Gay Hendriksen is the curator of the Women Transported exhibition that will open in August at the Cultural Heritage Centre in Parramatta. She spoke at the May Guild meeting.
The women transported to Australia between 1804 and 1850 brought with them over 200 trades. Sometimes we are taken on journeys we don’t plan. One in five Australians are related to these women who supported each other. They came through difficult times.
There were 12 female factories which housed female convicts in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. Very little is known about the women or the female factories. The women were put to work (to keep their hands from being idle) picking tar off ropes, breaking rocks, doing laundry, embroidering, spinning and weaving.
The first factory was established in Parramatta in 1804 and the last closed in Tasmania in 1850.
The story told in the exhibition begins in England where miscreants were sent from Newgate prison to the hulks and then transported. Turner painted his outrage when 150 women on one ship were left to drown. The few drawings that remain show that the women were from the country and the city. Over 50% of them were probably illiterate. Elizabeth Fry was involved in improving conditions for women both in England and Australia.
The first female factory was established on the banks of the river at Parramatta where the Riverside Theatre now stands. It only provided accommodation for some of the 200 female convicts who arrived. Soon other ships arrived with more residents and a second factory, designed by Greenway was constructed to replace the first one which was burnt down. The factory had multiple roles: childbirth, mental health, illness, laundry, spinning and weaving as well as being shelter. It may be that our first export goods were the fabrics made there.
Gay has only been able to find three images of women convicts. The Cultural Heritage Centre at Parramatta is organising a get together of descendants of the women convicts in the hopes of getting more material and information about them.
The Women Transported exhibition got a grant of $49,100 most of which will be spent on transporting the exhibition to regional centers in four states. The exhibition in Parramatta opens on August 2 and runs there until November 9. Details of the program will soon be sent to the Guild.