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Ross Female Factory by James Blacklock
Transcript of Ross Female Factory by James Blacklock
The female factory was a place for female convicts. I originally thought it was a really bad place and it was cruel. It gave them nothing but the basics that they needed.
It was not like that at all. The convicts had extra food, jewelery, beer and they broke the windows to talk to each other. The guards were lazy or corrupt. As well as that they only worked for a small fraction of the time.
The Female factory is in Ross, Tasmania, Australia.
It's 121km north on the highway 1 from Hobart.
The female factory commenced in 1847 and operated until 1854.
There was over 12 500 female convicts in the factory.
The convicts were put in to classes. crime class was were you started and if you were good then you got into the hiring class. In the hiring class the settlers were able to hire you.
The life and story
That was a letter from M.A. Clark (who was a prisoner at the female factory) to a man named Fred. It is not punctuated correctly and is done in a rush because of the spelling mistakes and the inconsistency of the words e.g. Dear Dea and Fred fred. There is no punctuation the letter. I think that she was poorly educated but had learnt what to write at the classes in the night.
The life of the workers
5:30am wake, muster and breakfast.
9:00am to chapel.
9:30am workroom or wash house.
5:30pm finish work and go to chapel.
6:30pm muster and evening meal. Encouraged to attend literacy classes.
8:00pm silence bell
What it looks like
It is now mostly underground, only a little bit remains above ground. It is on the corner of Portugal and Bond Street. The end of Portugal Street has been demolished where it met Bond Street.
In the south east corner there was a chapel and fifteen metres west there was the solitary cells. North of that was a nursery where they could stay if they had their children and a workroom for wool spinning. Further north there was the hiring and crime class' quarters next to the staff quarters.
The solitary cells were only 1.3m by 2m and were used as a punishment for breaking the rules. It was strict food rations for up to three weeks and once you got out of the solitary cells you would be put back in to the crime class.
The factory was not as hard as it was portrayed. The workers did not actually work as long as the Governor said they did. The women only worked one and a half hours a day instead of 8 hours.
The prisoners had extra food, clothing, and money. After the women finished the wool spinning work, they had the rest of the day off. It was spent singing, dancing, playing cards and talking.
Even the punishment in the solitary cells was corrupt as you could get food and drink by bribing the guards.
The supposed daily routine.
The actual routine was very lax. The limited amount of work was both good and bad. If they did more work they would have something to occupy their time. But if they did not work, there was quite a lot of time spent doing nothing. This must have been very boring, particularly because there would be none of their family or friends and they were confined to the factory.
The actual routine.
5:30am wake, muster and breakfast
9:30am workroom or wash house.
11:00am finish work and do anything.
6:30pm muster and evening meal.
8:00pm silence bell.
1. All possessions were to be provided by the prison to the inmates. The women were to have nothing of their own including clothing and jewelery.
2. They were not allowed to have money, alcohol, tobacco or extra food.
3.There was to be no contact between prisoners and the outside world. Excluding the hiring class who could be selected by the settlers to be servants.
Chronology of Events
1812 Garrison established at the river ford.
1821 Town of Ross was proclaimed.
1832 Sale of land to settlers at Ross.
1831 Brick and thatch huts were built on the site for the convict gangs employed in public works.
1833-5 Permanent stone buildings constructed to house chain-gang employed on the Ross bridge; site included nine acre vegetable garden.
1841 Site commenced use as male probation station and also housing chain-gangs working on the Hobart-Launceston road.
1847 Expansion of buildings for female convicts; site functioned as workshops, 'lying-in' hospital (for pregnant convicts), nursery and hiring depot (for placing female convicts in domestic service).
1853 End of convict transportation from Britain.
1854 Closure of female factory; local Catholic Church allowed to use chapel.
1855 Factory handed over to Police Department, vacant except for caretaker.
1862 Proposal to turn factory into boys reformatory was not proceeded with.
1875 Factory used by contractors working on main line railway and the building went into disrepair.
1879 Proposed division and sale of factory into lots was not proceeded with.
1894 Factory site reserved for Municipality of Ross.
1895 Cottage converted for use by Superintendent of Police (extended using stone from old factory buildings).
1897 Remaining factory buildings demolished.
1980 Management of site transferred to National Parks and Wildlife Service; declaration of Ross Female Convict Station Historic Site.
and the booklet
I thought that it was strange that the town was proclaimed and then 11 years later people could buy land.
