Book Cover

Academy for Young Ladies

Sarah and Thomas Bell, matron and keeper at the Parramatta Female Factory 1836­-1843

Sue Bell

Available now in eBook and paperback

Fascinated to discover that her great-great-grandparents, Sarah and Thomas Bell, had been matron and keeper at the Parramatta Female Factory, the author decided to research their lives. Her ancestors had arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1832 and four years later were appointed to the factory.

Did they have the skills to manage the large number of female convicts at the factory? Did they understand the complexities of working for the government back in Britain?

Using records and newspaper reports from the period, the author reconstructs their story, revealing what happened as the number of female convicts in the factory grew, and the Bells were buffeted by events beyond their control as well as their own serious misjudgements.

To illustrate the story, the author has used drawings of scenes around Parramatta done by William Augustus Miles, Commissioner of Police at the time. These illustrations have been held for over 160 years by descendants of Sarah and Thomas Bell.

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Academy for Young Ladies — Book front cover artwork

Illustrations & Images

  • Government House in 1844.Government House in 1844.
  • William Augustus Miles. 1847.William Augustus Miles. 1847.
  • Thomas Bell, 1864.Thomas Bell, 1864.
  • Parramatta River. W.A. Miles.Parramatta River. W.A. Miles.
  • Thomas Bell letter. November 1836.Thomas Bell letter. November 1836.
  • Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum.Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum.
  • Carters Barracks.Carters Barracks.


Abbreviations used in the endnotes

ADBAustralian Dictionary of Biography
AJCPAustralian Joint Copying Project
COColonial Office
HRAHistorical Records of Australia
NSWSANew South Wales State Archives
NRSNew South Wales Records Series
  1. accessed 10 August 2021. The original site is no longer viewable, an archive link is available here.

  2. The places of their births come from the certificates of birth for Sarah and Thomas's grandchildren in the Queensland, Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Certificate of Death, Thomas Bell, No. 361, 5 September 1872. Place of birth for the Bells' son Marmaduke is listed in the following link which may not be accur...


Archival Sources

NSWSA: Colonial Secretary, NRS 905, Main series of letters received 1826-1982. Female Factory 1833-1844, [4/2191.3, 4/2234.5, 4/2277.4, 4/2317.2, 4/2359.1, 4/2401.1, 4/2451.3, 4/2492.1, 4/2530.2, 4/2574.1, 4/2610.1, 4/2649.2.].

NSWSA: Colonial Secretary, NRS 905, Main Series of letters received, 1826-1982. [4/2708.2] Supreme Court 45/7642.

NSWSA: Colonial Secretary, NRS 906, Returns of the Department of Female Factory Parramatta, 1836-1843, [4/7327], Reel 702.

NSWSA: Colonial Secretary, NRS 906, Special bundles. [4/6670]  Brief in Regina v Bell and Hamilton (fraud at the Female Factory) and Hannan and Hamilton (fraud at the Parramatta Convict Hospital (1842-45).

NSWSA: Colonial Secretary, NRS 909, Letters Received - Governor’s Minutes and Memoranda,1834-1850, 4/999, Memoranda 3694, 1836.

NSWSA: Supreme Court of NSW; NRS 880, Papers and Depositions, Supreme Court Sydney and on Circuit, 1824-1946, [96336] Supreme Court Information, Jury list reduced.

National Archives (UK), Governor’s Correspondence, 1832 to 1844, File 114, AJCP Reel 1046, (From Records of the Colonial Office, Index of Incoming Correspondence, (CO 714).

State Library of NSW

Bourke family - Papers [M1863], 1809-1855.  Diary of Anne Bourke, daughter of Sir Richard Bourke kept on the voyage from England to N.S.W. Canberra : Australian Joint Copying Project, [10—]. M1863.

CO, Series 201, NSW, Original Correspondence, 1783-1900. Enclosure to Governor’s Despatches, No 82, 8 April 1847. File 381, AJCP Reel N0: 382-383, pp. 95-132.

CO, Series 201, NSW, Original Correspondence, 1783-1900. Miscellaneous Individuals, A-F, 1838, File 281, AJCP ...

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