Paul Budde's History Archives

The Female Factory in town

The female prison (factory) – build in 1829 – was situated  near Wheat Creek (corner Elizabeth Street and Creek Street) a place that later on became known as Goal Hill. Like the men’s prison, this was for secondary offenders. The majority of women that ended up as convicts followed a common pattern of unwanted pregnancies, desertion by their husbands and unemployment. They ending up on the streets and in order to survive committed petty crimes and offering themselves for prostitution. After obtaining their freedom they often remained marginalised and were forced to return to their street life activities and as such became second offenders.

The Female Factory had seven rooms and in all some 144 re-convicted women went through this very cramped prison. Like most other buildings in the settlement it had an outside kitchen. The military leaders were anxious to prevent fire in this hot and dry climate.

The women had to pick the loose fibres from the ropes for the use of making a sealing that was driven into the wedge-shaped seams between boards of the settlement’s  ships to stop them from leaking.  They also produced rough woven clothing  for the male convicts.

The building was situated on the edge of the convict settlement in order to protect the women from sexual harassment. Initially the area was fenced but it soon became clear that this didn’t prevent men from entering the prison. The underpaid military guards were happy to assist the male customers in exchange for some compensation. Many of the women were happy to offer their services as prostitutes as this was the only way for them to get some extra food or rum.

The female factory provided  great stories of intrigue and sex, provided by ‘seducers’ representing all layers of the early Brisbane population.  Men caught illegally entering the female prison include a ship’s captain, the chief constable, the local clerk and the settlement’s first doctor Henry Cowper. Quickly a wall was constructed around the building. However, this did not seem to stem the flood of ‘seducers, who were assisted by the warders and the ladies though liberal ‘tipping’. Regardless of the counter measures, intrigue and disregarding the sexual restraints remained rife. Women caught were put in solitary confinement in tiny cells, put in irons or had their heads shaved.

The conditions in the Female Factory were  significant worse than that of the male prison. They were more crowded and they had less opportunity to be outside.

The next step was to move the female prisoners further out and move to a building in Eagle Farm.  This consisted of a cook house, needle room, punishment cells, store, school, hospital and wash-house. Their duties remained the same as in Brisbane. For more info see chapter Eagle Farm.

The Female Factory in town was retained for the more hardened female offenders.

According to research conducted by University of Queensland honorary research fellow Dr Jennifer Harrison,  during the 1826-1839 period 22 children were born to the Moreton Bay female convicts, where the age of the female inmates ranged from 16 to 80.

The Female Factory was vacated in 1837 and all remaining females were now housed at Eagle Farm. Soon after that it became the home of the Petrie family who had just arrived from Sydney and lived here until Andrew Petrie had built his house further up Queen Street on what is now the corner with Wharf Street.

In 1849, after the convict era, the Old Female Factory became the Brisbane Goal and a police court. Male and female prisoners were kept in separate rooms. From here it moved ten years later to Green Hills (Petrie Terrace). A dedicated women’s prison was opened in Fortitude Valley in 1863

Morals and social norms became increasingly more important in the 19th century and policing them became a priority for the authorities. The ideal woman was virtuous, pious, obedient, loving and nurturing. Her place was in the house as a caregiver. Women who stepped outside this ideal concept were seen as offending both against the law and against nature. In most cases women received more severe penalties for similar offences made by men.

The Old Female Factory also functioned as an immigration depot and a fire station.  In 1871, the old prison and most of the hill was levelled when the GPO was built, which is now occupying the exact same spot.

Eagle Farm

The building of Brisbane TOC

Convict History of Brisbane TOC