Often unheard of are the tales of Australia's convict history involving women and their hardship … and the story of Tasmania's Female Factory is amazing.
Tales of Australia's convict history have always focused on the hardship endured by men locked away in small, dark, cold cells. Yet women were also incarcerated and the story of Tasmania's Female Factory is amazing. "Factory" was a shortened version of the word "manufactory", which referred to the role of the prison as a workhouse, first and foremost.
During the 1800s in South Hobart, just 10 minutes from what is now the CBD, 12,000 women and children were imprisoned.
The first building on the site was built in 1824 as a rum distillery. It was purchased by the government in 1827 to house the growing numbers of convict women and their poor children. Like their male counterparts who were sent to Port Arthur, the women were mostly young, poor and single and convicted of petty crimes, such as theft of food, clothing and money.
While they apparently did not receive the same cruel physical punishments as the men, the women were more closely confined and more was expected of them. In many judgmental eyes, they had fallen well below society's expectations of proper female behaviour. In prison they were responsible for the colony's laundering and weaving, for breaking rocks and removing tar and salt from ropes. Pregnancies, usually the result of liaisons with overseers, were punished by six months of hard labour, resulting in many miscarriages.
The Factory gradually grew to include five yards surrounded by cells, workrooms, storerooms and offices.
Transportation ceased in 1853, so prisoner numbers began to fall. In 1877 the building became a "House for Imperial Lunatics" and in 1879 a hospital for those with contagious diseases. It has also been a place for poor women to have their babies and a boys' reformatory.
Archaeological digs constantly uncover evidence of the site's many historical functions … even parts of a 1920s tennis court!
Tours of the site are conducted on a voluntary basis by knowledgeable guides. They will show you ruins and digs, photographs and walls full of stories from the Female Factory's wretched history.
The Remembrance Garden is a quiet, pretty area with roses and 200 other varieties of plants. It is the perfect place to reflect on how often those women would have loved to touch a rose petal. Here is an original sandstone wall and a stone laundry tub which has been turned into a water feature.
What was Yard Three is now tenanted by Island Produce Confectionery, which churns out delicious fudge and truffles, a sweet way to end what could be a gruelling yet historic day.