Repression, Reform & Resilience: a history of the Cascades Female Factory
Repression, Reform & Resilience: a history of the Cascades Female Factory tells the story of the Cascades site: its beginnings as a whiskey distillery, through its grim time as a prison for female convicts, then as an institution for poor and unfortunate people ranging from orphans to lunatics and the elderly. From 1905 it was used for activities such as tennis and making aloe boxes and wine, but from 1977 the crumbling ruins were protected and restored. Today the Female Factory is a World Heritage site, popular with tourists and greatly prized for its historic importance.
Repression, Reform & Resilience: a history of the Cascades Female Factory is compiled by Female Convicts Research Centre members and edited by Alison Alexander.
Further descriptions are available in the Reviews tab.
Review published in the Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings, vol. 64, no 1, April 2017.
Review author: Caroline Evans
Alison Alexander (editor), Repression, Reform & Resistance: A History of the Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Convict Women’s Press, 2016, bibliography, index, 264 pp., paperback, RRP $35 ISBN: 978-0-9953599-0-1
According to the records, 13, 700 women came to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts, with sixty percent of them spending time in the Cascades Female Factory. Repression, Reform & Resistance provides a much needed history of that historically important institution and its site. The editor, Alison Alexander, provided the central narrative but hers is not the only voice. There are also seventy vignettes of the lives of individual convict women written by other researchers, many of them descendants. Three chapters by other authors, strategically placed, consider Factory life from different perspectives, providing extra depth and nuance. These chapters result from papers given at a seminar held by the Female Convicts Research Centre in April 2016 and are: ‘Life and Death at Cascades – from inquest records by Colette McAlpine; ‘The Due Course of the Law: Executions from the Cascades Female Factory’ by Brian Rieusset; and ‘The Convict Nurseries’ by Lucy Frost. Gillian Ward designed the book which is beautifully illustrated with maps, paintings and photographs. The variety of voices and images makes this an engaging and readable history which was very hard to put down.
The book opens by explaining briefly why convicts came to Van Diemen’s Land, where from, and how the system worked. It then moves on to describe the Hobart Town Female Factory, its opening in 1821, and then how poor discipline led to its replacement in 1828 with the Cascades Female Factory. Chapters three to eleven concern the history of the Factory. It had a harsh system, conducted on a cold and damp site, in which control of the convict women as cheaply as possible was paramount. Periods of genuine attempts to reform them, according to the ideas of the day, were brief. Repression, accompanied by penny pinching and mostly poor or indifferent management characterised most of the Factory’s history. Many of the women’s infants born there died because of the unhealthy conditions. A particular strength of the overall narrative and the vignettes that accompany it, is that they emphasise the women’s agency in these awful conditions. Many of them resisted the authorities during their time at the factory and, despite their experiences, went on to rebuild their lives, leaving numerous flourishing descendants. These chapters, which form the core of the book, are its richest in terms of detail and context. A particular strength is the vignettes which place the convict women and their resilience squarely at the centre of the history.
In 1856, the Factory closed. Yet for a time its use as a place of containment for marginal social groups continued. These uses were the Female House of Correction, a refuge for the children of prisoners, the Female Invalid Depot, the Male Invalid Depot, the Cascades Hospital for the Insane, a Lock Hospital (for women with venereal disease), the Home of Mercy (a rescue home), a home for former male prisoners, the Infectious Diseases Hospital, the Lying in Hospital, the Boys Reformatory and, later, the Boys Training School. The progressive thinking of the day guided some of these but the unsuitability of the buildings undermined their effectiveness. This section of the history is addressed in chapters twelve and thirteen. The myriad of different institutions to cover and scanty historical sources, compared to those of the convict days, make these chapters less comprehensive than the earlier ones. Even so, in terms of the history of the site, and its continuation as a place of containment, they are an important contribution.
By the early twentieth century, the last institution had closed or left and the government began to sell the site. Initially the buildings became residences. Later small industries and commercial firms occupied the site. During this latter period, the buildings mostly got destroyed. Above ground, only some of the walls remained. In the late 1970s, under the growing influence of the women’s history movement which increasingly recognised the contribution of convict women to early European society in Australia, the former Factory gained recognition as a heritage site. This culminated in 2007 with its listing as a World Heritage area. The final three chapters deal with these topics. The last is particularly important as it concerns the world heritage listing, an endorsement of the evolution made by the Factory women, over a period of nearly two hundred years, from social contempt to respect.
Repression, Reform & Resilience is a lively and interesting book which doesn’t shirk the dark side of life at the Cascades Female Factory. It is the sixth publication by the Convict Women’s Press and a welcome addition to their collection.