Common section


The Yellow C

The Valley of Sorrow

Cradling little William Houston against her grey duffel shift and smiling with contentment, Janet watched her new son grow stronger by the day. It was the end of August 1841. The sun was setting later now, and soon the winds of spring would bring the island back to life. Outside, the temperature drifted toward the fifties, ending a mercifully mild winter. Certainly it was nothing like the freezing nights she’d spent on Goosedubbs Street with Agnes. Still, occasional Antarctic winds blasted and shook the windowpanes facing the front of Liverpool Street. For good measure, Janet sat right next to the warm kitchen stove. Nurse Tedder smiled and offered the new mother a large slice of bread and a cup of tea with sugar, making certain the breast-feeding mothers received their full share of the rations delivered from the cook at Cascades.

The month before, on July 22, Janet had turned twenty-two and on her birthday carried a present, kicking and turning within her swollen belly. She tried to hide her pregnancy, but when she approached full term, doubt no longer lingered about her condition. On August 2, a policeman delivered the winsome Scot to the Factory, “being advanced in pregnancy.”1 Janet held her middle and ambled back to her cell after Reverend Bedford’s evening rant. Above the yard, in the clear black sky, a full moon hung suspended.

A few days later, the redheaded lass went into labor and delivered her “currency lad,” as the son of a convict was called. Currency lads and lasses were so named because they were viewed as a product, unlike the “sterling” born to free settlers. As soon as the young mother was able to walk, she and her newborn were sent down the valley to Liverpool Street, where today she stared into the eyes of her little infant. Janet had been born the same year as Nurse Ludlow’s dear departed daughter Frances, who passed away at age seven and lay buried in a tiny plot a world away.

The motherly Mrs. Tedder immediately developed a deep affection for the soft-spoken new mother, with her enchanting Scottish brogue and rather wicked sense of humor. Ludlow felt both relieved and gratified to see an infant thrive, especially because she had seen so many perish. Since her first day in the nursery two years before, twenty-four children from Liverpool Street had been hastily laid to rest in St. David’s Cemetery near the harbor.

Inside the tiny house where she worked six days a week and often Sundays, Widow Tedder learned many truths about the girls and women who were returned to the Female Factory for what Reverend Bedford proclaimed the sin of adultery. At this time, the adulterer label was attached to every unmarried convict mother, regardless of her circumstances. Many were the victims of rape by a master, a male servant, or a settler. Others carried the child of a lover or common-law husband. Reason mattered not. In the eyes of the Crown, they were all sinners relegated to the same punishment.

Superintendent of Convicts Josiah Spode argued for placing the prisoners in local homes, where, he surmised, the “proper” citizenry would provide role models “both in a moral point of view and in teaching them those useful habits of domestic life.”2 For many among the transported women, assignment to settlers yielded the opposite effect, rendering them angrier and more rebellious as their sentences unfolded.

Most reports of abuse were promptly swept under the rug. Yet the abuse became so widespread that eventually the Crown reluctantly agreed to an Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline, which commenced in 1841. The investigation revealed that recourse for sexual assault was nearly impossible, though a few desperately sought justice after being attacked in their master’s care. Grace Heinbury was twenty-six when she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on the convict ship Atwick, which anchored on January 24, 1838. The black-haired nursery maid with the dark hazel eyes reported rather matter-of-factly to the committee the horror that soon befell her. During one assignment, she was raped by a man whose wife had unwittingly selected her for their servant. After she reported the attack to the authorities in Hobart Town, the police did nothing. Superintendent Hutchinson promptly assigned her to another household, where she was again assaulted, this time by several male servants. With no recourse via the police to end her abuse, Grace walked off the job. She was punished with six months’ hard labor for leaving her assignment, but accepted it as a fair trade.3 Absconding seemed a reasonable choice. Temporary refuge could usually be found in the safe houses and grog shops tucked into the back alleys and shady streets around Hobart Town.

In caring for the mothers and infants housed on Liverpool Street, Ludlow began to understand the terrible secrets kept by the figures she had first viewed in Yard One two years before. Young women confided in the well-spoken nurse with the soft hazel eyes, who reminded them of their mothers back in Britain. Even if a convict mother wanted to love the child conceived by rape from a master or a male servant, the Female Factory “Rules and Regulations” stifled this natural inclination at every opportunity. The unnatural separation of mother and child caused some to give up entirely, as they sank toward emotional numbness.

A disreputable master could commit the perfect crime with any female under his charge: There were no witnesses and virtually no one to believe the hysterical tale told by a convict maid. There was no way to win. If she ended up pregnant, she was charged an adulterer. Once weaned, her child was taken away and she began a sentence of hard labor in the Crime Class. Police Magistrate John Price admitted that many masters were “totally unfit to be entrusted” with the indentured women “from a perfect disregard to the morality of their female servants.”4

After her sixth return to Crime Class for misconduct in 1840, Janet avoided attention until she was found pregnant and living with a free man, the suspected father of dear William. When she reported back to the factory on August 2, 1841, Janet knew the punishment she faced. Along with her newborn arrived a sentence of a year’s hard labor, six months for “living in a state of adultery with a free man” and an additional six for “being advanced in pregnancy.”

The colony’s government absolved itself of responsibility for the rising number of unmarried mothers at the Female Factory by making it a crime to give birth to an illegitimate child. Superintendent of Convicts Josiah Spode believed “the regulation was ‘the best check . . . of immorality’ and that it would ‘restrain the promiscuous intercourse of these depraved women.’”5 His reasoning backfired exponentially. As the number of female transports rose, so, too, did pregnancies among the women, most in their twenties and thirties.

