Testing Elizabeth Fry

In June 1828 a young woman wandered through Alford leading a horse, she was looking for someone to help her. Eventually she engaged a man called Greenfield, he was to sell the mare at market. Frances Stephenson stood just 5’2″ high, with dark hair and grey eyes and may well have looked older than her 20 years. Life had already been hard and things were about to get worse, something had aroused suspicion and Frances was detained for horse stealing, a capital offence, she must have been desperate to risk a second conviction in Alford that day. Frances was committed to the Georgian Gaol at Lincoln Castle on 13th June 1828 to await trial at the Summer Assizes, she would spend close to 12 months there.

Frances Stephenson was no stranger to hardship, one of five children born to Dinah (Grime) and Soloman Stephenson of Huttoft her mother had died in July 1810 leaving four young children to be cared for. Frances and her sister, also called Dinah, were the youngest; both of them were under three years old. Soloman had to seek Parish Relief to pay for his wife’s burial and some time later he applied to the Parish for money once more, to buy shoes for Frances. 1 Soloman married again the following year, Ann Tinker is recorded as having children prior to the marriage and twins were added to the family in 1815. Soloman died in 1824.

Newspaper reports reveal that Frances and her sister had turned to stealing clothes in their late teens. In December 1826 Frances Stephenson (alias Grime) was sentenced to 3 weeks in the new House of Correction at Spilsby for stealing a pair of shoes from George Holmes of Hundleby. While confined Frances gave birth to her son, John, he was baptised by the prison chaplain on 16th January. A few months later, in July, Dinah was sentenced to 6 months hard labour at Spilsby for stealing two petticoats, a lace collar and various other items of clothing from Mary Booth of Ingoldmells.

The Spilsby House of Correction, along with the newly extended Louth House of Correction, were a product of the prison reform movement of John Howard in the late 1700s, built upon by Elizabeth Fry and the Quakers in the 1820s. Mrs Fry and her brother Joseph Gurney had travelled British towns extensively reporting on the state of prisons in the towns which were not covered by the first reform bill in 1823. The new rules sought cleaner surroundings and better ventilation, clothing was provided along with rules on bathing and matrons were employed to oversee female prisoners. In new builds such as Spilsby there was the provision of an infirmary. In some circumstances the situation in the House of Correction was an improvement on the harsh realities of daily life. The new regimes were also based on ensuring more punitive measures and industry for the prisoners, for women this would mean sewing, laundry and oakham picking.

Gateway to Lincoln Castle : engraving 1836

It was just 18 months after her time in Spilsby House of Correction that Frances found herself inside the walls of Lincoln Castle, and expecting another child. The Georgian Gaol was built in 1788 and comprised separate areas for felons and debtors. Each felon was allowed a rug, three blankets and straw for bedding. The night cells were 10′ by 8’6″ and 11′ high. Each accomodated two prisoners on the wooden bedsteads fastened to the floor. There were four day rooms with fireplaces in them each with a communicating courtyard of approx. 10yds by 15 yds enclosed by a 24′ wall. These rooms were for different classifications of prisoners.

Initially Frances shared with Ann Smith2, who had been convicted at the Grimsby Sessions and sentenced to seven years transportation. Ann (Boyes) was born in Beesby, she married Thomas Smith of Hundleby in 1813, he was a respected gamekeeper by 1828. Her conviction caused a stir, a former professor of Religion, with good connections, she had swiftly fallen from grace when she stole various articles of linen from the shop of her friend Mr Dales. The Stamford Mercury reported :

No person has been transported from Grimsby Borough Sessions for upwards of a century; which circumstance, together with the peculiar nature of the theft, and the reputable sphere of life in which the prisoner moved, excited mingled feelings of indignation and compassion … she has fallen a victim to disgrace. 9th May 1828

It is interesting to wonder how the two women, from such different walks of life, got on together during the their few weeks in that small cell. They may have been able to hear the construction of the new tread-mill. It was close to completion by the end of June when the Stamford Mercury reported that it had “attracted various visitors who have been essaying the effects of the punishment , and it is described as being a sickener for the idle who may stand in need of such an instrument to rouse them to useful exertion.” The treadmill had been adopted as a means of creating hard labour at prisons across the Country since 1817.

