I’m actually embarrassed to admit my lack of historical knowledge about this magnificent country. My generation tend to forget there was a time before mobile phones, the internet and online shopping. We all know to some degree that Australia was built on the back of convict settlement, but it wasn’t until my most recent trip to the breathtaking state of Tasmania, that my eyes were opened and my ignorance to our past was highlighted.
The Cascades Female Factory is situated in South Hobart, Tasmania. To drive by, it looks nothing more than a large old stone brick wall, however, step inside and the imposing wall leads you to a rich and fascinating, yet sometimes horrifying, history of our past.
In 1828, female convicts were transported from overflowing Britain to Tasmania, or as it was known back then, Van Diemen’s Land as punishment for often minor crimes, to be reformed or whilst waiting to be assigned as servants in wealthy, free settler households. The Cascades Female Factory was one of 5 such prisons in Van Diemen’s Land during colonisation where females were sent.
Her Story, a historical re-enactment of the life of a female prisoner during her time as a prisoner at the Female Factory, is a “live history” guided tour of the site that tourists can participate in at the Cascades Female Factory. It is on this tour that you are introduced to a young, innocent female convict, a caring doctor and a harsh, power hungry supervisor. Run by Live History Hobart, Her Story portrays a story of walls so high that no light was permitted, damp conditions with frigid water up to the knees, poor nutrition (meat and bread, no fresh fruit or vegetables), cruel and unfair punishments for minor infringements or simply ‘just because’, rape, sickness and death.
It’s hard to imagine, when you stand between the walls of what is left of Yard 1 at the Cascades Female Factory, with the sun steaming down on you on a balmy Spring day, what it was really like to live (and I use the word live loosely, as most were simply existing) and work for years on end in such conditions.
If you were unlucky enough to fall pregnant whilst serving out your time in the Cascades Female Factory, you were summoned to have your baby in a cramped, filthy room of the prison, where often up to 100 other babies were kept, where your baby would sleep on a shared mattress that was so filthy, it was coloured black by the number of fleas that crawled on it. If the baby managed to survive the disease that ravaged the prisons, the poor nutrition, no sunlight and the freezing conditions, it was then taken from the mother at the age of 2 and sent to a church-run school. Apparently the sins of the mother carried over to the child and they were treated as nothing more than outlaws themselves.
If found guilty of some petty crime or bad behaviour within the walls, convicts were sentenced to time in isolated cells, sometimes with the “iron collar” (an iron ring with long spikes) around their necks. Wearing this contraption day and night for days and weeks on end meant the prisoners were unable to lie down, so often they stood or sat in freezing water up to the knees, in total darkness. Understandably, some that came away from the brutal punishment were never the same again. That was if they survived.
Her Story is performed daily at 11am and runs for approximately 45 minutes.
Cost: $20 Adults, $12.50 Child, $60 family. Tickets can be purchased from the Cascades Female Factory visitor centre.
In addition to Her Story, Live History Hobart also runs the popular (#1 on TripAdvisor) Louisa’s Walk, which takes visitors along a stroll through South Hobart. The walk follows the Hobart Rivulet through parkland and to the Cascades Female Factory, all the while using theatre to tell the story of Louisa, a convict, from her arrest and transportation to her arrival at the Female Factory.
Louisa’s Walk is performed daily at 2pm, leaving from the Cascade Brewery. Allow 2 hours.
Cost: $35 Adults, $90 Family (children under 5 free). Bookings are essential and can be made through Live History Hobart.
The interactive “living history” tours at the Cascades Female Factory aren’t just for history buffs – they’re a must for anyone visiting the area. The staff are engaging and happy to answer any questions you may have, of which I had many!