State Library and Tasmanian Archives Blog

Filtered through the Factory Part One: Mary Armstrong

Inside front cover of a book with orange and blue marbled endpapers. Label taped inside reads Convict Department. Female Factory. Register of Female convicts admitted to factory showing no. of days victualled. 31 May 1833-31 March 1834.
Tasmanian Archives: CON139/1/1

The value of Tasmania’s convict records lies in the detailed information they provide on each person. But there are still gaps in our knowledge due to events not being recorded or records not being preserved in the Archives. Sometimes a single volume or scrap of paper shows us how much more we could have known if the record had survived in its entirety. One such item is a volume from the Cascades Female House of Correction (Female House of Correction, Hobart – Register of Female Convicts admitted to the Factory, showing Number of Days Victualled, Tasmanian Archives: CON139/1/1, which records female convicts who passed through the ‘Female Factory’ in 1833-1834. This record tells us where the women were coming from (their assigned employer, police office or other institution), how long they were held in the Factory and where (or to whom) they were sent.

While this volume has not been newly discovered, we have now completed the task of transcribing the data and linking the relevant pages to convicts’ entries in the Tasmanian Names Index. This includes 766 female convicts and 212 of their children. Search the data from CON139 in the Tasmanian Names Index.

Read on to find out more about the significance of this volume, and the story of one of the women it records.

Transcribing the Cascades register was relatively simple. Our staff identified and mapped the categories of data, created a tutorial and loaded the digitised images of the volume into DigiVol, an online crowdsourcing platform. Online volunteers then logged on and copied the text into fields. Next came the real challenge – linking the names in the record with the convicts in our Names Index. For some convicts, this was simply a matter of matching their name and ship, but a significant minority were more difficult. Some had multiple matches (same name, same ship), and others had none.

Our next step was to cross-reference with other records, to see if any of the details of offences lined up with their period in the Female Factory, or with the delivery of a child. There was also the possibility that names were changed due to marriage, alternate spellings or the adoption of an alias (which was very common).

For this work, we have to thank the wonderful work of the Female Convict Research Centre. They had already linked these records to their database, which provided a source of many potential matches. We also did do our own checks for the source of the connection (thanks to Rose Wade for her work on this project). In some cases, we have linked the record to multiple convicts. In these cases, you will find the disclaimer: “The Admission to the Female House of Correction is linked to this convict record as the closest match. Please note that there is not enough information to confirm the identity of the person in this entry.” This has been used when there was not enough evidence to convince us that the register was referring to one convict or another. There are still 103 unlinked names where we could not make any connection to a convict in our index, 56 of which are children.

As always, if you find an error you can let us know by emailing

A full length portrait of a woman standing in an ankle length blue dress.
Costantini, C. H. T, between 1846 and 1857? [Woman in a blue dress], FA973, Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania.

Convict women were the servants in every household in the colony, so information about their employers tells us something about the interpersonal relationships across class lines. If we know more about what the servants were up to, we know more about what the employers were dealing with at home. We can even consider that a convict would have only been punished for an offence if it caused a problem for the employer. Was the employer opposed to drinking? Did they care that their servant hadn’t come back one night? Did they mind servants being in each other’s beds? How much petty theft could a servant get away with? Each employer must have had different tolerances.

When it comes to convict research, the worse behaved, the better. This is not a matter of morbid curiosity, but the simple fact that convicts who committed a lot of offences against the convict system have a lot more records kept on them. Information about a convict’s employment and time in an institution like the Female Factory helps to tell the stories of convicts who were less rebellious (or better at avoiding consequences). Mary Armstrong was one of these convicts. Here is what we know about her:

Case study

Mary Armstrong (also known as Margaret) was tried in Nottingham in 1822 for ‘grand larceny’ and transported for 7 years. She was a widow with two children (gaol report: bad). She arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in October of 1823. Mary served nearly two years of her sentence below the radar, until 1825 when she was brought before a magistrate by an employer (named Munday) for suspicion of ‘being concerned with Bushrangers (Bird)’.

Bird was a member of the gang of bushrangers that included Matthew Brady (Hobart Town Gazette, 8 Oct 1825). I found no record of the bushrangers attacking her employer’s property, but perhaps Armstrong helped hide the bushrangers or smuggled them supplies. Bird was shot dead in March of 1826 (Hobart Town Gazette, 8 Apr 1826). As for Mary, no punishment was recorded, but she was sent back to the Female Factory.

Conduct record for convict Mary Armstrong transported on the Mary Oct 1823.

In August of 1828, Mary was working for Major Abbott who was then the commandant of Launceston (Townsley, 1966). While employed by Abbott, Mary came before the magistrate Peter Archer Mulgrave for:

‘drunkenness, absenting herself from her master’s house on Sunday night last and abusing a Constable on duty, also having a quantity of soap and blue in her possession for which she cannot satisfactorily account.’

For those offences she was ‘sent to the Factory for the remainder of her sentence’. In this case, ‘the Factory’ probably meant George Town Female Factory, which was the female convict establishment in the North from 1822-1834 (Alexander, 2014). In August of 1829 her sentence was complete, but she was again in trouble for being drunk while working as a nurse at the Hospital. She was brought before Mulgrave again and placed in the stocks for 2 hours. Her certificate of freedom was granted in 1829 (Hobart Town Gazette, 2 Jan 1830).

We know from our Cascades register that Mary returned to Hobart. Despite being ‘free’, she was sent to the Cascades Factory from an employer called Mr Young in June 1833 and discharged to a Mrs Hamilton in July (Tasmanian Archives: CON139/1/1 pp. 7, 13). Neither of these employers’ names are unique enough to trace through the archives with any level of confidence. If you are looking to identify a convict’s employer, some good places to check are the Names Index, Lucy Wayn’s index to Tasmanian Government Records and Colonial Newspapers and the Deeds Register Indexes (AF955). Unfortunately, these resources did not work for me this time.

In Mary’s case, the Factory served as a hiring depot when it was no longer a prison. Whether this was an official function of the institution at the time or not, it seems to have been a place where convicts and ex-convicts ended up when they were at a loose end.

I have had no luck in tracing Mary Armstrong any further. There are no likely looking death records, so she may have left the colony. As long as she could find a way to pay her way, a woman of her status could have travelled between the colonies, unrecorded. It was not a priority to keep comprehensive passenger lists on ships at this time (see our guide to Arrivals and Departures for an idea of the kinds of records that contain passenger lists. Most of these records have been indexed in the Tasmanian Names Index). Records that do list passengers are less likely to identify passengers in steerage . A servant travelling with her master or mistress would not necessarily have been named in any lists.

I chose Mary Armstrong as a case study because she had very few offences. While the indexing of the Cascades register did not add great deal of extra information about her than we could have found before, it adds another link to the chain of evidence. And like a chain, you can always add new links as you find them. We hope you enjoy exploring these additions to the Names Index for yourselves. Come back for part two, where we will explore another case study from this register.


Alexander, Alison (editor), 2014, Convict lives at the George Town Female Factory, Hobart, Tas. : Convict Women’s Press.

Robson, L. L., ‘Mulgrave, Peter Archer (1778–1847)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 6 February 2024.

Townsley, W. A., ‘Abbott, Edward (1766–1832)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 6 February 2024.


  • Jessica is a Librarian for the State Library and Tasmanian Archives.

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