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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Part 3: From Maligned and Mistreated to Married and Free

At around 3 PM on the twenty-third of August, 1842,  seventeen prisoners in the Crime Class shop  at Cascades Female Factory  began to dance and sing, refusing to stop when ordered to do so.  The women could have been protesting the fact that they were denied access to the Crime Class Yard because the authorities  were determined to prevent communication between the women prisoners  and the workmen doing repair and construction work in the buildings. This was not the first time the women had rioted; there had been several riots over the years and the leaders  became known as the "Flash Mob."  The riots were the result of overcrowded conditions, poor food rations,  protest against the use of solitary confinement and other harsh forms of punishment for  infractions,  which  at times included   rations of bread and water while in solitary,  neck irons, and    head shaving. Sometimes the women seemed to riot from  sheer boredom and frustration. This particular riot went on for several hours before the prison superintendent called in constables who were able to separate the rioters from the other prisoners.

One month and one day later, on September 24, 1842, Jane Ogden and her fellow shipmates arrived and were processed into the Cascades factory.  Even though there was another riot five months after her arrival, there is no indication that Jane Ogden participated, nor is there any  record of her being the subject of any disciplinary action for the first nine or ten months of her sentence.  It is likely that  after an initial period at Cascades, she was hired out  as a servant to  a local freeholder, a common occurrence with the female convicts.

However, on August 23, 1843, on the anniversary of the 1842 riot, Jane was written up for “foolery and insolence” and was   reprimanded.  One month later she was charged with being absent without leave and was “severely” reprimanded.  She seemed on a downhill trajectory, her infractions becoming more serious and her punishments more severe.  She received six days in solitary confinement for drunkenness later in September 1843.  In April 1844 Jane did  apply for and was granted permission to marry a William McGee, but I can find no record that the marriage actually took place.  However, Jane  did not lack  for male  “companionship” because in early September  of that year her sentence was extended by six months at hard labor for  “harbouring a man in her master’s house.”  There is no  mention of who the man was nor whether he, too, received  punishment.

 Gay Henriksen, in her paper,  “Women Transported: Myth and Reality” writes that the convict women were much maligned as a group.  John Hunter, Governor of New South Wales in the late 1700s described the convict women as a: “…disgrace of their sex, are far worse than the men, and are generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony.” The cleric Samuel Marsden saw the  female factories as “…a grand source of moral corruption, insubordination and disease, and spreads its pestilential influence through the most remote part of the colony.” As to the activities of the women, he saw them as “…destructive of all religion, morality and good order.”  The  convict women found few champions among their own sex either, as shown by  the attitude of   the writer Louisa Anne (Mrs. Charles) Meredith,  who wrote, “Their inherent propensities to do evil, every shape of vice and depravity seeming as familiar to them as the air they breathe…”

Despite these attitudes,  the authorities saw marriage as having a calming influence on  the prisoners, both male and female, and in the case of the female convicts, marriage relieved the prison authorities of some of the responsibility of providing for the women.  Women outnumbered men by a ratio of roughly  39 women to every 100 men,  so women, even convict women,  had a good chance of receiving a marriage proposal, and many female convicts applied for and were granted permission to marry. 

After she finished her term of hard labor, Jane managed to stay out of trouble  for the next  six months. Then in August of 1845 she was absent without leave and  sentenced to ten days in solitary confinement.  Again in November  1845 she refused to work and was  again  sentenced to hard labor, this time for 14 days. But never again did she get written up for “harbouring a man,” and on April 18, 1846  Jane Odgen and John Lovell requested and were granted permission to marry. The marriage took place on June 5, 1846  in the Brown’s River parish church. 
The marriage record, unfortunately, proves that the John Lovell  who married Jane could not have been  my ancestor, since this John Lovell was only 23 years old at the time of the marriage.  John and Jane  lived, after their marriage, in  Huon, Tasmania, about 38 km (about 26 miles) south of Hobart.  Jane went on to receive her Certificate of Freedom  on July 17, 1851.  A notation on her record, written in the same ink and by the same hand as the  notation of  her freedom,  mentions a surgeons report of “one boy, George 3 months” but I haven’t been able to  find out   when or where he was born, nor what became of   Jane, John and George after 1851. I can only hope that  after all her  difficulties Jane found some satisfaction and happiness in her  new life as a free woman, wife, and mother.