Ann Smith received a full Pardon on Sunday 6th July, rather than transportation she returned to her two children, leaving Frances at the Castle to face her fate.

On 26th July Frances stood before the Grand Jury at the Crown Court held in the Gothic Court House built within the castle walls for the assizes in 1826. The Stamford Mercury reported on her trial.

Stealing a Mare at Raithby.

Frances Stephenson, aged 21, a single woman, was charged with stealing a bay mare the property of Edward Lindsey, at Raithby, on the 10th of June. The novelty of this case excited considerable attention, which was not at all diminished by the appearance of the prisoner, who was neatly dressed, and rather of an interesting appearance, but the strange situation which she was placed seemed to excite no terrors in her; she gazed around with a considerable portion of effrontery, although the eyes of every person in tbe court were fixed with earnest curiosity upon her.

The evidence for the prosecution, which was of considerable length, but not requiring a detailed notice, went plainly to prove that, shortly after the robbery, the female had the mare in her possession, and employed a person to dispose of it, under the pretence that her master, the prosecutor, was distressed in his circumstances, and that he had commissioned her to dispose of mare.

The Counsel for the prisoner insinuated that the mare had been given to her by Mr. Lindsey for certain familiar favours which had been allowed by her. Tbe prosecutor, in reply to a severe cross-examination upon this point, steadfastly denied that any thing of the kind had occurred. In her defence, the prisoner admitted taking the mare from the prosecutor’s stable, but asserted that it was with his license, as he resorted to this mode of requiting her for the favours already alluded to, and in consequence of which she declared that she was at that time far advanced in pregnancy.

Verdict: Guilty: Sentence of death recorded. Stamford Mercury: 1st Aug.1828

Following her conviction Frances was returned to a shared cell at the Castle Gaol to await the birth of her child before her sentence was carried out. Shortly after her conviction the treadmills at Lincoln Castle Gaol were set in motion.

The tread-wheels at Lincoln gaol commenced their revolutions last week: four culprits are at present occupied upon them, one of whom is always in reserve as a relief. There are two wheels each of about 12 feet in length. The total number of persons who may be kept in occupation by them is about 18, allowing for the necessary reliefs; but one on each wheel is sufficient to keep it employed, and the machinery is so constructed (by a self adjusting principle) that whether there be one or six on the wheel , it revolves at the same rate. The workmanship of the machinery, ( by Mr Isaac Aydon, of Wakefield ) is considered to be of superior quality: it does not turn any mill , nor is intended to answer any productive object, beyond what may proceed from amending the manners of the prisoners.    Stamford Mercury – Friday 29 August 1828

Male prisoners standing in a frame treading on the boards of a treadmill: in the foreground others sit looking glum. Wood engraving by W.B. Gardner, 1874, after M. Fitzgerald. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Records on 2nd October reveal that Alice Cater2 of Freiston was her cellmate. Alice was 39 years old, a mother of two, she had been convicted of stealing at the Boston Sessions in July and had been sentenced to 7 years transportation. Later in October she was removed from the Castle to the notorious Millbank Penitentiary in London to await her fate. In 1832 prison petition records list Alice Cater among those who were granted a free pardon, her location is simply stated as “penitentiary” suggesting she may have spent over three years at Millbank, Alice may have avoided transportation but those three years would have been spent in dreadful conditions.

On 17th November 1828 Frances Stephenson gave birth to a daughter, Dinah, her second child born in prison. The whereabouts of her son John is unknown and criminal registers after 1828 refer to her as a mother of just one child. Prior to the birth of her son Frances had named a farm servant from Binbrook, Joseph Wildman, as the father of her unborn child. The assizes had made Joseph responsible for the upkeep of the child for its first 8 years. Lincoln Prison Surgeons2 recorded the birth of her daughter and scant notes on the health of Dinah and her Mother continue into February when the little girl was vaccinated. On March the 14th 1829 Frances recieved “her Majesty’s most gracious pardon on condition of being transported beyond the seas for the term of her natural life.”

Two months later, on 14th May, Frances and her young daughter were removed from Lincoln Castle and transported to Woolwich to board the convict ship ” the Lady of the Lake”. The method of transfer for Frances and baby Dinah is uncertain, the reports of the quakers reveal many methods of transfer for those to be transported. Some transfers from Lincoln Castle were undertaken by way of the Steam Packet from Hull but this method of transfer was not successful and somewhat short lived.

