The Launceston Female Factory opened in November 1834, at the time the George Town Female Factory closed, and operated as a female factory until 1855 when administration of the institution was handed over to the local authorities. It then operated as a gaol from 1855 until 1914 when it was demolished to make way for the building of Launceston High School (now Launceston College). Life at the Factory did not always run smoothly—see In Operation.
According to Bethell in The Story of Port Dalrymple, prior to the opening of the Factory at Launceston, female prisoners were "imprisoned in a small hut, watched over by a single constable" prior to removal, if necessary, to the factory at George Town. This arrangement was deemed unsatisfactory by Commissioner Bigge.
Launceston Gaol and Female Factory
Source: Tasmanian Archives (Weekly Courier 1914)
The factory was built on an octagonal plan and was originally designed to house 80–100 women. However, as with the other female factories, overcrowding soon became a problem with more than 250 women housed in the factory in 1842. This made it impossible to separate the three classes of inmates.
According to Bethell, in The Story of Port Dalrymple (p.107):
The women in this factory were employed as laundresses and sempstresses, and money so earned wnet to the upkeep of the factory. Those who held passes were awaiting hiring as domestic or farm-servants, and from time to time advertisements appeared in the public press, giving the numbers available for employment at different places.
Many of these women, when assigned, found good employment, lived decently and were married. There was, however, a hard core of those who were irreclaimable. They were known as the "Flash Mob" and, if rumour spoke true, owing ot the negligence of turnkeys they often slipped out of the factory at night to roam the town.
Tenders for the erection of Launceston Female Factory were called in the Hobart Town Courier on 25 January 1833.
January 24, 1833.
FEMALE HOUSE OF CORRECTION.
will be received at this office until noon of Tuesday the 12th day of February next, for the erection of a Female Factory at Launceston, on the following conditions.
One half the amount for which the Contractor may agree to execute the work, to be advanced before its commencement, on his finding sufficient security.
One half the remaining amount, to be paid when the work shall have been certified to have been half completed.
The remaining quarter of the whole sum, after the work shall be entirely finished, and taken off the hands of the Contractor by the Government.
Thirty four Mechanics and Labourers of the undermentioned descriptions, will be lent to the contractor by the Government for 12 months, from the date of the agreement being entered into, viz :--
3 stone masons
Total ... 34
The Tenders must state the period when the work will be completed, and be accompanied by letters from two person» of known stability, who will engage to enter into a bond with the Contractor, for the due fulfillment of his agreement.
The plan and specifications of the work may be seen, on application at the offices of the Civil Engineer, Hobart town, and Inspector of Works Launceston, where every other necessary information may be obtained.
A.MOODIE, A C.G.
According to the Hobart Town Courier of 3 May 1833, the first stone of the Launceston Female Factory was laid on Saturday, 27 April 1833, in the presence of the Lieutenant Governor.
The Launceston Female Factory was erected on the block now bounded by Paterson, Bathurst, Brisbane and Margaret Streets. The following account of its design appeared in the Hobart Town Almanack for 1834 (p.97).
The building of a female house of correction, hitherto necessarily but very inconveniently kept at George-town, has also been nearly completed. The construction of this design is particularly deserving of commendation. The superintendent from the very nature of the building must of necessity keep a constant eye on every class of the establishment, the windows of his quarters being so constructed as to overlook each division. The beautifully simple and appropriate style of the chapel is especially worthy of notice. Each class of prisoners can attend divine service without the possibility of communication. The octagon is forty feet in diameter lighted by a lantern, and the effect will certainly be very imposing with a full congregation.
In 1846, solitary confinement cells were added to the Launceston Female Factory. The Launceston Examiner of 15 August 1846 reported:
The Factory.—Twenty-four cells have just been completed at the female factory, where it is intended to make an experiment of the separate system.
Some more solitary cells were erected in the following years and completed in 1850, as the Launceston Examiner reported on 26 October 1850.
EXPENDITURE OF THE CONVICT DEPARTMENT.—The solitary cells at the female factory, which have been in course of erection between two and three years, are now progressing towards .completion. The cause of this delay we are in formed arises from the parsimony of the government. The work was not contracted for, but has been carried on exclusively by prisoners in punishment gangs,-in other words, by convicts who have received magisterial sentences. When probation bricklayers in private service became unruly they expiated their offences at the factory, and the cells progressed: but when this supply of artificers failed the works were at a stand-still, peremptory orders having been given that on no account should free labor be engaged. For every prisoner employed in this manner the convict department charged the British treasury six pence per diem. The colonists will perceive the vast amount of benefit they receive from government expenditure.
