The Cascades Female Factory operated in South Hobart from 1828 to 1856. After it ceased operation as a female factory in 1856, it continued as a gaol under the administration of local authorities from 1856 until 1877.
Cascades Female Factory
Source: Archives Office Tasmania
There were eventually 5 yards operating at Cascades Female Factory. The Factory opened with Yard 1 in 1828, Yard 2 opened in 1832, Yard 3 opened in 1845, Yard 4 opened in 1850, and Yard 5 opened in 1853, the last year of transportation.
Governor George Arthur purchased the site at Cascades for the female factory in 1827 from the owner of a failed distillery, TY Lowes. The factory's first intake of female prisoners was in December 1828, from the prisoners at Hobart Town Female Factory. It gradually expanded to hold 700 female convicts and their children, though at its peak it was even more overcrowded than usual, holding 1,200 women and children. Rules and regulations for the management of the Factory were published in 1829.
Footsteps and Voices: A historical look into the Cascades Female Factory provides further information on the Cascades Female Factory. Copies can be purchased from the Female Factory Historic Site shop.
When the Cascades Female Factory opened in 1828 there was one yard. By the end of transportation, the vastly expanded establishment included five high-walled yards. Below are drawings of the five yards created by Christopher Downes for Footsteps and Voices.
When the Factory opened in 1828 there was one yard (Yard 1). When the Factory ceased operating as a female factory in 1856, there were five yards: Yard 2 (washing yard), Yard 3 (separate apartments), Yard 4(nursery yard) and Yard 5 were added in the intervening years.
Yard 1 opened in 1828. It contained separate yards for crime, second and assignment class convicts, a nursery yard, a hospital yard, cooking areas, laundry areas, offices, employee accommodation and a chapel.
Yard 2 opened in 1832 as the washing yard. It adjoined Yard 1 on its western side. This is where convicts worked at the wash tub when sentenced to hard labour.
Yard 3 opened in 1845. It comprised two rows of separate apartments where convicts were sent for punishment. It adjoined Yard 1 on its eastern side.
Yard 4 opened in 1850. It was the nursery yard and contained the Matron's Cottage in the south-eastern corner. It adjoined Yard 3 on its eastern side.
Yard 5 opened in 1853, the year that transportation to Van Diemen's Land ceased. It adjoined Yard 2 on its western side. It had flushing toilets!
Read reminiscences of Cascades Female Factory in the series of articles'Backward Glances' which appeared in the Launceston Examiner in November 1892. This series of articles also contain reminiscences of Hobart Town Female Factory and the Queen's Orphan Schools. These appear to have been written George Pullen, the son or nephew of Jesse Pullen, an Assistant Superintendent at Cascades Female Factory.
Also read about Godfrey Charles Mundy's visit to Cascades Female Factory in 1851.
The female convicts who arrived on the Harmony in January 1829 were the first to be sent directly from the ship to Cascades Female Factory for assignment. The following article appeared in the Hobart Town Courier on 7 February 1829 about the advantages of the new factory, including the provision of a nursery so that children can be separated from their mothers, allowing the women to be assigned.
The new House of Correction is likely to be attended with much advantage, an instance of which already sensibly appears in the disposal of the female prisoners by the Harmony. Many of the best servants, it is well known, were necessarily kept in the late Factory, owing to the children, which there was no means of disposing of, but by leaving them in the charge of the mother; for few, if any families could be expected to incur the expense and trouble of one or two little children for the sake of the small attendance. In the new establishment, however, this inconvenience is wisely provided for. Matrons, or proper persons are appointed in apartments for that purpose, to nurse and educate the children as soon as they can with propriety leave the mother, who is thus left at liberty to go to service. By this means a large proportion of the prisoners by the Harmony, who had children with them, and who on teh former system must have remained a charge on the public, have been assigned to service. This, however, is but a minor advantage compared to the improved discipline which this building enables the Superintendent to exercise. Farewell now to idleness and impudence, lover-letter writing, throwing of packets &c. over the wall, and all the concomitants of clandestine taking and receiving.
Of course, the new Factory did not solve all the discipline problems, though more discipline was imposed on the prisoners, as evidenced by the following extract from two Visiting Magistrates to the Factory in 1844 (AOT, GO 33/52 pp.172–194).
