The Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, Yard One opened in 1828 as a repository for female convicts and their babies and young children. The conditions in which those incarcerated were held resulted in many babies and children dying, condemned to marginalization, ostracization, inhumane practices and community prejudice.
Female convicts also died at the site.
Children who survived the heartless regime were transferred to the Queens Orphan Asylum (opened under the name of the King’s Orphan Asylum in 1831).
Up until 1844 deaths of protestant convicts who died within the Hobart precinct were listed on the St David’s Anglican Church Burial Register.
Children and convict women were buried in the Trinity Cemetery. Today the Campbell Street Primary School exists on that burial ground site. Remains of those buried there were eventually moved to the main public cemetery at Cornelian Bay after 1902.
Boys and girls who died at the Queens Orphan Asylum were also buried on site. Those of protestant religion were buried separately to those of Roman Catholic - their bodies entombed in a smaller cemetery.
Details exist of a burial ground close to the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site where babies were buried.
Residents living near the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site have spoken of body parts being uncovered after exceptionally heavy storms leading to the theory that not all the bodies were relocated.
Convict women lived during a time when giving birth as an unmarried mother was a crime. The shame felt by single mothers was reinforced by the social mores of the day. Community pressures enforced these customs borne by mothers and their children and even future generations who until recently were stigmatised.
Sadly it does not come as a surprise that subsequent generations of communities have perpetuated this prejudice. The narrow-minded intolerance, the condemnation, the marginalisation, the neglect, the shunning of the problem and the callous inhumane treatment metered out to the mothers and their children in places such as Ireland.
A committee of local Irish historians had the vision to show respect to children who had died at a ’home’ in Galway Ireland. One of the historians, Catherine Corless, recently obtained the records of 796 children - newborns up to nine years old - born at the St Mary’s Home in Tuam (run by the Bon Secours Sisters from 1925-1961) who died in circumstances impossible to fathom. A full disclosure of the state of affairs leading to these children’s deaths may never come to light.
The cause of death for some appears very similar to those who died within the convict system including: Emancipation - Marasmus.
What became of the mothers? How can society ever compensate for this brutal treatment.
I have had conversations with descendants of convict women who are grieving for the distress their ancestors faced at the loss of a child whilst they were under colonial sentence. These descendants feel emotional pain for their forebears. Some have taken part in my ‘Departures and Arrivals’ memorial and through the creating of a tiny christening bonnet they have found some strength and peace. They feel a connection to the one they are sewing for.
I hope the Tuam community are able to find a way to pay respect to the mothers and children and to give some value to their lives.
Let’s hope in the airing of these tragedies society changes entrenched attitudes. When I think about these babies and children whose lives ended so abruptly I wonder about the gems that society missed out on.
Dr Christina Henri
Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, Yard One. 2014
'Departures and Arrivals' Memorial: Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 2006
Further details can be found on the Female Convict Research Group Site: Death Under sentence http://femaleconvicts.org.au/…/DiedUnde…
Thanks to historian Joyce Purtscher
Children in Queen’s Orphanage, Hobart Town, 1828-1863
Journalist Christine Bohan