The World Heritage Listed Cascades Female Factory site just south of Hobart is the most significant site we have today relating to female convicts in Australia. Sadly, unlike Port Arthur, there is not much left of the original structures today so some imagination is required. The site is close enough to the city so you can walk there (about 2.5 to 3kms depending where you leave from) or you can catch the bus.
I did both a heritage tour and saw Her Story an enactment with two actors of life at the Female Factory in 1833. I had wanted to do Louisa's Walk, another play offered but it was not running that day. Her Story was still a very worthwhile and powerful show.
While the heritage tour gave you the facts, Her Story elaborated on them so that we could understand life in the factory at the time more fully. It allows you to learn about one particular convict woman rather than convict women en-masse. As such, I would recommend seeing Her Story or Louisa's Walk along with the Heritage Tour to get the most out of the experience.
The Female Factory lies in the shadow of Mt Wellington. It was where female convicts were housed before being assigned to settlers when they arrived and when they had committed offences while in service. There were three classes: those awaiting assignment, the probation class and the crime class. They each had work to do, hence the title factory. The work was most difficult for women in the crime class.
There were also solitary cells where they would be sent as further punishment and dark cells too, where there was no light to see and nothing to do except sit in the dark. It would have been dreadful as there was usually water ankle-deep in the yard too, due to the factory's location in a valley.
There was this small bit of water at the time of my visit. The ground of the factory was originally half a metre to a metre lower so it definitely would have been wet, and the water would have been filthy.
When the snow melted on Mt Wellington it would come into the factory, or when the Hobart Town Rivulet flooded this too would end up flooding the factory. My hands were freezing while I was there so I can only imagine how bad it would be to be ankle-deep in water and completing tasks like picking oakum from ship's ropes. This work made the women's hands bleed and crack due to the salt in the ropes. Some of the other work involved washing the clothes of the people in the town, which made the factory a lot of money, and was back-breaking labour for the women.
We began our tour in Yard 1 and then ventured to Yard 4. Questions were welcomed by the lovely guide.
There is also artwork on show including a display of bonnets in the cottage and you can look at the old drawing room and different things from the era. Tea with Matron is also offered if you book and can give you an insight into an afternoon tea of the period.
During Her Story you witness the events unfolding as a convict woman arrives from her ship after doing the 'walk of shame' from the docks to the factory. She is then stripped of her name and known only as her police number inside the factory's walls.
We then find out what happens to her after she arrives in the factory. It is an interactive story and so you may be asked to do a small thing. I normally don't like this kind of thing but there's nothing bad and the tasks are only very minor. The two actors are very good, and the whole thing very professional and worthwhile. The costumes of her convict clothing and his gentleman's garb were interesting too.
After I saw Her Story I headed back to the main entrance (where there's a gift shop full of goodies) and had a chat to the lovely and knowledge employees of the site and then walked up to the main rd and caught a bus back into the city. A visit to the female factory is a great way to get a sense of what women convicts' lives were like. If you know a little, a lot or nothing it is still worth a visit, but if you go in winter make sure to pack your woolies.