Parramatta North Projects

Female Penitentiary Parramatta. Earle Agustus c1826. SLNSW

The Project

The Parramatta North Project is situated within the City of Paramatta Council, along the eastern foreshore of the Paramatta River and opposite the World Heritage Area of the Old Government Domain and Paramatta Park.  The PNGC site incorporates the eastern campus of the Cumberland Hospital and the Norma Parker Centre/Kamballa site, in the southern part of the PNGC precinct


Historical Background

Charles Smith’s Farm – 1792

The earliest land grant made in North Parramatta in the vicinity of the study area was 30 acres made to Charles Smith on 29 November 1792. By 1801, Smith was successfully living off his land, producing wheat, maize and pigs. Sometime between 1803 and 1806 Smith sold his land to Rev. Samuel Marsden.

Government Watermill and Race – 1799

In 1799 Governor John Hunter made preparations for the construction of a watermill in Parramatta.  It was one of a number of attempts to provide the colony with an efficient and reliable way to mill large quantities of grain. The proposed site for the mill was on the eastern bank of the Parramatta River. Other than the mill, the project required the construction of mill races and dams to direct and control the water supply. The mill race began at Darling Mills Creek below Hunt’s Creek, and ran south approximately 1.2km to the site of the watermill. Rev. Samuel Marsden, the Parramatta Superintendent of Public Works, initially supervised the construction of the mill but in 1803 the work was entrusted to convict Nathaniel Lucas, a skilled carpenter recently arrived from Norfolk Island where he had established successful watermills for Lieutenant Governor King.  Around this time Marsden purchased Charles Smith’s 30-acre farm that was ‘out of cultivation’ and through which the mill races ran. By the beginning of 1804 the mill was complete but major flaws soon became apparent in the planning and construction of the dams, races and the mill building. Sandy soil made many of the structures and races unstable, and unreliable water supplies led to insufficient water for operation.  Despite the many issues, the mill did operate intermittently over the next 15 years before the sale and removal of the equipment in 1820.

Parramatta Female Factory – 1818

Construction of the Parramatta Female Factory began in 1818 and it was opened in 1821.  Its purpose was to replace the original female Factory located on the upper floor of the Parramatta Gaol.  It was to provide for better and larger housing for the growing number of female convicts entering the colony. It was a three-storey stone barrack or dormitory.  Smaller, single and two-storey buildings formed courtyards on the river and eastern sides of the structure. 112 women were moved from the Parramatta Gaol to the new Factory in February 1821. Proximity to the river was important because of the intended occupation of the women in spinning flax and bleaching linen, however Commissioner John Bigge doubted that this was sufficient reason to build so close to the river and require expensive flood protection measures to be added later.

Issues with the design of the building and an ongoing need for alterations plagued the Factory over the following years.  The Female Factory’s original design did not provide for classification and separation of the women convicts.  The first of the changes were made during Commissioner Bigge’s inspection and involved altering the stair hall to provide dual staircases so that the building could be divided between 1st class and punishment sections. The building had been designed for employing the women rather than punishment and did not have cells.

In 1837 Governor Gipps commissioned a new building incorporating the newest trend in British prisons, the American Separate System of solitary cells.  However, his designs, which removed windows in the ground floor and reduced cell sizes, were considered too severe and Gipps was instructed to cut windows into the ground floor punishment cells.

Parramatta Lunatic Asylum -1846

By 1846 Tarban Creek Asylum, Gladesville was overcrowded and free immigrants with mental illnesses were forced to mix with insane convicts.  To alleviate crowding male convicts were transferred to Liverpool Hospital, and female convicts were sent to the now disused Female Factory, Parramatta.

Since the first transfer of patients in 1846, the site has remained home to psychiatric and mental health for Western Sydney, although it has undergone several name changes.  These name changes also reflect changing attitudes towards mental health over the last 150 years.  Up to 1878 it was known as the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum.  From 1878 to 1916 it became the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane.   Between 1916 and 1962 it was referred to as the Parramatta Mental Hospital, while from 1962 to 1983 it was the Parramatta Psychiatric Centre.  From 1983 up to the present it has been known as the Cumberland Hospital.

By the mid-1850s the former Female Factory buildings were occupied by lunatics and aged and infirm invalids.  The classification and separation of spaces within the main Female Factory building remained, with the aged and infirm invalids of both sexes occupying the southern side (former 2nd class convict spaces) and the male lunatics occupying the northern side (or 1st class areas).  The female lunatics were also housed in the old three-storey Cell Block built by Governor Gipps.  This remained the principal accommodation for female lunatics until 1883.

