Meet some of the people whose lives and stories are woven into Cascades Female Factory’s history.

Matron Mary Hutchinson

Read Mary's full story

Mary was only 16 years old when she accompanied her new husband John to Tonga, where he attempted to start a Christian mission. John’s poor health and lack of missionary talent doomed the enterprise.

Their next attempt at good works was among the fallen women of Van Diemen’s Land. John Hutchinson was appointed Superintendent of the Female House of Correction in Hobart in 1832, and 22 year old Mary was appointed Matron, with special responsibility for the health and behaviour of the inmates. A challenging job was made even more difficult by the explosion in numbers of transported women in the 1830s-40s, her own frequent child bearing and her husband’s persistent ill health and incompetence.

Bored, hungry women proved difficult to manage. There was little for them to do but washing and sewing, living conditions were appalling and the diet was limited and inadequate. But the tragedy of the Female Factory was the effect that this regime had on the children also imprisoned there. They died in numbers considered a scandal even in those times of high infant mortality. Six of Mary’s 12 children died too.

Since John was often ill, Mary had to manage an institution that housed up to 1,000 women. As a woman in a public role in a controversial institution she became the target of intense criticism over the Factory’s shortcomings. She was accused of failing to reduce the death rate among the babies and children, and rarely inspecting conditions in the Yards. She did however introduce improvements in sleeping quarters, better accommodation for children, looms to provide gainful occupation and a points system to encourage the development of good habits.

When John was finally forced to retire, Mary was appointed Matron at the smaller Launceston Factory, where again she was Superintendent in all but name. She retired on a small pension in 1854.

Ellen arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1830, sentenced to transportation for life for stealing a watch. She was the assigned servant that nightmares are made of.

Within three weeks of her arrival she had committed the first of 48 offences, ‘being out of bed at an unreasonable hour on Sunday last and disobeying orders’. She was returned to the Female Factory for seven days in solitary on bread and water. While she was there, her master discovered that she had also stolen money, and she received three months in the Crime Class at hard labour on reduced rations.

Returned to service with a succession of masters, she continued her career of minor offences and absconding, incurring more time in the Crime Class on each occasion. Eventually she seems to have been guilty of a serious offence, not only absconding but putting the life of her master’s child in danger. For that she was back in the Crime Class for six months with the addition of a heavy, spiked iron collar and the longest stint in solitary that the regulations permitted.

But Ellen was not to be tamed. Back in the Factory for absconding yet again, she was charged with ‘indecent behaviour during divine service’ and received another two months in the Crime Class, for a month of that to sleep in solitary. Exasperated masters laid yet more charges, including ‘dancing in a public house’ in 1834.

Two years later she and a group of other women in the Factory known as the Flash Mob attacked Mrs Hutchinson, putting her in fear of her life. For this Ellen, described as ‘the ringleader of a desperate set’, received two years hard labour. Unrepentant, she continued her uncontrollable habits, absconding, disobedience, and once ‘being in bed with her master’.

In 1843 she committed her final offence, bringing tobacco into the Launceston Factory. Trafficking in forbidden items was the province of the Flash Mobs.

Ellen received her Conditional Pardon in 1847 and disappeared from the records.

Irish girl Mary Phelan 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.

Life was hard for families like Mary’s. She was sentenced to death for stealing a silver plate from a Hobart house, commuted to seven years to be spent as a domestic servant. Her second son, Thomas, was born in early 1837. A year later she received six weeks hard labour for swearing, and took Thomas into the Factory with her. Superintendent Hutchinson ordered that the baby be removed to the nursery, which meant that he would be instantly weaned.

Mary begged to keep him with her, as the Principal Superintendent of Convicts had given her permission to do, but Hutchinson would not relent. Her worst fears were realised. Within a few days, Thomas was desperately ill. His father was allowed to take him home but, despite Job’s best efforts, the little boy died.

At the inquest, the Factory staff denied any responsibility, but the jury decided that his death was caused by conditions at the Factory and the way he had been treated. The newspapers thundered that little Thomas was ‘the latest victim of the cruel treatment’ of children at the Factory, and that the authorities must be held responsible. As a result, the nursery was moved to better accommodation but babies continued to die.

Four months after Thomas died, Mary had two years added to her original seven year sentence for stealing a black hat. She was sent to the Launceston Factory, and there she received another seven years for stealing wine.

After one more minor offence, Mary stayed out of trouble and received her Certificate of Freedom in 1846. Job was dead, and later that year she married William Mumford, another ex-convict. In 1869 Mary died, aged 60.