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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gordon, Ann (1795–1868)

by Hilary Weatherburn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Ann Gordon (c.1795-1868), female factory superintendent, was born at Portsmouth, England, daughter of James King, government courier, and his wife Ann, née Ovey. Young Ann probably received some schooling. Her sister Martha married a Limerick militiaman in 1812 and on 2 May that year at St Mary's Church, Portsea, Hampshire, Ann married Robert Gordon of the 26th Limerick Militia.

After returning to Ireland Robert enlisted as a private in the 48th Regiment in June 1816. In August next year he, his wife and their two daughters arrived in Sydney. Ann's daughter Letitia, born prior to her marriage, remained in Ireland. Robert was sent to the Newcastle garrison where Ann gave birth to two children between 1820 and 1822. Following the departure of the regiment for India in 1824 the Gordons remained in the colony as settlers. Land apparently granted to them in the Burragorang Valley in 1825 was rapidly disposed of and by 1828 Robert was employed as a storekeeper with the commissariat.

In October 1827 Ann was appointed superintendent and matron of the Female Factory at Parramatta, a place of supervision for transported women who were not assigned as servants to settlers. Also the colony's principal female penitentiary, it played an important role in the provision of medical care for the wider female convict community and was the means of enforcing moral and social standards upon both convict and destitute free women. Mrs Gordon's appointment was surprising: eight months earlier, Governor Darling had requested a competent replacement from Britain for the then incumbent (Elizabeth Fulloon, later Raine) because he saw 'no chance' of finding a suitable local. Possibly Gordon had experience in handling female convicts at Newcastle. At a salary of £150 per annum, including quarters, fuel and light, she received less than her predecessor's £200, although throughout her time there she had a larger—not always cooperative—staff of two or three assistant matrons, a storekeeper, a clerk, a porteress and a gatekeeper cum constable. By 1835 there was also a midwife and several monitoresses chosen from the best-behaved women.

Gordon's administration (1827-36) coincided with the terms of governors Darling and Bourke. Concerned by reports of mismanagement, Darling sought to place the institution on a firmer administrative footing and overcome problems created by inadequate resources and Colonial Office demands to economize. Gordon tried to implement policies designed to achieve the smooth running of an institution that was both a place of punishment and asylum, to maintain the health and welfare of the women, alleviate overcrowding where possible, provide some employment and encourage moral improvement. Darling commended her superintendency.

Under Bourke the numbers in the factory (later dubbed 'Gordon Ville' by the Sydney Gazette) increased alarmingly and conditions worsened. By the mid-1830s discipline had deteriorated and reports reached London about immoral conduct by members of the matron's family, including her husband. Bourke's disabled son was rumoured to be the father of Mrs Gordon's daughter's children. In September 1836 Bourke informed his superiors that he had instituted major reforms: the factory was re-established on a prison footing and the services of Mrs Gordon terminated, although 'no blame was attached to her' and she was given a year's wages.

The Gordons remained at Parramatta. Robert held a publican's licence for 1837. Next year Ann sought unsuccessfully reappointment as matron of the factory. By the early 1840s the family had moved to Maitland. In July 1848 Ann applied for but failed to obtain the post of matron of Tarban Creek (Gladesville) Asylum. Robert died in 1863 and Ann on 6 June 1868 at East Maitland, where she was buried with Anglican rites. She was survived by three daughters and by her son Henry (1820-1910), who had attended The King's School as a day pupil (1832-36) and was later a police magistrate.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Salt, These Outcast Women (Syd, 1984)
  • H. Weatherburn, ‘The Female Factory’, in J. Mackinolty and H. Radi (eds), In Pursuit of Justice (Syd, 1979)
  • H. Weatherburn, The Female Factory, Parramatta 1804-1848 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 1978).

Citation details

Hilary Weatherburn, 'Gordon, Ann (1795–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • King, Ann

Portsmouth, Hampshire, England


6 June 1868
Maitland, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence