Parramatta in New South Wales was the site of Australia's first purpose-built female factory for convict women sent to the colony. It was completed in January 1821. This ‘new’ female factory replaced unsatisfactory accommodation at a barracks in the town gaol precinct which had been built around 1802.  There the women, while awaiting assignment, had been put to work in a room above the town gaol known as the ‘factory above the gaol’.   In 1820 Thomas Reid (Surgeon Superintendent of the Morley) described the establishment:

 

The Factory is a square stone building of inconsiderable dimension, having an upper story : here are crowded all the workshops for converting the wool of the colony into cloth ; one side being appropriated to picking, carding, and spinning; the other to weaving; [1]

 

Prior to 1820, when Van Diemen’s Land received its first consignment of female convicts from Britain, transfers of convicts between NSW and VDL cost the government dearly in time, money and resources.  Many of the women from NSW were assigned as domestic servants in VDL and, given the scarcity of women in Van Diemen’s Land at the time, very few were sent back to Parramatta.

 

In 1820, William Sorell, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, ordered that seven female convicts be sent to the female factory at Parramatta NSW as a punishment for various misdemeanours  including absconding, improper conduct and misconduct. 

 

327

Secretary’s Office Sydney

10th Octr 1820

Sir,

                I herewith transmit you a list of the names of seven female convicts originally arrived per Transport ship “Janus”, Stewart Master and lastly from Hobart Town Van Diemen’s Land per ship Morley, Brown Master, from whence they have been sent for alledged improper conduct.

                These women are now sent forward to Parramatta by water and I have to convey to you the desire of His Excellency the Governor that they shall be employed at the Factory at Parramatta in the usual way.

I have the honor to be Sir,

your obt Hble Sevt.

(Signed) JT Campbell secy

H.McArthur Esqre

J.P. Parramatta

List of the names of seven female convicts originally arrived per Transport ship “Janus” and lastly per ship Morley (3d) Brown Master from V.D. Land, from whence they have been sent for alledged improper conduct, and now forwarded by water to Parramatta to be employed at the Factory.

Sydney 10th Octr 1820

 

1              Mercy Cotsworth                                                             5              Mary Green

2              Elizabeth Bush                                                                 6              Elizabeth Lovatt

3              Sophia Stratford                                                               7              Mary Regan

4              Ann Bates

(signed) Wm Hutchinson

[cut off– ....... Supdt]

Series: NRS 937; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6004-6016. Ancestry.com

 

 

On 2nd September the women were placed on board the Morley at Hobart Town. The Morley had just disembarked fifty female convicts and was continuing on to Port Jackson with another seventy-one women. On arrival in Sydney the women were destined for the old female factory as the Parramatta female factory was still under construction.

 

 

[2nd September 1820]

About 4 p. m. there arrived on board seven female convicts belonging lately to the Janus, who had been landed at Hobart Town from that ship by a colonial trader, and whom the Lieutenant-Governor ordered to be conveyed to the factory at Parramatta. The document accompanying those women was very unfavourable as to character ; I therefore addressed to them a few brief observations relative to their conduct, and placed them separately in the hospital, with a view to prevent their communicating with the other prisoners.

Reid, T. [Surgeon Superintendent, Morley 1820] Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1822, Page 241

 

 

Lieutenant Governor Sorell ‘s transportation of the women to New South Wales was sanctioned by an invitation from Governor Macquarie issued in 1818. The invitation was a compromise after Sorell was denied permission to build a factory for female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land.  Governor Macquarie’s reasoning was:

…it is not my intention that there ever should be more Female Convicts sent from hence to Van Diemen's Land than are necessarily required for the use of the Settlers on that Island, I do not think that it is necessary, in the present infant state of your Settlements, to have any Public Building erected for the Female Convicts either at Hobart Town or Pitt Water. It being my intention soon to erect a Factory and Barrack on a large scale at Parramatta for the employment and accommodation of all the Female Convicts victualled at the expense of Government, you will be left at liberty to send up to that Seminary such refractory or disorderly ill-behaved Female Convicts from the Settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, as you may deem expedient.[2]

 

