It was a gaol within a gaol, where convict women were sent for secondary punishment for crimes ranging from the insignificant to the obscene.
Designed by emancipated convict architect Francis Greenway, with the first stone laid in 1818, the Parramatta female factory was the destination for all unassigned convict women sent to New South Wales.
Its inmates included the youngest prisoner ever transported, a slave girl later known as Constance Trudgett, charged at eight years old after a paranoid mistress accused her of attempted murder for placing ‘‘white powder’’ in her tea.
This is the oldest convict women’s site remaining in Australia. It’s so important, not just to history, but to women’s history.Winston Hills tour guide and local historian, Judith Dunn.
Another was Mary Hindle, one of only two women charged from among more than 1000 Luddite rioters, who was sentenced for breaking the looms during the Lancashire riots in England in 1826.
Now, members of the Parramatta Female Factory Friends (PFFF), a group dedicated to preserving the site’s past, are waiting in hope that the state government’s soon-to-be-revealed plans for the North Parramatta heritage precinct will adequately preserve this important slice of Australian history.
‘‘This is the oldest convict women’s site remaining in Australia,’’ said Winston Hills tour guide and local historian Judith Dunn. ‘‘It’s so important, not just to history, but to women’s history.
‘‘If Tasmania’s Port Arthur can bring in $14 million tourist dollars a year and we’re in the middle of Sydney, why could we not do the same?’’
The factory served multiple purposes in its day, including as an asylum for newly arrived transportees and a refuge for the elderly or infirm.
Gay Hendriksen, PFFF president and one of the authors of Women Transported: Life in Australia's Convict Female Factories, published by Parramatta Heritage Centre and Parramatta council in 2008, said that by 1842, there were more than 1200 convict women and 200 children on the site.
Cumberland Hospital’s mental health sciences centre building marks the spot where the factory’s front gates stood, which more than 100 women scaled in 1827 to riot through the streets of Parramatta to protest cuts to their rations.
‘‘An estimated 5000 women went through here,’’ Ms Hendriksen said. ‘‘We want to try to have it nationally listed and then to have world heritage listing.
‘‘Our concern is that it will become a mini Barangaroo.’’
The partially disintegrating site, nestled within Cumberland Hospital at North Parramatta, is easy to miss and lacks signage, but Factory Road - a reference to the facility - traces the approximate line of its former boundaries.
Parramatta MP Geoff Lee said a plan being devised now by Urban Growth NSW could include up to $2 billion for the North Parramatta heritage precinct to preserve, refurbish and open up its sites - including the factory - to the public.
‘‘I think all sides of government have failed over the last 20 years to adequately protect and restore that precinct,’’ Dr Lee said. ‘‘Everybody goes to see the Opera House and the Three Sisters, but no one stops at Parramatta.
‘‘The project that we’re thinking of will be 1 to 2 billion dollars for Parramatta, it will be sensational. I want to make it an exemplar of heritage tourism.
‘‘But it needs to be a plan that is cost neutral for the government. They've got to spend money on hospitals and schools and police, so we've got to put some development in there to offset those costs... To put some housing in there.
‘‘What we need to do is activate it, I think it will be a wonderful new suburb.’’
Dr Lee said he does not support the listing of the factory as a world heritage zone, which he said could create a ‘‘static museum’’.
‘‘I’m concerned the classification of a world heritage zone may impede my ability to get funds to adaptively restore [the site]. I don’t want more barriers.’’
He said the plan may include leasing some buildings at the Cumberland Hospital site that ‘‘just look like average buildings’’ that are ‘‘not as significant’’ as other structures.
Two internal stakeholder meetings to brainstorm design and planning ideas for the precinct are being held at Parramatta RSL on July 30 and August 1. However, a spokeswoman from UrbanGrowth NSW, the authority responsible for developing the precinct plan, said the meetings are not open to the public.
Sentenced to the female factory:
1831: Catherine Conlan, for absenting herself from her mistress to visit a half crown hop (dance). Sent to the factory for one month.
1831: Judy Shea, for "bushing it" (absconding) for three weeks, three months at the factory.
1831: Ann McDonald, attempted to "suspend herself between heaven and earth" (hang herself) with her garters, sent for one month to the second class of the factory.
1831: Ellen Walsh, prisoner of the Crown charged with living as the wife of a James Hunt. The bench sentenced Ellen to 12 months at the factory.
1831: Mary Fox, found linked arm in arm with a young fellow at the Domain, who was whispering "soft nonsense" in her ear, "instead of attending mass". Sent to the third class of the factory for six weeks.
1831: Kate Pitt, sent to the third class of the factory for six weeks to "learn manners" after being drunk, riotous and "milling her fellow servants".
1833: Sarah Bird, for stealing to the amount of £10, confined to the third class of the factory for one month.
1834: Hannah McCarthy, assigned to Mr Bidwell of Bathurst Street, charged with being drunk and out after hours, and being very insolent to the arresting constable. 52 days to the factory.
1834: Mary Griffiths, charged with being drunk in the streets at 1am. Her mistress stated she had given Mary permission to be absent for 3 hours, but the magistrate sentenced her to 14 days confinement in the factory's third class.
1834: The servant of a Maria Wallace was "returned" to the third class of the factory when her mistress complained she could not perform her duties due to rheumatism.
From Colonial Ladies: Lovely, Lively and Lamentably Loose, by Judith Dunn (a collection of crime reports from the Sydney Herald relating to the female factory, Parramatta, 1831-1835)