Five convicts who were recently removed from Lincoln Gaol to be put on board the Retribution at Sheerness, for transportation, became so outrageous on their journey and passage that the severest methods were obliged to be had recourse to, but without effect. They expressed their determination to swamp the boat, and to drown themselves and the crew; and made several attempts to do so. On being put on board the packet they commenced a desperate struggle with the officers, whom they challenged to shoot them, being determined if possible to escape or be killed. They were eventually subdued, after receiving some severe contusions from the officers’ staves. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 04 June 1829

Many men were transferred from Lincoln Castle to await transportation on the prison hulks. A small rowing boat is taking people to a prison ship at Deptford 1826.
Engraving by George Cooke after Samuel Prout.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

At Woolwich Frances would have truly entered the realm of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Frances was exactly the kind of person that Mrs Fry was so determined to help. Sustained by her faith as a Quaker she worked tirelessly to improve conditions based on her belief that no one was beyond redemption. She first visited Newgate prison in 1813, the horrors she had already seen tending to the poor and destitute in London and then in Plashet (East Ham) became displaced in the face of the suffering she found in the prisons. In 1817 she began her task in earnest, winning the women over with her care of their children.

Elizabeth Fry. Reproduction of lithograph.
Credit: Wellcome Collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The situation Frances found herself in is revealed in the correspondence of Elizabeth Fry. The convict ships at Woolwich had already fallen under the watchful gaze of the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners created by Mrs Fry in 1817. Building on her successes at Newgate Mrs Fry applied her methods of classification (by character), employment and instruction. The “comparatively uncontaminated” should not mix with the “most abandoned“. From 1818 the ships were a key focus of Mrs Fry’s attention, her companion Mrs Pryor was particularly devoted to this cause, visiting all but one of the female convict ships that sailed until her final illness in 1841. Every aspect of the convict’s situation was examined and the Ladies then worked tirelessly to improve their circumstances and their outlook.

Their reports to Government began with the condition of the prisoners on arrival at Woolwich. In the 1820s the groups of prisoners arrived at the vessels from around the Country. Some marched, others arrived on carts or the exterior of coaches, while more arrived on small coasters. Some were handcuffed , chained together and heavily ironed this made the breaks in the journey even harder to manage. In one reported incident the women had to descend the exterior of the stage coach as a group and manage the children they carried, despite being handcuffed and chained together, without any assistance from the attending turnkey. They had travelled to Woolwich from Lancaster Castle in this way. Many arrived in a dishevelled state with equally destitute children, or were distraught at having been separated from a young child.

Liaisons aboard the convict ships between the women and crew were notorious, tales abound of “delayed ships”, one in particular where children were conceived and born before arrival. Penny dreadful stories and images such as the one below leave little to the imagination. Similarly the situation for the female convicts upon arrival was not conducive to following the righteous path advocated by Mrs Fry.

Print by William Elmes 1813 ,after a similar one by Thomas Rowlandson 1809
© The Trustees of the British Museum Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

During the voyage the women were in originally in the care of the Master and crew with the exception of the Naval Surgeon Superintendent. There was no instruction in reading or religion and no provision to enable them to keep clean or ensure proper clothing. Mrs Fry worked closely with Admiral Young of Deptford and Admiral Byam Martin Comptroller of the Navy. These gentlemen respected her motives as just and humane and admired her relentless pursuit of the cause. On one occasion Mrs Fry and Mrs Pryor had to be rescued from a small rowing boat when returning from one visit to a hulk on the Thames. Admiral Young’s department was responsible for fitting out the convict ships, he had suggested the provision of patchwork for the employment of the women during the voyage. The instruction in sewing and provision of materials for patchwork among other skills followed.

