Riots and Actions

There were 5 identified riots at the factory – 1827, 1831, 1833, 1836 and 1843. 

The first riot has been variously described as a protest, first women’s workers action and rebellion as well as the government description of riot and disturbance.

The evidence shows that whatever the description of the first ‘riot’ it was a fight for rights at the Parramatta Female Factory.

From 1826 to 1828 the key staff included:

  • Samuel Marsden as head of the Committee of Management (also Colonial clergyman, businessman and magistrate)
  • Matron Raine (previously Falloon) who was also in an acting superintendent role
  • Ann Gordon who was Matron following Raine’s resignation
  • Henry Gratton Douglass, who was visiting surgeon at the female factory, later agent for William Charles Wentworth and physician to the Kings Household
  • William Tuckwell, Secretary (clerk) at the Factory

The key women involved in the stop work catalyst for the events were: Julia Burke, Catherine Byrne, Anne Blake, Hannah Caffin Anne Coultan, Elizabeth Elyard, Eleanor Green, Ann Gorman, Martha Hubbard, Elizabeth McCarty, Ann Nugent, Mary Sarter, Bridget Shelton and Esther Whitehead. There were also 11 others punished prior to the 27th that may have been involved.

The women were Irish and English, from a number of ships including the Brothers, Minerva and Harmony and were from a range of classes in the factory. Most of their convictions were for minor theft and received 7 years.

The timeline of events were:


  • Matron Raine (Falloon) started at the female factory.
  • Reports for 1825 are a semblance of order – business as usual.
  • In 1826 several things occur:
  • William Tuckwell reported issues with food rations. The record of the rations were not verifiable and the women did not appear to be getting enough to eat. The Matron Elizabeth Falloon and her husband were implicated.
  • February 24th Mary Ann Hamilton died of starvation. Her death was found to be from  “hunger and hard treatment” by the Coroner John Eyre.


  • William Tuckwell reported issues with food rations. The record of the rations were not verifiable and the women did not appear to be getting enough to eat. The Matron Elizabeth Falloon and her husband were implicated.
  • February 24th Mary Ann Hamilton died of starvation. Her death was found to be from  “hunger and hard treatment” by the Coroner John Eyre. Witnesses included William Smith, Master Manufacturer and Deputy Superintendent;  Margaret Jackson assigned servant; John Darough and Francis Macnamara, both Constables.

William Smith said: There are many more complaints made now by the women under my charge than I ever had some time ago…. Several women have repeatedly made complaints to me that they were not able to do their work owing to their weak condition, that they wanted more food.

Margaret Jackson noted that the dead woman was confined to the cell without any bread or water. Catherine Hays bullied the dead woman.

John Darough: [Mary Ann Hamilton]  ‘died from hunger and ill treatment she was so hungry she was picking up bones and weeds from within the factory’

Francis Macnamara said: There is a cause for their complaints and manifest, by their appearance. Deceased applied … before she died for a flax wheel, and said she would spin the flax well , if he would apply for a little more food for her. The wheel was sent her but she was not able to spin much. 

At the time there were only 5 women in charge of 200+ women and children and the women received half of the men’s rations.

There was an inquiry into the factory. A Grand Jury was constituted, visited and found:

  •  the rations were unsatisfactory
  • 253 women and their children  had no access to water supply,
  • the bread was inferior and
  • they were short of clothing and shoes
  • There was excessive punishment, fear of head shaving and neck yoke


  • There was  corruption within the factory over rations and factory cloth. There was also an issue with the son of Matron Raine who had liaison with the women
  • Throughout the year a rise in punishable behavior occurred: Absconding, abusing the matron, disrespect for the matron and other staff, disorderly conduct, complaining, bad language, fighting, illegally at large, improper behavior, insolence, refusing to work, neglect of work, quarreling, disturbance in the factory, received drunk, bullying, wool short, breaking spinning wheel, breaking cards. The highest misbehavior were abusing the matron, absconding, refusing to work and insolence.
  • In March there was unrest in the factory. Dr Henry Gratton Douglass is accosted by a number of women, one of whom wrestled him to the ground. This is also following tension between Douglass and Marsden over a convict women servant Anne Rumsby.
  • September Matron Raine tendered her resignation saying:

The situation has of late become very irksome

  • The week starting the 22nd of October there was unrest in the factory. 14 women stopped work and refused to do any more until rations returned. The women involved were from a range of classes in the factory. Most of their convictions were for minor theft and received 7 years. Julia Burke, Catherine Byrne, Anne Blake, Bridget Shelton, Esther Whitehead, Martha Hubbard, Ann Nugent, Johanna Lawson were all convicted of theft and given 7 years transportation. Esther was the youngest at 17 and Martha the oldest at 39.
  • Matron Raine’s response in the last few days of office was that she reduced the tea and sugar.
  • Wednesday 24th.  Women in 3rd class took over their yard, expelling a constable.
  • Friday 26th Raine advised constables she expected unrest and was threatened and assaulted by the women. She was rescued by the constables
  • Saturday 27th Matron Gordon starts her first day as Matron and at 7am stopped the allowance of bread and sugar altogether. The women threatened to tear down the gates if the rations were not reinstated immediately which they did.
  • ‘200 ‘viragoes’ attacked the workmen taking hammers and sledges’
  • The women broke down the gates and escaped Like Bees from a hive. They were described as Amazonian Bandittis who ran through Parramatta, attacking bakers  shops.
  • The Magistrate requisitioned the police and military  – double purpose securing the fugitives and staying the mutiny
  • Constables seen running in all directions with bayonets. A captain, a lieutenant and about 40 rank and file. There was an expectation that the military would commence firing if necessary.
  • His Majesty’s 57th Regiment charged towards the surrounding hills, with bugles sounding, to prevent the women from escaping into the bush, various skirmishes in the town and bush occurred with ‘diver marchings and counter marchings a ‘treaty was agreed.’ The women were to return with their food.
  • Many were captured and escorted back to the factory where Major Lockyer, superintendent of police at Parramatta directed the ringleaders to be selected and confined in the cells. The rioters banded together and declared if one suffers they all should suffer.
  • About 40 took to the bush towards Toongabbie

After the Riot day:

  • 100 were still missing some days later
  • Rations were restored
  • 31st October there were 19 still at large
  • In December there were 3 at large
  • The last 2 were found in late December, 130 miles away, in a settler’s covered cart
  • Those in the factory were treated severely, such as Johanna Lawson, one of the original protesters, who was given a month on bread and water directly after the riot.

After the 27th of October the only reference in correspondence out from the  Colonial Secretary and Governor Darling was  ‘there was a disturbance in the factory’

The most detailed information comes from the newspapers of the day more than the records.

The women’s’ experiences in the factories and the colony varied. Some women just couldn’t cope with life after total dislocation and sense of powerlessness. These women can at times be seen as victims. However, the women also acted. Some conformed, some escaped, some absconded, others rioted and many went on to have fulfilling lives.

The words of Mary Hindle show one perspective experienced by the women. She was transported in 1827 for participating in machine breaking. While in the factory she sent a petition to the governor:

I hear that pardons have been granted to the men involved in the crime [machine breaking] and I humbly implore your Excellency to include me in the number of those who have received the Blessing of such Clemency…do not suffer me to languish the remains of my existence in hopeless Slavery. 

One Journalist’s view of the event was:

The scenes which were witnessed at   Parramatta last week, are attributed to anything, we find, but the true cause; …in which alone, women, of the most abandoned character, are confined for the purpose of punishment and example. There is no establishment in the Colony under a better state of discipline than the Factory…

A second Journalist View shows a different perception:

After the scenes which were witnessed at Parramatta last week, it is tolerably evident that the internal economy of the Factory requires looking into. The Government can know nothing of the arrangements in force, or of the want of arrangements … hundreds of unfortunate women, … otherwise they could not have been taken so much by surprise by the sudden commotions and escape of two hundred confines. The poor wretches, who   forced their way into the town, complained of nothing— of nothing — save—starvation!

A unified ‘downing of tools’ for better conditions is a worker’s action. Going against the authority of the Matron a government representative and breaking down gates is civil disobedience against a government – so elements of rebellion. However it was not a concerted uprising to depose a government. It was about rights to be treated humanely … and better conditions…. Perhaps a rebel heart and a workers action…… perhaps a short lived, poorly planned rebellious event. Unfortunately the women’s voices were not recorded so it is inconclusive. However we can say the women fought for their rights at the Parramatta Female Factory and it was the first women’s action for rights recorded in Australian History.