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 NSW Convict Women
 on Ships arriving from England and Ireland 1788-1828


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On arrival, female convicts were sent directly to the Female Factory. Some did not live in the Factory, but were housed nearby and went to the Factory every day for work. Many only remained a day or so before they were assigned to settlers to work as domestic servants.

Many women were married soon after arrival. The idea was that any man wanting to marry one of the women would apply. They were lined up at the Factory and the man would drop a scarf or handkerchief at the feet of the woman of his choice. If she picked it up, the marriage was virtually immediate.

Although some convict women were classed as depraved and prostitutes, others had been in domestic service in England and were transported for stealing from their employers or shops. After arrival, though, many had to take up prostitution to survive and the system of selection of servants often meant that the gentry and officers would choose the pretty young convicts. Instead of Iron Gangs, troublesome and hardened female prisoners were sent to the Female Factory.

Children of convict women either stayed with their mothers or were moved to an orphanage. Young convict girls were also employed in the Female Factory.

The first Female Factory was built at Parramatta in 1804 and initially consisted of a single long room with a fireplace at one end for the women to cook on. Women and girls made rope and span and carded wool. Their accommodation was very basic and they slept on the piles of wool. A three-storey barracks and female factory was built in 1821 and was mainly used to house women who had committed local offences, convict women with children and convict girls who were unsuitable for work with the settlers. In time, the work done in the female factory became less difficult and needlework and laundry became the main duties. In later years, a Female Factory was also built in Hobart and women were either sent to Van Diemen's Land from Sydney or directly from England.

Quite a few married women were transported with their children and some shipping entries record their husbands' names as well. Divorce was not available to the common person until the late 1800s and was expensive and scandalous. Previously married convicts were permitted to remarry after seven years' separation as long as their spouse was abroad, even if they were still living. The Government encouraged marriage between convicts as it was seen as a means of rehabilitation and more desirable than a de facto relationship. Detailed lists of convict transports sent to New South Wales are presented on our shipping pages.

They show the dates of each voyage, the port of arrival and the number of male and female convicts landed at each port. Discrepancies between the number who embarked and the number who arrived were often due to deaths on board, transfers to other ships en route, or landing at other ports.

This section of the site has been devoted to the women who were transported to New South Wales during the first forty years of the settlement. Many did not remain in Sydney for long and researchers will have to look for them in outlying districts and other colonies.

The information posted on these pages is all that we have available and we are unable to help with further research. Much of the data was extracted from The Women of Botany Bay, by Portia Robinson and her book contains more information about individual convict women and the life they led in New South Wales between 1788 and 1828.

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