In a letter written in 1820 to Admiral Martin Mrs Fry thanks him for the increased provision of soap and towels for the female convicts during their voyage. When one request is met with disdain by a Navy Surgeon Mrs Fry writes

I believe I may say for all the ladies of our Association , that we do not desire indulgences or increased comforts for convicts, except so far as good and orderly conduct may conduce it. Some of our prisons we think decidedly too comfortable ; and our great wish is, that by employment and instruction, with habits of cleanliness and order , the time of their imprisonment may be a time of reformation, not of indulgence. … I believe kindness does more in turning them from the error of their ways than harsh treatment; and that many a poor creature claims a compassion and tenderness that is little known, but to those who visit prisons; as there are many of whom it may be said that, they were driven into guilt , and only want the way to be made open , to return with joy into the paths of virtue. Surely for their welfare … and hope that even the worst may be preserved from futher evil as well as for the sake of the colony , the women’s morals should be protected on the voyage; it is worth the effort to make the convict ship a place for industry, instruction and reform. extract from : Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry 1847

Frances joined the convict ship The Lady of the Lake in May 1829. The ship’s surgeon was William Evans RN Supritendant, his journal provides an insight into the voyage undertaken.

… From 18-31 May 1829, we received 10 free women and 19 children; 81 female prisoners and 17 children, the largest ever sent to New South Wales in so small a vessel; and I may here observe that she was the smallest ship ever taken up to convey convicts. We were visited repeatedly by Mrs Pryor and Miss Lydia Irving, the quakers, while at Woolwich, who appeared to be indefatigable in endeavouring to impress upon the prisoners the necessity of abandoning their evil ways and becoming useful members of society. After several excellent admonitory discourses they distributed to them testaments , religious tracts, and several articles of comfort for their use during the voyage.

Appointed Mary Ann Newsome, Schoolmistress over the children in the prison, and Mrs Shacklock, a free woman, Schoolmistress over the children in steerage. The two to have a sovereign each at the end of the voyage, if they perfomed their duty, Mrs Pryor having deposited that sum with me for such purpose.

A cook, and a cook’s mate , were selected from among the convicts:- these have for their trouble, the drippings and fat, which are sold in New South Wales, to the soap boilers, for ten to twelve pounds.

Mary Stewart Mason and Mary Ann Guy were appointed overseers, one on each side of the deck in the prison, to see it cleaned every morning , and swept after every meal; they were also to see that the cisterns of the water closets were filled at least twice a day, and to select delegates from the messes in succession to superinted the issuing of provisions, in order to prevent the possibility of complaints arising on that head at the conclusion of the voyage.

The cooks were let on deck at six in the morning , the deegates at seven, and the prisoners doors opened for the whole to come on deck at eight o’clock.

They were mustered below at sunset every evening, during the voyage, and locked up for the night.

Divine service performed every Sunday, on the quarter deck in fine weather , and in the Prison-room when the weather was boisterous.

On Sundays and Thursdays at 10am, they were mustered to see that they were clean in their persons; and Wednesdays and Saturdays were set apart for washing days.

On 12th June , received despatches for his Excellency Governor Arthur, and sailing orders to proceed with all dispatch to Hobart Town Van Diemen’s Land.

… [On Monday 15th June] put all hands upon an allowance of six pints of water. From this period to the second July we experienced a series of Westerly and South Westerly strong breezes, accompanied with much rain, which rendered the vessel exceedingly damp, and during thisperiod the convicts suffered greatly from Sea sickness. Thermometer ranging between 560 and 580. Fires were had recourse to between decks , and the floors of the hospital and prison were sprinkled frequently with the solution of the Chloride of Lime. … put on , as in , whitewashing with a brush to the sides, deck and berths, [to] render a crowded prison perfectly sweet in a few minutes, especially with the aid of good fires in the swing and airing stoves.

On 8th July we reached Tenerife to replenish our water and procure fresh provisions for the convicts. On Saturday 11th July we got underway … fresh trade winds … rendered our passage from Teneriffe to the equator exceedingly tedious … the weather … was often sultry and oppressive.

The general health on board suffered a great deal about this period. From the Meridian to the Cape of Good Hope we experienced a succession of very heavy gales … accompanied by much rain, hail and sleet until we reached Van Diemen’s Land.

