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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

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