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