We continue our We Love Parramatta series, highlighting Parramatta’s many histories and cultures.
This week we look at the Parramatta Female Factory, Australia’s biggest and oldest surviving women convict site.
This was Parramatta’s second female factory. From c.1802 to 1821, women were housed in two small rooms in Parramatta’s overcrowded second prison.
The new factory, opened in February 1821, housed 300 female convicts with adjoining workshops for wool and linen manufacturing. The factory offered newly-arrived convicts, awaiting assignment to a master, employment and accommodation. This, supposedly, would benefit the colony and protect women from “corrupting influences.” Free-men seeking marriage often attended the factory.
A three-tier class system was introduced to better allocate resources and control inmates. Newly-arrived women, awaiting assignment or marriage, received better food and clothing, had visitation rights, and could earn money for extra work completed.
Second-class women, not yet eligible for assignment due to motherhood or misdemeanours, had fewer rights and poorer food and clothing. Third-class women were sentenced to hard-labour. These convicts committed serious crimes: one woman preferred to take a stroll than scrub floors, and described her master as “a dirty, disagreeable, detrimental little devil”.
Convict transportation to NSW ended in 1840. By the late 1840s, most women had been released. From 1850, the site housed the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum, and then Parramatta Hospital for the Insane. In 1983, the complex was renamed Cumberland Hospital.
For further information, please see MA Cameron’s article, Parramatta Female Factory: Australia’s First Purpose-Built Female Factory.
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