My Dear Fred
Go to (our) child in the Orphanage in town she is in town now Dear Fred... I shall expect an answer by next friday Dea Fred I am suprised to think you should spend you hard earned Money on that (other) woman old enough to be your mother but I hope Dear fred you know better for the future do not forget to write to me and send me some money I now conclude with my love to you yours
The biographies from four of the convicts show that their time in the factory was bad for them. In the first biography, Helen Leslie was 48 and was older than most of the convicts. She was convicted of many thefts and spent 31 years in and out of prison. The next person had 4 children and had described herself as a needle woman, she had additional punishment added to her sentence. The third was only 18 when convicted but after her release she sent back to the factory for her own benefit (for health issues). The last was sent to goal at 25 years old and died at the age of 51 after spending just under half of her life in the terrible place.
An extract from the account of Mary Haigh shows how corrupt the place really was. She said that she wasn't searched properly when she arrived. She could have carried anything in to the factory and with the money that she had bought in, she was able to buy extra food and tea. Although illegal, drinking rum and smoking was apart of prison life. There was a bunch of people in the factory called the 'Flash Mob' who had everything, like good clothes, jewelery etc. The 'Flash Mob' were the greatest blackguards in the place and they controlled the other prisoners through fear. In the end Mary did not think of the place as some where of punishment. She thought that it was better than the English gaols.
Archeologists have found in the cells that the prisoners had spoons and bottles (extra food and drink), broken window glass (when they broke them to communicated through the broken windows), necklaces (jewelery), buttons (non-factory clothes) and a slate pencil (so they could write messages to other people on slate).
All these things match up with things that people have said about the prison. So that you can tell that it was truly not as bad as it was supposed to be.
The women's behavior determined their living conditions. If they got in to the hiring class they could leave the prison to go peoples houses to work as a servant. If they were misbehaved they got put into the solitary cells.
Therefore they could control their circumstances by being good or bad.
Some of the women did oppose the authorities by running away from their masters when in the hiring class.
The "Flash Mob" were extremely powerful woman, even more powerful than the guards. They ruled the other prisoners by fear and intimidation.
The rules were definitely not enforced by the guards. There were so many things that they got away with, from extra food to drinking alcohol and smoking.
Some of the convicts were sent over from England for minor offenses such as receiving stolen property and stealing a dress. It was a long way to go for something like that, about 9+ months to get to the prison in Tasmania. However some crimes were more serious, for example stabbing and wounding a person.
Some of the officials were definitely corrupt because they turned a blind eye to some of the bad things that were happening in the prison.
The women in the factory were not cut off from the world and their families. They could send and receive messages to their family, as the letter from M.A. Clark highlights.
Illegal goods were in the factory like rum and cigarettes.
Mary Haigh said that being in the factory wasn't a punishment compared to the English gaols . So some may have felt lucky to be there in comparison to England.
For the same reason, some of the prisoners did not mind being there.
However, being a prisoner was still dificult, two from the four people in the biographies died in the factory, so conditions were difficult.
The woman were not totally uneducated and could attend classes at the end of the day.
Religion was part of the factory and they had to attended church twice a day.
The work was not very hard in the factory and only was required for one and a half hours per day.
I must know of my parent's and Bessy's welfare. Please help them as much as you can. I did not want to steal the food I needed it to feed them. Life here is horrible it is so cold and wet we can not get enough warmth. I can not wait till I am free I am now in the hiring class. At lest I am getting three meals a day.
That was a letter that I wrote if I was a convict in the Female Factory.
My routine (on a weekday)
Wake up at 5:30
9:30 Wash house or work room.
11:00 Finish work
11:01 Spare time
6:30 Evening meal
8:00 Silence bell.
None of these rules were followed.