The arrival of the women in NSW was not greeted favourably by Governor Macquarie; in a letter to Sorell dated 13th October 1820, he stated that, as the new factory (at Parramatta) was not yet complete, and considering the scarcity of women in Van Diemen’s Land, the women could have been ‘confined in your own Gaol [*] for a few weeks on Bread and Water, as a Punishment, and then given out to Settlers wanting Female Servants.’ [3] At that time, Van Diemen’s Land was governed as a dependency of the colony of New South Wales and ‘The Lieutenant-Governors and Commandants in charge were subordinate to the Governor in Sydney.’[4]  Lieutenant Governor Sorell, who was expecting the arrival of more transports of female convicts, was concerned about the lack of dedicated facilities for the women, but had no authority to erect a building for that purpose.  Three months after despatching the seven women to Parramatta, Sorell again asked for a building, and was finally granted permission to erect a ‘Barrack for the accommodation of Male Convicts, and also a Barrack for the confinement and Labour of Female Convicts in eligible situations in the same Town.’ [5] [†]

 

 

Mercy Cotsworth/Cutsworth arrived on the Friendship in 1818, sentenced to 7 years transportation. Mercy was one of fifty-six women immediately transferred to the Duke of Wellington for assignment in VDL. Mercy was only in VDL 30 months before she was placed on board the Morley on 2nd September 1820, to be returned to Parramatta, along with six women from the Janus.  The seven women were removed from VDL for alleged improper conduct including four cases of absconding from their places of work.

 

Mercy, however, was determined to return to VDL. In 1821 she was charged for ‘making her escape from Port Jackson and being found at large in this settlement (VDL)’. Mercy was subsequently sent back to the factory at Parramatta, but in 1822 she arrived back in VDL and was permitted to stay, working as an assigned servant to Lieut. Thomson. [6]

 

 

 

[*] Old Hobart Gaol (Hobart Town Gaol): built in 1817, and was located on the south-west corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets. It mainly housed male prisoners, but there was also a room for female prisoners. The gallows were located in the yard of the gaol.

[†] In 1821 the Hobart Town Female Factory was built in the Hobart Town Gaol precinct, and separated from the Gaol by a brick wall. 

 

 References:

 

[1] Reid, T. Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1822, Page 259-260, 276

[2] HRA III Vol. II..10th Jan 1818, p.292

[3] HRA III, Vol.3 p. 65

[4]  https://www.legislation.tas.gov.au/lt/historicalnotes

[5] HRA III, Vol. III, P.72,

[6] https://fretwelliana.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/profile-cotsworth-mercy-minimum.pdf

 

 

Further Resources:

WOMEN TRANSPORTED, LIFE IN AUSTRALIA’S CONVICT FEMALE FACTORIES 

 

 

Appendix 1: 

Letters between GOVERNOR MACQUARIE AND LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL

 

GOVERNOR MACQUARIE TO LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL. (Despatch No. 1, per brig Governor Macquarie; acknowledged by • lieutenant-governor Sorell, 23rd February, T818.) Government House, Sydney, 10th Jany., 1818.

The Public Building you propose erecting at Hobart Town as a Barrack for the Male Convicts employed in the immediate Service of the Crown, I very much approve of, as I conceive it to be a highly necessary Building for both ensuring the Health and comfort of these poor People. But, as it is not my intention that there ever should be more Female Convicts sent from hence to Van Diemen's Land than are necessarily required for the use of the Settlers on that Island, I do not think that it is necessary, in the present infant state of your Settlements, to have any Public Building erected for the Female Convicts either at Hobart Town or Pitt Water. It being my intention soon to erect a Factory and Barrack on a large Scale at Parramatta for the employment and accommodation of all the Female Convicts victualled at the expense of Government, you will be left at liberty to send up to that Seminary such refractory or disorderly ill-behaved Female Convicts from the Settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, as you may deem expedient.   

HRA III Vol. II, 10th Jan 1818, p.292 

 

LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL TO GOVERNOR MACQUARIE. (Despatch No. 5, per brig Greyhound; acknowledged by Governor Macquarie, 31st May, 1818.) Sir, 26th March, 1818.

In consequence of Your Excellency's desire that the erection of a Factory for Female prisoners here should not at present be undertaken, and that such Women as appeared to merit regular restraint might be sent up to Sydney in order to be placed in the Factory there, it is my intention to act upon that permission, which I doubt not will have a salutary effect here, where so little means have existed for repressing the frequently excessive misconduct of Female prisoners.