In some cases, a colonist used the system to free a sweetheart from Cascades, requesting her assignment and then setting up household together. Fathers wishing to marry the mother of their child were sometimes denied permission. The lieutenant governor was required to review all marriage requests from 1829 to 1857. If both parties couldn’t prove they were legally single and not married to someone else, or failed to pay the exorbitant application fees, their request was denied.6 Female Factory Superintendent Hutchinson’s approval was also required, according to the rules and regulations, which stated: “No Female will be allowed to marry from the 2d. or 3d. Classes, nor, indeed, from the 1st., unless she can obtain a favourable certificate from the Principal Superintendent.”7

Adding insult to injury, the Reverend Bedford also held veto over betrothed couples. Fancying himself the moral magistrate for Hobart Town, Holy Willie refused to wed convicts who had been married to someone left behind in Britain. It made no difference that there was virtually no chance of ever seeing their first husbands again. Many spouses left behind were already remarried or cohabiting with another woman. Although some preachers applied common sense in such decisions, the ever-unyielding Bedford, himself a well-known adulterer, often refused to marry transported women and men who desired a fresh start.

If not wed to the child’s mother, fathers in Van Diemen’s Land bore neither blame nor responsibility. The Hobart Town coroner deplored “the fact that unmarried female convicts who became pregnant were punished ‘whilst the Father of the child whether he be the Seducer, or paramour, is rarely if ever punished.’”8

Despite this double standard, Janet discovered a silver lining when she returned to the Female Factory and especially to Liverpool Street. Shortly after giving birth to baby William at the Cascades infirmary, a stern matron named Mrs. Slea ushered her down the valley to the lying-in room at the nursery. Passing the tiny kitchen on the first floor, Janet spotted a familiar frame standing with her back turned and scrubbing a giant stack of pots. It was a sputtering Agnes, clanging the pans and silverware as the greying water sloshed over her feet and onto the floor. It was the last place Janet expected to see her friend.

Looking forward to the spring in 1841, Janet had much to celebrate. Only a few weeks old, William was already thriving in her loving arms. Kindly Mrs. Tedder offered her valuable guidance on caring for her newborn. Celebrating this happy event with her dear Agnes was bloody good luck indeed, especially because they hadn’t seen each other for nearly three years.

The last time had been in summer’s heat, shortly before Christmas 1838, when Agnes stood ankle-deep in water hunched over a stone washtub in Yard Two. Janet had returned to Cascades for her fifth offense, one fewer than the feisty Agnes. The slightly less rambunctious of the two, Janet was assigned to the Reverend W. Orton after twice disobeying her first mistress. The incident started on November 4, when the reverend reported his convict maid absent without leave overnight. She got away with only a reprimand, but ten days later she again walked off the job. This time a constable found her in a “disorderly house,” a rowdy tavern specializing in strong liquor, gambling, and prostitution. This offense sent Janet back to the prison for a month, picking oakum in solitary confinement.

For the first six days, Overseer Cato passed only bread and water through the grates in her cell door. Upon completion of this latest discipline, Mr. Hutchinson assigned Janet to a different settler. By now, it had become a bit of a game to return to Cascades from a dangerous or dreary placement as quickly as possible. Janet’s next position lasted only six days.

Indifferent to the punishment awaiting her, Janet strutted back to the Female Factory that December 20, 1838, where an auspicious surprise awaited her. Agnes, too, had returned to the valley to serve two months at the washtubs for being absent without leave. The two celebrated Hogmanay together as they brought in the new year in 1839. Their reunion was bittersweet because each would be sent her separate way. It would be nearly three years before their paths crossed again, although each returned to the Female Factory at different times. Sent out on four more country assignments, Agnes managed to run away from each. Her fate, however, took a turn for the better when, in 1840, Superintendent Hutchinson dispatched her to the most remote location he could find. While working in Oatlands, located in the middle of nowhere, the twenty-year-old met a dashing older man who captured her heart.

Her most recent spate of trouble involved insolence toward her master. The superintendent had run out of assignment options for the indomitable #253, who was about to turn twenty-one. She’d been sent to work all over Van Diemen’s Land, from Richmond fifteen miles north of Hobart Town to the remote Oatlands. Agnes always managed to run away from her master, no matter how distant or isolated the assignment, so a frustrated Hutchinson returned the untamable Scot to a place he could monitor. His wife, as matron, was required to inspect the nursery every day.

Because Agnes had experience as a governess for Mr. Harvey, she was well suited to work at Liverpool Street, although most prisoners who weren’t mothers considered it an undesirable assignment. Babies wailed day and night, the stench of diarrhea and vomit invaded every corner, and mothers fought for private space where there was none. The cramped little house was staffed primarily by convict mothers still nursing their infants. In addition to nursing their own child, they also cared for children separated from their mothers and housed in the nursery until transfer to the Queen’s Orphanage at age two or three. Agnes’s heavy responsibility inside Liverpool Street lightened considerably when she heard Janet’s Scottish brogue echo through the front entryway.

