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The building in the Brickfields, however, is not used as a Penitentiary, or Factory within the spirit and meaning of the Act, neither as a place of punishment, but merely as a Depot for the accommodation of Female Pass Holders awaiting service.

(Correspondence between Forster and Visiting Magistrates Messrs Carter and Watchorn, 1844, CO 280/183, PRO, London)

The Brickfields Hiring Depot was located where the North Hobart football oval now stands. Its building was completed by the Royal Engineers Department on 1 October 1842, but female convicts had been held there for assignment since February 1842. After its closure in November 1852, Brickfields became an immigration depot and later a pauper establishment. Max Crawford wrote about the Brickfields site in his diary, a transcript of which has been kindly provided by Anne Kiely.

List of Convicts at Brickfields Hiring Depot
1,734 as at 24 December 2013
(an incomplete list)

Click on the links below for further information about Brickfields Hiring Depot.

  • A list of female convicts housed at Brickfields Hiring Depot in 1843 was published in the census for that year.
  • In 1844, two Visiting Magistrates reported on conditions at Brickfields Hiring Depot.
  • In 1848, an article in the local newspaper indicated that hiring of female convicts from Brickfields Hiring Depot was not proceeding according to regulations.
  • Eight female convicts escaped from Brickfields Hiring Depot in 1845.
  • Brickfields Hiring Depot is mentioned in an article in The Sunday Times (London) about female convicts in Van Diemen's Land.

1843 Census

The Brickfields establishment was included in the census of 1843. The following details were recorded.

  • person in charge - George Brooks
  • proprietor - the Crown
  • building built of brick, complete and inhabited
  • no free persons residing at the establishment
  • 179 persons dwelling at the establishment on the night of 31 December 1842 which comprised:
    • 24 single females aged 14 to under 21 years
    • 136 single females aged 21 to under 45 years
    • 19 single females aged 45 to under 60 years
    • 179 single females in Government employment
    • 72 single females Church of England
    • 16 single females Church of Scotland
    • 3 single females Wesleyan Methodist
    • 88 single females Roman Catholic

Visiting Magistrates Report

Two Visiting Magistrates, William Watchorn and William Carter, were appointed in 1844 to visit the houses of correction in Hobart on a regular basis and report on their findings. A lengthy report was submitted by them on 7 October 1844 (TAHO, GO33/52 pp.172–194). In their reports, the Brickfields Hiring Depot was referred to as the Branch Factory. Included here are some extracts from their report.

In the course of their duties they visited for the first time in the month of June or July the Branch Factory in the Brickfields, upon the state & condition of which, they, on that occasion, made no report, and against which visit the Comptroller General entered no protest or objection.

On the 3rd August they again visited the Brickfields Factory & were induced to go at an early hour, from information they had received of the general irregularity & bad conduct of that prison.  It was about ½ past 9.  The Prisoners were just commencing Breakfast.  There was a total absence of all order & regularity, & the noise & confusion from Talk & Clatter were beyond description.  On the appearance of the Superintendent who had been sent for, they requested to be shewn over the Buildings, this was done with evident reluctance.  In the sleeping apartment the night clothes & bedding had not at that hour of the morning (past 9) been removed to the open air.  The floors were covered with expectoration.  Tobacco ashes showed certain tokens of persons having smoked there during the night or morning.  On asking the Superintendent for an explanation of these things, he answered (to the effect) he could not help it, he could do nothing with them (... the female Prisoners).  The Comptroller General knew of their smoking  & sanctioned it, they were not there he (the Comptroller General) said for punishment & had a right to smoke if they pleased.  Although they the Visiting Magistrates could not doubt what they heard from the Superintendent yet they could scarcely believe that the Comptroller General had given such permission, for they deemed if he had no regard to cleanliness of the place, he would have had some fear of the danger of such a practice in a Building composed entirely of Wood.

The Visiting Magistrates did not on this occasion enter a report in the Book of the Office as the Superintendent excused the general state of the Factory on the ground of the recent death of his Wife & the prisoners having been removed a day or two before from one Building to another.  They admonished him upon the want of cleanliness & discipline & told him they should report the practise of smoking to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor.

Daily prayers are not read in this Factory.

The Visiting Magistrates could not acquit themselves of the full discharge of their duties if they did not report the lax & mischievous system of this Estabt.  The Women do not work!  They have no employment, a state of absolute Idleness.  Of itself sufficient to engender vice & counteract reformation.  The practise of Tobacco smoking (most strangely encouraged here) for females & more especially for young ones is filthy & disgusting.  A habit which not only stupefies the faculties but renders the female mind callous to reproof & shame.

From this place Prisoners can & do send out articles to Pawn & receive into & sometimes purchase within the Buildings luxuries of various kinds.  They are permitted to some extent to be out on Sunday & have been seen about the Brickfields in the twilight of an Evening.

The Visiting Magistrates conceive the whole system  is one of great mismanagement dangerous to the community & destructive of any hope that might otherwise be entertained of the moral reformation of any of the Class.

The Visiting Magistrates could not but contrast the difference of appearance & behaviour of the prisoners at this Establishment with those of the Cascade Factory.  At the latter every Female was modestly & becomingly drest their behaviour quiet and respectful.  At the former place there were women in Groups of 3 or 4 seated on the Ground not deigning to get up on the appearance of Visitors or the Superintendent & only acknowledging their presence by a loud laugh or a bold stare, any with their dresses loose & immodest, their language generally loud & imprudent & their whole behaviour with few exceptions more like the unrestricted libertine of the pavé than Females undergoing a process of moral reformation.

