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2-235 (Original)

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author,female,Franklin, Jane,50 addressee,female
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Private Written
Private Correspondence
Teale, 1982
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2-235.txt — 6 KB

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As for doing anything with the women here, in the factory, it seems next to impossible huddled as they all are together, and such impudent creatures, almost all of them, there in order that they may lie in and then go to service again.
I think the whole system of female transportation, - and particularly of female assignment in service, - so faulty and vicious, that to attempt to deal with the women who are the subjects of it, seems waste time and labour.
I wish in my present letter to explain to you, (and to confine myself to this one point) that the circumstances in which female prisoners are placed in this Colony, and the influence to which they are subject are not in general favourable to reformation, but rather have a directly contrary effect.
You are aware that this Assignment of Men has (c)eased or is in the course of being abolished. It has been pronounced 'Domestic Slavery' and the odium of the name has strangled the victim that bore it. You must not suppose however by my saying this, that I am ready to advocate the cause of Assignment. In my opinion, whatever may be said in its favor (and something may be said) it is an unrighteous cause and I rejoice in its abolition. But is it really abolished? What becomes then of the fact that all the women convicts who come out here are still sent into Assignments. And not a single voice that I know of has been raised in England to save them from this tyranny and this degradation. Are the women wholly forgotten in England? or is Assignment stripped of its horrors and cleansed from its iniquity when applied to them? Alas! the fact is otherwise. The Assignment of women is an infinitely worse thing than the assignment of men. It has all the evils of men's assignment both as respects the 'slave' and the master or mistress and still more. The women not only receive but produce more mischief. I will instance this in one point of view only.
Landed from the ship after a voyage which is itself a cause of increased demoralization, they are thrown at once on the bosom of society, to be diffused over every part of it, - no corner of the island so remote in which their presence is not to be found. Few families so mean that they cannot afford to maintain a single female prisoner servant. But chiefly, they are congregated in the Towns, in the midst of every temptation to the lowest licentiousness and vice. These women in all but the highest families and not infrequently in them also, are the nurses and nursery maids of our Colonial households, the earliest teachers consequently of the infant generation, the waiting maids probably of the grown up daughters. [25] And of whom is this affirmed? of whose least crime perhaps it is that they are thieves of women whose 'trade' in England, I have blushed to see recorded in letters of shame in the Surgeon Superintendant's name-book. [This state of things] - . - is fostered by the association of male and female prisoners in the same family, by the temptations to which they are mutually exposed, and the very few coercive restrictions to which they are subjected in assigned service. . - It always happens when a female convict ship arrives, that as many people as there are prisoners on board and more besides are candidates for their services. These candidates are not bound to shew any qualifications of their fitness to be the employers of convict servants; such a thing would be impossible. Their fitness lies in their want of the prisoners services and in their sense of having as much right to them as others. The best of the prisoners or those supposed to be the best, are reserved for the best masters or mistresses (an arrangement which falls under the control of the Chief Superint. of Convicts), that is to say those who are in the most respectable classes of society. The refuse fall to the lot of the lower ranks. Such, tho' I have never heard it so stated, is undoubedly the principle of distribution, and there perhaps could not be a better as respects the best, but what can be said of the other? What should we say, if in an hospital, the most severely afflicted patients, the most difficult cases, were always made over to the worst physician? and that many of these employers of convict servants are indifferent enough may be concluded from the fact just alluded to that there is rarely a petty tradesman in the town where a great proportion of the tradesmen are emancipated convicts themselves, who has not one female prisoner in his employ. This system is as ancient as the origin of this penal colony and it is pursued from something very like necessity. There are no other women (the number of originally free female servants is quite insignificant) and until a very extensive system of female emigration is entered into, it would be considered and would in fact be the most intolerable of hardships, to put a stop to it - . . Besides this, there are no receptacles for women but the homes of the colonists. The whole arrangements of the convict system till now have been based on the principle that the colonists are to be the prisoners' jailers, and that their dwelling-houses, adapted as many of them are only to the rude and somewhat gross habits of colonial or hard working life, their only prisoners [sic]. The Factory is only a large Receiving house for the women whether on their first arrival or in their transition from place of servitude to another, and it is also a house of correction for faults committed in Domestic service, but it has no pretension to be a place of reformatory discipline.. . [F]ew women remain long enough to be materially acted upon by any reformatory process even did such exist. . - There is no classification which is worth the name. The separate cells are few in number and used only by award of a police magistrate for special offences. Silence is not only not enforced, but the utmost confusion of tongues prevails in every yard and every room, and in short, without entering into more particulars, its character may be ascertainted [sic] from the fact that even as a place of punishment, it fails in its object. [26] The women return to it again and again. When they wish to change their place of servitude, they are known to commit offences on purpose to be sent back to it preparatory to their re-assignment elsewhere.