“Gordon’s Aviary,” “The Nunnery,” “The Receptacle for Bolters…” This is the first instalment on the blog highlighting the long list of nicknames given to the Parramatta Female Factory by newspaper reporters.
“Gordon’s Aviary,” “The Nunnery,” “Gordon’s Taming Cage,” “The Receptacle for Bolters…”
The wordsmiths who penned the “Police Reports” certainly came up with many creative ways to refer to the Parramatta Female Factory and, by the same stroke of their poisoned pens, to degrade the Factory’s inmates.
I thought it might be a good idea to start making a list of them as I transcribe each report and add it to the database!
As you can see from the list I’ve compiled thus far, the name “GORDON” became synonymous with the Female Factory in the police reports.
“GORDON” refers to ANN GORDON, the Matron of the Parramatta Female Factory between October 1827 and 1836. Gordon had a particularly difficult first day on the job as matron back in October 1827, what with the 1827 Riot that took place in the Factory that very day!
I’ll be posting further blog posts in the future to keep you fully updated about the growing list of “Female Factory” nicknames.
CLICK HERE or head to “BROWSE” in the Main Menu and select “Nicknames” to view the list.
“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.
As Judith Dunn asserts, the headstones and burial records associated with St. John’s Cemetery reveal that Old Parramatta was a much more ethnically diverse place than commonly thought. Today, St. John’s is “Anglican,” but this was not always the case; originally this was a non-denominational cemetery. So while we, of course, find plenty of British Anglican people among the cemetery’s permanent citizens, we also find Chinese, Indian, Muslim, Jewish, African American, German, Dutch, and French people here as well, to name a few. To this multicultural list, it seems we can now add the Romani (Roma): a nomadic people thought to have originated in Northern India and migrated to Europe where they are now predominantly located.
Sometimes, the old-fashioned and scrawly or faded handwriting in the burial records is just a bit too hard to read, or the spelling just a tad too “creative” to work out the name and more than one pair of eyes is needed. The name “Sovole” was one of those ones we both thought seemed a bit questionable, so I took a look at the original record for the thirteen-month-old baby boy who died at the Factory in May 1832 and realised the name was actually “Lovell.”
Having solved the mystery of the surname, I added his full name “Nathaniel Lovell” to the list, feeling that the little fellow finally had a digital memorial now, if not one of stone, and assumed that would be the end of it. Indeed, Nathaniel Lovell’s name had been one of hundreds I looked at and edited that night. I subsequently worked on completely unrelated historical research for my PhD thesis over the next couple of days, pushing the little boy’s name further and further from my mind.
Just three days later, though, I happened to be on a city-bound train scrolling through my Twitter feed (which, ordinarily, I have no time to do) and near the very top of my feed was the following tweet:
I was immediately drawn in by the prospect of reading a biography about the statistically less common case of a Romani “beggar woman” who became a convict and was incarcerated at the Parramatta Female Factory in North Parramatta’s Fleet Street Heritage Precinct. So I clicked and started reading it on my iPhone. As I read this beautiful piece of thorough research about Sapy Lovell by blogger Cherryseed who, it turns out, was writing about her own convict ancestor, the name “Lovell” began to faintly tinkle “Lovell…Lovell” in my mind before crescendoing into a rambunctiously ringing bell: I am reading about that little boy’s mother!
The timing of it was pretty unbelievable…It almost felt like the Lovells were having a little family reunion in my head.
By the time I reached the end of the piece, I learnt that poor Sapy was a “repeat offender” and, thus, a regular inmate at the Parramatta Female Factory. I also learnt that Sapy’s baby Nathaniel was likely the son of Lewis Boswell, also a Romani convict based at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks who had been transported per Surrey (1823), and that Nathaniel had been born in the Female Factory as well as died there. But that was not all: Sapy’s elder son, Louis Lovell, who was born in a workhouse gaol in England, had also died at the Factory soon after he and Sapy had arrived in the colony on board the convict transport ship Louisa (1827).
In my excitement, I reached out to Cherryseed and asked her permission to provide a link to her lovely piece about Sapy on the little boys’ “profile pages” as well as Lewis Boswell’s biography on Nathaniel’s profile on The St. John’s Cemetery Project database, and she graciously obliged, happy in the knowledge that these babies who didn’t stand a chance in the colony were being recognised on our website.
