Convict Hannah and the GPO

20151010_102542 (2)Brisbane’s General Post Office is four buildings from Queen Street through to Elizabeth Street in the city’s central business district. Behind an old gated entrance on Elizabeth Street are the horse stables of almost a century and half ago. The stable doorways are still there. Under the fraying edges of asphalt are cobblestones. They hide the dark secret of a Female Factory built on this site in 1829. When the Moreton Bay penal settlement was for the worst recidivous convicts.

The Female Factory was so called because the female convicts were required to work. Among their painstaking output was rough convict clothing and rope for hanging. They laboured under stiflingly hot, cramped, and unsanitary conditions.

Hannah Rigby was one of the women who lived in the factory for seven years. She’d served seven years in Sydney. However in 1830 she was caught stealing again and sent north to Moreton Bay for a second seven year term. With a handful of other female convicts, she joined eighteen women prisoners already here among more than 1,000 males. The factory was surrounded by a compound and a high wall. It was to keep the men out.

Hannah was present for the infamous ‘Governor Phillip’ incident. The ship’s captain, his clerk, two drunken officers, and the penal settlement’s Resident Surgeon, broke it with a bottle of rum. They attained a raucous night of sexual favours. The commandant wasn’t pleased and the doctor lost his job.

Hannah returned to Sydney. Within months she’d stolen again and was sentenced to yet another seven years in Moreton Bay. She still had a couple of years to go when the colony was opened to free settlement in 1842. All convicts were returned to Sydney. All except Hannah Rigby who stayed with her husband, himself a former felon. She became the only female convict to remain in the district after gaining her freedom. Her liberty included more boisterous nights. In 1853, having danced exuberantly at wedding celebrations five nights earlier, Hannah died of a stroke in her hut on Queen Street. Not far from the Female Factory.

The factory became a gaol and a police court. Aboriginals were given woollen blankets from the compound every year. In 1872 it was demolished and today’s GPO constructed in its place. Look under the crumbling edges of asphalt by the stable entrance and you’ll see the cobble stones. The sound of hooves sliding. Horses snorting. Women talking. Men shouting. The memory of Hannah, the longest serving resident of the colony, remains.

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