Convict Women & the Female Factory

Only about 13 per cent of convicts were women. On arrival in Sydney, most were privately assigned as servants to work in shops or businesses, or private homes or farms. Badly behaved or unassigned women were sent to the Female Factory at Parramatta, which first opened in 1804, and then in larger premises opened by Governor Macquarie in 1821. It was called a ‘factory’ as the women were employed weaving woollen cloth, sewing convict shirts, trousers and linen shifts, or washing laundry. Women at the Female Factory received only half the meat and bread ration of male convicts, but got an allowance of tea. In 1827, when their tea, sugar and bread ration was cut, the women rioted.

In 1828 there were more than 100 women spinning coarse wool and weaving it into cloth, producing 30,000 yards (about 27,000 metres) that year. Pregnant or sick women were also housed at the Female Factory, and babies and toddlers could stay with their mothers until they were moved to the orphan schools at age three. The inmates were divided into three classes according to behaviour; those in the first class were given better food and easier work.

... if a woman convict marries a free man, that makes her free … but if she marries a convict, she is still under the lash of government …

Convict ‘Mellish’, ‘A convict’s recollections of New South Wales’, London Magazine, vol 12, May 1825, p62