The historic Cascades Female Factory is Australia’s most significant association with the tragic history of female convict deportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Having World Heritage listing, is another good enough reason to take time out to visit this deeply moving site when in Hobart.
Originally constructed as a distillery, it was transformed in 1828 to house the first shipment of 101 female prisoners. Before its closure in 1856, 5000 women had passed through the establishment.
The purpose of forced migration of convict prisoners was to create a society on their labour. Women were used for domestic service and as wives. The factories (5 in all in Tasmania) became hiring stations. If women failed to measure up to expectations or became pregnant, which was often due to rape, they were returned to the facility.
The living conditions were horrifying. Bitter cold, poor sanitary conditions, over crowding and long hard working hours, led to illness and death especially infant death. Infants were only allowed to stay with their mothers until the age of 3 years when they were removed to the Queen’s Orphan School.
The women were divided into three yards – Crimes (hard labour), Assignables (available as servants to settlers) and Probation (lighter duties). Strict regulations governed clothing and daily tasks. Disobedience was severely punished. Solitary confinement and the use of iron collars were part of the cruel punishment regime.
The restoration project undertaken largely by voluntary labour, has been enormous. A walk around the yards reveals the remaining 13ft sandstone walls and drains. The boundaries of the five yards have been wonderfully designated. There’s an atmosphere quiet stillness in the air.
The Matron’s House is the one remaining full structure and houses interesting antique furniture.
An ambitious project, known as Roses from the Heart, was commenced in 2007 by Dr Christina Henri. The project invites people worldwide to make a cloth bonnet in memory of each convicted woman. The aim is to make 25,566 to be mounted in installations around Australia and eventually to be taken back to the United Kingdom under the title Bringing the Girls Back Home. Each bonnet is embroidered with the name of the woman, the ship on which she was transported and the year of her transportation.
Whilst a visit to The Cascades Female Factory can be quite sobering, the wonderful restoration work and current management of the site, provide a rich and unique insight into the contribution made by female convict labour to the development of colonial Australia. When in Hobart, go do it.
Check The Cascades Female Factory website here
Details of the Roses from the Heart project can be found here