Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
25 November 1829
FASHION OF CONDUCTING INQUESTS AT THE PARRAMATTA FEMALE FACTORY
We promised on Friday last not to let the facts disclosed by a Correspondent, who figured in one of our columns of that day, under the signature H.T. pass without comment on the first favorable opportunity. That pledge we now redeem. The letter to which we allude, it will be fresh in the recollection of a majority of our readers, had references to the secluded asylum called —the Female Factory or penitentiary at Parramatta; and it detailed an act of assumed authority, which to say the best of it, we conceive, to be most blame-worthy, and what is more–as liable to be viewed with strong suspicion.
The letter signed H.T. (and we believe every tittle of it) goes to declare that on Monday se’nnight, hearing an inquest had been convened by the Coroner at Parramatta, the Female Factory there —H.T. in the exercise of his vocation, knocked at the gate and demanded admission of the portress, in order that he might report the proceedings then pending before the Coroner. The gate-keeper referred the matter to the Matron, who without further reference, flatly refused admission to the reporter, -and commanded the door of entrance to be shut in his face. In vain did H. T. importune the relenting MATRON–in vain did he explain the object of his embassy—in vain did he strive to pave the way for admission by asking to see one or two or more of the jurors, and we think he can venture to say that he was willing to leave the question of his admission to the arbitration of the Coroner and jury. Neither fair straightforward demands, nor expostulations, nor prayers, nor entreaty, nor any mode of appliance would gain the REPORTER admission within the indomitable walls of this most recluse and sanctified asylum. So he was even forced to content himself with keeping watch outside the gate for the reappearance of the Coroner and jury, who, on emerging from the walls of the said sanctuary, protested they know nothing of H.T.’s request to be admitted; and several of the jury expressed much mortification and regret that he had not been present to view the corpse of the deceased female, to investigate the cause of whose demise they had been convened; as well to take notes of the proceedings, that both might be rendered public.
All consequently that H. T. could collect about the matter, was this, that the deceased woman was sworn to have been in apparent good health the day before, and that she gave up the ghost during that night, or next morning — that the body was of a livid hue, whilst the face and other parts were as black as ink and that they recorded a verdict, of what purport we have no certainty.
Such is the concurrent report of the inquest which assembled upon this occasion. Now at the present stage, we do not mean to assume, that the woman already alluded to came by her death unlawfully. But why all this opposition on the part of the MATRON, to making the enquiry public! If there were nothing to conceal, nothing to apprehend, surely there could be no need of privacy. Mystery always begets suspicion; and wherever mystery is studiously and needlessly observed, at least for any public good, we never fail to infer that something wrong lurks at the bottom. With every allowance therefore for natural petulance and private spleen contrasting the appearance which the corpse is stated to have exhibited, with the marked and arbitrary exclusion of one who asked only to be present in order to report and render public the proceedings and the Inquest, — we certainly cannot view the matter before us without suspicion; nor presume that all could be right which called for such arbitrary exclusion -such apparently studied concealment. True, the Coroner was in duty bound, and, his Jury were on their oaths to “well and truly inquisition make,” and to record an honest verdict – yet why in this instance endeavour to remove that salutary restraint which the consciousness of a snug privacy may throw off upon occasion; but which an apprehension that every word and act is likely to become public property, seldom or never fails to create, preserve and strengthen; and of the good effects of secret inquisitorial proceedings, of all things the most baleful and hateful in a British society, we have seen too much in safe conscience to desire their continuation here, under any form of Government whatever, whether as respects courts of justice of every denomination.
Superior and inferior, much less gaols penitentiaries, and other receptacles for vice, degradation or misfortune, which has been the wise practice of the common wealth in he very times of feudal anarchy downwards to the present, to render palpable as the Sun at noon day; heaven forbid that this prudent and wholesome practice should ever give ground to any Italianised improvements upon it at Botany Bay!
But putting aside the suspicion which mystery of the kind described most naturally begets, we will take up a different position, and ask whether it was any circumstance connected with the death of the deceased Factory woman, that caused the Reporter to be scared away as described by the Matron of that secluded establishment, or the apprehension that three very good sized tubs of cabbage, meat, &c boiled in soup, might be observed making a journey to the hog trough, in order to eke out refection for sundry, pigs and poultry, and so be reported? Or did both reasons preponderate!
To hear it stated that the inmates of the Female Factory were blessed with a superabundance of nutriment, vegetable and animal, so that a plentiful surplus would always remain for hogs and poultry, and other necessary purposes,—-would be NEWS indeed. But where two such powerful causes for not courting publicity, chanced to chime in harmoniously together, we could not so much express surprise, we must needs confess, as indignation at the arbitrary exclusion of our REPORTER.
We do not however allege actual proof of culpability to any individual in the case before us. We have stated a few facts, and from them we have deduced a few INFERENCES. These may or may not be erroneous. One way or the other, notwithstanding the party concerned is called upon for an explanation, not alone to the Committee (a majority of whom are [illegible]) for managing the affairs of the Female Factory, — but to the Public at large, whose interests are not to be endangered by secret inquisitions, unsupported by any reasonable necessity, and the least of whose circumscribed priveleges [sic] is at all events not to permit that the economy of any public establishment should be kept profoundly secret, or slurred over in any covert way, though at Botany Bay! We have not yet done with the subject; and until some public satisfaction be made, those concerned may rest assured that with us it will not readily find a resting place.
See Original: “FASHION OF CONDUCTING INQUESTS AT THE PARRAMATTA FEMALE FACTORY,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW: 1824 – 1848), Friday 27 November 1829, p. 2.