The Cascades Female Factory focuses on the experience of convict women – the only site dedicated to this in Australia.
To open my first history lesson for the year, I asked my students to write down as many figures from Australian history as they could in 5 minutes. They jumped straight on task, some listing dozens of people. I then handed out highlighters and asked them to highlight the women listed. We had 7 noted across the whole class! This is why locations such as the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart are so important. History typically focuses on the lives and experiences of men with women relegated to the background.
The Cascades Female Factory is only a street away from where I spent my infancy in South Hobart. It is also noted as Australia’s most significant historic site associated with female convicts. The Cascades Female Factory was an institution specifically made to house and reform female convicts who were arriving on boats from the United Kingdom.
Thousands of women and children entered the gates of the Cascades Female Factory. Some were born here. Much less left due to high rates of illness and infant mortality. The conditions were horrendous with “silence” an expectation across the entire site. Even the babies were quiet. Can you believe that?
A visit to the Cascades Female Factory found its way on to our Hobart itinerary before we had even established our accommodation. We are true history buffs and we thought it would give us a good perspective of the female experience during convict times. The kids have found visits to historic sites quite interesting in the past, so we thought they would find a new tour quite engaging. We decided to do two: the traditional heritage tour and Her Story.
We began with the Heritage Tour. This tour took us through each section of the site where the tour guide explained what the typical day would look like for women in different yards of the factory, their daily tasks and then the punishments that were inflicted. We were asked to think about whether the women were “bad” or perhaps just women trying to survive or victims of circumstance. After seeing the solitary confinement and hearing about how babies and children were cared for in the Cascades Female Factory I think they were victims even if there were women who were particularly bad.
Her Story is a very different tour. If you can only fit in one, this is the tour that I recommend. It is a dramatised tour and will lead you through the arrival of Mary at the Cascades Female Factory through to her final departure. The beauty of this tour is that the audience are not just passive observers. The two actors (a female actor who plays Mary and a male actor who flips between the role of the overseer and a doctor) speak to the audience and will draw the kids into the action. Sunshine helped Mary pick up copper buttons thrown over the fence and even helped her with the laundry. She views this as one of her highlights from our trip.
Whilst Mary’s story merely depicts the life of a woman back in time, it feels very real even when the props are invisible. Somehow the audience is pulled into the emotion of each scene. As she is almost beaten you will wince, perhaps even put your arm up or move forward to protect her. At one point in the dramatisation, Mary is overwhelmed by grief. On our tour, members of the audience rushed to comfort her. Throughout the production a myriad of emotions are explored as you learn more and more about what life was like here during the early days of the colony.
So what was life really like? Originally the site of T.Y. Lowes & Co. Distillery, it was sold to the government in 1827 for £2000. Architectural plans were drawn up for a conversion into a female factory and in late December 1828 its doors were opened and the first women arrived at what was now the Cascades Female Factory. The women were divided into three classes:
First Class – these women were assignable. This is the class Mary was put into when she arrived at the Cascades Female Factory. This class consisted of women freshly arrived in the colony who had reportedly exhibited good behaviour on the journey; women who were returning from service with good references; and, those from second class who has successfully completed their probation.
Second Class – the women in this class had committed small misdemeanours or had worked their way up from the Crime class.
Crime Class – consisted of women who had been transported for a second time; those who had not exhibited good behaviour on their journey to the colony, those convicted of offences before the Supreme Court and women who had been assigned and had been returned pregnant (after the birth and weaning of their child).
Each class had designated roles within the Cascades Female Factory from cooking (first class) down to carding and spinning wool and laundering which was relegated to the crime class. The rules were very strict and even the slightest misdemeanour such as speaking was harshly punishable. It was a miserable existence and the best you could wish for was the be assigned out to a local farm, family or small business.
If you would like to gain an interesting insight into the lives of the women (and the children) that lived here I highly recommend listening to Richard Fidler’s conversation with Dr Christina Henri who is the honorary artist in residence at the Cascades Female Factory. It was this conversation that first piqued my interest in the site and led us to add it to our itinerary. For the last 14 years Dr Henri has been working on a memorial to the 25,566 women who were transported from 1788 to 1853. She has invited people from all around the world to contribute a servant’s bonnet to represent each women and currently has over 24,000 bonnets. You can listen to the conversation here.
Location: 16 Degraves Street, South Hobart Tasmania
Opening Hours: The Cascades Female Factory is open seven days a week from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm
Closed Christmas Day, open all other public holidays and weekends.
Current Ticket Price:
- Heritage Tour $15.00
- Her Story $20.00 Adults, $12.50 Child, $60.00 family.
- Site entry only $5.00
Head to the Cascades Female Factory site for further information.
We covered all expenses for this tour.