Plan - Launceston Penal Establishment - Female House of Correction - prepared for Royal Commission Henry Conway, Architect [female factory]
Source: Tasmanian Archives (PWD266/1/913)
Riots and incidents of insurbordination occurred at Launceston Female Factory. The perpetrators were often removed to the gaol next door to separate them from the other women in the Factory. On 2 March 1850 the Launceston Examiner printed the following report.
Insubordination.—A serious disturbance is said to have occurred at the female factory in the beginning of the week. Some constables who were sent to restore order, were attacked by the termagants and nearly stripped. Eventually they were subdued and three of the ringleaders are now in solitary confinement at the gaol.
On 22 October 1842, the Launceston Examiner reported:
FEMALE FACTORY.-"The Revolt of the Harem" was played for two consecutive nights during the week, not on the boards of a theatre, but in the female penitentiary. In imitation of the cast bales, whose harps by transmutation became lances, the "factory ladies" armed themselves with the spindles of their spinning wheels, and nobly defied both superintendents and constables, " It seems one of the fair sisters was placed in "solitary," and this excited the others to rebellion. On Thursday night, the officers in charge were afraid of an escape, and I constables surrounded the onside of the building at every point, but the eighty females, however well acquainted with other branches of military warfare, could not succeed in scaling the walls, and they consequently reunited in the citadel like bees, inclined to swarm, but forcibly detained in durance. According to one of the theories of "Scriblerns," the soul of a woman resides in her tongue, and these amazons would have furnished him with sufficient proof to sustain his views: the noise of their yells and hootings and execrations disturbed the neighborhood, and were distinctly heard at a considerable distance. Several strange stories are afloat in connection with the "revolt." One respected gentleman, it is said, endeavored to quell the tumult by his presence, but he was hastily snatched up by some half decent viragos, and amidst the a plaudits of the whole party, was forcibly borne on their shoulders round the inner building, and safely deposited at the place where he was taken up: from which he made a speedy retreat. We understand the solitary cells have been filled with the recusant females, and a number have been lodged in the goal, and quietness has in a measure been restored.
The lack of useful employment for the inmates was often given as a reason for their riotous behaviour, as the Launceston Examiner reported on 15 July 1843.
Riot in the Factory
On Friday morning Mr. Pearson entered the police-office, and requested the necessary assistance to enable him to quell a violent disturbance in the female factory . It seems that the ladies had simultaneously taken up arms, alias spindles, for the purpose of securing redress for some imaginary grievance, and in consequence proceeded to such extremities as to threaten the entire subversion of all discipline. Under these circumstances a force of seven constables, headed by a district, was despatched to secure the insurgents, with instructions from the magistrate (if necessary) to impress the services of as many men from the town-surveyor's gang as the case might demand. After some delay, and perhaps a little hard fighting, the principal ring leaders were secured, and subsequently escorted to separate cells within the walls of the treadmill, there to wait in solitude and silence the punishment of their offences. Mr. Pearson must at times find his situation anything but an enviable one amongst these Amazonian specimens. When out of the factory they will not behave themselves, and when in they do nothing but complain of the hardships they endure. It is possible that the want of proper and adequate employment is one principal occasion of these outbreaks.
Riots at the factory could sometimes involve attempted arson. The Launceston Examiner of 8 February 1843 reported the following.
WE understand that an attempt was made yesterday, to set fire to the female factory, by some of the inmates of that building, and that they were tried the same day; the result of the trial has not transpired.
After the establishment ceased to operate as a female factory, but remained operating as a house of correction, there was another fire there in 1859 (Launceston Examiner, 8 March 1859).
FIRE AT THE FACTORY.—At noon on Sunday the fire-bell bounded an alarm, the roof of the female factory having taken fire. It was speedily extinguished by a few buckets of water, and the services of the volunteers with their engines were not needed. The cause was the falling of a lump of burning soot from the chimney of the cooking place on the shingle roof of the surgery. The congregations within sound of the alarm bell were not a little disturbed, and the services at St. Andrew’s and the Wesleyan churches were suspended.
On 31 December 1842, the Launceston Female Factory housed the following women and children (Launceston Examiner, 11 January 1843 p.8):
- 4 women under colonial sentence
- 0 women in solitary confinement
- 88 women confined by order of the magistrates
- 10 women nursing children
- 9 women sentenced to the wash tub
- 5 women as servants, cooks, etc
- 10 women in the hospital
- 0 women sick in the house of correction
- 75 women assignable in Launceston
- 2 women assignable in the country
- 14 women assignable per Royal Admiral
- 226 women in total
- 38 children under 1 year old
- 4 children under 2 years old
- 1 child under 3 years old
- 1 child above 3 years old
- 44 children in total
See also the Hobart Town Gazette's State of the Factories.
Further information on the Launceston Female Factory and stories of women imprisoned at Launceston Female Factory, are featured in the Convict Women's Press book
Convict Lives at the Launceston Female Factory