The two mates, fully blossomed into womanhood, still found unadulterated joy in recounting the girlish escapades they’d shared. Agnes had picked up a completely new repertoire of rebellious tunes about the regrets and the dreams of a convict maid:

I toil each day in greaf [sic] and pain 

And sleepless through the night remain 

My constant toils are unrepaid 

And wretched is the Convict Maid

Oh could I but once more be free 

I’d never again a captive be 

But I would seek some honest trade 

And never again be a Convict Maid9

Sitting inside the Liverpool Street nursery, Agnes excitedly confided in the loyal chum she considered a sister. They’d managed to survive the first five years of their transport sentence, suffering neither the illnesses nor alcoholism afflicting so many at Cascades. Picking up exactly where they’d left off, the two mates laughed, cursed, and cried through the stories and adventures they hadn’t been able to share. As Agnes took a turn cuddling William after her kitchen shift ended, they dared to dream about the promise of their freedom in 1843. Knowing instinctively that this might be their last time together, Agnes and Janet filled the present with recollections from their past. Together, they stayed out of trouble, or at least weren’t caught by Mr. Hutchinson.

All went smoothly at Liverpool Street save the death of one toddler in September 1841. The climate remained relatively mild after a freak snowstorm on September 13. By October, spring unfolded its arms in earnest as the days grew longer and temperatures climbed into the sixties. Janet, William, and Agnes spent the next few months together under Ludlow’s watchful eye. The two young women felt like girls again, and their exuberance lifted the spirits of everyone in the nursery. It was going to be a bloody good Christmas—and baby William’s first. Agnes could sing the little lad a right fine version of “Auld Lang Syne.” The weather was clear and a balmy seventy degrees for the Scots’ Hogmanay toast in 1842. With pubs located around the corner from the nursery, spirits easily found their way into the dilapidated kitchen.

As they headed through the warm January summer, Janet could not hold back the dreadful future that lay ahead. Forced to wean William in early February, precisely six months from the day he was born, Janet at first refused to leave the nursery. With the onset of six months’ hard labor for the crime of unwed pregnancy, she’d be allowed to visit her infant son only once a week. Ludlow tried to comfort the loving mother, reminding her that she could visit William the following Sunday, and Agnes would rock him to sleep once the kitchen was clean and tidy at night. Still inconsolable at being separated from her son, Janet trudged down Liverpool Street, a watchful magistrate at her side.

Janet’s Sunday visit never happened. Baby William Houston died on Wednesday, February 9, 1842. Over the next six weeks, Ludlow and Agnes were present at the deaths of six more children, ranging in age from seven to fifteen months. Janet’s sweet son must have succumbed to one of the deadly outbreaks that struck the overcrowded little house with neither warning nor recourse. Now it was Agnes’s turn to assume the role of protector for the loyal mate who’d always watched out for her. Somehow she persuaded nursery matron Mrs. Slea to allow her to tag along and retrieve Janet from the washtubs at Cascades. It was the worst moment the two childhood friends had ever faced.

Back at Liverpool Street, Nurse Tedder gently washed little William and wrapped him in a layer of off-white muslin. Numb with grief, Janet hurried into the nursery and snuggled her son against her heart one last time before his final passage toward the harbor. Mrs. Slea lined a wooden box with scraps of cloth before she placed the infant inside. Agnes held tight to one arm and Ludlow the other as they helped Janet down Liverpool Street to Harrington, walking the three blocks in silence. Onlookers fell to deferential quiet as they viewed the common sight of a roughly hewn gumwood crate turned tiny makeshift coffin.

As they neared the town’s oldest burial grounds at the corner of Harrington and Davey Streets, a summer breeze off the River Derwent spread the essence of eucalyptus over the ragged funeral procession. A bit run-down, St. David’s Cemetery was set on a quiet plot surrounded by twisted gum trees, their leafy branches cradling the edges of the burial plots.

Situated near the busy harbor, the cemetery was visible to many passersby who witnessed the two or three prisoner burials nearly every day of the week. So common were Hobart Town funerals that citizens spoke of the rare “maiden day” when not a soul was buried. Hugh Hull, a former Londoner and now government official, observed convict burials about the same time as William’s passing: “A few words are mumbled over the body by the purse-proud Clergyman, who as he receives nothing for the business, very soon hurries it over . . . and the hole is not filled up for two days. . . . The thistle takes the place of sweet, lowly flowers which usually bloom in churchyards and there is no one to cut them down. . . .”10 The occasional goat would slip through a hole in the stone wall and graze over the graves until someone shooed it away.11

On a bright and clear February morning between the summer storms, three women wearing the telltale Cascades grey shuffled across the cemetery to St. David’s far corner. An unpaid and uninterested minister joined the three prisoners and Mrs. Slea on the lush green near a freshly dug shallow grave. He opened his Bible and began to recite the words he already knew: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. . . .” Janet heard nary a word, as her eyes remained fixed on the smooth grey bark covering her son. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. . . .” Under the scent of blue-green eucalyptus trees, two friends who’d shared so many sorrows watched little William unceremoniously lowered into the ground. Leaning tight against each other, together they shouldered the grief and pondered its senselessness. Janet spent a last moment bidding her firstborn farewell. Just as the small group turned away, they heard the hollow scraping sound of the groundskeeper’s shovel as he scattered a few piles of dirt over the tiny coffin.

Yard Two

Other than Agnes’s arm draped over her shoulder, the luxury of comfort remained out of Janet’s reach. After a last moment with Agnes and Ludlow at the nursery, the weeping mother was returned to Yard Two’s stone washtubs, where she’d complete her six-month punishment for giving birth to a baby now deceased. As she scrubbed in the half shadows of Yard Two, a deadened Janet felt neither the stone scraping her skinny elbows nor the muddy groundwater seeping over her toes.