Jane Ogden was just one of nearly 25,000 women transported to Australia as criminals between 1803 and 1853. The large majority of the women, despite popular perceptions, were not hardened criminals, n were they prostitutes, lazy and depraved. Most of them were poor, and had been convicted of petty theft, often made   necessary by the harsh economic conditions of the times that saw many  with little food and few, if any, resources. Less than  ten per cent  of the transported women had multiple convictions and more than sixty-five per cent had no prior convictions  when transported.  They were not a threat to the national well-being, but they were useful  to a colonial power in need of settlers.  The majority of the women were of child-bearing age with nearly sixty-five per cent being under 34 years old. They brought many skills and occupations with them, including   spinning, weaving,  and sewing  in addition to skills in housework, farm work and child care.  In addition, they brought with them, despite  all accounts to the contrary, what the government considered a “civilizing influence” upon the men in the colony.

These women,  transported against their will to Van Diemen’s Land, were maligned and often mistreated,  but not  only did they survive,  large numbers of them triumphed over adversity. These former convicts  settled down  in their new lives and founded families. They and their descendents went on to become the farmers,  shopkeepers,  business  and professional people who helped build the Tasmania of today.

Images from digitised records held by the Archives Office of Tasmania  
Female Convicts Research Center
Statistics of Tasmania 1804 to 1850, population figures annually.
 Life in Van Diemen's Land Factories, Dr Trudy Crowley

Monday, October 06, 2014

Part 2: Strumpets and Survivors

Matthew Burnside, the surgeon  aboard a convict ship transporting females from England to Van Diemen’s Land, described one of the women in his charge as “ a notorious Strumpet and a most dangerous Girl.”  Burnside further declared that  “ . . .  repeatedly I have been obliged to put her into Irons and confined her in the Coal-Hold ... Hard labour or solitary confinement ought to be assigned to her .. .”  Indeed, once they arrived and began serving their terms in Van Diemen's Land many of the  women did rebel against authority and were, in fact,  assigned to  hard labor and solitary confinement.  Jane Ogden  was one of those women.  

Jane Ogden and  her fellow shipmates were destined for one of the  “Female Factories” that had been  established in  Van Diemen’s land to house female convicts, to provide them with both a place of employment and a place of punishment.   The factories also served as hiring depots; most of the women were sent into service after initial processing and evaluation. At the time Jane Ogden arrived in Tasmania in 1844, however, the assignment system was being replaced by a  probation system in which the females would serve six months in the female factories, after which they were classified as probation passholders and  hired out to employers, from whom they  were to receive an annual wage.

The first female factory  in Van Deimen’s Land was the Hobart  Town Female Factory, built in 1821. Within just a few years, though, it was evident that the factory was  overcrowded and  that conditions there were entirely unsatisfactory. There were only two sleeping rooms to  hold fifty-five prisoners, and those rooms were unventilated.  There was only one yard,  in full view of executions being carried out in the jail next door.  Escape was fairly easy, and frequent;  sickness  was rampant and the death rate, particularly for infants born to the prisoners, was high.  Fortunately for the  women prisoners arriving in the 1840s, conditions were somewhat improved by the  addition of a larger facility. An investigation, into the conditions at the Hobart Factory  found numerous problems, and in light of the increasing number of female convicts being transported,  it was obvious  that a new  facility was needed. The site of a failed distillery in a valley near South Hobart was purchased in 1827, and  building began on  what was to become the Cascades Female Factory. The facility opened in 1828 with one yard consisting of 6 sub-yards including a nursery, kitchen, hospital, accommodations for three classes of prisoners, plus a chapel. A second yard was added in 1832 and eventually, as more women arrived, three more yards would be added,  with  solitary cells, punishment yards,  and washing yards. Yard 5 was added in 1853, the final year that female convicts were transported. The location was by no means ideal, being located in an area of damp swamp land, which contributed to the ill health of many of the women and children who lived there. It was, however, one of the longest running penal institutions in Tasmania. Cascades finally ceased operation as a female factory in 1856 and is now a national historic site.

When the women arrived  at the factory they were issued clothing consisting of: 1 cotton or stuff gown or petticoat, 1 jacket, 2 aprons, 2 shifts, 2 caps, 2 handkerchiefs,2 pair stockings and 1 common straw bonnet of strong texture. Whether those clothing items were replaced or  whether they were expected to last for the duration of a prisoner's sentence is unclear.  The women were also  separated into three classifications, according to their crimes, and designation of that class was sewn onto their uniforms. 1st Class convicts wore the uniform without any distinguishing mark.2nd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C on the left sleeve of the jacket.3rd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C in the centre of the back of the jacket, one on the right sleeve, and another on the back part of the petticoat.

