Heritage Values

Cascades Female Factory

The Cascades Female Factory is a former female convict facility which operated between 1828 and 1856, and comprised five conjoined, walled and rectangular yards with a variety of predominantly sandstone buildings and structures. After 1856 it was used for mostly institutional purposes, before being sold in 1904 and subdivided. Most of the buildings and above-ground structures were progressively removed over the course of the first half of the twentieth century.

Significant elements

The Cascades Female Factory elements and components have variously been identified as ‘core’ or ‘supporting’ elements, which are the most significant in heritage terms, and elements of ‘contemporary value’ or of ‘little or no significance’. Core elements are associated with the establishment and operation of the Female Factory in the first half of the nineteenth century, and are central to an understanding and appreciation of the operation and history of the place as a Female Factory/House of Correction for female convicts. Supporting elements are associated with the site in a secondary or supporting way, or provide evidence of later site development and use; some also contribute to the historic character of the Cascades Female Factory context and shed light on the historical development of the immediate area.

Statement of significance

The Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart is of social, historical, architectural/aesthetic and scientific significance for its association with Australia’s female convict history, and as one of the longest running and most intact of the 11 female factories established in eastern Australia in the first half of the nineteenth century. More than half of the 25,000 women transported to Australia came to Van Diemen’s Land, and most had a connection or association with the Cascades Factory.

The five conjoined rectangular yards with sandstone perimeter walls (secure walled compounds), were constructed between 1828 and 1852, reflecting the growth in convict arrivals to the Colony in this period. The yards were specifically constructed to house and reform convict women, and contained a variety of infrastructure including: cell blocks, solitary apartments, laundries, cook houses, medical quarters, guards apartments, latrines, a church, internal yards, and assorted workshops. The end of transportation in the 1850s brought an end to physical developments at the site, and the subsequent neglect of the place reflects the Colonial government’s withdrawal from convict-related matters and official attitudes to former convict sites. The subsequent varied institutional use of the facility after 1856 (including: female prison, invalid depot, boys’ reformatory and training school, lunatic asylum, lying-in hospital, contagious diseases hospital, paupers’ home, and as the Home of Mercy, an Anglican charitable institution for prostitutes), underlined its increasing redundancy and led to the sale of all yards as separate properties in 1904, and eventually substantial demolition of internal infrastructure. Additional incidental demolition of original structures within the former yards occurred under various ownerships throughout the early to mid-twentieth century.

International Significance

The Cascades Female Factory is considered to be of international significance historically as a component of the international forced migration movement of the nineteenth century, which also included slavery and indentured labour; and also for its association with convict transportation within the British Empire. In this context it is understood to be one of a very limited number of surviving or partly surviving sites associated with nineteenth century female convictism, which demonstrate aspects of the convict system.

National Significance

The Cascades Female Factory is of national significance for its social, historical, architectural/aesthetic and scientific values. The Cascades Female Factory is of considerable social significance,117 as a major venue and focus for understanding aspects of Australia’s convict history generally and female convict history specifically. The site has acquired particular symbolic importance in this context, which is increasingly emphasised and demonstrated through the growth in genealogical research, family history, academic research, and a range of women’s organisations and networks which focus on the Cascades site. The purchase and protection of Yard 1 in 1976, followed by the Female Factory Historic Site Limited acquisition of Yard 3 in 1999 and Yard 4 South and the Matron’s Cottage in 2002, also points to changing attitudes to convict history and convictism generally in Tasmanian and Australian society.

In terms of historical significance, the Cascades Female Factory is of outstanding historical significance as an Australian colonial component of the British convict transportation system, and forced migration movement. Its establishment was a direct result of British Colonial policy in Australia, which sought to deploy penal labour in the vanguard of free settlement, and assisted Britain to establish one of the largest colonial empires in history.

It is also of outstanding significance as a key place associated with female convictism and Australia’s female colonial history. The former factory was a focus of incarceration for thousands of women and children. It was a place of punishment and retribution as well as a place of work where the women were engaged in laundry, sewing, carding and spinning wool, picking oakum, etc., labours which supported the colony. The female convicts, through their physical toil and mothering roles, made a significant contribution to the development of Colonial Australia, and were the ancestors of many current Australians. The Female Factory is also significant for its association with Mary Hutchinson, matron of the Factory from 1832 to 1851 (i.e. the longest serving Matron). Hutchinson’s connections with female convictism also came about through being the daughter of the Superintendent at the Parramatta Female Factory, and through her later position in charge of the Launceston Female Factory.

The association with the Aboriginal woman Truganini is also of considerable significance, in terms of what it reflects of race relations in Tasmania in the nineteenth century; and other aspects of Australian history in the post-contact period, including unsavoury scientific practices. Truganini is arguably the most well-known woman in Tasmanian history, and her comparatively well documented life provides insight into the early conflict between Europeans and Indigenous Tasmanians. It is also acknowledged that the significance of the site to Aboriginal people in Tasmania has not been documented or assessed during this study.

