61. Jody Steele Centers the Convict Women of Tasmania's Penal Colonies at the Female Factory
Welcome to museum archipelago. I'm in Elsner. Museum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than fifteen minutes. So let's get started museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past the exclusion of first peoples from telling their own stories in major museums, and having a large privately owned art museum reshape small town, this month on museum archipelago. We're taking you to Tasmania for the next three episodes were conducting a survey of museums on the island and exploring, how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums today, we begin at the cascades, female factory in the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart. It's at the center of a shift in how Australians think of the role that convicts played in the colonization of the island Nilekani story is the story that everyone's heard about everyone seems to have an affinity, you'll want to discover something about it. It's awed that the famous story is equally as fascinating and as intra. Ticket as the mail story. And yet, until recently, nobody's really showing that much of an interest in it with the exception of Family Research, is what people who have specific connection the site tells the story of European colonization van demons land, the original European name for house mania, from the female perspective, the whole penal transportation to a stray and subsequently van David's land started as a result of prisons in England post industrial revolution and people ending to crime to, you know, without all of the industries that used to machines, taking their jobs. The prisons, just started to literally or floor so they needed a mechanism to get the people out of those spaces study the overcrowding and the colonization of Australia was an attempt or one of the many attempts to get that population out of Britain, and essentially fall, far away, over one hundred seventy thousand men, women children were transported from Britain during the transportation phase, which started in New South Wales in the late seventeen hundreds and. And invent land in eighteen ninety three the only museum in has mania that represents the female convicts story is the cascades, female factory where Dr Jody steel works as the heritage interpretation manager tie. My name is George steel, and the heritage interpretation manager for the foot off the historic sought management authority. We are lucky enough to be the portfolio manages three world heritage thoughts, which phone pot of the strain comeback sites. World, heritage nomination and the famous factory for under her portfolio, understanding, why the site is called the female factory means understanding, how the female convicts were seen as resources to the early, colonists, moving men Acuras labor force was something that seemed to make a lot of sense to the Brits to be able to pick up men and moved them across to fold trees into gather all the materials necessarily for building as literally building, and you colony. And then, of course, if you want that population to grow that can't be done with men, alarm, so in the early eighteen hundreds. The first vessels with women on board came, there's women in the first days as convicts we usually assigned directly out to the early promo population as your servants. So you housemaids you kooks and things like that as soon as anyone in that situation needed to be reprimanded for anything. I done they needed an establishment to do that. So as a result of that the cascades, female factory was established right here. Yeah. Rocky of eliciting? So the female convicts were an amazing resource to that particular set of colonials, they could have female convicts coming in care for their children witnesses educators, and a lot of these women were just petty criminals, you know, that were quite skilled at a number of trade. So you had you seamstresses and all of the trades that the men didn't lend a hand Stor. You needed somebody to do laundry for the colony. And so having a prison filled with women who you wanted to put onto hard labor to punish them laundry was one of the greatest ways to do that. You could all of the military prisons. Could have they, they uniforms laundered here in Boston? And so it gave the colony massive resource of trades that the men went to, which is why it got its name is the female factory the system operated under a strict series of punishments. That was nevertheless, at the discretion of the guards, it was managed by a hierarchy of those incarcerated and was encouraged by attitudes towards what it meant to be a respectable woman in the colonial society. A lot of the women who were assigned out where assigned out to people, some of them to people that they knew some of them even today, husbands, which is quite curious. And I think in those instances, there's an absurdity to the system where these women were assigned to people that, that would genuinely in love with. They wanted to have families week they go pregnant pregnancy while you were under sentence was considered a crime, which meant that those women ultimately would be removed from their assignment, bought back here to have the child, they would spend time with the child when it was a baby. They would be usually waned quite quickly from their mother and sometimes. Within within months that mother would then be back on the sentence being punished separated from her child with the child being left in the care of other convict women in the nursery, usually, but sort of three years of age the child would then be removed from this location. The nursery here removed into an orphan school, you may never see your child again now as somebody who wanted to have that baby with the person they will with that must've been horrific and then there is the flip side to that story when you could be assigned out to an individual master, he may have had absolutely no choice in folding pregnant, and yet you were the one who gets punished for that occurring, you would come back in here and quite often that into that, individual, who you were assigned to originally would simply just get a new female convicts servant, and, you know, you'll lift under punishment for something that was clearly not your fault. It must have been horrific. Dr Steele, says the biggest interpretation child. Enj- is that it's so easy for visitors to see the entire population of incarcerated people rather than individuals with vastly different often contradictory experiences. People come with a an understanding of mass population. They think of the convict population, and unless they happen to be descended from an individual convict. They find it really hard to think about the individual within the system and with over seven thousand women, passing through this sort of, you know, base few yards Lorne, and it seems to be that mass mentality that we try to break down here, which is one of the well, from my perspective is one of the more fun, things that I get to do is to find the audio-vidual, who's got an amazing tale, whether it be of a tragic tale, or title of resilience and strength telling the stories of individuals is complicated by the fact that not many artifacts remain. The site itself is made up of three yards surrounded by sandstone walls with only markings on. The ground indicating the size of prison cells or nurseries, the challenge here. Unlike a lot of our other convict site, museums is that the artifact jewel material