Before the Hobart Town Female Factory was built in 1821, refractory female convicts were held in a room at the Hobart Town Gaol, on the corner of Murray and Macquarie Streets, which measured only 4 by 3 metres. The situation was untenable.
In 1817, Lieutenant-Governor Sorell has written to Governor Macquarie proposing to build a factory for female convicts at Pittwater. Macquarie refused his request and indicated that refractory female convicts should be sent to Sydney for incarceration in the soon-to-be-built Parramatta Female Factory.
Three years later, after the Morley had disembarked 50 female convicts at Hobart Town on 29 August 1820, Sorell again wrote to Macquarie stressing the need for a factory to be built to house female convicts.
It was not until 30 June 1821 that Governor Macquarie wrote to Lieutenant-Governor Sorell ordering that a female factory be constructed at Hobart. Subsequent to this order, a small factory was erected in the precinct of the Hobart Town Gaol, divided from the Gaol by a brick wall. A major problem with this Factory was the ease with which female convicts could escape from it.
Old Hobart Gaol corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets - site of Hobart Town Female Factory
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania
This unsatisfactory building was used as the female factory for the next eight years before the women imprisoned there were transferred to the newly built Cascades Female Factory in December 1828 and January 1829.
In Female Factory Female Convicts Tony Rayner writes about the Hobart Town Female Factory (p.117).
In January 1826 Arthur finally ordered an investigation into the conditions at the Hobart Town Female Factory. Conditions were unsatisfactory. Fifty-five people were crammed into two sleeping rooms which were not only cramped and crowded but were also unventilated. There was only one yard for the use of the Factory, consequently no possibility of classification or keeping some women separate from others. The yard was in full view of executions in the gaol next door. Communication through and over the walls, both to the gaol and to the streets outside, was absurdly easy. The crowded conditions and lack of separate rooms and other areas meant there was no space that could be used for work. The superintendent Mr Drabble and his family lived in an apartment that was not separated from the rest of the factory and were subject to constant abuse from the inmates
After all the female convicts had been removed from the Hobart Town Female Factory to the Cascades Female Factory in January 1829, the old Factory was converted into a bond store in February 1829, for the reception of rum and other spirits.
The female factory is now entirely deserted, and the women in the hands of government are wholly re- moved to the new building on the town rivulet, called the House of Correction. There are three different prisons, and the discipline maintained is said to be very severe. Its situation it not however so convenient for families who have to apply or prefer complaints before the Magistrate. About 50 of the women by the Harmony have been assigned to domestic service. (The Hobart Town Courier, 24 January 1829 p.2)
Read reminiscences of Hobart Town 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 Cascades 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.
Escape from the factory could be a simple matter, it would seem. The following article appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette on 10 December 1825.
Late on Monday evening as Dr. Westbrook was passing the Female Factory, he observed two women creeping through a hole which had been made in the wall, and the constable standing unconcernedly looking on. He immediately disarmed this man, the ladies as suddenly drawing back; and at the same time Mr. Drabble discovered that 7 prisoners had escaped from the upper bedroom. Six of the number have already been apprehended and sentenced to have their hair cut close off to the head, to be confined in a cell, fed on bread and water, and to wear an iron collar for a week. We have not yet heard what punishment has been inflicted on the constable who so gallantly contributed to the freedom of the fair sex.
Five of the women involved in this escape were Eleanor Holland, Mary Thomas, Ann Riley (per Mary III, who had previously tried to escape from the factory in January 1824), Elizabeth Boucher and Martha Slater. Mary Thomas (per Brothers) was apprehended over a week later at New Norfolk.
Two months earlier, Mary Murphy (per Lord Wellington), Ann Livingstone (per Henry) and Jane Griffith (per Henry) had escaped from the factory through the same hole. On 29 January 1827, Ann Livingstone, when attempting to escape from the Factory once again, jumped or fell from the wall and broke her leg with a compound fracture (Hobart Town Gazette, 3 February 1827). In all, Ann Livingstone made two unsuccessful attempts to escape Hobart Town Female Factory and escaped five times!
Six months after the above incident, Martha Slater attempted to escape once again after Ann Riley and Mary Reddy had managed to escape. The following article appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette on 10 June 1826.
Last week Martha Slater made a bold attempt to escape from durance in the Female Factory, by mounting the lofty wall which surrounds it. Having gained the summit, she surveyed the awful depth below, when two constables coming past so increased her trepidation, that she fell suddenly to the ground and bruised her limbs. Some months ago, the said Martha Slater was one of seven, who, our Readers will recollect, escaped through a hole made in the wall, and it was said the attractions of a gentleman named "Hopping Tom" had a powerful influence in drawing her through. The attraction on the female side was afterwards considerably weakend by an operation much more serious than that recorded by mr. Pope, in the "Rape of the Lock," namely, by the local abscission of every auburn charm. Two other damsels having however escaped before, and some suspicion entering the breast of Martha, that one of them might hop in the direction of her Tom, the green-eyed monster promoted her to the dangerous attempt which has thus so painfully miscarried.
About the same time, Elizabeth Boucher and the other women in the prison at the time were involved in a riot and attempted escape from the Factory. It seems to have been instigated by the return of Sarah Thompson (per Brothers) to the Factory; she was apprehended and returned on 1 June 1826 after having escaped from the factory on 9 February 1826. On 2 June, Sarah Thompson threatened to stab Mrs Drabble, the Superintendent's wife.
The attempted escape and escape of several of the women in June 1826 was reported in the Hobart Town Gazette on 17 June 1826.
Last week, no less than 22 of the women confined in the Female Factory were sentenced to various punishments of solitary confinement, and being fed on bread and water, some of whom had been guilty of disorderly conduct, uttering insolent and abominable expressions, escaping from the cells, over and through the outer wall, and of othe conduct highly unbecoming the female character. They were fortunately prevented from escaping through a large hole which they made in the wall, and some of the punishments were inflicted for the ill treatment the workmen received in mending it up.
The riot occurred on 2 June and following days. As punishment, Elizabeth Boucher and the other miscreants were locked up in a lower bed room and fed on bread and water for 14 days. Sarah Thompson was confined in a cell on bread and water for 28 days. A month later, on Tuesday 11 July, Eleanor Holland (per Brothers) escaped again from the Factory. She was recaptured and returned six days later. In May 1827, Jane Griffith, who had escaped in October 1825, escaped again from the Factory, this time over the wall.