On the 16th October , it blew a complete hurricane, when the ship was obliged to be hove too the wind, and under bare poles. – During this part of the passage , the sea constantly washed over the ship, and the hatches were frequenlty obliged to be put on;- not withstanding , the Prison and Hospital, as well as the bedding and the clothing of the Prisoners were saturated with salt water, and we had no means of having them dried, – the water being ankle deep between the decks. The consequence was that a great number of Catarrhal cases, Pneumonia, Acute Rheumatism, and Scorbutic Dysentery [ Scurvy] came under my observation at this time; indeed towards the latter end of the voyage Scorbutic cases became very prevalent, and had the passage been prolonged we should have lost more.

[On 1st November ] … we came to an anchor in Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart Town. On the 4th November , the prisoners were inspected by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, who was pleased to say that he was perfectly satisfied with their appearance, and with their management during the voyage, and on the 6th November they were all landed and assigned to the service of settlers with the exception of three.

I may here be permitted to observe , that a ship of the small tonnage of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ is by no means adapted to carry out female prisoners; from being constantly wet between the decks and the hatches being obliged to be put on, there by causing great deterioration of the atmosphere in the prison.

Surgeon’s Journal of His Majesty’s Female Convict Ship ” the Lady of the Lake 1829

During the voyage 2 female convicts had died, one fell overboard, and three infants died. Frances and Dinah had survived this terrible ordeal, they now faced their life in Hobart, much of which had also seen the guiding hand of Elizabeth Fry during the planning but on the other side of the World the diligent attention of the Quaker reformers was lacking when it came to reporting and influencing the reality.

Elizabeth Fry had first become aware of the hopeless situation, which met female convicts in New South Wales, through her visits to Newgate. The Reverend Samuel Marsden subsequently appealed to her for help from his home in Parramatta in February 1819. He cited the plight of these women whom he saw frequently in his roles both as a missionary and as a magistrate, underlining that they had no righteous paths open to them upon their arrival, with no shelter, no work and children to feed they quickly fell into disreputable ways.

“I meet with those wretched exiles who have shared your attentions and who mention your maternal care with gratitude and affection. From the measures you have adopted, and the lively interest you have excited in the public feeling , on behalf of the of these miserable victims of vice and woe, I now hope the period is not very distant when their miseries will in some degree be alleviated. … For the last five and twenty years many of the convict women have been driven to vice, to obtain a loaf of bread or a bed to lie upon. To this day there has never been a place to put the female convicts in when they land from the ships. … All female convicts have not run the same lengths in vice, all are not equally hardened in crime . And it is most dreadful that all should alike, on their arrival here be liable and exposed to the same dangerous temptations without remedy.” Rev. Samuel Marsden: Memoirs Elizabeth Fry

Throughout the 1820s Mrs Fry championed the cause of these women. In 1823, following the opening of a building for female convicts in Paramatta 2 years previously, she wrote to her friend the Right Honourable R Wilmot Horton on the need for a similar building in Hobart:

I take the liberty of stating in writing our views relative to the female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land; in order that they may be submitted to the consideration of Lord Bathurst as we cannot but feel anxious that the care we extend to this degraded class of the community, not only in different prisons but also on the voyage , should be rendered permanently beneficial through the co-operation of government in the colonies. In the first place we deem it expedient that a building be erected at Hobart Town for the reception of female convicts. … That a respectable Matron be there stationed to superintend the whole estabishment. Part of the building be appropriated to the use of an adult and girl’s school and that the school mitresses be selected by the Matron from among the reformed prisoners, provided they be sufficiently qualified. That immediately upon arrival of the ship , after it has been visited either by the Governor or by some other person appointed by him, for the purpose of inspecting its general condition; the convicts be quietly (and as privately as possible) conducted from the ship to the said building, where the deportment of every prisoner shall be scrutinised with exactness. If the Secretary of State for the Home Department were to direct, that the surgeon superintendent should be furnished by the magistrates with a written account of the general conduct and character of every individual seen previously to their commitment, together with the nature and extent of their offence; we think it would greatly aid the Governor in his decision with regard to the proper disposal of the prisoners on the colony. That those who merit a favourable report be selected and allowed to be taken into service , by respectable inhabitants under such retraints and regulations as may be considered needful. The other to remain confined receiving at the same time suitable instruction and employment until they evince sufficient amendment in habits and dispostions to warrant the grant of a similar indulgence. We would also propose that a sufficient supply of strong and decent clothing ( not parto coloured) be provided for them during the voyage; to be put on when they enter the ship in exchange for their own. [All kept under inventory to be returned on discharge from prison] Great advantage during the voyage and while in the river that the women should wear a simple uniform dress, indispsensable for establishing order and for enforcing the regulations on board the ship that a matron be stationed there constantly whilst they remain in the river, to attend to clothing and search female visitors in order that no spiritous liquors or anything else improper be introduced. Could a person in that capacity accompany them on the voyage. …We are pleased to understand that the factory in Paramatta has more than cleared its expenses during the last year. …we are fully aware that much has been accomplished ; that many of our requests have been granted with obliging readiness, and we shall feel our sense of gratitude much increased if Lord Bathurst will condescend to peruse these remarks and to act in compliance, as far as his judgement can approve, and his authority enforce. Elizabeth Fry Memoirs 1847