associated with female convicts in really present even state, museums don't have a lot of material associated with female convicts, there is an, the material history surrounding them, that's made maintain it has for the men. That's probably one of the hottest things to deal with is the fact that the most of the convict population clearly didn't have access to the time or the inclination to sit down run daily journal, and most of them the literacy Wilson, particularly high, usually when they arrived, but part of the cone BIC system was actually educating a lotta these people. So a lot of them lift with a much better education than when they came in. But again, by the time they could have sort of sat down and written a journal, they will most likely off getting married building businesses building, the, the colony as it is today. So there's a massive gap and. We really do. Rely heavily on what he is. The administrators view of these individuals. Right down to the way they described the when they got off the ships, and then we rely heavily on their descendants, who have all those stories in the ARL histories associated with how they fit family some built up from as individual women. Dr Steele, talks about a massive cultural shift in Australian attitudes towards ancestors, who may have been incarcerated because the family stories of the female factory go back just two or three generations. It's an opportunity for the museum to better interpret, and educate by becoming a hub for those stories for a very long time having a convict densest. It was considered something to be ashamed of, and that's probably only shifted in the last twenty years, why people now have the sense of pride of being descended from Kong-based when they were became aware that even though they may have been criminal, some of them quite serious. Some of them petty that they wear responsible for essentially building the new colony of ustralia and so. That's that's been a real shift in people being really proud of it now. And because genealogical Ray set she's now like enormous. We've got access to things that, that aren't that oppressor record the convict records business records and images of shopfronts where these people built businesses massive massive change in attitude. The female factory is in the middle of a design process to open the brand new history and interpretation center on the site, the process begin with an architectural design competition, judged by an all female panel. It's really important when we're working on this, that we recognize the contribution of women to society. I mean that is that he's what is place is, is recognized and part of that process when we put the coal out for the actual design competition was that we really wanted women to contribute to this project. We had over fifty original people who came in here, put their hand up to get involved in the competition and. We pulled together a team of amazing women mostly architects, and the chair about Boyd, Sharon Sullivan, who oversaw the process, and it'll was the review of all of the nominations looking for things like female contribution, of course, looking at the heritage impacts, and how the building would would sit in the in the landscape. And what stories the building itself might tell that the new building that they were hoping to put in this space will be clearly identifiable as a brand spanking, new building, that is that is part of our intention, but it will also hopefully be aside from being beautiful architectural structure where hoping that it will recede. And then the individual stories will come out as you're inside the building the building, will be located, or the cellblock location. So, I guess, in a linear form, it will represent part of the historic landscape, but outside of that most storytelling, we'll have to be in a very different format. We'll have to get really. Creative. We work really closely with a group of people that are called the female convict research center, that started, as, as a bunch of women female researches, who I think that would forgive me for saying that totally obsessed with female cone, BT street, and they have built up a an amazing Dada base of all of the female, convict women. And so we have access to that database, any would I mean what an amazing thing to be able to nor that you have a female big ten sister to be able to come here to tap into that? Find out how long they were here exactly what space they were living in working in even being punished in to be able to go to that space and stand essentially in the footprints of your ancestor would be an amazing thing. You can see the winning design in the show notes for this episode. The architects, call for a beautiful, but solemn building with plenty of play between the open spaces of the yards as they are today and the confined spaces of the cells as they used to exist. List, who is a city partially built with convict labor, but the reminders, the type of stone on the building, for example are subtle and you have to know what you're looking for a structure like the one proposed removes the subtlety and makes it harder to forget. I would, I would love, you know, the female convict history to be the first thing that people engage with, and then to flow on into into the story of the men, I want people to walk away, even if they don't have a better understanding of, of convict female convict history. I want to walk away asking questions and I think that's what we all want in, when we billed as places we want them to start questioning what they believe what they think what they knew before. They walked in the door. I don't necessarily I mean subliminally I'd love to educate everyone who will stir the dole. But quite often those people are on holidays, and they probably don't won't be lectures for narrative off about convict history. But I want them to walk away, questioning, you know what these place meant to test mania or you know what the women at least filter will win through to try and get some kind of, you know. Gut reaction from the midst of that experience that these people went through to create the place that we live in working today. Do you like the podcast Simek club? Archipelago is the best way to support me it gives you access to a special bonus podcast. That's an even deeper, dive into the museum landscape. Kind of like the director's commentary to the main show. There are longer versions of some of my interviews commentary on the industry as a whole and incited tourism, various museums from pass gases. All with the same humor in quality. You've come to expect from us. Eum archipelago. Join today for as little as two dollars at patriot dot com slash museum, archipelago and get museum archipelago logo stickers mailed straight to your door. That's patriot dot com slash museum. Archipelago. This has been museum or cappella, you'll find a full transcript of this episode along with show naps at museum, archipelago dot com. If this is your first show, don't forget to subscribe for free in your favorite podcast player. Thanks for listening and next month. Bring a friend, I can admit I like you and a turtle museum junkie and wherever I go drag anyone who I'm traveling with every possible museum in every possible place that I travel around the globe underpinning, the rates, the sun in then taps on the material to find out what made out of what printing versus the used whether or not like the font. You're there. You're there with me. You do it in every museum, you will get into.