Life in the Factories

Parramatta Female Factories and Staff
Some of the Parramatta staff included: Samuel Marsden, George Mealmaker, Francis Oakes , William Tuckwell, Elizabeth Falloon and Matron Anne Gordon. In Van Diemen’s Land it included Mary Hutchinson, daughter of Francis Oakes, Jesse Pullen and William and Elizabeth Cato.


Marsden was the head of committees for the first and second Parramatta factories. He disliked the women but is to be acknowledged for his advocacy for better factory conditions through his association with Quaker, Elizabeth Fry.


George Mealmaker was a master weaver convicted for sedition (writing pamphlets for the Scottish martyrs) and, when the Colonial appointed master weaver fell overboard on the way out, he was employed as Parramatta’s first factory superintendent. One can’t help but wonder how this idealist worked, governing the factory women whose rights he fought for in Britain.


Anne Gordon was matron of the second Parramatta female factory for 9 years, the highest paid female public servant in the Colony and received possibly the first retrenchment package (because of her husband’s inappropriate behaviour towards the factory women). She was also the catalyst for the first of 5 known factory riots.


Francis Oakes was a Parramatta police superintendent, local businessman and 3rd Factory superintendent.


Oakes daughter, Mary was brought up around the Parramatta Female Factory. She married John Hutchinson, superintendent of Cascades Female Factory and became the matron of the Cascades and later Launceston Female Factories. Jesse Pullen was overseer and one of the few surviving objects made by factory women was a christening gown gift for the Pullens.


Very little is known generally about the regional factories. Over half of the factory women experienced the Parramatta Female Factories.

Governor Macquarie's Female Factory

The second Parramatta Factory, designed by Francis Greenway for 250-300 women.

The first stone was laid in 1818 by Governor Macquarie and the women moved in during 1821. The factory closed in 1847. Even in this factory life changed over time, as it operation spanned 26 years. There were three building phases – the original 1818 Greenway design, in the 1820s an addition of a third class yard and working areas and, in the late 1830s, an addition of 3 storeys of solitary cells and courtyard.


The Parramatta Female Factory was multi-purpose. There was a hospital, which could claim the first dedicated female health service in Australia. It was open to both factory women and free women. The factory provided a service for assignment and marriage agreements and accommodation for convict women waiting for assignment.


Offenses and Punishment

There was also a penitentiary aspect for women who committed a crime in the colony. These offenses for convict women could be: drunk and disorderly, pregnancy while on assignment, prostitution or serious crimes such as theft or bodily harm. Common punishments in the factory ranged from 14 days to a number of years.  Originally time in solitary was in paired solitary cells and later in the Governor Gipps commissioned cells in the 1830s courtyard addition.


Class system

In the first Parramatta factory there were no classes. The first distinction was made in 1821. By the 1830s the factory was split into 3 classes with the intent to better control the women. 1st class was mainly for women waiting for or returned from assignment. 2nd class consisted of women who committed minor offenses in the.  The 3rd class was for offenses such as prostitution, continued drunkenness, pregnancy, bodily harm or theft of property with high value. Second class women who were frequently insolent could also be demoted to 3rd class.


For all classes the women could keep their children until they were 3 years old or weened, at which time they were forcibly removed  ‘from the corrupting influence of the mothers’ and sent to orphanages. At Parramatta the girls went to the Female Orphan School and the boys to Cabramatta. Some women never saw their children again. Also if the women were sent on assignment from the factory they may not be able to take their children with them. It was at the discretion of the master.


Insights into the factory life

For some women the factory was a better alternative than assignment where much more was subject to the whims and character of the master and mistress. At the factory was a guarantee of regular food, clothing and familiar work in familiar surroundings.


This does not suggest that life was always easy in the factory. For example William Tuckwell reported issues with food rations in 1826. The record of the rations were not verifiable and the women did not appear to be getting enough to eat. The Matron Elizabeth Falloon and her husband were implicated. This came to a head with the death of a prisoner, Mary Ann Hamilton. The findings were that she died of hunger and hard treatment


One insight into the factory women’s lives comes from a staff dispute at Parramatta between John Clapham and Matron Julia Leach, who were staff members recommended by Elisabeth Fry. Some of Clapham’s complaints were: receiving extra food rations; picking mushrooms; reading the Sydney gazette aloud; the  monitor of the second class put her arms around a man’s neck and kiss him several times in the presence of her turnkey ...the man had come to sweep the chimneys; letters asking for contraband tea, sugar, tobacco, pipes, women making things not factory related -  ladies shoes and  lace.


Other insights come from regular record keeping. The superintendent or clerk in the factory was required to keep 5 books: description, daily conduct, hospital returns, work expenses and offenses. For rioting the women were punished locally and then sent to Newcastle and after Newcastle closed, Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay.


There were 5 riots we know about at the factory - 1827, 1831, 1833, 1836 and 1843. The first one was described by Sydney papers.

A numerous party again assailed the gates, with pick axes, axes, iron crows …  and the inmates were quickly poured forth, thick as bees from a hive … About one hundred came into town…. Constables were seen running in all directions. A captain, a Lietenant, two serjents; and about forty rank and file... were seen flying in all directions with fixed bayonets,… and so violent were the Amazonian banditti, that nothing less was expected but that the soldiers would be obliged to commence firing on them…. [the convict women]Went along, carrying with them their aprons loaded with bread and meat…[i]


Factory records

Abstracts of punishments at the female factory showed that bread and water and class demotion was common. However, the feared punishment was head shaving which had its origins in British prisons. Other reports include hospital reports - 30 categories were listed in the second half of 1827. Some common ailments were fever, pneumonia, dysentery, cholera, convulsions and asthma. The weekly returns detail the work done. In 1831 Matron Anne Gordon described the women working as:  monitoresses, laundresses, needle women, wool pickers, carders, spinners, winders, weavers, servants, flax spinners, portresses, straw plaiters, cloth sewers.


[i] Author unknown Riot at the female Factory, Sydney Gazette 31Ooctober, 1827