The site is additionally significant for its post-convict institutional history, whereby over four decades through to the end of the nineteenth century the former Female Factory was recycled as a welfare institution, with a number of different institutionalised populations transferred in and out of the various yards. The facility housed in these years, under various organisations and forms of management, the mentally ill; aged and blind; paupers; boys under sentence; women giving birth to illegitimate children; and women deemed prostitutes. Many of these people had been through the Colonial convict system; others were affected by the ongoing human and societal impacts of the system. In this way, the facility can be seen as one of the few places in Australia which can demonstrate aspects of the trajectory from convict institution to a place of late nineteenth century philanthropy and social control.

In terms of architectural significance, and although remnant fabric associated with the Cascades Female Factory is limited in extent, the overall plan of much of the site, including the separate yards, is still largely discernible. Yards 1, 3 and 4 South retain the majority of surviving original above ground fabric, including the Matron’s Cottage in the south of Yard 4, and remnant sandstone perimeter walls. This is complimented by archaeological material located both inside and outside these yards; and other extant associated elements such as former staff cottages in Degraves and Apsley streets, and the site of the former cemetery.

Architecturally (and physically), the site reflects the influence of Elizabeth Fry, the English penal reformer, who advocated the use of architectural classification in buildings designed to house female convicts. As a result of Fry’s intervention, several female factories were constructed in Australia along ‘classificatory’ principles, including Cascades and Launceston. The Cascades Female Factory site is also significant for its association with noted Colonial Architect John Lee Archer, who was involved in the design of the institution from the beginning. Archer arrived in Tasmania in 1827, and served in the capacity of civil engineer and colonial architect for eleven years, in the first nine being responsible for all government buildings including those for penal and military purposes. Archaeological investigations have revealed that Archer’s ground plan design at Cascades was in fact implemented and the surviving sub-surface archaeology of Yard 1 expresses this. In this context, all remaining fabric associated with the Cascades Female Factory has the ability to inform and enhance an appreciation and understanding of the original extent and operation of the Factory.

Scientifically, the archaeological resource provides outstanding opportunities for future research, investigation and education regarding convict facilities of the first half of the nineteenth century in Australia. This resource and aspect of significance is complimented by the above-ground structural remains and artefactual collection. This aspect of significance is further enhanced through the surviving statistical records, archives and other documents relating to the place, including photographs.

Aesthetically, the immediate context for the site includes: the nearby Georgian cottages, generally low-scale urban fabric, Mount Wellington backdrop and the adjacent Hobart Rivulet. This provides a setting which despite being gradually built-up and built-out, is still evocative and reminiscent of the setting in which the facility was historically established and frequently depicted in nineteenth century imagery. The stone walls of Yard 1 in particular are highly visible and contribute to the visual prominence of the site in its valley setting. The current character of Yard 1 is also particularly bleak and austere, and reinforces a sense of the oppressive nature of the place during its institutional history.

State Significance

The Cascades Female Factory is also of State significance for its social, historical, architectural/aesthetic and scientific values, sharing many of the values outlined above under ‘National Significance’.

In terms of social significance to the State of Tasmania,119 the Cascades Female Factory provides important evidence of the treatment and role of convict women in Tasmania in the period 1828 and 1852. The purchase and protection of Yard 1 in 1976, followed by the Female Factory Historic Site Limited acquisition of Yard 3 in 1999 and Yard 4 South and the Matron’s Cottage in 2002, helped to focus and concentrate attention on this aspect of the State’s history, and also underscored changing attitudes to convict history and convictism generally in Tasmanian society. This aspect of the site’s significance is enhanced by the collection of movable objects and research material maintained on site. The social significance to Tasmanians will also increasingly be made more tangible through ongoing research into the lives and families of the women who passed through the site.

Historically, the site is one of several former female factory sites in Tasmania including an earlier factory at Hobart (c.1821-c.1828) together with broadly contemporary factories at George Town (c.1822-c.1834), Launceston (1834-1855) and Ross (1847-1854). The Cascades Female Factory was the longest-lived of these Tasmanian facilities. It is also understood to be one of the earliest surviving public facilities constructed in Tasmania, forming one of a relatively small group of surviving sites in public ownership (or part ownership) dating from the early convict period. The site was additionally a major centre of institutionalisation and confinement in Hobart for decades after the period of Female Factory use.

In terms of its architectural and scientific significance, the former Cascades female Factory retains more physical and fabric-related evidence of the association with female convict history than other related sites in the State, and consequently has greater ability to shed light on the classification system, as well as the physical development of the site as it responded to growing numbers of female convict arrivals. The division of the five yards is still largely discernible, including their extent and plan. Further, associated fabric and elements remain outside the former factory boundary, which, subject to further research, investigation and assessment, have the potential to inform and enhance an appreciation and understanding of the Female Factory and its extent and operation, including within the South Hobart context.


Cascades Female Factory Historic Site Management Plan 2007

Cascades Female Factory Conservation Management Plan 2007