Slowly, as summer faded into fall, Janet began to feel again. Numbness wore away and exposed a rage on the edge of eruption. The grieving mother seethed with fury toward a system that forced early weaning and placed baby William in the overcrowded infant ward, where he received insufficient nourishment and little attention. For a time, she dutifully carried out twelve-hour work assignments, collapsing in her low-slung hammock for fitful sleep. Every night at mandatory chapel, the mourning mother faced Holy Willie, the reverend who had successfully lobbied for the punishment she now endured for unwed pregnancy. Janet’s emotions certainly ran full bore as she damned Heaven and the Fates for their cruelty. Above all, she must have detested the Reverend Bedford from the depths of her soul. On his recommendation, Superintendent Hutchinson condemned and punished all pregnant convicts, regardless of the circumstances.12

On March 17, five weeks after she’d buried her son, Janet lashed out against the convict system. Her refusal to leave her hammock and get to work brought six days back in solitary confinement.

The bloody bastards, what more can they take away?

Godfrey Charles Mundy, a colonel in the British army, toured the Female Factory and recorded his observations about solitary confinement in the book Our Antipodes. At first, he applauded “bread-and-water discussed in silence and solitude—things that no woman loveth,” deeming it “merciful” and “discreet” punishment.13 But the colonel would later eat his own words when he asked the turnkey to unlock a series of massive doors in the solitary ward. After inspecting two cells where women sat glumly at work, they pried open a third cell door. Mundy described what he saw:

It looked like the den of a wolf. . . . From the extreme end of the floor I found a pair of bright, flashing eyes fixed on mine. . . . It was a small, slight, and quite young girl—very beautiful in feature and complexion—but it was the fierce beauty of a wild cat! . . . I fear that the pang of pity that shot across my heart when that pretty prisoner was shut again from the light of day, might have found no place there had she been as ugly as the sins that had brought her into trouble. I had no more stomach for solitary cells this day.14

Janet’s solitary chamber held a mildewed mattress on the floor, a stool, and a bucket for waste. But no punishment could be worse than the loss of her child. The despondent mother quietly curled up against the cold stone, drawing herself into the fetal position.

One week after her release from solitary, up to her elbows in dirty washtub water, a despairing Janet heard the whisper of a familiar voice. A cheeky Agnes had simply walked out of the Liverpool Street nursery and represented herself as a free woman when stopped by a suspicious constable. For this, a magistrate escorted her back to Cascades to begin four months once again in Yard Two. Since the passing of William, whom she’d come to adore like a nephew, she’d seen in rapid succession six more children carried from Liverpool Street to St. David’s Cemetery. At an age at which she had good reason to think about a family of her own, Agnes couldn’t face another infant death.

Reunited with Janet back in the valley, Agnes tried to cheer her mate, regaling her with tales about the dark-haired dashing prince she’d spotted on the night he galloped through Oatlands on a wild horse. Janet found a bit of comfort in her friend’s girlish giggle as she described a freed convict named William Roberts, who sported dark bushy eyebrows and a smile full of mischief. Agnes had fallen deeply in love.

The Glasgow lasses were nearing the end of their seven-year sentences. They probably knew their paths would part as they approached the day each would hold a Certificate of Freedom. There was no sense thinking about Scotland anymore. Those days were over. In spite of the suffering they’d been forced to endure, they found love and a sense of belonging in the colony down under.

For the last decade, their unwavering friendship provided each other with just enough sustenance to endure another year, always holding out hope that the next would be better. The petty theft that transported them to Van Diemen’s Land paled in comparison to the crimes they saw nearly every day, which went, for the most part, unpunished. Girls raped by their masters, Holy Willie’s hypocrisy, bribes taken by the Catos and others—so much seemed unjust. Angry frustration ebbed and flowed for both Janet and Agnes, though their misconduct was relatively tame compared to the records of many transported with them.

There was all manner of mayhem and insurgency as 1842 unfolded. It began building in 1839, when Ellen Scott and other members of the Flash Mob attempted to throttle Mr. Hutchinson. The night after Janet was released from solitary, just a week before Agnes’s latest infraction, the rebels at the top of the valley decided to throw a party. It was precisely the type of disobedience that drove the aging superintendent to tear at his whiskers.

The weather was perfect, mild and dry, and for three weeks not a drop of rain had fallen. Under a bright moon, shortly after eight o’clock on the evening of March 24, Superintendent Hutchinson heard a ruckus coming from one of the wards. He hurried out of his second-floor quarters across the yard to investigate. As he drew closer, the disturbance grew louder. Stopping outside the ward, he peered through the grates and saw a group of prisoners cavorting in a state of wild abandon. Horrified, he waited silently until he could identify at least five of the women who’d joyfully removed their shapeless grey shifts and tossed them in a pile. Singing, cursing, and dancing naked with one another “in imitation of men and women together,” they barely noticed the skinny specter of a man whose mouth flapped agape.15

Among the bawdy performers were two well-known Flash Mob members who’d assisted with Ellen Scott’s 1839 turbulentinsubordination. There was raven-haired Eliza Smith and the fierce green-eyed Mary Devereux.16 Devereux also sported a tattoo, two small blue dots between the finger and thumb of her left hand.17 Frances Hutchinson from County Kerry, another known troublemaker, displayed the same emblem, along with rings tattooed on her first two fingers.18 Among the twenty-five thousand women transported, eight other Irish females etched nearly identical blue dots between their fingers.19 Each encoded a message, perhaps of solidarity or shared heritage, one that could be neither stripped away nor removed by their captors.

