Exhibition highlights lives of convict women


Paintings and artefacts rarely seen by the public will provide Tasmanians with an insight into the lives of Australia’s 9,000 convict women.

More than 100 documents, tickets of leave, kitchen implements, clothing, sewing equipment and even a spinning wheel have been borrowed from private and government collections for a national touring exhibition, Women Transported – Life in Australia’s Female Factories.

They will go on show at two venues in Hobart – the Cascades Female Factory matron’s cottage and the Penitentiary Chapel – from 31 July until 18 September 2009.

Cascades Female Factory heritage officer Allison Ryland is setting up the display items with the Roving Curator from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Jai Paterson, and volunteer Fiona Duncan.

Allison said the exhibition is the result of many months of research by Sydney-based curator Gay Hendrikson from the Parramatta Heritage Centre.

“It has already been held in Parramatta and the National Archives in Canberra and will go to Queensland after Tasmania,” she said.

“There are too many exhibits for one local venue so we are displaying the beginning of the female convict story in the Campbell St Penitentiary. The women’s individual stories are being highlighted at the female factory in South Hobart.

“Both venues were integral to the female convict story in Hobart Town.

“When transportation ceased, the female factory at South Hobart was closed and the women and children were brought to the Hobart gaol.”

Jai is enthusiastic to be preparing the exhibits in venues of historical significance.

“It is wonderful to see these things in convict-related buildings,” she said.

The exhibition provides an opportunity for Tasmanians to see the conditions under which convict women lived and how they spent their days.

It has been curated for display in seven showcases. There are samples of weaving done by the convict women and examples of their tools of trade include tatting equipment for lace making and bobbins for thread.

A detailed catalogue is for sale and reveals the human stories rather than common convict stereotypes.

Records show that nearly 25,0000 convict women were transported to Australia and more than 9,000 were placed in 12 female factories across the country, including five in Tasmania.

The exhibition acknowledges that convict women were transported from one place to another, from one life to another and from one world to another.

They were torn away from the lives they knew and thrown into an unfamiliar landscape in Australia.

Despite this they made a significant contribution to the new nation.

The exhibition will be open at both the penitentiary and the female factory Monday to Friday. Admission is free.

Special community events include a storytelling day on Saturday 22 August and an artefact show-and-tell on Saturday 5 September. Workshops for schools are also planned.

The exhibition has been brought to Hobart by the Female Factory Historic Site Ltd with assistance from the Tasmanian Government.

Volunteer Fiona Duncan, left, and Allison Ryland unpack some of the portraits of convict women

Volunteer Fiona Duncan, left, and Allison Ryland unpack some of the portraits of convict women