By Michaela Ann Cameron
“Police Reports” or, as they were sometimes called, “Police Incidents” were a regular feature in the colonial newspapers along with “Public Notices” of runaway convicts.
Often, the reports detailed criminal proceedings in which convicts and free people alike were found drunk or being generally “riotous and disorderly” in the streets. Such people were typically fined or sent to “embellish” the wooden contraption known as “the stocks” for a couple of hours, enduring the discomfort of the device and public humiliation in equal measure while they sobered up.
The Police Reports also detailed instances of women scaling the Female Factory walls to escape the institution, theft, and the shenanigans of assigned convict servants who absconded from their masters, or committed more serious crimes involving violence towards fellow convict servants or the masters themselves.
By the 1820s and 1830s the journalists who wrote the police reports turned the column into an arena to showcase their own wordsmithery and comedic flare – even, at times, phonetically transcribing the accents and humorous mispronunciations of the individuals hauled before the Bench. While the reporters certainly took a great deal of artistic license and likely engaged in a friendly competition with reporters writing up the same incidents in rival newspapers, the otherwise unheard voices of ordinary people, like convicts, do shine through. The reports also prove to be a treasure trove of colloquial language and phrases that, for the modern reader, often need to be translated to be understood. On the other hand, the same incidents will turn on a dime from the purely colloquial to references that only the most highly educated and cultured reader at the time would have understood; when the reporters, for example, liken accused individuals to mythological beings from the Greco-Roman pantheon, such as the Sirens and Niobe.
But long before those columns became a regular feature and an arena for the colonial wordsmiths to showcase their talents, and long before the Parramatta Female Factory of the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct was even thought of let alone built, what appears to be a single prototype for the “Police Reports” column was published in the Sydney Gazette in early December 1805. It is the earliest police report relating to the Female Factories at Parramatta I have personally uncovered (although, I must confess, I have never deliberately set out with the intention of finding the earliest Police Report, so there could very well be earlier ones that I have not yet encountered). A woman by the name of “Catharine Malone” features in what appears to be this very special Female Factory first:
In this incident, as punishment for her undesirable behaviour, Malone was sent to “The Factory Above the Gaol” which was located at the time in Prince Alfred Park, Parramatta in the vicinity of present-day Riverside Theatres. It is not clear exactly when the Factory Above the Gaol opened; some researchers have stated c.1802, which is when construction of the second stone gaol commenced. Others have stated that 1807 was when the Factory Above the Gaol opened on the second storey of the gaol. However, if nothing else, this already significant piece of evidence indicates that the Factory Above the Gaol was not only operational but that the legal system was already using it as a place of punishment as early as December 1805.
Want to read more Police Reports? Many of the “Police Reports” have already been included on the individual “profile pages” on The Female Factory Online, and there are many more still to come! Browse our ever-growing “Convicts” list to see some of the ones that are already available for your reading pleasure.
- Catharine Malone’s profile page on The Female Factory Online, (parramattafemalefactory.org)
- Michaela Ann Cameron, “The Factory Above the Gaol,” Female Factory Online, (2017)
- Michaela Ann Cameron, “Prince Alfred Park,” The Old Parramattan, (2016)
- Judith Dunn, Colonial Ladies: Lovely, Lively, and Lamentably Loose, (Winston Hills, J. Dunn, 2008)
- Gallagher Studio and Casey & Lowe, “Prince Alfred Square Landscape Masterplan for City of Parramatta,” (Parramatta: City of Parramatta, 24 October 2016), accessed 5 March 2017
- Terry Kass, Carol Liston and John McClymont (eds.), Parramatta: A Past Revealed, (Parramatta: Parramatta City Council, 1996).
- Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/)
 Terry Kass, Carol Liston and John McClymont (eds.), Parramatta: A Past Revealed, (Parramatta: Parramatta City Council, 1996).
 Gallagher Studio and Casey & Lowe, “Prince Alfred Square Landscape Masterplan for City of Parramatta,” (Parramatta: City of Parramatta, 24 October 2016), accessed 5 March 2017