This night, each naked dancer received a sentence of either six or twelve months’ hard labor for her final curtain call. Mr. Hutchinson, a Methodist minister by training, could tolerate no more of their saucy insurrection and made it a point to separate the five rebels and house them in separate wards. After release from hard labor, Eliza Smith continued her rebellion, thumbing her nose at authorities through foul language and absconding with great regularity. Finally, in February 1845, she was punished once again for misconduct. Only this time, she was dead within the month. The last entry in her conduct record was scribbled haphazardly over other entries: “Died in Factory Launceston, 5 March 1845.”20 She was twenty-seven.

Punishment rarely stopped merriment when it erupted behind the Female Factory walls. In fact, it sometimes encouraged elaborate schemes designed to torment Superintendent Hutchinson and the others in charge. Repeat offenders harbored no fear for what they’d face in the Crime Class, as explained in the True Colonist newspaper: “Many women prefer this class to the others, because it is more lively! There is more fun there than in the others; and we have been informed, that some of the most sprightly of the ladies divert their companions by acting plays!”21

The always simmering readiness for revolution, fueled by absolute disdain toward their captors, persisted throughout the year into winter’s long nights. Under the big bright moon of August 23, 1842,22 the Flash Mob was at it again. Mr. Hutchinson sent his wife to investigate the boisterous sounds of song and dance, undoubtedly fearful of what he might see. The instant Mrs. Hutchinson opened the latch to the crime ward, it fell quiet, and she was unable to tell where the noise had originated. By the time she returned to her residence, the clamor started all over again. Back to the ward she trudged, only to face silent women sitting in their hammocks doing nothing at all. This went on for some time before Mr. Hutchinson made an appearance. In a feeble attempt to end the standoff, he demanded the names of the ringleaders. Without a word, he later reported, the women squatted down, “shouted and clapped their hands, stamped and made noise with their feet and this took place to such an extent that I conscientiously say it was a riot.”23

Somehow managing to quiet the mob, Mr. Hutchinson left the room, only to be followed by a fresh outburst of clapping and cheering. Tension reached the boiling point, and he called in the town police. The women greeted the officers with a solidarity chant: “We are all alike, we are all alike.”24 The stalemate lasted four hours until the now-crumbling and defeated Ann Maloney turned in the insurgent ringleaders. Her fun and games inside the Female Factory were over, and solidarity was not enough to keep her strong. Although she’d joined Ellen Scott’s infamous 1839 revolt and reveled in the wild sisterhood, Ann descended ever deeper into drunkenness and violence as her life sentence endlessly unraveled. The optimistic lass who’d so lovingly inscribed two hearts and two doves on a coin had long since departed.

The sisterhood of rebellious unity was not enough to counteract the darkest side of life inside the Female Factory. Hunger, malnutrition, filth, exhaustion, alcoholism, and a lack of personal space contributed to riots, fistfights, and incidents of sexual assault among the women. All sorts of scandals and uprisings kept the Flash Mob on the lips of many colonists. Lady Jane Franklin, though aloof from the prisoners she had promised Mrs. Fry she would help, bristled at Mob headlines splashed across the newspapers she perused every day.

Earlier in the year, an extension of the Female Factory opened in New Town. Known as the Brickfields Hiring Depot, it became the assignment center for transported women. Lady Franklin wasted no time in launching a campaign to institute harsher penalties for the Crime Class at Brickfields. The Colonial Times reported that she had taken over “management of the Female Convict Establishment, in conjunction with a committee of ten other ladies.” On the ladies’ recommendations, “those in the lowest crime yard are to be employed in breaking stones for the finishing course on the roads, not larger than the yolk of an egg, to be passed through an iron riddle according to Macadam’s plan.”25 The newspaper article concluded with a wholehearted endorsement of Lady Jane’s approach: “This is delightful. We shall soon hear no more of ‘send me to the Factory,’ from those heroines, where at present they are engaged in little else than studying how to concoct mischief, and render themselves unworthy the name of WOMAN.”26

Not surprisingly, Lady Jane informed Mrs. Fry that picking oakum or scrubbing at the washtubs was too easy a punishment for the unwed mothers at Cascades. While Franklin’s attitudes toward the transported women grew ever harsher, Elizabeth’s Fry’s views about reform evolved toward a less punitive approach. In 1842, she described her change of heart in a letter to Lady Jane: “With respect to cutting off hair we have not found its effect good in England, for whilst the poor prisoner should be humbled by her faults she should not always carry about it in the view of others the crime she has committed, it hardens and makes them worse than before.”27

Concerned about the separation of convict mothers from their children, Fry continued: “. . . I am of opinion that it would not be right according to the laws of God and nature not only to preclude the mothers of illegitimates from seeing their children or taking them out when able to maintain them. . . . Of course the mothers of the legitimate children should be very differently treated.”28

Even Fry, holding tight to her upper middle-class British upbringing, failed to fully understand the plight of transported women who suffered rape or abandonment by the fathers of their children. Yet at sixty-two, she persisted in radical ideas for prison reform that defied rigid Victorian sensibilities. Informed of plans for new prisons in the colony, she made this recommendation to Lady Jane: “I think your Factory capable of great improvement by being made more a house of correction and I think there might be added to it something of house of refuge for hopeful characters that may arrive in the ship or be anxious to improve in the Colony.”29

Coupling her model behavior aboard the Hindostan with exemplary work in the nursery, Arabella’s mother personified the “hopeful character” inspiring Fry’s optimism. Yet even the perfectly proper and contained Ludlow Tedder would get into trouble. By 1842, the Liverpool Street nursery was packed far beyond capacity. One hundred fifty-three women and children were crammed into a house so dilapidated Mr. Hutchinson feared it might fall down.30 Superintendent of Convicts Josiah Spode finally approved the opening of a larger nursery inside Dynnyrne House, located in a converted distillery down the rivulet from Cascades.

