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The various convict institutions were governed by the Convict Department.
The convict institutions were prone to overcrowding and their administration was subject to debate in the media.
Recent Update: Morning Post 8 July 1846 (England)
Administration of female convicts from the beginning of transportation to Van Diemen's Land until 1843 was under the Assignment System.
Administration of female convicts from 1844 until the end of transportation to Van Diemen's Land was under the Probation System.
From 1841 to 1843 there was an inquiry held into female prison discipline. This led to the introduction of the Probation System for female convicts in 1844.
When convicts were brought before magistrates to be charged with colonial offences, the magistrates used a list of offence classes to determine which of the five classes of offences the convict's colonial offence belonged, which in turn affected the sentences given.
The colonial authorities dished out various punishments apart from imprisonment with hard labour for the colonial offences committed by convicts, and the offences committed whilst incarcerated in convict institutions.
The colonial authorities also regulated the clothing that prisoners wore when housed in convict institutions. Furthermore, any money the women had on them on admission were held by the authorities in a bank account until their release.
There were opposing ideas on how best to manage female convicts within the system, and at times different forms of administration prevailed. The following letter printed in the Launceston Examiner on 14 November 1846 presents some contemporary views.
FEMALE PRISONERS. A, CORRESPONDENT writes: "Nothing requires so much reform as the management of female prisoners. As servants they are utterly reckless in their behaviour; for, if dismissed they have always abundant board and comfortable lodging to fall back upon. If hard labour and bread and water were the factory fare, they would behave very differently. Such a complaint is very natural in an employer who has suffered from the carelessness and dishonesty of his servants, or been annoyed by their defiance of authority, and the anxiety they display to return to their companions in confinement. But we are scarcely prepared to recommend his suggestion in its entirety, since prolonged incarceration on such subsistence would be more pernicious to the health and constitution than he appears to contemplate. The treatment of female prisoners is certainly the most perplexing part of penal discipline; and had we not witnessed the salutary effects produced on board the Anson, we should have been tempted to despair of success. But the experience of Dr. And Mrs. Bowden has established the fact that even the most vicious and degraded may be reclaimed by proper management; and an extension of the system pursued, by these excellent individuals seems all that is necessary to secure the maximum of good that can be produced among such a class. This lady and gentleman carry on the work of reformation in the spirit of Christian philanthropists rather than that of paid functionaries, 'and the result of their labours is sufficient to show that personal instruction, judiciously mingled with kindness or severity, according to circumstances, is a system from which more may be expected than from any other scheme. It will not excite wonder if some of those who pass through probation on board the Anson relapse into crime when restraint is removed. A radical reform cannot be accomplished in every instance; and when it is recollected that in this country a female is surrounded with numerous, strong and peculiar temptations, it is rather surprising that numbers have resisted than that many have been overcome. We are inclined to believe that a change of system is urgently required in respect to those women, who by their conduct have incurred fresh penalties. Under the present regulations descent from rectitude is: gradual and unobserved the passage from bad to worse is easy and uniform. Association, contaminates idleness corrupts, and the once penitent offender frequently becomes the hardened, reckless, miserable creature we sometimes behold, raving under the impulse of ungovernable passion, and indulging without remorse in conduct at which during the early part, of her career she would have shuddered to witness in another. Perhaps many might be saved from progressive deterioration if preventive means were adopted in time. While the complaints of employers should be received, with caution, and a becoming reluctance displayed to condemn the accused on insufficient proof, yet in every case where delinquency was clearly established, the, woman, instead of being sentenced to a crime class for months, should be compelled to commence probation anew in some, establishment used exclusively for the training of those who have relapsed. It is almost unnecessary to observe that the diet should not be more than sufficient to sustain the prisoners in health: the accommodation provided suitable for the enforcement of strict discipline; and each actively and usefully employed. Nor does it appear less necessary that these subsidiary establishments should be placed under the immediate management of the matron, through whose hands every female prisoner must pass before becoming eligible for private service. Nothing else can secure uniformity of treatment, or produce effects so salutary on the prisoners themselves. Those inclined to be refractory would often be checked by the fear of being returned to the custody of individuals who had laboured to instruct, counsel, and guide. It is only those officers who are actuated by superior motives that will attempt to subdue the stubborn spirit of prisoners, soften their temper, and sympathise with and encourage their resolutions of amendment by personal communication. We have lately had an opportunity of inspecting the Female Factory and Hiring Depot in this town. The cleanliness, order, and decorum that prevailed were highly creditable to the officers in charge. But although washing and other kinds of work are performed in the Factory, there appeared to be a lack of active employment. The best feature of the existing system is the facilities afforded for, marriage, and it ought not to be forgotten that Sir Eardley Wilmot uniformly encouraged matrimony. No unnecessary obstacles were presented to the union of prisoners, and in numerous instances women have by this means been separated from evil companions of their own sex, and become, sober, industrious, and well conducted members of society. Dr. Hampton will doubtless enquire for himself, and determine what alterations are desirable in this department. Suitable buildings, efficient supervision, a change of discipline, and provision for the active employment of prisoners are doubtless required. It is not long since the Launceston Factory was destitute of the means of solitary confinement, and the refractory inmates had frequently to be conveyed to the goal and the treadwheel for security. Since that time fourteen cells have been erected within the walls of the Factory, and the foundations often more are in the ground. The knowledge that such places exist is calculated, to lessen, the number of qualified candidates for their occupation, and if other means of restraint, and improvement were at command, there can be little doubt, the female, prisoners would, be less troublesome, more tractable, and, better disposed.
