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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

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