For three years, the compassionate Nurse Tedder had cared for her little charges as if they were her grandchildren. Ludlow’s record had not a single black mark. She took pride in a frequently heart-wrenching though rewarding assignment. Shortly before the Liverpool Street quarters were shut down, Ludlow was privy to several incidents her conscience simply wouldn’t allow her to condone. Convict worker Ann McCarty was housed in the nursery with her nine-month-old child, from whom she’d soon be separated. At this time, mothers were allowed to nurse their babies for nine months rather than six. In an effort to keep each prisoner productive and out of trouble, Mrs. Slea assigned Ann the care of two children who’d been weaned and whose mothers had been returned to the Female Factory. One of Ludlow’s mates from the Hindostan , Mary Larney, reported Ann for abusing the two-year-old under her watch.

Bread and Water

Nurse Ludlow found herself in an impossible predicament when called as a witness before the Hobart Town Lower Court. She was well aware that if she informed on a fellow prisoner, she’d be made to pay one way or another. However, if she lied for the woman who abused a child, she’d face Mr. Hutchinson’s outrage and lose a plum assignment that allowed occasional visits to Arabella. Mothers sent out to settlers at distant locations rarely saw their children while they lived in the Queen’s Orphanage. Ludlow couldn’t risk this.

Standing tall before the magistrate, Ludlow refused to lie for Ann McCarty. On June 14, 1842, she offered the following testimony:

Mary Larney fetched me this morning stating that McCarthy [McCarty] had beaten a child in an improper manner. I went and saw the child. She had beaten it severely across the bottom and back, and it is about 2 years old. . . . She stated that the child had dirtied itself, she gave no other reason. There were marks of the hand across the back and bottom. I have never heard of her doing so before. . . . I also saw her take the child of Marg North out of bed and throw it on the floor not very violently.31

Ludlow was returned to Cascades, but not for punishment. Given her experience assisting Surgeon Superintendent McDonald and her fine work in the nursery, Superintendent Hutchinson saw fit to appoint her to work in the Female Factory hospital. Here babies were delivered, the mentally ill restrained, and prisoners with rheumatism and epilepsy admitted.

Ludlow hadn’t spent much time inside the Female Factory since her arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, but she knew that Ann McCarty was back in the Crime Class, smoldering in anger over the widow who had spoken the truth in court. The levelheaded nurse walked a tightrope every time she strolled through the yards. Her survival (and Arabella’s, too) depended on understanding what went on behind the stone walls and using it to her best advantage. She faced her first test within days of her return. Eliza Morgan, a patient missing a front tooth, persuaded the widow to do her a favor.32 She’d slip Ludlow a few coins in return for the nurse using her position to pick up a bundle in town. Unfortunately, Ludlow failed to realize she was helping a former shipmate of her nemesis, Ann McCarty.

Seizing what appeared to be an opportunity for building the nest egg she’d need to retrieve Arabella and make a fresh start, Ludlow joined the underground subculture at Cascades. Although marriage allowed a woman early release from her sentence and was the fastest way to regain custody of Arabella, it seemed a far-fetched proposition for the forty-nine-year-old widow. Still, Ludlow dared to dream of her future. If she didn’t pursue the matrimonial path, she’d have to be prepared. Once free, she’d need lots of money to prove she could provide for Arabella. Currency, in a corrupt and distant colony, bought just about anything, including a daughter. Whatever it took, that was her plan.

Many at the Female Factory surrendered to temptations that offered a lifeline in miserable waters. Convict maids learned the ropes by secretly shadowing their captors and listening for how deals were negotiated and sealed. With her position in the center of Hobart Town, Ludlow certainly understood the fine line that often separated criminal from official.

Both prison constables and their unpaid convict policemen took advantage of profiteering. For a fee, the supervisor turned his back when the convict on his force committed an offense that jeopardized his Ticket of Leave, the probationary period at the end of his sentence. Though the government relied heavily on the police to maintain order in the penal colony, “they used their brief of keeping close surveillance over convicts to cloak dubious and illegal practices that offended the rule of law.”33

Some constables accepted hush money from sly-grog shops, took convicts off duty to chop their wood and clean their stables, and struck back at those who exposed their breach of public trust. During the year Agnes arrived, Colonial Times editors Henry Melville and Gilbert Robertson reported on the Political Association, an organization that addressed police abuse at its first meeting. In retaliation, a police informant lured two of Melville’s convict printers to a pub, got them drunk on illegal rum, and then turned them in. The two yokels were sentenced to four months on a chain gang. As expected, without his printers, Melville’s ability to produce his newspaper was seriously undermined.34