The Cascades Female Factory at Hobart began as one yard, another 4 yards were added, the second one being the laundry in 1832. The “factories” operated in a smilar way to the english workhouse system.

John Skinner Prout 1844

The building sought by Mrs Fry was completed in December 1828. The Cascades Female Factory was a repurposed distillery at the foot of Mount Wellington and despite the noble ideals behind its creation the reality fell a long way short. Those women previously housed in the town were moved into the new building first and then classified according to the new regime.

The building Frances and Dinah would have seen in 1829 consisted of one rectangular yard. Surrounded by high walls with just one entrance. Within the courtyard internal walls created seven smaller yards, one for the entrance and the offices, one for each of the hospital kitchen and nursery and three more separated the different classes of women, their yards adjacent to their sleeping quarters and dayrooms. The two storey buildings lined the external yard walls, and also housed staff. A chapel and further sleeping rooms extended into the centre. 12 solitary confinement cells underlined the harsh regime.

The classification of the women was as follows:

Class 1: Women arrived from England with a good behaviour report from the Superintendent Surgeon, along with those who had returned to the Factory from Service with good characters. This class of women were assigned to service as soon as possible.

Class 3: The lowest classification was reserved for those transported for a second time, noted as disorderly by the surgeon or had committed offences within Cascades. The second class was comprised for those women between the other two classes some of whom were working their way up while others were slipping down.

As suggested by Elizabeth Fry the classifications designated the work of the women. Those ranked in the higher class would be assigned to better families and for better duties such as cooks or overseers. Second class convicts would be provided work on site making and mending clothes, while the lower criminal class would be employed carding and spinning wool.

Despite previous convictions for stealing, along with lewd and disorderly behaviour, Frances Stephenson had good behaviour reports from the gaol and the ship’s surgeon. Unable to read or write she was categorised as a farm servant / housemaid, able to wash and iron, capable of plain cooking and milking. Her convict records reflect that she is likely to have been among those assigned on arrival, depending on when Dinah was weaned. Frances’ records do show that she spent some time at cascades but this may have been between service assignments. Young Dinah would by necessity be left in the care of the nursery at Cascades. In February 1829 the Hobart Times3 reported on the arrangements in relation to the arrival of the convict ship The Harmony in January:

The new House of Correction is likely to be attended with much advantage, an instance of which already sensibly appears in the disposal of the female prisoners by the Harmony. Many of the best servants, it is well known, were necessarily kept in the late Factory, owing to the children, which there was no means of disposing of, but by leaving them in the charge of the mother; for few, if any families could be expected to incur the expense and trouble of one or two little children for the sake of the small attendance. In the new establishment, however, this inconvenience is wisely provided for. Matrons, or proper persons are appointed in apartments for that purpose, to nurse and educate the children as soon as they can with propriety leave the mother, who is thus left at liberty to go to service. By this means a large proportion of the prisoners from the Harmony, who had children with them, and who on the former system must have remained a charge on the public, have been assigned to service. February 1829 the Hobart Times

A newspaper article in 1892 related the reality of these separations. George Pullen was the nephew of the assistant superintendent at Cascades and he wrote of his childhood recollections of the Cascades Factory from its opening in 1828 to his uncle’s resignation in April 1831:

For some days after the arrival of a female prison ship, a stranger, looking on from the outside, would have concluded that the ‘Factory’ was en fete. Vehicles of every description then used might be seen driving up to the gates and setting down the—well, I will make one word do for the wives of the wealthy, the middle class and the
humble artisan, and style them all ladies. The ladies, then, alighted from their
vehicles, and producing their orders for servants on assignment, the women
were called in one by one and put through their catechism. “Can you wash?”
“Can you sew?” “Can you get up fine linen?” “Can you cook?” “Are you fond
of children?” etc. After thus examining some half-dozen a choice was made,
and mistress and servant drove off together. Before the close of a week by far
the larger portion of the human consignment was distributed amongst and in the
homes of their masters in both town and country. … The Colonial
Surgeon, Dr. J. Scott, R.N., made periodical visits for the purpose of reporting
on the sanitary condition of the whole place and its inmates. The hospital was
never overcrowded; many of the cases only helping to swell the expenses of
the nursery and Orphan School. To these cases Colonel Arthur showed no
mercy. The unfortunate creature nursed her child for nine or twelve months,
after which it was taken from her arms, and consigned to the tender mercies of
strangers in the nursery. The mother was then sentenced to an imprisonment of
eighteen months before she became eligible for assigned service. Many of the
poor mites seemed discontented with the new world into which they had been
ushered, and left it altogether; while those of stronger constitutions, but less
fortunate, pined within the stone-wall enclosure, with only occasional peeps for
a short time at nature’s verdure outside, fighting for life against the neglect and
peculation of their convict nurses for two or three years, when they were
removed to the less confined and more healthy atmosphere of the Orphan
School at New Town. The scenes witnessed at the separation of mother and
child were sometimes very harrowing. Backward Glances : Launceston Examiner 1892

The cascades factory quickly became notorious for the poor state of those confined there , in particular the children.3 The buildings were already in the shadow of Mount Wellington and the high yard walls ensured a state of permanent damp and shade prevailed. Inadequate rations, cramped conditions and poor hygiene took their toll with death rates in the nurseries four times higher than in the town. Reports abound on the poor state of the conditions; children crowded by the dozen into small rooms, buildings piled with rubbish and crawling with bugs, while settlers complained that the women arrived from the factories in a filthy state.

In March 1830 young Dinah succumbed to these conditions, born in Lincoln Castle Gaol in November 1828 she had been transported for months across the seas to the terrible conditions in the convict nursery, where ,separated from her mother, she gave up her fight for life.

Frances continued along the dictated path. In December 1830 a marriage application is recorded for Frances Stephenson, Lady of the Lake, and Henry ( Harry) Sherwood, Hibernia. Harry had been transported for sheep stealing in 1818, the two were married in March 1831.

Harry and Frances went on to have eight children between 1832 and 1847.

The 1832 and 1833 musters record Frances as assigned to a Mr R Barker. In 1835 she received a ticket of leave, with a conditional pardon in 1840 and a free pardon being fully approved in 1842, records reveal that she was “recommended by several persons of respectability in her neighbourhood as an exceedingly well conducted and steady woman”. Although one newspaper report in April 1840 suggests that her life remained complicated ; Samuel Barton had his ticket of leave suspended and was given three months hard labour on the roads for carrying out an illicit correspondence with a married woman and assaulting her husband, Harry Sherwood.

Frances would later marry again, following the death of Harry she married Joseph Haywood in 1875, subsequently widowed once more she married Richard Price in 1887 at the age of 80. Frances died in October 1889 , she is buried in Yarram, Victoria.
She endured the absence of John and the loss of Dinah, out living three of her husbands and five of her eight1 children with Harry Sherwood.

The young woman who had reportedly looked around the court of assizes with such effrontery, 60 years before, seems to have been in possession of a remarkable inner strength which provided her with a dogged determination to just keep going.


  1. Many thanks to Carol Mayall for giving me permission to use information sourced from “tangible” documents in the form of parish registers.
  2. As above Carol Mayall provided the names of Frances’ cell mates from Lincoln Castle records; accessed while researching “one of [her] most colourful ancestors“.
  3. The Female Convicts Research Centre Website contains a wealth of information on the subject of Cascades and many other Factories and stories. https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au

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Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

One thought on “Testing Elizabeth Fry”

  1. Exhaustive and interesting…a few numbered sections might provide convenient stopping off points and points of reference back for readers with limited powers of concentration!

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