Jane Ogden’s name  appears on the list of prisoners who were held at Cascades. I can find no indication of what classification she was assigned upon arrival, but it appears that she spent some time at least as a Class 3, and although I was unable to find a record of exactly when she was   placed in service, it appears that she was a servant in a private home by  August, 1843, which is the first time any disciplinary  problem was noted.   Whether or not any of her  activities   justified her being referred to as a “strumpet”  isn’t clear, but, judging from her conduct  record and register,  Jane was not a complacent, quiet and orderly  prisoner  at all times, but she survived whatever conditions and punishments were heaped upon her.  Stay tuned for  more in my next blog post.
Archives Office of Tasmania, digitized records
Dr. Trudy Crowley, Life in Van Diemen's Land Factories
Gay Hendrikson, Women Transported: Myth and reality, paper presented at the National Archives of Australia, Canberra, June 14, 2009

Friday, October 03, 2014

Part 1: Jane Ogden's Long Journey to Van Diemen's Land

Since discovering that one of my male ancestors had been  transported to Van Diemen's  Land to serve a seven year sentence for theft in 1832, I've discovered that in 1845 he may have married a woman who had also been transported for petty theft.  While I'm not sure whether the man Jane Ogden married was actually my ancestor, John Lovell, or  someone else with the same name, I found her story to be fascinating and have decided  to write about what I've discovered here. This is the first installment of Jane Ogden's story.

Jane Ogden, a 24 year old house servant, stood  five feet tall.  She had a fresh complexion, a large head with a broad visage, a long nose, short chin and a large mouth.  Her  hair was dark brown and her eyes were hazel. In April of 1842 she stood trial in the Lancaster, Liverpool Borough Quarter Session  in April of 1842, accused of stealing several items including an umbrella and a purse.  She was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to seven years  transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, now  known as Tasmania, Australia.
(Image from the  digitised records section, Archives Office of Tasmania)

Jane was transported to the port in Woolwich and delivered to the  British convict ship Royal Admiral on May 2, 1842 to begin the long journey to Tasmania as one of 204 female convicts and  seventeen of their children .  Between 1803 and 1853  more than  24,960 convict women were transported to Australia. Of those, almost 12,500  were transported to Van Diemen's Land, mostly for petty theft. Many of those who arrived would be sent to work in one of the female  factories set up to house the  women, and provide them with work. It's hard to imagine what the women on these voyages of over 12,000 miles endured and the deprivations and hardship they suffered as they were forced to leave behind   family, home, country and everything familiar to face the unknown  in a strange land.

We can get a glimpse of  life aboard the Royal Admiral from the extensive medical records kept by the ship’s surgeon and  from the Journal of His Majesty’s Convict Ship Royal Admiral written by the ship’s surgeon, Mr. J. R. Roberts, between February 23rd. and October 14th 1842. Mr. Roberts wrote that most of the women arrived at the ship after  being transported long distances by train, deprived of necessary sanitary conveniences. They therefore arrived on board “in a distressed and filthy state . . . . In several instances, they came with only the clothing they had on their persons, being informed at the prisons, that if they took more, those who had them, they would be either taken from them or destroyed, depriving them thereby of many essentials during their voyage.”

 Because of their lack of adequate clothing, the changes in the weather as they sailed, the change in diet, and other factors, many of the women fell ill during the voyage, requiring medical treatment. Ailments listed in the medical reports include colic, rheumatism, cardiac problems, infections, pleurisy, and many cases of diarrhoea. There were also a few cases of  syphilis. Mr. Roberts writes that “the prisoners were kept clean by scraping and dry combing and when weather permitted washed with hot soap and water, and the airing ___? and all the convicts being kept on deck until __ fully dry, as they __? were daily, and in hot weather under awnings, taking their meals there.” (there were evidently problems in transcribing Mr. Robert’s handwriting in several places.)

