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HERSTORY - An Exhibition of the Parramatta Female Factory Women

Home > Sydney > Cultural Events | Exhibitions | Historic Houses | Museums | Places of Interest
by Gary Brown (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer and photographer from Sydney who has now had five books published on fishing. I also write for the NSW Fishing Monthly, Visit the Shire, Fisho App & Tackle Tactics. I also like to travel and experience new things to do.
Event: -
Take a tour of the Hambledon Cottage House Museum
In this exhibition "Herstory - Lives of the Parramatta Female Factory Women", the stories of these women are told – their courage in the face of hardship and loss, as well as their enduring spirit and legacy, not only for their thousands of descendants but for all Australians.

Herstory is often eclipsed by history, so this exhibition is an opportunity for descendants, family history and history buffs to discover more about the 'Parramatta' women who are among the Founding Mothers of this nation with an estimated 1 in 5 to 1 in 7 Australians being descended from them.

The exhibition is proudly presented by the Parramatta Female Factory Friends in collaboration with the Parramatta & District Historical Society at the historic Hambledon Cottage House Museum c1824 and the exhibition has been extended until the end of May 2017.

Take the time to find out more about the Lives of the Parramatta Female Factory Women'. Image courtesy of the PFFF.

For more information of Hambledon Cottage and how to get there, you can click here.

Marriage cert of one of the ladies and her man - Eliza Somers from Dublin. Eliza is featured in the Herstory exhibition. She married Ben Hall snr at St John's Church Parramatta by the Rev Samuel Marsden. They were parents of Ben Hall the bushranger. Image courtesy of Ronda Gaffey.

The Exhibition Gallery at Hambledon Cottage. Image courtesy of Trevor Patrick.

Ronda Gaffey telling the story of her great great grandmother Mary Ahern a dairy maid from Cork Ireland. Image courtesy of Trevor Patrick.

The Parramatta Female Factory site with its historic buildings is one of the hidden gems of Colonial Parramatta. It was commissioned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1818 and built by the convict architect, Francis Greenway.

It is a significant site of conscience with layers of history and remains as a testament to an estimated 5000 or more of the 24,960 women who were transported to the colony from 1788. The Factory was a place of refuge for the women; it was a factory for the spinning and production of cloth, and it was a lying-in hospital, a gaol and a 'marriage bureau'.


Parramatta Female Factory –Augustus Earle c1826 courtesy NLA

Female convicts transported to NSW/Van Diemans' Land was 24,960.

• 13 female factory sites in the colony – Parramatta (2) Newcastle, Bathurst, Port Macquarie (2), Moreton Bay (2), Hobart Town, Cascades, Ross, Launceston & George Town –the 2nd Parramatta factory was the model and predates the others (c1818). The Parramatta site is the earliest female convict site still in existence. It is older than Cascades, Tasmania which is World Heritage listed.

• An estimated 9,000 women went through the Factory system.

• About 5000 went through the Parramatta Female Factory.

• The Factories - so called because of the work done by women which was all or part of the weaving manufacturing process. Large factories like Parramatta and the Cascades did the whole process from spinning to the final woven product- similar factories did spinning.

• Work - the women spun and wove wool, linen and linsey woolsey for blankets, slop clothing, sails and woollen stockings; they also did straw plaiting for articles such as bonnets, sewing for colonists as well as the usual domestic duties required living in factory barracks.

• Factory period was 1804-1856 with the first Female Factory c1804 in Gaol Green (Prince Alfred Square) Parramatta in a room above the gaol which held 9 looms and 40 common wheels, where women worked and slept.

• Second Parramatta Female Factory was the first purpose - built factory for convict women in the colony.

• Greenway design – first stone laid by Gov Lachlan Macquarie, 9th July, 1818. The first women moved in February 1821. Macquarie was in attendance.

• Governor Brisbane commissioned new building: 3rd class (still onsite – c1823). The Factory closed as a factory 1848 > the Asylum period began.

• Children of the factory women – some women were allowed to bring their children when transported. Many women left children behind. Children were removed from their mothers from aged 3 – girls went to School and boys to the Female Orphan school at Cabramatta – Catholic children were placed in the Roman Catholic Orphan School (c1840s).

Female Orphan School, Parramatta by Augustus Earle c1825 – courtesy NLA

• Riots – the factory was the site of possibly the first female workers riot in Australia in 1827. Other riots have been identified in 1831 (2), 1836 & 1843 – reasons included: poor living/working conditions, reduction in food rations.

• Factory Functions: a lying-in hospital, a "marriage bureau"; a place from where women were assigned or placed after returning from an assignment; a factory; a place of secondary punishment/colonial crime.

• Hospital function: first dedicated health service in colony/NSW; early nursing/midwifery practice; common diseases treated were lung complaints, typhus/gaol fever, the 'itch' and diphtheria.

• Factory Classes were 1st class (returning from or awaiting assignment), 2nd. class (minor offences/moved up from 3rd class), 3rd class or crime class for women who had re-offended or who were repeatedly insolent – demotion to 3rd class also occurred as well as promotion on merit to 2nd/1st class.

• Punishment included hard labour such as rock breaking; picking oakum, confinement in solitary cells with a diet of bread and water; head shaving, wearing a cap of disgrace; wearing a heavy metal collar - all were measures to control the women's behaviour.

• Legacy: women demonstrated a tenacity, resilience despite loss and dislocation and trauma of separation, survival against all odds, questioned authority, valued mateship – all part of the "Australian" character today. "Herstory", is a significant Australian story – an estimated 1 in 5 to 1 in 7 Australians are descended from these women.

Presented by the Parramatta Female Factory Friends in collaboration with the Parramatta & District Historical Society at Hambledon Cottage corner Hassall Street & Gregory Place, Harris Park.

Open Thursday to Monday: 11am - 3pm until May 2017 or by appointment for groups.

Enquiries: Hambledon Cottage: 9635-6924

For more information on the great work that is carried out at the Parramatta Female Factory you can email them at Visit their website at

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Why? An exhibition not to be missed.
When: Thursday to Monday 11am - 3pm until May 2017 or by appointment for groups.
Phone: (02) 9635-6924
Where: Historical Society at Hambledon Cottage corner Hassall Street & Gregory Place, Harris Park.
Cost: $8 per adult, $6.00 consession, $2.00 per child and $6.00 pp for groups up to 15.
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Nice work on the article
by RC (score: 3|1221) 1254 days ago
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