Remembering the Past Australia

The Parramatta Female Factory Riot and Governance in 1827

Published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 October 1827

The Parramatta Female Factory 1827

Riot at the Female Factory

We briefly noticed in our last, as the circumstance was hastily communicated to us on Saturday evening, the fact of a riot having taken place on the morning of the same day, at the Factory in Parramatta. Since then, we have been made acquainted with further particulars. A short time previous to the resignation of the late Matron (Mrs. Raine), which took place on Friday evening last, it was found necessary to mulet some of the confines in their proportion of tea and sugar, &c ; in consequence of which a general spirit of discontent was excited, and a determination to have revenge on the retiring Matron, was loudly proclaimed. Mrs. Raine, however, who had intimation of the gathering storm, took measures accordingly; and, on Friday evening, was rescued by a party of constables who were previously instructed, from the fury of a number of women, by whom she was assaulted in one of the rooms, a short time previous to her departure. 

On the following morning (Saturday), about 7 o’clock, the new Matron, Mrs. Gordon, being then in charge, the allowance of bread and sugar being stopped in consequence of the conduct of the previous day, a considerable number of the women broke out of the Factory; but, persuaded by Mrs. Gordon and the constables, they returned in again, threatening at the same time, that, if the usual allowance of bread and sugar  was not immediately forthcoming, they would tear down all before them. Some little delay ensued, and, in about half an hour afterwards, a numerous party again assailed the gates, with pick-axes, axes, iron crows, &c &c. the united force of which, wielded as they were by a determined and furious mob, soon left a clear stage, and the inmates of the Factory were quickly poured forth, thick as bees from a hive, over Parramatta and the adjoining neighbourhood. 

About one hundred came into the town, exclusive of numbers that took different routes. Constables were seen running in all directions. A Captain, a Lieutenant, two Serjeants, and about forty rank and file, were in immediate requisition by the Magistrates, and were seen flying in all directions with fixed bayonets, for the double purpose of securing, the fugitives, and staying the mutiny; and so violent were the Amazonian banditti, that nothing less was expected but that the soldiers would be obliged to commence firing on them. After a little time, however, numbers of those who had broke loose were secured, and conducted back to the old quarters under a military escort, shouting as they went along, and carrying with them their aprons loaded with bread and meat, for which, after the, manner of a conquering army, they had laid the inhabitants of Parramatta and its vicinity under contribution. 

On their arrival at the Factory, Major Lockyer, the Superintendent of Police, at Parramatta, directed the ring-leaders, to be selected and confined in the cells, but so determined were the rioters, that, though opposed by a military force, they succeeded in rescuing their companions, declaring, that if one suffered, all should suffer. About forty, we understand, who took to the bush, towards Toongabbee, have not yet been retaken. A military guard is now stationed at the gates of the Factory, and Parramatta is again quiet. 

Since writing the above, we have been informed, that the number of the missing, has, by the exertions of the pursuers, been reduced to nineteen.


The Female Factory, Parramatta

Illustrated Sydney News, 3 October 1889

Published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 2 November 1827

The Factory

“The scenes which were witnessed at Parramatta last week,” are attributed to anything, we find, but the true cause; and it is not to “fanciful classifications” that such outrages are owing, since, if that had been the fact, the female prisoners in the Factory, from the first and second classes, would have ranked themselves under the banners of their Amazonian sisterhood of the third and last class — in which alone, women, of the most abandoned character, are confined for the purpose of punishment and example. There is no establishment in the Colony under a better state of discipline than the Factory, and to none has the attention of the present Government been directed with more energy. A Committee of Gentlemen, who meet weekly, are witnesses of all that passes within the walls, that is, so far as the comfort, cleanliness, and discipline of the prisoners may be comprehended; and we should, indeed, be very much surprised, if a “system of starvation” could prevail, and the Committee be in ignorance of, or wink at, the existence of the fact. It is therefore anything but truth; though it becomes us to acknowledge, in consequence of the perversity and atrocity of the members of the third class, that certain reductions in the rations are enforced, by way of rendering them submissive to the necessary restrictions imposed; and this was deemed the more imperative, inasmuch as experience has proved that there is no other method to induce obedience, or to work reformation.

Men, in a course of crime, are thought hardened enough in their vices; but the awful fact is too well known, that the softer sex, to the disgrace of human nature, are a thousand times more obdurate in their minds, and determined in their vicious career, than the men besides which, it should not be forgotten, that there are many punitive methods by which the latter can be subjected to obedience, if not ultimately to reformation, whereas women cannot be disciplined, as in olden times, in the same way. “Inquiry is not wanted” in the Factory, because that branch of the Government, like every other department, is continually passing under the notice of the Authorities, and it must be with extreme pain, when the Governor is called upon to witness so tremendous a number as two hundred in the third class, when no such degradations might be in existence, if the women would only “cease to do evil, and learn to do well.”

No one will suppose, that a third class was instituted, and women appointed to it, except for the purpose of punishment, and none will believe, that they are sent to that class, except for crime, under the orders of the Magistrates. This happens to be the first complaint or movement of the kind, since the establishment of the Factory, and the late “scenes” may be attributed to the overwhelming number of the third class, more than the actual alleged want of ” bread and meat.” “We venture to say (says Dr. Wardell, the advocate of these independents of the 3d class), that out of the two hundred of those women who sallied out of the Factory, and whom no force within reach could control, till they had obtained a supply of bread and meat, not a score, if placed in proper situations, would prove worthless members of the community.” 