At least two women died during the voyage and Mr Roberts notes that there were seven births, but that none of the infants survived  past eleven weeks and at least one of the children on the voyage died also: “two of the mothers of these infants, shortly after their delivery, were attacked with dysentery and one with hemoptysis, being deprived therefore of the power of lactation, the digestive powers of these children became disordered, although every means the ship afforded to remedy the deficit was adopted, and they died in convulsions from ages of seventeen days to eleven weeks. One child died in convulsions on the sixth day from its birth, the mother quite healthy, and another died also in convulsions from dentition, aged eighteen months.” That there were no more  deaths and that  the majority  of the women apparently survived the voyage in relatively good health is a testament to the diligent  work of the  ship's surgeon who was responsible for their care under less than ideal conditions.

Mr. Roberts stated that despite many trying circumstances,  the women all behaved “exceedingly praiseworthy and orderly.” The same cannot be said  for the crew, however. Some  crew members   were drunk and disorderly on more than one occasion and several were insubordinate or refused  direct orders. Roberts wrote that  “ On our arrival, thirteen of the crew were taken by the Police in handcuffs to prison and were afterwards sentenced to three months at the Tread Mill.”

I cannot  find any record  of Jane Ogden needing or receiving medical treatment during the voyage, and  she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on September 24, 1842 to begin her seven year sentence.* There is little documentation of those seven years, but what I have discovered  will be the subject of my next post.

*10/8/2014: In  this post  I originally  noted that I could find no record of Jane Ogden having received medical treatment during the trip.  Since going back  over the available records, I've discovered two entries, one for Jane Odger, age 24, who was treated for bronchitis on April 7, 1842, and another  for Jane Hogdon, age 25, treated for diarrhea on June 11. After comparing these two names  against the list of convicts transported on this voyage, I’ve concluded that an error was made in transcribing the original record and that these two entries do actually pertain to Jane Ogden.  

 Mr. Roberts’ Journal  has been transcribed and can be found  at 

More detailed information on the voyages of the  female convicts can be found in this scholarly work by Ian Brand & Mark Staniforth:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Shaking the Family Tree to See Who Falls Out

It's been quite a while since I posted a blog entry, and I really have no excuse except that  I haven't had anything much to blog about. Lately, though, I've been doing some genealogical research and have been discovering things I'd like to share, so here we go again.

One of the most wonderful things about  climbing around in family trees to research ancestors is that you  discover fascinating  bits of history in the process. I’ve been researching  my mother’s side of the family off and on for  several years.  What a colorful and interesting group of  people these ancestors were!

In 1832, at the age of 35, my maternal great-great-great grandfather, John Lovell, was convicted of stealing a harness in Bedford, England. This was not the first time he had stood trial, as he had been arrested on a charge of assault seven years earlier. He had been acquitted on that charge. For the theft of the harness, though, he received an unbelievably harsh sentence: seven years labor and transport to the penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania)  Australia.  He was delivered aboard ship in March, 1832, leaving behind his wife and several children, one of whom was my great-great grandmother, Rachel, who was born in 1832, the year he was transported.  It’s quite likely that she was born after his  arrest and never knew her father. John Lovell arrived in Australia  aboard the  British convict ship, Circassian  in February 1833 after  a voyage of several months.  John was not  the first family member to  be transported to Australia.  His  brothers James and Robert had been convicted  in 1829 of  stealing a pig. Both were also  sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Dieman’s Land.

I found it interesting that in the detailed Gaol record from Bedford, John was listed as having pale skin, but as shown in the convict record  to the left, after spending several months at sea, he is he is shown as having dark skin and   being “lame of left foot” upon his arrival in Tasmania   It’s difficult to track him during and following his imprisonment.  While I found a certificate of freedom for his brother Robert, I have not yet found one for John.  The search continues. I did find  a record of  him during his  imprisonment in which he is shown as being disorderly and drunk in 1838. 

The records also contain a convict request for permission to marry dated 1846. The request lists John Lovell, a freeman, requesting permission to marry a Jane Ogden, who was also transported to Tasmania from England aboard the British ship Royal Admiral in May of 1842. She was twenty-four. Her crime, as best I can make out, was petty theft. Permission to marry was granted, and John and Jane were married in June of 1846.

While I can't be sure that the John Lovell who married Jane Ogden is my ancestor since there were several convicts with that name in the registers, it's very possible. Even if he was the same person, Jane Ogden would not have been one of my ancestors, but I find her story fascinating. Although I knew about the males being transported, I knew little about female convicts. Thus began another quest to find out how many of these women there were, what happened to them once they arrived in Australia, and what their experiences were. What I learned will be the subject of my next blog entry.