The Visiting Magistrates wrote a letter of complaint to the Colonial Secretary, JE Bicheno Esquire and received a reply stating that the situation would be enquired into. They continued in their report:

The subject was enquired into yet the practise of smoking is not discontinued.  Subsequently to their visit a woman's clothes took fire from her thrusting a lighted pipe into her pocket & it took the exertions of 2 or 3 persons to extinguish them.

On the receipt of the foregoing letter of the Colonial Secretary's the Visiting Magistrates carefully examined the Quarter Sessions Act & they found by Clause No.65 that they were empowered to visit every Gaol & House of Correction at least once a month & to examine into the treatment, behaviour & condition of all prisoners therein & so far as their powers extend to redress all abused within the same & by a foregoing clause No.56 they find that Gaols & Houses of Correction are thus defined.

"That every Building now or hereafter used by the authority of the Government as a common or public Gaol for the ordinary confinement of prisoners therein at Hobart Town shall be deemed & taken to be not only a legal & public Gaol but also a House of Correction to all intents & purposes whatsoever" & by the 57th clause it is enacted that "the Buildings at Hobart Town & Launceston respectively called Penitentiaries used for the reception of Transported male offenders in the service of the Govt. & the Buildings at Hobart Town & Launceston respectively called Factories used for the reception of transported female offenders in the service of the Government shall be also respectively to all intents & purposes Houses of Correction, the said Penitentiaries for Males & the said Factories for Females."

By these clauses the Magistrates deemed their powers & duties perfectly defined & clearly pointed out & again visited on the 21st August the Branch Factory in the Brickfields when they were informed by the Superintendent that he had received orders from the Comptroller General not to admit them ...

The Lieutenant Governor replied to the Visiting Magistrates on 12 October 1844 outlining the difference between Brickfields, as a Hiring Depot, and Cascades, as a Female Factory.

The Lieut. Governor has read the Magistrates report & has ordered an enquiry into the circumstances detailed therein, respecting the Factory at the Brickfields, & has directed the Comptroller General's attention to the subject.

While the Lieut. Governor is glad to avail himself of the information contained in this report drawn up by the Visiting Magistrates he begs to repeat what he has viva voce more than once communicated to Mr. Carter previous to the report; that he is aware that all Gaols & Houses of Correction are to be visited by the Visiting Magistrates appointed by Quarter Sessions, & fully admits their right to do so but that the Factory at the Brickfields tho' used heretofore as a Prison or House of Correction & therefore under the Visiting Magistrates according to the Act, yet that it is no longer used as a Gaol or House of Correction, though still called "Factory" but is a mere Building used for the convenience of the Anson & part of that Penitentiary, in order to receive the inmates of the Anson when discharged from or changing their service, until again hired instead of the inconvenience of sending such persons on board the "Anson" again, & that it is neither a Prison nor a House of Correction, nor a receptacle for any Prisoners under any other sentence than the one they had received in England [own emphasis], & consequently that the Visiting Magistrates might as well claim to visit any Station or Depot, where there happened to be Passholders, & that the Regulations relating to these persons being decided by the Home Government & part of a whole system of Prison & Probation system it is impossible to allow any person but the Comptroller General to interfere with the arrangements relating to them.

Hiring of Probation Passholders

The following article commenting on the hiring of female convicts as probation passholders from Brickfields Hiring Depot appeared in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian on 6 June 1848 (p.3 c.5).

ASSIGNMENT OF FEMALE SERVANTS FROM THE BRICKFIELDS FACTORY.—We have received information relative to the mode of hiring female pass-holders at the Brickfields, which requires some comment. It appears, that a practice prevails of "snapping up" the women in a manner by no means just to the public, or, in accordance with what ought to be the rules and regulations of that establishment. There seems to be a kind of under-handed system at work, by which the women are hired, almost immediately upon entering the Factory, but this is not carried on by the worthy Superintendent, Mr. Williams, but by the connivance, as we suspect, of some of the subordinate officers. Into this matter, however, we shall not enter further, until we have enquired fully into it, when we shall report accordingly. We may observe, in conclusion, that general discontent prevails as to the mode of assignment from the Brickfields, the cause we shall endeavour to ascertain.

This article suggests that better servants are being 'creamed off' for those willing to bribe the 'subordinate officers' at Brickfields.

Escape from Brickfields Hiring Depot

On 11 September 1845, eight female convicts escaped from Brickfields Hiring Depot by scaling the fence. They were reported as absconders in the Hobart Town Gazette on 16 September 1845 (p.1168). The escapees were:

Name Ship Age Native Place
Elizabeth COVENTRY Woodbridge 20 London
Bridget KELLY Greenlaw 26 Limerick
Briddy or Rose RILEY Greenlaw 18 Meath
Margaret KELLEHER Greenlaw 18 Cork
Catherine MURRAY Emma Eugenia (3) 17 Liverpool
Mary McDONALD Emma Eugenia (3) 17 St Giles
Mary Ann McHUGH Angelina 20 Paddington
Eliza PITMAN Angelina 20 Shoreditch