We do not know where Sapy was laid to rest, but at least now we know that her two little boys, Louis and Nathaniel, who belonged to a nomadic people and yet were doomed to spend their whole existence incarcerated, lie somewhere in this cemetery in unmarked graves. And though they were merely 15 months and 13 months old when they passed away, as far as our current research indicates at least, they are the sole representatives of the Romani people at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta and a pathway into the bigger life story of a beggar woman transported for the theft of a spoon.
Historical Significance: HERstory and so much more…
Located on land within the current Cumberland Psychiatric Hospital, 5 minutes walk from Parramatta Gaol and close to Parramatta Park, the Parramatta Female Factory is the largest, most intact, and oldest surviving Female Factory in Australia. It is also the first purpose-built Female Factory and the one on which the rest were based. And yet, many people have not heard of the Parramatta Female Factory or seen it, because it is not a World Heritage site. Consequently, the Parramatta factory is seriously endangered; as convict historian Babette Smith has noted, the envisaged residential development of the site “will reduce the remaining buildings to unrelated quaint artefacts.”
The Factory at Parramatta was designed by Francis Greenway – the convict turned colonial architect who also designed Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. Two of Greenway’s buildings are extant at the Factory in addition to other original Factory buildings and features. Male convicts were forced to build the factory – their tell-tale marks can still be seen all over the factory’s sandstone bricks. They built it for female convicts, as it was to serve as a women’s refuge, prison, labour exchange, workhouse, hospital, factory, and a marriage bureau all rolled into one.
But, in addition to the male convict stories and those of the estimated 5000 female convicts who went through the Parramatta factory alone, it is also a site of significance for children. Since Parramatta was the colony’s major town, many members of Australia’s first generation were born in the Factory’s “lying in” hospital – Australia’s first dedicated women’s hospital. Children born to the factory’s inmates lived at the Female Factory, too, until they were old enough or, more often, cramped conditions required them to be moved to the Macquarie-era orphanages; the Female Orphan School (now the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney campus) and the Male Orphan School at Liverpool.
The Female Factory can also lay claim to being the site of Australia’s first female workers’ riot. In 1827, the third class women (the crime class), who typically performed hard labour such as breaking rocks, “assailed the gates” like “Amazonian banditti” “with pick-axes, axes, and iron-crows” and “poured forth, thick as bees from a hive, over Parramatta and the adjoining neighbourhood.”
The reports of court proceedings also capture the voices of hundreds of female convicts sentenced to the Factory; women like Julia Allen, who accused her master of being “a dirty, disagreeable, detrimental little devil – a foul mouthed evil-speaking, sanctified, cantankerous coxcomb…” Such reports are wonderful in their own right, but imagine how much more powerful this kind of material could be for young people if the Female Factory was preserved as a site dedicated to educating them about and immersing them in the female convict experience in a multimodal way.
NOT JUST A CONVICT SITE
As a convict site, it is part of the UK and Australia’s shared criminal past. Nevertheless, its significance goes well beyond the cessation of convict transportation. This site and the larger precinct of which it is a part is also connected to our nation’s early history of mental health care as it went on to become the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum – a history that has continued right through to the site’s present-day Cumberland Psychiatric Hospital and NSW Institute of Psychiatry. In the late nineteenth century, other parts of the Female Factory Precinct became the Roman Catholic Orphanage and ultimately the infamous Parramatta Girls Home. The play “Parra Girls” by Alana Valentine is based on the oral history testimony of women who spent time in the Parramatta Girls Home.
So much history. So many important, funny, tragic, and confronting stories that cannot be forgotten, because this is just as much “our history” as the story of what happened at Gallipoli. To quantify this, it is estimated that 1 in 7 Australians are descendants of a Female Factory inmate – you might even be that one in seven without even knowing it.
Its cultural, historical, and architectural value is evident – many of Australia’s historians and architects have already gotten behind this cause. Its potential economic value as a tourist destination is also clear.
A few good reasons why you should join these people and sign the Parramatta Female Factory Friends’ NEW Change.org petition asking the Federal Government to submit an application for this unparalleled heritage site to be recognised as a National and World Heritage Site.