T.Y. Lowes & Co. Distillery

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’.

The female factory from Proctor’s Quarry, J.S. Prout (Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: SD_ILS:100631)

Life in the Cascades Female Factory

Just days after the first women were relocated to Cascades, the Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction were issued to the Principal Superintendent. The rules outlined the staff required to manage the establishment: a Superintendent, a Matron, an Overseer and Task Mistress for the Crime Class, a Porter, a Clerk and two Constables. They also stipulated how the women were to be divided, in both class and duties. Arthur insisted that the women be placed in three distinct classes that ‘on no account be suffered to communicate with each other’.

The first class was to consist of women recently arrived from England who exhibited good behaviour on the journey – as reported by the surgeon on-board, as well as those returning from service with good characters and those who had successfully seen out their probation in second class. This class alone was considered assignable, and the women were sent to service when the appropriate employment could be obtained.

The second class was to comprise those who had been guilty of minor offences and those who, by their improved conduct, merited removal from the crime class. The latter was the lowest rung on the ladder, comprised of women who had been transported for a second time, those guilty of misconduct on their journey to the colony, convicted of offences before the Supreme Court, or those who committed offences within the walls of the establishment.

The class system regulated both clothing and daily tasks of the women while in the factory. The first class (or more trustworthy) women were employed as cooks, task overseers and hospital attendants. Second class convicts were employed in making clothes for the establishment and preparing and mending linen. The crime class was sentenced to the washtub, laundering for the factory, the orphan school and the penitentiary; they also carded and spun wool. All of these tasks were subject to change at the discretion of the Principal Superintendent.

November to March saw unrelenting hours of labour, with the shorter days in winter being the only solace. With the sun not setting until after dinner for a large part of the year, the women were labouring up to 12 hours a day and even the slightest disobedience to the rules was punishable.

“Females guilty of disobedience of orders, neglect of work, profane, obscene, or abusive language, insubordination, or other turbulent or disorderly or disrespectful conduct, shall be punished by the superintendent with close confinement in a dark or other cell, until her case shall be brought under consideration of the Principal Superintendent.”

– Rules & Regulations, 1829.

image of female factory from 1900

Female Factory, Cascades from North West, 1900 (Tasmanian Archive: NS1013/1/46)

The Later Years

When convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land ceased in 1853, new institutions started using unoccupied parts of the Female Factory site. The main site was proclaimed a gaol in 1856 and transferred to local authorities – although remained known as ‘the Female Factory’. Three new site users moved in during 1869: a male invalid depot, a female invalid depot and a boys’ reformatory.

At this time the Female Factory was scaled back to Yards 1 and 2 and the rear of Yard 5. The years to follow saw other institutions come and go, including a Contagious Diseases Hospital, Lying-in Home and Hospital for the Insane. The Women’s Prison at the site finally closed in 1877 with most of the other institutions moving out between the 1880s and 1904.

The Cascades Female Factory complex was subdivided and in 1905 auctioned by the government to private buyers. Since then nearly all the buildings have been demolished with a number of industrial buildings constructed across the site including paint and fudge factories. In the early 1970s the Women’s Electoral Lobby sought out Federal government grant money for the purchase of Yard 1, handing over management to the Parks and Wildlife Service.

Between 1999-2004, the Female Factory Historic Site Ltd acquired Yard 3 and the Matron’s Quarters; finally in 2008 the Tasmanian state Government purchased the remaining part of Yard 4 to form the Historic Site as it is today.

The Residents

Meet the residents

Many of the people who have passed through Cascades Female Factory throughout its history have left a mark that lives on to this very day.

People like Mary Phelan, who came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1832 in a cargo of young, respectable single woman intended as servants for the respectable and wives for ex-convicts.

Two months after she arrived she did marry, to ex-convict Job Vowles. Their first child was born in 1833 but died soon afterwards.

A World Heritage Site

The Cascades Female Factory Historic Site is one of 11 convict sites that together form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage property. Collectively these sites represent an exceptional example of the forced migration of convicts and an extraordinary example of global developments associated with punishment and reform.

Representing the female convict experience, the Cascades Female Factory demonstrates how transportation was used to expand Britain’s spheres of influence, and ultimately led to building the Australian nation as we know it today

The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA) is proud that the Port Arthur, Coal Mines and Cascades Female Factory Historic Sites are among eleven historic places that together form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.


Start your search

The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority has a range of resources to assist anyone in undertaking research. We can also help you to research non-convicts who had a relationship with the Cascades Female Factory.

The publication Transcribing Tasmanian Convict Records by Susan Hood is now available for purchase on Kindle/Amazon. The book has been updated and the new electronic version of this helpful resource will make transcribing Tasmanian convict records a more efficient experience.