A convict inside (Parramatta Female Factory)

Original 1818-21 wall of the Parramatta Female Factory (2nd class yard), New South Wales, Australia

1818 convict wall, Parramatta Female Factory                        (2nd Class yard)

In 1838 Catherine Dixon found herself on the wrong side of this wall. She was my great great great great grandmother. So I retraced her footsteps, with my camera, to see what life was like for her ‘on the inside’.

Why was Catherine ‘inside’?

She was a thirty year old widow sentenced to 14 years transportation for receiving stolen goods [Lancaster Quarter Sessions 1836 trial register]. Her four young children were sent with her to New South Wales.

(To see a description of what Catherine looked like and more on her transportation to Australia go to Part 1, ‘A convict in the tree’.)

At the journey’s end Catherine had been assigned to M Sparke of Sydney. But soon afterward she and her daughter were sent to this place, the Female Factory in Parramatta.


The Parramatta Female Factory was a place for female convicts who were either unassigned, sick or invalid or pregnant, destitute, or who were under sentence for a crime committed in the colony. It was part refuge, workhouse, hospital, gaol / jail and marriage bureau.

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Cumberland Hospital, New South Wales, Australia

Colonial survivors: buildings of the former Parramatta Female Factory, in western Sydney

Today the heritage precinct is located within the grounds of Cumberland Hospital East Campus in North Parramatta, Sydney (New South Wales, Australia). Unbelievably, it is not a protected site!

The hospital site is open but the buildings are in use and not accessible. Closest access is from the Fleet Street entrance of Cumberland Hospital (see map below).

The buildings shown here are some of the original convict buildings of the Parramatta Female Factory from 1818-49, also the later ‘Lunatic Asylum’ 1849-1878 and Parramatta Hospital for the Insane 1878-1960. 

Surviving buildings of the 'Female Factory' and 'Lunatic Asylum', at Cumberland Hospital, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia

Colonial recycling: buildings of the ‘Female Factory’ (left of tree) and ‘Lunatic Asylum’ (on right)

Why was Catherine sent here? 

Catherine’s entries in the Female Factory database don’t record a colonial sentence and there are no charges listed in the newspapers of the time. Also there was no later baby so it looks like Catherine was returned to the Factory for being

Matron's house, 'Parramatta Female Factory', Cumberland Hospital, New South Wales, Australia

Matron’s House and marriage meeting room (1821), the first and last stop in the Factory

‘unsuitable’ or unwanted in service. She would have been kept by her master for the minimum one month for the employer to avoid the government fine.

Catherine arrived at the Factory with her six year old daughter, named ‘Catherine’ in the record (although oddly Catherine was actually 3, Sarah was 6). Her daughter might have been an asset, as another servant, or a hindrance. Employers usually didn’t choose convicts with children and they remained unassigned and ended up in the Factory. Maybe Catherine’s ready-made skills as house servant, and butter and cheese making were enticing [Convict Indent] but apparently not enough to keep them both.

So mother and daughter were at the Factory until Catherine could be reassigned or was selected for marriage.

Life inside

At this time the women were housed in a three-storey sandstone barrack with yards, work rooms, kitchens, laundry, hospital, penitentiary and solitary cells, all behind the 16 foot stone wall. Catherine was one of up to 1200 women in the Factory built to accommodate only 300 [figure for 1842]. So the barrack, nicknamed ‘The Old Stone Jug’, was heavily overcrowded.

Ward 1, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Cumberland Hospital, New South Wales, Australia

Ward 1 of the later lunatic asylum (c1885), rebuilt from the convict barrack’s stone and original clock and bell.

If Catherine committed a further offence, she would be sent to the Third Class penitentiary or to the solitary cells. Third Class involved hard labour breaking stones for the Parramatta roads or hours sitting tediously ‘picking oakum’ (unpicking ropes by hand).

Catherine was most likely in the Second Class, on probation for up to 12 months – with more freedoms and no ‘hard labour’, and even paid a small amount for her work. First Class convicts were available for reassignment or marriage.

She would have spent her time cleaning, wool picking and carding, making ‘Parramatta cloth’, making flax, sewing convict clothes or pieces for sale in Sydney, or doing contract laundry.

What was the fate of Catherine and her daughter?

There are two entries for Catherine in the Female Factory records, the one of 1838 and another in 1843. Is this her entry and exit of the one stay? Was she in the Factory for five years?!

There is no exit record for daughter ‘Catherine’ and no definite trace of her later in life. So did she die in the Factory like many other children? or was she fostered out or adopted? or later married?

What we know is that in 1843 Catherine senior was assigned to a new mistress, Mary Reilly of Sydney. But like the last time, that didn’t last long either!…

See next week’s post to follow Catherine and her children.  β™¦

Wards 2 & 3, Lunatic Asylum, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Cumberland Hospital, New South Wales, Australia

Ward 2 (1877) and shelter (c1863), Lunatic Asylum, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct


Convicts series

Photos taken 11 August 2013, with my old Canon PowerShot A550

For the other posts in my Convict series:

– click on the ‘convicts’ tag at the bottom of this post.

– I found some convict bricks in my veggie patch.

More information and Sources

For a contemporary painting of the Factory: ‘Female penitentiary or factory, Parramata [i.e. Parramatta], N.S. Wales’, by Earle, Augustus, [1826?], (watercolour), http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2818460

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Association (website), http://www.parragirls.org.au/

Parramatta Female Factory, Free Settler or Felon? (website), Jen Willetts, http://www.jenwilletts.com/female_factory_parramatta.htm

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta, NSW, Australia, Australian Heritage Database (on-line), Department of the Environment, http://www.environment.gov.au

‘Women Transported: Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories’ (DVD), Parramatta Heritage Centre and University of Western Sydney, Amidz-Hakarz and Parramatta Heritage Centre, 2009.

Lancaster QS 1836 trial register; Convict Indents; from ‘Australian Convict Collection’, Ancestry.com.au (website), Ancestry.com Europe S.Γ  r.l., http://search.ancestry.com.au/search/group/AUCONVICTS

Digitised Australian newspapers (1803-1954), TROVE (on-line), National Library of Australia, http://trove.nla.gov.au/

With many thanks to fellow family researchers S Armstrong and M McCowage.

10 comments on “A convict inside (Parramatta Female Factory)

  1. A.D. Everard says:

    This is a fascinating account. I like the detail, it’s drawn me right in.

  2. […] See my earlier posts, A Convict in the Tree and A Convict Inside […]

  3. sandra says:

    chris is this you? lolol my bad!!

How are you travelling? Say g'day!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s