Female Houses of Correction were referred to as Female Factories because the convicts were expected to work—to complete set tasks—whilst imprisoned therein. Many of these tasks, for each of the three Classes of convicts, were outlined in the Rules and Regulations first published in January 1829. In summary, female convicts in the:
- 1st Class could be employed as cooks, task-women, wards-women, hospital attendants, or in any other manner as directed by the Principal Superintendent of Convicts.
- 2nd Class could be employed in making clothes for the Factory, in getting up linen, or in any other manner as directed by the Principal Superintendent of Convicts.
- 3rd Class could be employed in washing for the Factory, the Orphan Schools, or Penitentiary, in carding wool, spinning, or in any other manner as directed by the Superintendent of Convicts.
Task-women were basically overseers of the prisoners in their Class.
Task work was not implemented to any degree at Hobart Town and George Town Female Factories. When Launceston Female Factory opened in 1834, the following article appeared in the Launceston Advertiser(Thursday, 6 March 1834 p.3 c.2).
A Correspondent, who is not ambitious of appearing in print, suggests the propriety of having the women, who may be fated to be inmates of the New Factory, employed in some useful occupations: the suggestions is a good one, and is, we believe, acted upon in Hobart Town [Cascades Female Factory]. We should think indeed, that it must have formed part of the plan contemplated by Government, the regular employment of women confined in our "factory;" in such a manner as would not only be a convenience to the public, but would form a source of revenue might tend to defray the expenses of its maintenance. Such of teh women as could not work with their needle might devote themselves to the useful arts of the laundry: all could be employed; all might, we imagine, be made to support themselves.
But, in a moral point of view, it is sincerely to be trusted that the Government will see that the Launceston Factory be not a duplicate of the infamous establishment at George Town. In that sink of iniquity, there appears to have been no ruling principle but that of punishment; reformation being lost sight of. The women were sentenced by Magistrates for misconduct "to the Factory at George Town;" and off they went to the Factory at George Town. The Magistrates were not especially to blame; for we believe that to be "sentenced to the Factory" is for the most part an ulterior proceeding in the routine of correction, not resorted to until all else in the way of punishment is found to be inefficacious. But so it was. The women were sent to George Town for ungovernable depravity; to learn more depravity. It has been a disgrace to those who have had the ordering of other things. But let it pass now; the new Factory is nearly finished; and a wholesome state of discipline it is hoped will distinguish its future governance. In which there will be nothing so effectual as keeping its inmates at work; for when the hands are not employed the head is.
An article REFORMATION OF FEMALE CONVICTS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND from the Hertford Mercury and Reformer 15 May 1847 also describes the introduction of tasks for female convicts in the making of straw bonnets and shirts.
REFORMATION OF FEMALE CONVICTS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND.
At the Middlesex Sessions on Wednesday ELIZA JOHNSON aged 20 years pleaded GUILTY to indictment charging her with felony – The prisoner was rather good looking, and upon being interrogated by the Court respecting her motive for committing the offence which she acknowledged, she said she was tired of the mode of life that she had been pursuing, and she thought that to commit some theft was the readiest way of causing herself to be sent out of the country. The prisoner said that she was quite tired of her life here. What was she to do? She had no friends and it was her wish to get away from the life she had been thrown into, and which she had been compelled to leave for some time. She was quite tired of it – the learned Judge directed her to be remanded till the following morning, in order that some inquiries might be made about her. He should not, under the present state of matters with respect to females who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land, feel so much difficulty in sending out females to that country as he should have done some twelve months since. At that period the state of affairs in connection with the female transports was most lamentable. Now, however, he was happy to say that it was otherwise. An excellent institution for the reformation of female convicts had been established in that colony and placed under the superintendence of Mrs BOWDEN, the late matron of the County Lunatic Asylum at Hanwell. The views and efforts of that lady had been warmly seconded by the Government. The late Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir EARDLEY WILMOT had been removed as the jury might know, and it might not be improper to say that one reason for the removal of that gentleman was, that he had not sent any reports to this country upon the subject. He (the learned Judge) had for some years been in communication with Mrs BOWDEN, while she resided at Hanwell, and had there for an opportunity of judging of her capacity of mind and fitness for situations such as she now filled. Since she had occupied her present situation, she had received material assistance from the home government in carrying out her benevolent views. Upon her arrival in VDL she was astonished to find that all the clothes of the female convicts were sent out from England readymade, and that there was no means of giving employment even by the manufacture of the very clothes they were to wear. The first step she took to correct this evil was to apply to the Government at home to have the unmade material sent out, in order that the female convicts should at least be employed to making their own wearing apparel. That, however, proved insufficient to keep them in work, and she endeavoured to obtain contracts for them to manufacture shirts. These contracts she obtained, but she met with a difficulty in reference to the price for which she had contracted to make them, it being something less that the price of those articles in the colony. Mrs BOWDEN was, in consequence, subjected to a penalty upon the protection system. She was exchequered for making shirts at an under price, but the Government interfered. There was still insufficient employment for the women, and she determined to put them to making bonnets, but upon endeavouring to set about it, to her astonishment she discovered that there was not a single individual in Hobart Town who knew how to make a bonnet. There articles were all sent to the colony readymade, although there was there some of the most beautiful straw in the world. Some of this straw was quickly obtained, and before long Mrs BOWDEN taught herself how to make one; and then teaching the women, she soon succeeded in establishing a straw bonnet manufactory, in which she employed more than 150 convicts. But even after the introduction of these improvements it was found that all the women were not fully employed. Her next efforts were turned to the establishment of a manufactory for cloth on a small scale. In that, too, she succeeded and now had a vessel, the ANSON, engaged to take out wool in the raw state for the purposes of the manufactory. The result of this energy of conduct, was, that the means of full employment were found for all the female convicts, and from a letter which he had received from Mrs BOWDEN the other day, the state of things was gratifying in the extreme, and, in consequence, he should have less difficulty in sending out female convicts in future. If a woman conducted herself well, even although transported for life, she would be benefited by the system now in operation, and she might gain a letter of leave to quit her confinement. She might set up for herself, or marry, and become once more a decent and respectable member of society. The efforts of moral influence had been witnessed by Mrs BOWDEN at the Hanwell Asylum, in the treatment of lunatics; she had applied the system to female convicts and the results had been equally successful.
Information taken from Hertford Mercury and Reformer 15 May 1847
In 1849, a more formalised system of Task Work was introduced in the operating female factories—Cascades, Launceston and Ross. Convicts were expected to perform a certain amount of work each day. If they did extra work, they were looked on favourably when seeking indulgence.
The Task Work system is outlined in Work of Female Convicts (ML Tas Papers 187 CY1927).
The task work which convicts undertook included:
- barrack duties
- general work, including:
An article published in The Sunday Times (London) in 1846 titled Female Convicts in Van Diemen's Land describes the types of work done by convicts on the Anson probation station.
A letter published in the English Newspaper, Morning Post 8 July 1846, To the Right Hon. Lord Standley, Secretary of State for the Colonies etc. mentions needlework carried out on the voyage of the Woodbridge by female convicts.