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Parramatta Female Factory 1st and 2nd - structure and staff

 Between the ideas of Marsden and Fry and the Parramatta factory women, were the factory staff members whose work it was to implement the ideas and be the eyes of the state. They are as different in experience and views as the women they are responsible for. As the Parramatta Factory spanned 43 years the different government attitudes also affected change.


The plans developed by the authorities themselves indicate the government’s attitudes. The 1st Parramatta Factory focused on manufacturing rather than ideas about crime and punishment. The design was unable to house the women. Others such as Hobart Town were an afterthought with the men’s gaol adjacent. Marsden says of Parramatta:


The number of women employed in the factory under Mr Oakes the superintendent is one hundred and fifty,–they have seventy children. There is not any room in the factory that can be called a bed-room for these women and children. There are only 2 rooms and they are both occupied as workshops, over the gaol, almost 80 feet long and 20 wide. In these rooms there are forty six women daily employed, 24 spinning wheels on the common wheel and twenty two carding. There are also in them the warping machine &c belonging to the factory.


These rooms are crowded all day and at night such women sleep in there as confined for recent offenses, amongst the wheel, wool and cards The average number of women who sleep in the factory are about 30 in the whole. Many of these women have little bedding and some no bedding–they sleep on the floor.[i]



A view of part of Parramatta c1804, Dixon Library, State Library of NSW
[first female factory on far right of image]
The 2nd Parramatta Female Factory, like Cascades Female Factory, was about housing the prisoners and work with later additions made to both to deal with the various needs that arise over time, such as separating the women into classes, adding 3rd class quarters in Parramatta, the nursery being added in Cascades and the Gipps’ single cells building in Parramatta that also has a counterpart in Cascades. The other factories in the Colony of NSW were either to populate the frontiers, like Bathurst or places for the problem women in Parramatta like Port Macquarie and especially Newcastle and Moreton Bay. Similarly in Van Diemen’s Land, George Town was used as a place away from the influences of Hobart Town. Launceston and Ross were used especially for the troublesome at Cascades. Launceston interestingly uses the panopticon approach outlined by Foucault as a cruel ingenious cage[ii]. For this the focus has moved from the manufacturing and guardian approach to higher supervision. In his words:


Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power… the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of a central tower from which he is spied upon.[iii]


This is quite different to the Greenway main factory building which presents as an imposing edifice of power, not unlike the Colonial Government would like to present itself and 1 that relies on the idea of turnkeys rather than the all-seeing eye.


Being sent to a different location was also a form of punishment. This is also a convenient solution for an authority that has difficulty handling the women, however possibly not thought through well as both Newcastle and Launceston record riotous behavior after sending groups of women who had rioted at the larger female factories, such as the group of 19 sent to Newcastle after the 1933 riot.


Staff approaches changed over time, according to both the Government attitudes and numbers of women passing through the factories at different times.


The 1st intended superintendent was a weaver brought out especially for his skills. Unfortunately he fell overboard on the journey out. George Mealmaker then became the 1st superintendent of the 1st factory at Parramatta. He was in fact a convict (with weaving skills relevant to the factory) and was sent out for writing seditious pamphlets in connection with the Scottish martyrs. These pamphlets were about freedom and a call to rebellion against the British power with lines like:


The time has come when you must either gather round the fabric of Liberty to support it, or to your eternal infamy, let it fall to the ground, to rise no more, hurling along with it everything [that] is valuable and dear to an enlightened people….


You are plunged into war by a wicked Ministry and a compliant parliament ….Thousands and tens of thousands of your fellow citizens ….are reduced to a state of poverty, misery and wretchedness[iv]


His time as superintendent was only a few years and his demise through alcohol could well be his response to the sense of deep disillusion that comes from idealists fettered. Although the evidence is not apparent one could muse that he would have empathy for the women. Mealmaker’s appointment was directly related to intention of success for the weaving industry. He was given a home as well as a good salary for supervising both the growth of the flax as well as the weaving of flax and wool and the spinning of these and hemp.


                                                                                                                 Portrait of George Mealmaker,
                                                                                                                1838, John Kay, engraving,
                                                                                                 National Library of Australia


Francis Oakes, although a local entrepreneur/opportunist, appeared to also have some understanding for the women. In some of his letters he talks of the negativity of certain punishments such as head shaving and calls for increases in rations. Tuckwell also showed concern for rations.


The 1st matron appointed was Elizabeth Falloon (Raine). She was followed by Matron Anne Gordon who, in public sentiment reached almost mythic proportions. Her name was synonymous with the factory for a time. Over 30 descriptors for the factories include her name – to be Gordanized, Gordon’s Seminary, Gordon’s nunnery, Gordon’s school for girls. Her time began with riot and finished with a riot.  However she maintained relative stability during her time there. She seemed to have been able to maintain some order from a committee of management perspective as well. Whether this was from authoritarian approaches or understanding the women is unclear. However, it is possible that with her firmness in the factory she also understood the women. Extracts from letters to her daughter indicate a caring attitude:


Be comforted and consider you have a friend a home and a mother that never forgot you although length of time and circumstance and thousands of miles across a wide ocean separated us. Yet my poor child you were never forgotten by your mother. All I wish is to see both of you and your dear little boys…

From your affectionate mother

Anne Gordon[v]



                                                                                                             Matron Ann Gordon,
                                                                                                            Courtesy of John Raymond


Gordon, in fact was one of the highest paid women in the Colony at that time, receiving £150 per annum. Her demise was not from her actions but her husband’s illicit activities with the factory women.


Towards the end of the Parramatta Factory period John Clapham and Julia Leach were engaged by Elizabeth Fry but with an unsuccessful outcome. A record of their arguments indicates their diametrically opposed methods and approaches. Clapham said of Julia Leach and the factory women:


I was to be placed under the authority of an inexperienced  Woman, who I believe to be in every way unfit for so important a trust… I soon saw what a lamentable state the factory was in, nothing but cursing, swearing, smoking and frequently drinking… She (Mrs Leach) was frequently excited with drink and I am sorry to say on one occasion, I carried her from the public cabin to her own when she could not walk.[vi]


Visiting Justice Campbell said of the situation:


As regards the officers of the establishment including Mr Clapham as one of them, it must have been apparent to everyone that either Mrs Leach or Mr Clapham must go…[vii]

[i] Marsden, Samuel Letter to Governor Macquarie, Parramatta, 19th July 1815

[ii] Foucalt, Michel Discipline and Punish – the Birth of the Prison Penguin Books, England , 1977, p. 205

[iii] Foucalt, Michel Discipline and Punish – the Birth of the Prison Penguin Books, England , 1977, p.201

[iv] Mealmaker, George Dundee Address to the Friends of Liberty, Dundee, Berean Meeting-house, July 1793

[v] Gordon, Ann letter from Ann Gordon to Letita Garmonsway [daughter], Maitland 5th January 1845, family letter, p.1

[vi]Clapham, John Letter from John Clapham to Right Honbl. Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies,18th June 1830, ML [No. 100, of 7.7.38}, p.2113

[vii] Campbell P. Laurentz Letter from P.Laurentz Campbell to the Colonial Secretary 28th May 1838[No. 100, of 7.7.38}, p. 2137