HRA III, Vol II, p. 309-310 

 

GOVERNOR SORELL TO GOVERNOR MACQUARIE* '(Despatch per ship Morley; acknowledged by Governor Macquarie, 13th October, 1820.) Sir, 2 Septem., 1820.

The Misconduct, which has prevailed amongst some of the Women, who lately arrived from the Janus, has induced me to take this favorable opportunity of forwarding 6 of them, and 1 other, for the Factory, a measure which Your Excellency was pleased to authorise* some time ago in cases of disorderly female Convicts. I have, &c, • WM. SORELL.

HRA III, Vol.III, P. 54 

 

GOVERNOR MACQUARIE TO LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL. 1820. (Despatch per ship Guildford.) Government House, Sydney, 13th Octr., 1820

I am. sorry you sent back the disorderly Women sent you some time since from the Janus, as our new Factory is not yet completed; and, as you were so scarce of Women, they might as well have been confined in your own Gaol for a few weeks on Bread and Water, as a Punishment, and then given out to Settlers wanting Female Servants.

13 Oct 1820

Female convicts returned to Sydney

HRA III, Vol.III, P. 65, 

 

LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL TO GOVERNOR MACQUARIE.*

(Despatch per ship Haldane.) 6 December, 1820.

Having reason to expect that a female Convict Ship may be Proposed destined to this Settlement at no distant period, I beg leave to submit to Your Excellency the want of a Factory or place for restraint or labor for Female Convicts. Without a Building for this purpose on a moderate scale be prepared, no alternative will remain here but to allow the Mass of the Females, who arrive, to go at once at large, and of the Females, who are in Service, quitting their places, which at present it is found nearly impossible to prevent, the sentence to labor in the Gaol not being sufficient without more permanent confinement to labor. A plain Building of size to admit 50 or 60 Women being kept to labor might be erected by Contract, should Your Excellency consider my representation on the subject as having sufficient weight.

HRA III, Vol.III, P. 71

 

 

GOVERNOR MACQUARIE TO LIEUT.-GOVERNOR SORELL. (Despatch per brig Jupiter.) 23 Dec. Sir, Govt. House, Parramatta, 23d Decr., 1820.

Sir, The Honble. The Commissioner of Enquiry having lately strongly recommended that I should authorize and direct you to commence as soon as possible, erecting at Hobart-Town a Barrack for the accommodation of Male Convicts, and also a Barrack for the confinement and Labour of Female Convicts in eligible situations in the same Town, I have to desire that you will immediately make the necessary preparations for erecting these two Buildings, and commence upon them with as little delay as possible. I leave the size and Plan of those Building entirely to your own Judgment, discretion, and local experience. I have, &c, L. MACQUARIE.

HRA III, Vol. III, P.72, 

 

 

Secretary’s Office

14 October 1820

Sir,

                I have been honored with your letter in answer to mine of the 10th Inst. respecting women who were then forwarded to the Factory at Parramatta. Your letter expressing the arrival of six woman, leads me to apprehend that some error has arisen as seven were ordered thither – their names as mentioned in my former letter were:

1              Mercy Cotsworth                            5             Mary Green

2              Elizabeth Bush                                6             Elizabeth Lovatt

3              Sophia Stratford                              7             Mary Regan

4              Ann Bates

                May I therefore request that you will ascertain whether any of those women have not arrived.

I have the honor to be

Sir

your obdt hble servt

(Signed) “JT Campbell Secy

Hannibal McArthur Esq JP

Parramatta

Source Citation

Series: NRS 937; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6004-6016

 

 

Colonial Secretarys Office

4th August 1821

Sir,

                I have in command from His Excellency the Governor to request that you will give directions that the prisoners named in the margin who arrived from Van diemens Land per ship Midas may be received and secured in Sydney Gaol until they can be forwarded to their final destinations.

I have the honor to be

Sir

Your obt humble servt

F Goulburn

Col Sec

[left margin - ]

Jno Kempster  for Newcastle

Jno Heyburn       “

Wm Acres           “

Davd Myers        “

Dan Garcia          “

  • Farrell ux Garcia accompanying her husband [Sarah Farrell per Morley]

Mercy Cotsworth for Factory

JT Campbell Esqre

Provost Marshall Sydney

 

 

 

By E. Crawford (June 2021)

 

 

 


Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed online [date] from [http address].