Hobart - Cascades Female Factory

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With the imposing Mount Wellington in the background, the remnants of the Women’s Prison still evokes the period starting 1827 when the failed distillery was purchased by the government to house the ever-expanding population of female convicts. In the new colony, convicts were put to work and here they would mostly have provided laundry services for government officials and free settlers. With a record of good behaviour, they might work outside the Factory as housemaids, where their futures were in the hands of their new masters. Many were returned to the factory pregnant, afterall there was a shortage of women in the new colony, and were severely punished as a result, being locked in solitary confinement in rooms with no light.

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On arriving here, the women first had to have any identifying features recorded, then their behaviour on board ship determined the category of prisoner and thus the nature of their work. Next their hair was cut off and they were given a number to respond to, so all features of identity were removed. Their every move was monitored by the warden who lived on-site.

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The Cascades Female Factory Historic Site has an excellent website where you can learn more about the lives of female convict labour in Tasmania.

As well as joining the informative tour, we also joined a Live History performance of ‘Her Story’. We became inmates along with the actress who brought the conditions here to life. The box in the photo below represents the dark jail for solitary confinement. For the really unlucky women, they were also made to wear a heavy spiked metal clamp around their necks, which wasn’t even removed at night time, so sleeping would have been almost impossible. The actor played two roles, one as the nasty superintendent and one as a helpful doctor. With so little of the original buildings remaining, these actors really helped one envision the conditions here.

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© Helen Gray 2021