Report on Female Factory

Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
13 September 1836

“Vox Populi — Vox Dei.”


[Part II in a series of articles. See Part I, Part III, Part IV]

WE stated in a former number, with reference to the subject of the Female Factory, our conviction that the only remedy of which the evils of that Establishment were susceptible, was the removal of the causes which at the present time, and for long past, have operated in filling it “to overflowing full” with the class of female convicts. To talk of rendering the Factory a place of punishment sufficient for the prevention of those offences which consign offenders at the present time to that abode, is absolute nonsense—for since it is, and will ever be held to be, an axiom that the punishment should be proportionate to the offence, and since no one would venture to recommend that a drunken, an idle, or an insolent woman should be punished with the same rigour as one of a more atrocious character, it is plain that offenders of this class can never see such terror in the sentence as to repress in the majority of cases their evil inclinations, their sins of omission as well as of commission. Prevention, then, being out of the question, to be contented with attempts at reformation is beginning at the wrong end, even supposing this latter to be practicable—for it would be better in every point of view to commence the reformation at once, in the outset of the career, and so concede the point at which we are aiming, namely, the abolition of the present system of female assignment.

If the Factory were simply a receptacle for female convicts on their landing, their abode previous to any other destination, we should be disposed to lay greater stress than we do now upon its internal regulation. We might discuss the several advantages of the silent system, solitary confinement, hard labor and harder diet. Moral and physical discipline, in all their shapes, might be compared—their capabilities and advantages adjusted and balanced. But, when we see the system of assignment, as it obtains at present, staring us in the face with all its necessary results as the reward of our labors, we abandon all such discussions in despair—satisfied that the utmost ingenuity that could be brought to bear on the subject would produce but failure and disappointment.

Were we lecturing the good people at Home, unacquainted with the practical results of the system, and whose knowledge is confined to the simple fact that there are annually a large number of corrupt and worthless women transported, we should feel it necessary to go fully into the facts, and to shew the reality and the magnitude of the evil consequences of the system. On this occasion, however, we must confine out observations to the limits of our own society—well assured that there is no one of our Colonial readers but will bear us out in the assertion that the class in question is, with few exceptions, an evil and a burthen to the community—the fruitful source of crime and immorality, as well as the perpetual subject of inconvenience and annoyance. To the reality of this unfortunate state of things the public mind is too certainly alive, and a remedy is loudly called for by all reflecting persons.

Not only might the actual evil which results from the present state of things be removed from our path by a judicious reform, but the class from whose presence such enormous evil spring might be made a powerful instrument in reforming and improving their male fellows in guilt and misfortune. If greater facilities were given, and encouragement offered in certain cases, to the intermarriage of the two classes, we have no manner of doubt but that the result—despite all the cavillings of the unreflecting—would be in the highest degree satisfactory. High and imposing authorities might be quoted against us as to the “unblessed” effects of the union of the worst and most degraded of each sex respectively—their offspring denounced as perfect monstrosities of iniquity: yet these cavillers would be silent as to the evils to be anticipated from the union of such persons, after the completion of a certain term of servitude—as if the moral training up of the infant mind, in the former case, would be silent as to the evils to be anticipated from the union of such persons, after the completion of a certain term of servitude—as if the moral training up of the infant mind, in the former case, would be one jot worse than in the latter! No doubt better materials for replenishing the earth might be imagined—no doubt the progeny of virtuous parents would enter life under better auspices, and grow up with a better prospect of innocence and usefulness—but this is not the question. The question is, the best disposal of the materials we have; our part is certainly not the rejection of the means which reason and observation point out as best suited to our purpose of doing the best with them, such as they are.

If assigned servants were after a certain period of probation and good conduct permitted to marry, the benefit to their masters would be perhaps as great and as immediate as to themselves. Had this plan been earlier adopted, the numberless farms which are now mere manufactories of wealth to the proprietor, would by this time have been populous villages. On these establishments, instead of a few huts tenanted for a brief season by unwilling and unproductive laborers, vacated on the first opportunity of freedom, replaced by a succession of the same materials who, in their turn, make room for others, there would have sprung up a stationary population—bound to the soil by ties which they were neither willing nor able to break. Contrast these state of things with the actual case. The freed man, having no inducement to remain that he may not have for going, departs on the expiration of his terms of servitude, and in the towns or their neighbourhood finds subsistence and vicious enjoyment. Compared with this baleful and general result, who will venture to decry the evil (more imaginary than is generally taken for granted) of the results of the union of depraved characters? Who will affirm that the possible neglect to “train up the child in the way that he should go,” is so much to be deprecated as the unmitigated evil of the system in its present features?

The plan we have above proposed is, as some of our Readers may be aware, not of our own invention; the experiment has been tried before on a small scale—and although fair play was not allowed in that instance, and the plan was abandoned chiefly owing to the evil influence of the party, that in those days was all-powerful, enough was seen to satisfy the enquirer of its feasibility and propriety. We shall give in a future number such of the evidence we are able to collect on the subject, in the hope that the good work may be again undertaken in these more propitious times—we doubt not with success.

See Original:Vox Populi — Vox Dei.” THE FEMALE FACTORY,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Tuesday 13 September 1836, p.2.