The Hobart

Cascades Female Factory Reopens

by Stephanie Williams
Cascades Female Factory Reopens

On a site where only the outside walls remain, how do you help visitors contextualise what happened inside those walls?

At the Cascades Female Factory site in South Hobart, actor Karissa Lane, together with director Craig Lane-Irons and writer Finegan Kruckemeyer have created The Proud & The Punished, a 45-minute monologue to share the horrifying, heart-warming and sad stories of the women and babies, who went through the site from 1828 until 1856. At any given time there were between 700 and 1200 prisoners.

The Proud & The Punished is a one-woman performance featuring multiple characters but centered around Sarah Mason, a petty criminal who rails against the system of punishment and redemption inside the prison walls. “I think the women’s side of our convict history has been too long overlooked,” Karissa said. “I have a great sense of pride for these women, especially the ones who stuck it out and went on to make lives for themselves afterwards. It’s so sad to think of the atrocities they faced and how poorly they were treated, when really, the most common thread here was they were simply poor and had no other option than to perform petty crime to get by.”

When I took the tour recently, it hit home while standing in the footprint of a tiny solitary confinement cell on a chilly Autumn afternoon, realising women were in there 23 hours a day, sometimes pregnant or nursing. “The way the children were treated makes me sad and angry,” Karissa said. “They were kept in appalling conditions and a huge number died because of it. I know medical advances weren’t what they are today, but the lack of common sense in weaning the babies so early makes me furious.”

It’s fascinating to hear about questionable prison decisions, like that the Contagious Diseases Hospital was right next to the maternity ward. If that’s not setting things up for failure, I’m not sure what is!

But the night before Karissa’s first performance, there was a shock in store. “I knew I was descended from a convict named Mary Leary who was convicted of stealing a dress in 1828. She was pregnant on board her ship (The Mermaid) but her son died about a month after they arrived in Hobart. She was sent into service on an estate near Ouse and met my other descendant James Lane.” Karissa explained that she knew of Mary but didn’t realise her spirit was closer than she thought. “It turns out she was sent to the female factory as punishment after they became pregnant in 1829. Luckily her baby son survived and eventually she and James were allowed to marry after he got his ticket of leave.”

Audiences can expect a bit of an emotional roller coaster, I can vouch for holding back a tear or two. “We made a conscious effort to keep the peace as bright and hope-filled as possible,” Karissa said. “However, there’s such a dark side to what happened here. It’s very rare to get to the end of the show and not have at least one audience member in tears.”

Until 31 December there’s free entry for children. Open from 10am – 4pm daily. ■

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May 2024

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