So widespread was this corruption, it sank to the ridiculous in a dog-nabbing racket, in which one dog was used to entrap another. Under the guise of enforcing leash laws, constables seeking a few extra coins found ready targets for extortion and immediate payment:

In Hobart Town constables allegedly walked down the street, each with a bitch on a lead and a number of ropes with nooses, which they threw around the neck of any dogs that stopped to make acquaintance with the bitches. After thirty minutes, the constables had caught thirteen dogs. Their owners preferred to pay the constables £1 or £2 rather than appear in court, where they could not prove their dogs had been “seduced” by the policemen’s bitches.35

Back at the Female Factory, few risked such blatant graft, but at nightfall the yards came alive with secret bargaining and trade. During daylight hours, boxes made of wood and tin lay safely stashed behind a loose brick or buried next to a washtub. Shortly after evening muster, the goods went up for auction. Tea, sugar, tobacco, pipes, spirits, and fried meat from the kitchen exchanged hands and were quickly consumed or hidden in the unseen corners of Cascades.

Bribing a convict turnkey was an easy transaction. More often than not, she ran an underground business of her own. She’d happily look the other way or leave a door unlatched in exchange for the currency of the day: tobacco, liquor, coins, and even buttons taken from the laundry and prized because prison uniforms had none.36

Ludlow’s new assignment placed her inside “the nerve centre for illicit commerce.”37 A glimpse into this subculture comes from Eliza Churchill, transported two years after Ludlow for stealing a cloak and a silk umbrella. She spent three weeks in the infirmary at the Launceston Female Factory and offered this testimony before the government’s Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline in 1841: “I have seen tobacco constantly brought in and given to the nurse who used to supply the crime class with it. The nurse Mrs. Benson gets money from the prisoners and gives it to Mrs. Littler the sub-matron who gets tobacco & tea & sugar in the town and gives it to the nurse.”38 The thriving smuggling operation that Eliza observed from her hospital bed included creative techniques for transporting the illicit goods, like watching the submatron stuff tobacco inside her corset. Capitalizing on high illiteracy among her patients, the enterprising nurse also charged them for penning letters and even for the paper they used.39

For an older convict with few options ahead, Ludlow took a gamble. Just as she never intended to steal silverware from Barrister Skinner, Widow Tedder now swam in a cesspool of corruption, making her choices as a matter of survival. Like the Catos’ message-delivery-for-a-chicken scheme, the offer from patient Eliza Morgan seemed too good to resist. Because Mr. Hutchinson trusted Ludlow to procure hospital supplies in town, Eliza innocently asked her to pick up a few goods from a Mr. Smith on Elizabeth Street and smuggle them back into Cascades. In return, Ludlow would pocket a few pennies she could spend on soap for Arabella or save for their future.

If only she had known it was a trap. On June 21, 1842, Ludlow’s fate took an abrupt turn for the worse. Constable Goodwin caught her “obtaining goods under false pretenses.”40 She had violated Article 9 of the Female Factory “Rules and Regulations,” which stated: “No Officer or Servant of the Establishment shall supply any Female Convict with other provisions or comforts of any kind than those allowed by the Regulations. Neither is any clothing, nor other articles whatever, to be delivered to any Convict in the House of Correction.”41

Though the timing may have been coincidental, Eliza Morgan knew Ann McCarty well from spending nearly four months together aboard the Westmoreland. Eliza likely set up Ludlow as payback for testifying against her friend. The court had sentenced the pockmarked Ann to nine months’ hard labor, extending the separation from her child. Surely, the two blamed Ludlow. Developing loyalty during their journey across the sea, women who huddled together belowdecks grew protective of their mates, and when push came to shove, they often relied on them for reinforcement inside the harsh Cascades prison.

Loyalty was important to Superintendent Hutchinson as well. He had assigned the sympathetic widow to her second position of great responsibility. By 1842 he had little tolerance for anything that might further tarnish his record, particularly after the recent avalanche of well-publicized scandals involving infant deaths, the Catos’ dismissal, and the nefarious Flash Mob. As revealed by testimony under the Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline, the aging Hutchinson actively tried to avoid any contact with the prisoners, preferring his managerial distance.

Sentencing Ludlow to twelve months’ hard labor in the solitary working cells, he imposed a punishment quite harsh for a first infraction. Seeing her misconduct as another black mark on his record, he decided to make an example of Ludlow and thereby protect his reputation. Recording his indignation in #151’s conduct record, he “confirmed this female was placed in a situation of great trust under promised indulgence of the Principal Superintendent considering her to be a fit subject.”42

The last person Agnes and Janet expected to see in Crime Class was the crestfallen Ludlow, who walked through the crime yard that morning sporting an unfashionable prison shift emblazoned with large yellow Cs. The remnants of newly shorn hair peeked from under her mob cap. After all she’d been through over forty-nine years, this minor indignity was the least of her worries.

The formerly impeccably behaved nurse had been thrown to the wolves. Certainly Ann McCarty indulged in spiteful satisfaction watching the widow trudge toward her cell. Like all prison women, Nurse Tedder surely had enemies, but she had also made friends during her time at Liverpool Street. Agnes and Janet knew Ann McCarty from the Westmoreland . They may have collaborated to protect Ludlow from further reprisals, but at Cascades they were all in it together, and it was going to be a long chilly winter.

Ludlow had just begun her year of labor inside a solitary working cell. She sat in twilight on her little stool, day after day, pulling apart old rope fibers, with temperatures dipping into the forties. Winter brought long bouts of chilling rain, but the grey days gradually faded away into the lengthening sunlight of early spring.

