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In 1841, an inquiry into female prison discipline was established by the authorities. The documentation associated with this inquiry is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania, reference CSO22/1/50 No.208 pp.55–248.  The original Archive document can be viewed online here


Transcript of Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline


Transcribed by Lucy Frost and Sally Rackham


The Transcript of Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline (1841-1843) is of the contents of file CSO/22/1/50 held at the Archives (TAHO) in the State Library of Tasmania, labelled Colonial Secretary, Franklin period.


Historical Context for the Transcript 

by Sally Rackham


When Sir John Franklin became the Lt. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land in 1837 it was a time of flux in relation to the convict system, and the best method of dealing with the prisoners. During his time in office the move from the assignment system to a probation system was a key change. In relation to this there was a despatch from the Secretary of State on 6 July 1838 which detailed several modifications to the system for men, (Quoted in The Colonial Times, 30 June 1839) in particular stating that after 1 July 1840 ‘the assignment of convicts in Hobart Town and Launceston shall wholly cease’. These regulations were not intended however to affect the future assignment of female convicts. There was a however a growing crisis in relation to the female convicts arriving in Hobart.


The papers transcribed here include investigations into the management of Hospitals within the Colony, in particular with relation to convicts, both at Port Arthur and the Female Factory. Plans to move the Nursery to New Norfolk, to build a new Female Factory in the ‘Interior’ and the construction of a separate Hospital close to the Female Factory were all given some thought.


The combination of pressure from the Secretary of State in London, the numbers of female convicts, the reports in the press about the conditions in the Female Factory, and the health of the convicts are all likely to have been triggers that led up to the establishment of the Inquiry into Female Discipline, although there is nothing specific detailed within these papers.


On 11 August 1841, the papers show that the Colonial Secretary was directed to appoint a Board to investigate and report on all the points bearing upon Female Discipline in this Colony - and especially to report upon the Sufficiency or otherwise of the present Buildings for the reception of Female Convicts and as to the system of management therein – also as to the effects of the present System of Female Discipline as far as can be ascertained, upon the conduct and moral character of the Prisoners subject to it. The Board is also to be requested to offer any suggestions for the improvement of the discipline generally – which may occur to them.


Interestingly the view of the Board seems to have been that the system of Assignment should be continued for female prisoners:- With respect to the second division of our enquiry, embracing the expediency or otherwise, of discontinuing the present system of Female Assignment, we would submit to Your Excellency, that, so far as we can discover, no case whatever can be made out, from the evidence before us, for its abolition. [page 350]


Nevertheless, the views of the Board were not to prevail. It was reported that by April 1843, all newly arrived female convicts would undergo a short probation. At around that time the Anson was sent out from England to become a hulk for the female probation prisoners. Sir John Franklin was also being replaced by Sir Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, and it was left to him to implement the change.


The early part of the text relates to the efficiency of the Medical Department in the Colony but the bulk of the transcript relates to the establishment and proceedings of a ‘board ... to investigate and report on all the points bearing upon Female Discipline in this Colony’

The transcript is laid out in as similar a manner as possible to the original document. Page numbers are given to enable the reader to locate the text in the original. Doubtful words or where the text flows into the margin are indicated with [ .. ] or with yellow highlights.

In places, additional text had been inserted – sometimes in different hand-writing – in the original. These instances are added in separate text boxes. Further examination of the original may result in more of these being decipherable.

Two additional papers are available:-

List of all the people mentioned in the transcript, together with information that pertains to them found within the document.

Contents of document shows the page ranges of particular topics.



Provided here is a breakdown of what is contained in each section of the report, a transcript of which is now available in Contents of Document.

Note: CSO22/1/50 also contains the report of an inquiry into the Hospital and Nursery at Cascades Female Factory—No.169 pp.1–54.







Preamble, setting up of committee of enquiry



Testimony of Mr Hutchinson, Superintendent of Cascades Female Factory



Testimony of Mrs Hutchinson, Matron of Cascades Female Factory, and Mr Josiah Spode, Principal Superintendent of Convicts



Testimony of Mr Brice



Testimony of Mr Josiah Spode, Mr Goodwin, Mr Simmons, Mr Henry Brice, Henry Walton (a constable in Hobart), Mrs Slea, Dr Dermer, and Mr William Gunn



Testimony of Reverend TJ Ewing



Testimony of convict Grace Heinbury per Atwick



Report dated 24 March 1842 deatiling charges for gross disorderly conduct last night in their wards by Mr Hutchinson against Mary Devereux per Mary III, Ellen (Helen) Arnold per Hydery, Elizabeth Armstrong per Platina, Frances Hutchinson per Majestic, and Eliza Smith per Atwick



Report dated January 1841—Mr Robert Pearson, Superintendent of Launceston Female Factory, examined by Mr Champ at Launceston (includes on pp.286–289 letter to Steven Bumstead dated 15 May 1841 at Launceston from Anna Maria Turner per New Grove); evidence also given by Mary Kirk, Turnkey, free to colony, Eliza Churchill per Navarino, Bridget Magahan per Sovereign.



Information on Mary Haigh per Arab



Letter from Josiah Spode regarding his evidence



Report of the committee of enquiry



Further testimony provided by Josiah Spode regarding more recent incidents (dated 4 February 1843)



Report on Launceston Female Factory



Charges brought on 23 August 1842 against Ann McKenna, Catherine Jane Downey, Jane Charlton and Mary Smith, all per Mexborough



Charges brought against Caroline Justin per Navarino, Elizabeth Clayton per Rajah, Bridget Toomey per Hindostan, Elisabeth Reid per Nautilus, Janet McLean per Nautilus, Mary Cunningham per Mary Ann III, Elizabeth Thoms per Gilbert Henderson, Mary Ann Roberts perGilbert Henderson, Mary Rafter per Mexborough, Martha Hodgson per Navarino, Sarah Griffiths per Navarino, Mary Matthews per Mary Ann III, and Fanny Jarvis per Westmoreland



Charges brought against Catherine O'Brien per Westmoreland and Caroline Justin perNavarino on 18 January 1843



Information about new Nursery in Hobart



Return of labour performed at the Female House of Correction from 1 March to 30 April 1843



Return of labour performed at the Female House of Correction Hobart Town from 1 January 1843 to 28 February 1843



Account of work done at the Branch Female Factory Brickfields from 1 December 1842 to 9 May 1843



Information on movement of prisoners from ships and subsequent assignment (see transcription)



Charges brought against Jane Owen per New Grove and Eliza Taylor per Atwick on 18 January 1843