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Full moon in Van Diemen’s Land

In 1790, the first exclusive female fleet of convicts arrived in Australia aboard the Lady Juliana. The women who were seen as the ‘most difficult’ were sent to forced labour camps so they could be educated on the ‘value of morality’. These camps were known as female factories, where they were punished in highly public and humiliating ways. These punishments included shaving the convicts’ heads, gagging them, and forcing them to wear iron collars.

An act of mass defiance occurred at the Cascades Female Factory in Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) in 1844. Angered at their poor treatment, the convict women decided that enough was enough. When the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land visited the female factory to attend a chapel service, the women saw a ripe chance to protest.

As the prison chaplain Reverend William Bedford read his address from the dais, the women lifted up their skirts, revealing their bare bottoms. According to the Reverend – who was much hated at the camp – the slapping of their bottoms in unison made a ‘loud and not very musical noise’.

The constables and wardens swiftly put an end to it, but as the number of women responsible for mooning the governor was too high, it was too many for them to figure out who the ringleaders were. According to accounts, this mass mooning ‘horrified and astounded’ the Governor, and his male companions swore to never return. According to reports, the women in his party couldn’t stop laughing at the convicts’ brazen display.

This wasn’t the only time that the women showed their hatred for Reverend Bedford and his morality campaigns. On another occasion, a group of convicts fell upon him, took off his trousers and ‘deliberately endeavoured to deprive him of his manhood’.

Female convicts lived brutal, tough lives. Male convicts could redeem themselves through hard work and penance, but women were viewed as too far past class boundaries to be redeemed; however, by the mid 1800s, things began to change for the better, with many women successfully joining society, building families and starting afresh. 

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