The Visiting Magistrates have great pleasure in bearing testimony to the good order, cleanliness & discipline of the Female Factory at the Cascade. The system & regularity observable in working this Establishment & the quiet behaviour of the prisoners generally reflect great credit upon the Superintendent thereof.
At this Establishment prayers are regularly read every morning at ½ past 7 & great attention appears to be paid by the prisoners to the service. It is the only House of Correction where Prayers are regularly read.
Problems at the Factory were noted in 1838 by the jury at the inquest into the deaths of Thomas Vowles (child) and Barbara Hemmings (Atwick) (Hobart Town Courier, 30 March 2838 p.2).
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 Hennings 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, that 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."
On New Year's Day 1851, Colonel Mundy visited the Cascades Female Factory and, according to Bethell in The Story of Port Dalrymple, reported the following.
On January 1, 1851, Colonel Mundy found the Cascades Factory at Hobart Town a model of good order. A matron maintained faultless discipline, the cleanliness was dazzling and the turnkeys vigilant. In dead silence the women, in their white mob caps and duffle dresses, were drawn up in hollow square and greeted the Colonel with a "running fire of curtseys". At this date there were at the Cascades 730 women and 130 infants. As usual they were engaged in laundry work or fine sewing. A few turbulent inmates were dosed with ipecacuanha, put on half-rations and locked into darkened cells.
An inquest into the death of Ellen Parker (Sea Queen) who died at Cascades Female Factory on February 1849 gives an insight into what it was like to be confined in the separate apartments in Yard 3.
A transcript of 'A Visit to Cascades Female Factory' by Godfrey Charles Mundy is provided below. You can view the original text here. Thank you for FCRC member Geoff Dean for this transcript.
Reference: Mundy, GC Our Antipodes: or Residence and Rambles in the Australasian Colonies, with a glimpse of the Gold Fields. Third edition, London, 1855.
Jan. 1, 1851.—there was, it must be admitted, nothing remarkably festive, for the first day of the new year, in visiting a female penitentiary and lying-in establishment ! Such was, nevertheless, my morning’s employment. The Cascades factory is seated at the foot of Mount Wellington, wedged in a gully between high hills—a bad situation, except as regards the supply of water, which is plentiful. The buildings are enclosed within a high wall, with barred gates and vigilant turnkeys ; it is, in short, a gaol in every respect according to the respective deserts of the inmates. We were received at the entrance by the matron, a dignified lady who looked quite capable of maintaining strict discipline whether in a public or in a merely domestic establishment. From her hands we received, in due military form, “the morning state” of her garrison—which, as it appeared, amounted to 730 women and 130 infants. In turn we visited the several courts, solitary cells, the hospital, refectories, dormitories and lavatories. In one yard was formed up for our inspection, in hollow square, seventy or eighty women—open to be hired as servants. “These,” as we were informed, “were the better conducted, and the pregnant women.” In another court were a strong division of more troublesome and notorious characters, who were under restraint and not permitted to go into service. The uniform, a very unbecoming one to the person, however becoming to the station of the wearer, is a white mob cap and a dress of grey duffle. As we passed down the ranks the poor creatures saluted us with a running fire of curtseys, and a dead silence was everywhere observed. In a large exercise yard, with an open shed in the centre affording shelter from the sun, we found some sixty women, with as many babies from two years to two days old—women and children all silent ! One would have thought them all deaf and dumb ;—never was I before in so numerous a nursery ;—I hope I never may again ! The children were mostly healthy and pretty. As for their mothers—there must, I suppose, be a good deal in dress as an element of beauty—for I scarcely saw a tolerably pretty woman in seven hundred. Some of the females, I found, were the hired nurses of the establishment—not the mothers of the children. Of these latter many, it appears, merely enter the factory to deposit their “kid forlorn,” and, when sufficiently recovered, return to service in the town or country within the district to which their ticket or pass extends, and not a few re-enter its walls as soon as it is possible for them to require again obstetric assistance. It is nothing to say that many of these poor brats will never know their own fathers ;—their mothers, perhaps, know them no better : and many of the wretched little ones, in the hands of the nurses, will never know either parent. The public consoles itself with the dry fact, that they will all come into the labour market. A large ward was allotted to the midday sleep of the poor little babes. It was rather a pretty sight for a father (of none of them) to contemplate. There were a score or so of wooden cribs, in each of which lay two, three, or four innocents, stowed away head and tail, like sardines à l’huile ; while others were curling about like a litter of kittens in a basket of straw. All were wonderfully good—chiefly, I suspect, because there was no anxious mamma nor fussy nurse constantly soliciting them to be so.
