In 1898 Rose Scott visited Darlinghurst Gaol and reported that 'The class of warder appeared to us of a very inferior type to the men warders...'
And in her report which she wrote for the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Frederick Neitenstein,she argued that female warders be chosen from the 'ranks of trained nurses' or perhaps teachers who could then undergo relevant training. This was a possibly a forlorn hope as women trained and already working as teachers or nurses would not be attracted to the lower wages and harsh conditions of a NSW prison.
Some women who took on the role of matron or superintendent did have experience gained from working in other female institutions such as asylums or industrial/reformatory schools for girls. For the wardress however her pathway to working in a prison was more likely to be via a public service examination as was the case with Catherine (Kate) Josephine Brock.
Kate sat the public service examination in 1908 when she was 25 and began working for the department at Biloela Female Prison moving with the female prisoners to the State Reformatory for women, Long Bay in 1910 when it opened.
Kate was the fourth daughter and fifth child of James Brock (a farmer on the Upper Macleay River) and Catherine, nee Cassin). Kate became a chief or principal wardress in 1934. She retired in 1946. It is difficult to find actual detail of her work and experience but there is no doubt she cut an imposing figure. A photograph taken of her striding down a Sydney street in the 1930s shows a well dressed woman with her coatails flying behind here:
Catherine (Kate) Brock, walking along a Sydney Street in 1930, She would still have been working at the gaol and was in her early 50s.
Photograph courtesy of Margaret and Graeme Bell
A glimpse of her sense of her wry humour cab be gleaned from a story told by Zelma Wood (Kate and her sister Caroline attended Zelma Wood's wedding in Sydney in 1955), and the following tale was told by Kate herself:
Walking down a Sydney street one rainy day Kate was accosted by a woman calling out 'Oh, Miss Brock you don't have an umbrella?' Kate indeed did not have an umbrella and was becoming quite wet. The woman ducked into a store and appeared with an umbrella and a big smile before scampering off. It was only after the woman had gone that Kate realised that the woman had nicked the umbrella from the store! The woman an ex-prisoner whom Kate had not immediately recognised from her time in prison. With a rueful smile Kate tole her listeners, 'what could i do but shrug my shoulders, put up the umbrella and walk on...'
A longer story of the Brock family and Kate's time as a wardress can be read in the August edition of the Macleay River Historical Society Journal....available from the Kempsey Museum see at: https://www.facebook.com/kempseymuseum.org