By the end of August, the two Glasgow maids bid the Female Factory good riddance. Placed back on assignment, they held high aspirations for staying out of trouble. In less than a year, they’d be eligible for Certificates of Freedom. Ludlow received no such reprieve, and her callus-ridden hands continued to work on piles of rope. Summer dragged along like a lazy lizard sunning on a stone. A parade of unfamiliar faces watched the widow wearing large yellow Cs report without fail to morning muster. Nearly nine months into her punishment, Ludlow heard the sound of a familiar Scottish brogue. As she turned around, her eyes met those of another convict with an impish grin, looking back from across the yard and wearing the same drab shift emblazoned with the familiar C. February 22, 1843, the dauntless #253 was back at the washtubs for another three months’ hard labor. So close to the end of her term, if Agnes could avoid a major offense, she’d soon be free.

Ludlow’s future was less certain, but at least she’d soon see Arabella. Over the course of her dark-hued isolation, reduced rations of bread and water caused Ludlow’s grey uniform to fall farther from her frame. At last, the turnkey unbolted the locks on her cage. Ludlow strode proudly from the half-light of the two-story ward and was summoned to the reception room, where paperwork was already completed for her next assignment. A still-perturbed Mr. Hutchinson would allow just one visit to the Queen’s Orphanage, where Arabella, now fourteen, knew nothing of what had happened to her mother and why the Sunday visits stopped so abruptly. Auspiciously, her girlhood chum Catherine Mullins also remained at the orphanage and kept Arabella in good company.

After an all-too-brief visit to the orphanage, Ludlow was transferred by open cart one hundred twenty miles north to the Launceston Female Factory, a new facility constructed in 1834. Although the unusual octagonal configuration looked quite distinct from Cascades’ rectangular shapes, little was different inside the prison.

Beginning in 1840, New South Wales would accept no more female convicts. Now all were transported to Van Diemen’s Land by order of the Crown. As a result, both Cascades and the Launceston Female Factory were packed beyond capacity. Following the riots and disturbances that plagued 1842, superintendents tried to use the two locations to separate known collaborators, especially Flash Mob members, all to no avail.

Two months after Ludlow’s admission, the Crime Class women in Launceston locked out the constables and barricaded themselves inside the prison for more than twenty-four hours. “Only after about 30 prisoners from the men’s gaol next door were fetched to assist the constables, was the siege broken.”43 Five months later, simultaneous riots occurred at both female factories, attributable to either remarkable coincidence or crafty planning by the Flash Mob.44

Ludlow, however, returned to model conduct. Quietly biding her time, she picked oakum and sometimes scrubbed laundry at the washtubs. Under the Ticket of Leave policy, well-behaved prisoners were released on probation after completing at least four years of their sentence. Under watchful surveillance by local constables, convicts were allowed to work and to marry while serving the rest of their time.

Her excellent behavior yielded a harvest of good news for Widow Tedder in autumn 1844. Launceston Superintendent James Fraser submitted the paperwork for her Ticket of Leave, and Ludlow immediately sent for her daughter. Wasting not a moment, Ludlow must have passed Mr. Fraser every coin she had tucked away from underground trade, first on the Hindostan and later in the female factories. Her carefully managed stash paid stagecoach fare from the Queen’s Orphanage.45

On a crisp April evening in Launceston’s center, a dusty stagecoach door flew open, and fifteen-year-old Arabella ran into her mother’s open arms. Overhead, black cockatoos squawked a greeting of their own. The reunited pair spoke barely a word as they walked arm in arm along the banks of the Tamar, dotted with wharves, gardens, and lush farmland.

Within weeks of the joyful reunion, Ludlow held her Ticket of Leave. She read aloud the words that justified her early release: “Nearly two thirds of her term of transportation having expired and there being only one offence on record against her.”46 She’d served five years. Though the official document recorded her ten-year conviction delivered at the Old Bailey, the reference to “two thirds” applied more accurately to the seven-year sentence imposed on most transports.

On May 15, 1844, the fresh scent of freedom wafted over a relieved mother and daughter, who began to chart a course for their future. The ever-practical Ludlow Tedder began her search for a new mate. To survive in the colony, she’d need a partner. Taking full advantage of the nine-to-one ratio of men to women in Van Diemen’s Land, she set out to find a healthy younger man. In the end, she had Ann McCarty to thank for this turn of fate. Had she not been punished for helping Eliza Morgan and sent to Launceston, Ludlow wouldn’t have met the free settler who captured her heart.

Widower William Manley Chambers managed a farm just outside town and made a good living raising potatoes and sheep. Like Ludlow, he was literate, and seemed not to mind their difference in years. Though well beyond the bloom of maidenhood, Ludlow looked quite young for her age, and surely her wit and wisdom only made her more attractive. Besides, a woman with experience in cooking, housekeeping, and nursing was highly prized in a remote colony. With Ludlow’s blessing, William applied for permission to marry Widow Tedder. Astute woman that she was, Ludlow lied about her age on their marriage application, declaring herself forty years old. She was, in fact, fifty-one when she married the thirty-four-year-old farmer on July 29, 1844.

Eight weeks after she walked out of prison, Ludlow donned a simple cotton frock and held William’s arm before the altar in Launceston’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Arabella stood by her mother’s side, wearing winter-white magnolias in her hair and holding back tears of happiness and relief.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!