There is a record held in the Archives of Tasmania which lists any money held by the government on behalf of prisoners (CON 73). The Launceston Examiner of 5 February 1845 reported a case where the prisoner's money was not returned.
FEMALE FACTORY.—A strange application has recently been made to the government respecting the restitution of eighteen pounds, taken from a female upon entering the factory, and which, she asserts have never been returned. Mrs. Archer has employed a solicitor to recover the cash, and an enquiry respecting it is now in progress. We understood all money belonging to prisoners was, by government regulation, to be sent to Mr. Thomson, the registrar at Hobart Town. Who acts as treasurer at Launceston? Surely a record of such transactions is kept; these small sums cannot be considered perquisites of office. We hope Sir Eardley Wilmot will enquire into this affair. If the statement of Mrs. Archer is untrue, individuals connected with a public establishment should be protected from unjust charges; and if true, they deserve to be summarily dismissed
from their employment.
A letter published in the English Newspaper Morning Post 8 July 1846 was addressed: To the Right Hon. Lord Standley, Secretary of State for the Colonies etc., giving a favourable account of the voyage out for the Woodbridge, maintaining order and discipline, keeping the female convicts occupied with needlework, and on arrival " expressed satisfaction at their clean, healthy and orderly appearance", while ending the article with a review of convicts from the East London and Margaret..."whilst under inspection was altogether the reverse of satisfactory. No other result could have been anticipated from the circumstances attending their passage out, the neglected moral training prior to our arrival, and the wretched accommodation assigned to them."
Two years having elapsed since your Lordship was pleased to appoint Mrs Bowden and myself to superintend an establishment in this colony for the reformation of female convicts, I propose to inform your Lordship in what manner, and with what success we have attempted to carry out your Lordship’s benevolent intentions. The principle upon which our establishment was formed was that of [efheient] female superintendence. This principle your Lordship was pleased to acknowledge and approve by the appointment of a numerous staff of female assistants, acting under the authority and inspection of Mrs Bowden, as officers or wardens in constant charge of the prisoner and prison wards. The prisons and penitentiaries of Great Britain are already much indebted to this source for improvement in some of the worse features of female imprisonment, and the justness of the principle will, if I mistake not, be further confirmed in the experience of this establishment. It will be satisfactory to your Lordship to learn, that the officers engaged by us in England have been found equal top all the duties of this establishment, without imposing on the Government or upon us the necessity of making any addition to their number. It will be in the recollection of your Lordship that we sailed from England in the WOODBRIDGE with 200 female prisoners on board, on the 1st September 1843 for Van Diemen’s Land where we arrive after a favourable voyage on the 25th December of the same year. In consequence of an application made by us to the Inspectors of Prisons we were supplied with materials for Government work to be made up during the voyage, which kept the women generally employed at their needle and had also ,the good effect of maintaining order and discipline, and so depriving the voyage of much of it tediousness and length. Daily attention n to moral and religious duties and to the general instruction of the prisoners, tended to the same result, and in consequence of these and other salutary regulations, the weather also being favourable, the passage was satisfactory and propitious. The needlework done on the voyage was considerable upwards of 1000 garments having been completed and returned, in whole or part, into the Ordnance Stores upon our arrival.
On the 1st January 1844 the Lieutenant Governor Sir Eardley Wilmot accompanied by the Comptroller General of Convicts, inspected the prisoners on board the WOODBRIDGE and expressed satisfaction at their clean, healthy and orderly appearance. On the 6th of the same month the women were landed and accompanied by the several officers of the establishment, male and female, were marched to the Brickfields Factory a depot assigned to them a short distance from Hobart Town. There being no adequate accommodation in this building for the [superior][others] Dr and Mrs Bowden and the Chaplain and their families were provided with private lodgings in the immediate neighbourhood.
On the 9th January the female prisoners who had previously arrived in the colony by the ships EAST LONDON and MARGARET were placed under our charge and removed to a station at New Town in the vicinity of Hobart Town, to a building in a state of the utmost discomfort and dilapidation, some of our officers were immediately placed in charge, but no effective [cover] would be obtained over these women, and their conduct, whilst under inspection was altogether the reverse of satisfactory. No other result could have been anticipated from the circumstances attending their passage out, the neglected moral training prior to our arrival, and the wretched accommodation assigned to them.
MORNING POST 8 JULY 1846