Roman Catholic Orphan School (RCOS)

In 1841, money was provided for the construction of a new orphanage at Parramatta.  Under the direction of architect Henry Ginn, a four-storey building was built using convict labour, with a smaller three-storey wing for a staff residence. The Parramatta institution was originally intended as a replacement for the existing Male Orphan School at Liverpool, which was to be closed but the new orphanage remained empty until March 1844, when 113 children were transferred from the Roman Catholic Orphanage at Waverley. A new two-storey wing was constructed on the additional land, behind the old outbuildings in c.1850. The two-storey building was quickly filled by children abandoned or orphaned during the gold rush. The main building included the matron’s quarters and teachers’ dining room located on the ground floor, the matron’s kitchen in the cellar floor and two girls’ dormitories in the upstairs.  The newly constructed wing on the north of the main building had an infants’ nursery, girls’ bath and changing rooms on the ground floor, a schoolroom on the first floor and two dormitories above.  The boys were housed in the building at the rear of the property, connected to the main building by the covered way.

In 1884 the Catholic Church was informed that it was not to admit any more orphans and in 1886 the RCOS was closed and the remaining 41 children were transferred to the Catholic Industrial School at Manly.  The complex was quickly commandeered as a Girls’ Industrial School in 1887

Girls Industrial School, Parramatta Girl’s Home & Kamballa – 1887

In 1866 the Industrial Schools Act had established a Girls’ Industrial School at Newcastle for delinquent girls.  Following a series of riots and break-outs, the girls were moved to Cockatoo Island (renamed Biloela) in 1871.  The construction of the Cockatoo Docks necessitated a second move in 1887 to the former Roman Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta.  Ninety girls were transferred, under the control of the Colonial Secretary to the Department of Public Instruction. Other than the addition of a high brick perimeter wall, few changes were made to the RCOS buildings. It continued as an girls school and industrial reformatory until the 1980’s.

SL Harris’s 1823 plan of Parramatta Female Factory is considered to have some inaccuraies. SL Harris’ plan of the Female Factory, 1823, C 226, ML SLNSW.


An archaeological testing program was conducted in 2016-2017 and found remains of:


Water Race for the Government Mill

The Western race was located in three test areas and closely corresponded to the 1846 plan of the area, surviving as a backfilled ditch up to 6m wide and 3m deep.

Mary Bett’s House/ Blaxland House/ Superintendent’s House (pre-1830-1948)

Testing at the site of the Bett’s house uncovered well preserved foundations, evidence of flooring and fireplaces.

The Original Female Factory Buildings (c.1818-1880s)
  • Footings associated with the buildings of the Western Range, including the 1st class workshops and privies, western perimeter wall have survived in good condition.
  • Evidence of footings were found.
  • Gravel yard surfaces of the 1st class yard, 3rd class workshop/wash house
  • A brick and mudstone box drain
The moat around the Female Factory (pre-1846-c.1880)

The c.1821 Factory moat survives as a large sandstone box drain, which probably replaced the moat in 1839 with the building of the Solitary Cell Block.  The cut for the moat was partially exposed, but not fully visible.


Archaeology was found associated with the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum (1848-1878) and Parramatta Hospital for the Insane (1878-1916)

  • The Criminal Ward building and perimeter wall and artefacts , including clay pipes, buttons and a harmonica.  The northern ha-ha had been backfilled after 1960 with a large quantity of dismantled iron hospital bedsteads.  No structural remains of the southern ha-ha remained, although the base of the ditch and earthen embankment were exposed.
  • In the basement of the 1868 North Wing of the Roman Catholic Orphan School (later the Parramatta Industrial School for Girls) substantial layers of artefact-rich underfloor or occupation deposits were uncovered in the Shower Room.
c.1880s photo showing the façade of the Main Building (looking to the west) during the Asylum-period, situated on the top of a noticible rise in the landscape
The ha-ha wall in TA24/1. The trench was not able to be excavated to the base of the ha-ha due to concerns about the instability of the fill. View to west


Infastructure NSW, formally Urban Growth NSW


The photos used in this report are by Casey & Lowe. All other images are from State Library of NSW Records.


Parramatta North Projects





Parramatta, Parramatta North