Who were the female factory women? What were they like? They were simply convict women who, for various reasons, spent time in a convict female factory. This may simply have been because they were not assigned at the docks on arrival or it may be because they committed a secondary offense in the Colony.
The treatment and perceptions concerning these women were informed by negative notions existing in early Colonial times.
Governor Hunter who described the convict women:
... disgrace of their sex, are far worse than the men, and are generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony[i]
Later Samuel Marsden noted the factory as:
a grand source of moral corruption, insubordination and disease, and spreads its pestilential influence through the most remote part of the colony[ii]
The activities of the women he describes as:
…destructive of all religion, morality and good order[iii]
This intolerance of the factory women was not confined to the powerful middle class men. Mrs Charles Meredith said:
Their inherent propensities to do evil, every shape of vice and depravity seeming as familiar to them as the air they breathe…[iv]
In contrast to these views, Mary Lethbridge and Thomas Reid describe the women as essentially good. Mary Lethbridge wrote to her mother Anna Josepha King about factory women in her household;
I have a very nice nurse for him [her son], from the Factory, indeed I have been lucky in the three women, they go on very steady, they are all Irish.[v]
Thomas Reid, while Surgeon on the ship Morley, says of the convict women who are destined for the Female Factories in Hobart Town and Parramatta:
I cannot hesitate but to declare my conviction, that if duly protected, and not exposed to more than common temptation, they will realize the most favourable expectations, and even forever set, an example of propriety to others in their situation.
There were 121 women who signed a letter of thanks to Reid for his humanitarian attitude on board the Morley.
The women’s’ experiences in the factories and the colony varied. Some women just couldn’t cope with life after total dislocation and sense of powerlessness. These women can at times be seen as victims. At some time we all experience moments of being victims. However, the women also acted. Some conformed, some escaped, some absconded, others rioted and many went on to have fulfilling lives. The women made a life with the opportunities they had and largely ‘disappeared’ into the fabric that is Australian society.
Of the women who represent the range, Maria Reisley (later Lord) was one who became highly successful. She was transported for seven years in 1804 and was at the first Parramatta Convict Female Factory. She married Edward Lord. Her business acumen can be given reasonable credit for his fortune and status as the second richest man in Tasmania at the time. Jane Wilkinson (later New) was one of the notorious women. Charlotte Badger, became a pirate. Anne Entwhistle and Mary Hindle was transported for participating in machine breaking - shouting encouragement to the rioters. She said that she was at the riot to look for her daughter. Mary was in and out of the Parramatta Factory. While in the Factory Mary sent a petition to the governor:
I hear that pardons have been granted to the men involved in the crime [machine breaking] and I humbly implore your Excellency to include me in the number of those who have received the Blessing of such Clemency…do not suffer me to languish the remains of my existence in hopeless Slavery.[i]
She never received a pardon and In 1841 Mary committed suicide. Susannah Watson Emma Maynor, Anne Dunne, Mary Noonan and Constance Trudgett went on to live ordinary lives.
[i] Hindle, Mary Petition for Free Pardon 22nd June 1838
[i] Hunter to Portland, 3 July Historical Records of Australia, Series 1,Volume 4. p.586
[ii] Dixon, Miriam The Real Matilda –Women and Identity in Australia 1788 to the Present UNSW Press, Sydney, 1999, p.130
[iii] Marsden, Samuel Letter from Rev. Samuel Marsden to Governor Macquarie 19th July 1815
[iv] Meredith Mrsc C. Notes and Sketches of New South Wales During a Residence in that Colony from 1839 to1844, pp. 162-3
[v] Heney, Helen Dear Fanny- Women’s Letters to and from New South Wales, 1788-1857 Australian National University Press Rushcutters Bay, 1985, p.104