unwholesome place, without necessary air and exercise. "
" The Jury consider it their duty respectfully to submit, through the Coroner, to His Excellency Sir John Franklin, that having been permitted to inspect the Female House of Correction, they found, upon investigation, that there is no place where the children can take exercise of any sort, except in a wet flagged yard, to which, it is in evidence on oath of the Assistant Superintendent of the prison, and other witnesses, for four months of the year, the sun's rays never penetrate, and during which period it is never otherwise than in a wet state.
"The Jury have further to represent to His Excellency, the close and confined state of the childrens' wards - two small rooms, each about 28 feet by 12, in which there are at present upwards of seventy human beings confined, and in the "weaning-room" thirty-five, the effluvia from which, even in the day time, the Jury found most offensive, and must be most injurious to the infants confined there, particularly from obvious causes during the night.
"The Jury further submit to His Excellency, that having been permitted to inspect the prison, (although the Coroner objected to their going into any evidence not immediately connected with the death of Barbara Herrings,) they have respectfully to represent to His Excellency the extremely offensive condition of the dark cells, in which the Jury found women closely confined upon bread and water, for periods of from seven days to one month.
"The Jury further submit to His Excellency, fhat the amount of food supplied to the women is extremely limited, in one of the working wards the women receiving no food whatever, from 12 o'clock in the day to 8 o'clock of the morning of the next day.
The Jury further represent to His Excellency, that no exclusive register of deaths is regularly kept in this prison; that it appears by the books of the Medical Attendant that twenty deaths have taken place since the first of January last, and it is in evidence before the Jury, that two have taken place within the last fourteen days, and that inquests have not been held.
" All which the Jury respectfully submit to the consideration of His Excellency Sir John Franklin."