The visiting-surgeon of the establishment, whom I accompanied, had found it necessary to prescribe half-rations and gentle medical treatment (a grain or so of ipecacuanha, I suppose,) to a certain turbulent few of the prisoners ; and as it was whispered to him that his fair but fierce patients meditated a remonstrance when it came to their turn to be visited ; and as there was little doubt this appeal would have taken a Billingsgate form, the prudent Medico postponed hearing it, which, I confess, was to me a great relief. This was on his part a merciful as well as a discreet step, because the half-rations of the insurgents would assuredly have been further reduced to bread-and-water discussed in silence and solitude—things that no woman loveth. Forty-eight hours of this kind of single-blessedness, with the above meagre diet, and a prescription slightly productive of nausea, occasions, it is said, a prodigious soothing effect on ladies afflicted with gross health and fiery temperaments. Going along the avenues of solitary cells, there was a great unlocking of massive doors, and a questioning of “Have you any complaints ?” I only looked into two or three. One woman was carding, another combing wool. A third cell, on being opened, I found to be completely darkened ;—it seemed empty, so I passed within the door to examine its construction. It looked like the den of a wolf, and I almost started back when from the extreme end of the floor I found a pair of bright, flashing eyes fixed on mine. Their owner arose and took a step or two forward ; it was a small, slight, and quite young girl—very beautiful in feature and complexion,—but it was the fierce beauty of the wild cat ! I am a steady married man, of a certain age, —but at no period of my life would I, for a trifle, have shared for half-an-hour the cell of that sleek little savage ; for when she purred loudest I should have been most afraid of her claws ! As the heavy door slammed in her face, and the strong bolts shot into the grooves, the turnkey informed me that this was the one of the most refractory and unmanageable characters in the prison. That said beauty is a sad distorter of man’s perceptions ! Justice ought to be doubly blindfolded when dealing with her. I fear me that the pang of pity that shot across my heart when that pretty prisoner was shut again from the light of day, might have found no place there had she been as ugly as the sins that brought her into trouble. I had no more stomach for solitary cells this day.
One of the great yards of the Factory was devoted to laundress-work. Squads of women were up to their elbows in suds,—carrying on the cruel process of wringing,—or displaying their thick ankles as they spread the linen over the drying lines. The townsfolk may have their washing done here at 1s. 6d. per dozen, the money going towards the expenses of the institution. I was pained to see so many very youthful creatures in this yard—delinquents in their earliest teens ; debauched ere the pith had hardened in their little bones. We had next a glimpse of a room full of sempstresses, most of them employed on fine work. It was not impossible, the matron stated, that some of the elaborate shirt-fronts we should see at the Government-house ball this evening had been worked in this, and washed and “ got up ” in the last ward. A rougher fabric done by the less-skilled prisoners is a coarse kind of woollen tweed, only used for prison-dresses.
However painful to a devoted servant of “ the sex ” must necessarily be the details of an establishment such as this, there was some consolation at least in carrying away the conviction that everything that the care and ingenuity of man could contrive for the perfecting of the system has here been exhausted. The cleanliness of the prison was almost dazzling, and the order and discipline appeared faultless ; and I had much pleasure in recording the same in the Matron’s Visitors’ Book. “ See Naples and die,” is the Italian motto. “ See a Female Factory once, and don’t do so again,” is mine !*
* Newspaper notice, January, 1851 :—
10 January.—female passholders.—Number of Female Passholders awaiting hire: Hobart Town Brickfields Dèpôt, 276 ; Cascades Factory, 176 ; New Town Farm, 71 ; Launceston Factory, 38 ; Ross Hiring Dèpôt, 49.—Total 610.”
[E.g. The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 11 January, 1851, p.24, and Launceston Examiner, Saturday 11 January, 1851, p.8]
Stories of women imprisoned at Cascades Female Factory, are featured in the Convict Women's Press book
Convict Lives: Women at Cascades Female Factory.