December 10, 2011

Van Diemen's Land Revisited

The women convicts who made the Rajah quilt in 1841 landed at the port of Hobart in Van Diemen's Land, the current Tasmania.  Here convicts were usually taken directly to the Factory at Hobart where they provided free labor engaged in needlework, textile production, and laundry chores.  The children of these women either stayed with them in or near the Factory or were moved to an orphanage.  Some of the women, however, married upon arrival or were directly assigned as domestic servants to private homes.

The January/February 2012 edition of Archaeology Magazine happens to carry a short article by Samir S. Patel about some recent archaeological finds at the Ross Female Factory in Tasmania.  The article states that one of the rules of the factories forbade women "to have contact with their babies except for breastfeeding."  Recent excavations in the factory nursery ward by Eleanor Conlin Casella of the University of Manchester suggest the women tended their youngest children while also performing their sewing duties.  The discovery in the nursery area of lead seals which had been attached to bolts of cloth, and fragments of buttons and thimbles, indicates that the women were working with textiles in the nursery itself where they evidently were allowed contact with their children under three years of age.  Children of three years and older were normally transferred to an orphan school distant from the factory.

1853 stamp issued by the British Government

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

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