Indeed, Doctor, and this is your opinion, is it? What will you say, then, when we tell you that these refractory lasses have, in their turns, been “placed in proper situations,” in which, however, the fair damsels did not think it prudent to remain, and gave a preference to the third class in the Factory, with the loss of liberty, and the exemption of “good cheer,” rather than endure the mortification of continuing in “proper places” as domestics. Such is the fact, Doctor; and not what you have thought proper, as usual, most illiberally to insinuate, and even affirm.

A View of the Governors' House at Rose hill, in the Township of Parramatta Coloured

A View of the Governor’s House at Rose Hill, in the Township of Parramatta 1798 (Coloured)

Original: David Collins 1756-1810; James Heath 1757-1834 (engraver); Cadell & Davies, Strand, London

State Library of Victoria

“If marriages were promoted;” but stop — we will not urge this point further, though we must beg leave to state, it would be as well “if marriages were promoted” in some quarters, but we have no desire to inflict pain where conscience authoritatively commands what should be done as well as what should be written. Example is better than precept. Regarding the women in the Factory, however, we have only to state the fact, that, “instead of repressing marriages,” the Government holds out every inducement, and allows of no obstruction to the deserving prisoner entering the matrimonial state. To repress marriage has not been the policy of the present Government; but we defy the Authorities, with all their influence, to compel men to marry women who are resolved upon continuing a disgrace to the society in which they exist. We might think that Dr. Wardell was very fond of “pairing and matching,” when he recommends the Government to “let the prisoners associate,” that is, first cohabit together, we presume, and ultimately, if they prove not “unquiet spirits,” “let them marry;” but we are rather inclined to the opinion that the Doctor is no way friendly to marriage, as he would fain make his Readers believe. Pretty “pairing and matching,” truly, it would be, to witness “the abominations of Norfolk Island (the Doctor’s own words) and their fellow abominations of the Factory” entering into the holy bonds of matrimony: such an admixture of interest — such a conglomeration of morals — would produce one of the most extraordinary societies with which the world was ever blessed, though we might more correctly use the term opposed to blessedness. 

The settlers, “along the Banks of Hunter’s River,” must be highly complimented by Dr. Wardell, when he recommends that “these two hundred refractory women (the most abandoned under Heaven) should be distributed among them” as wives! Let applications be made for these Amazonians, and we have no doubt that the Government will promptly open the doors, and allow them to seek refuge in their husbands’ arms. Such an article as Dr. Wardell produced, in his last, would sound mighty prettily in England, but it is an indigestible pill in this Colony, because the premises are false, and this accounts for the imbecility of the conclusions. We are as decidedly hostile to such hordes of women being retained in the Factory, at a heavy expense to the Public, as the Colonists undoubtedly are; but it is the Colonists alone that can remedy the evil. Let them take the women off the hands of Government, and it will soon appear whether the Factory will continue any longer the nunnery of Australia. 

On the other hand, the parallel that has been drawn between Norfolk Island, and the Factory, by no means holds good. We have never been backward in condemning the policy manifested in the re-establishment of that island as a penal settlement, and we still reprobate it, and feel that it is no honour to the English character; but who was the original contriver of such a scheme? Whoever he was, let him have all the merit of the measure to the latest posterity. At Norfolk Island the men are for ever precluded the possibility of intercourse with the other sex — to them, all the charms and happiness of the matrimonial state have for ever fled. But not so with the inmates of the Factory, since even those in the 3d class, by good conduct, can again rise to the first class, and ultimately become re-assigned; and, in the course of events, should fortune once more be propitious, enter the marriage-state.

Therefore the similarity of condition between the Factory, and Norfolk Island, is as incorrect, as the policy adopted towards the latter is unnatural; and if ever we were anxious that the existing Government should be crowned with laurels, we earnestly hope that the abolition of so repulsive a system will constitute one of the number. In proportion as the number of female prisoners increases, so will the third class of the Factory be likely to extend, and, if it at present consists of two hundred, what may not be calculated on in another twelve months! Whether we shall ever become invested with the title to the prophetical character we cannot affirm, but we will nevertheless venture to predict, that it will soon be found advisable, and absolutely essential to the reformation and future utility of those degraded women, who, at present, are unfortunately the pests of society, to have recourse to the good old system of exiling those fair though frail ones, to some distant penal settlement, by which means the Country will ultimately become peopled; and, in the mean time, the present age, gradually purged of that class of offenders which no efforts of clemency or severity can unfortunately reclaim. 

Since we committed the above to paper, we have secured a Scale of Rations for the different Classes in the Female Factory; by which the Public will be able to judge, for themselves, whether a “system of starvation” is, or has been, in operation:



1lb, of bread

1 lb. of fresh meat

1 lb. of green vegetables ; Or,

½ lb. of potatoes

1 ounce of wheaten meal (to thicken soup)

4 ounces of wheaten meal

1½ ounces of sugar

1-8th ounce of tea

1 ounce of salt

1 ounce of soap

1-12th of a pint of milk, to 1st Class only.



¾ lb. of bread, ½ wheat and ½ maize

1-12th lb. of fresh meat

I lb. of green vegetables ; Or,

½ lb. of potatoes

9 ounces of maize meal

1 ounce salt

1 ounce of soap

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