In 1823, 20-acres of land area – including the area where the Female Factory now stands – was allocated by Governor Sorell to Mr Thomas Yardley Lowes. Building commenced that year of what was to become T.Y. Lowes & Co. Distillery. Regrettably for Mr Lowes, his plans to run a successful distillery were thwarted by a series of unfortunate circumstances. When Mr Lowes embarked from England with almost £2000 and goods including alcohol and distilling equipment, not a single legal distillery was operating in Van Diemen’s Land. By the time Mr Lowes opened his doors in 1824, there were at least 16 distilleries in operation, which no doubt made business tough. To make matters worse, 1825 saw the reduction of import tax on spirits, encouraging those outside the colony to bid for local business.
Lowes’ plans were doomed. Meanwhile, the conditions at the Hobart Gaol/Factory were less than satisfactory, not least because the two establishments stood on the same ground, separated only by a brick wall. The buildings were in a ruinous state and upon inspection by Lieutenant Governor Arthur, reported to be ‘exceedingly confined and dilapidated… altogether insecure’. Arthur had planned to build a new gaol for the men and refurbish the existing structures for a Female House of Correction. However, after his October 1826 visit, his memorandum to the Colonial Secretary requested that the government be on the ‘…look out for a Building either to be purchased or hired, capable of receiving 40 or 50 women…
In late 1826 when the Government advertised for a suitable building, Mr Lowes saw an opportunity to dispose of his property and offered the distillery and three acres to the Colonial Secretary for £2500. The government eventually purchased the land for £2000 pounds in 1827, planning to convert the distillery buildings and high walls (Yard 1) into a female factory. Upon the arrival of Colonial Engineer John Lee Archer in August 1827, architectural plans were drawn up for the conversion of the site and the work took over a year to complete.
In late December 1828, the first women were transferred to the refurbished distillery site, which was to become known as the Cascades Female Factory. The choice of location was greatly disputed. Some were concerned about its position at the base of Mt Wellington, identifying it as damp and dark. Others celebrated its isolation from the main settlement, a chance to remove the inmates from the disruptive elements of the town. Discussion surrounding the factory continued throughout its years of operation, least of all, the question of how to best foster ‘proper feminine behaviour’ in the women who, according to Reverend Henry Phipps Fry, were ‘utterly insubordinate’ and led ‘the most flagitious lives’.