There were several versions of the iron collar used for the punishment of female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land used between 1815 and 1834. The iron collar was a cast iron neck collar possibly hinged at the sides and either locked into place or riveted into place by a blacksmith.[1] [*] James Boyce, in his book Van Diemen’s Land, described the iron collar as ‘a large band of iron placed around the neck’ which was ‘occasionally, if illegally, used’.  The collar weight varied depending on its design;  however, it was reported in the 1820 Magistrate's Inquiry into the punishment of Alice Robson (Blackstone), that the collar used in her punishment weighed six and a quarter pounds.[†]


iron collar sketch

Reproduction of an iron neck collar used on convicts in NSW[2]

The punishment handed down by the Van Diemen's Land magistrates merely states that a female convict was to wear the iron collar for a period of 7 days, 14 days, 28 days, up to a maximum of one month. It was almost consistently used with time in solitary confinement on a bread and water diet, at least for the initial part of the sentence. The iron collar was used mostly as a punishment for the crime of absconding but could also be used for other crimes, including stealing, intoxication, neglect of duty and disobedience. Lt. Col. G. Cimitiere, Commandant at George Town in 1820, described the iron collar as ‘a badge of infamy and disgrace, this Collar being the usual Instrument throughout the Colonies which is put round the neck of women of Infamous character’.[3]


The use of the punishment peaked around 1827 and was not recorded on the conduct records as a punishment for colonial offences for female convicts after 1834. During this time, wearing an iron collar was used as a punishment on at least 91 occasions.


The iron collar should not be confused with the spiked iron collar (see spiked iron collar below). The spiked iron collar was not an authorised punishment handed down by magistrates. Anecdotal reports suggest it was used within the House of Correction or female factories as an unofficial ‘in-house’ punishment. The ‘iron collar’ and the ‘spiked iron collar’ are often confused in female convict history. They were distinct forms of punishment.


One of the earliest mentions of being punished by wearing the iron collar in Van Diemen’s Land was the case of Ann Ward  (per Active) in 1815. Ann stole goods which were the property of her master and, as punishment, was forced to wear an iron collar for a week as well as being kept to hard labour in the gaol. In the same year, she was again punished with the iron collar for stealing. In 1816, Mary Evers Kangaroo had to wear the iron collar for 28 days for disorderly conduct and grossly abusing the constables in the execution of their duty.


The iron collar punishment was usually accompanied by one or more supporting punishments. Hannah Burton (per Mary), for example, who absconded in 1824, was sentenced to the Crime Class at the Female Factory for three months and had to wear the iron collar for one month. By 1829, when Mary Davis Harmony absconded from her place of service, she was sentenced to six months in the Crime Class at the Female Factory and had to wear the iron collar for one month, have her hair cut off and be placed in solitary confinement on bread and water for 14 days.

BENCH OF MAGISTRATES.—On Wednesday Ann Bass, a crown servant, was brought before a Bench of Magistrates, charged with behaving in a riotous and disorderly manner to her mistress, and attempting to quit her place without leave, contrary to the Colonial Regulations. The charge being most clearly proved, she was sentenced to be put in the stocks 8 hours, at two different periods, with an iron collar placed upon her neck, and to be imprisoned in the county gaol for 3 months. The complaint was peculiar aggravating, this woman having only been released from prison a few days back on a similar case.[4]


The iron collar was a controversial legacy of the slave trade, which used various versions, usually riveting the collar into place for permanency and connecting chains to rings on the collar, therefore creating both a means of restraint and a symbol of slavery.  The legality of using the iron collar as a punishment for slaves in the Caribbean was called into question in 1816, however the discussion did not include using iron collars on convicts in the colonies of Australia.

Government-house, November 19, 1816.

At a meeting of the Privy Council, present

His Excellency Charles W. Maxwell, Governor,

&c. &c. &c.

His Excellency called the attention of the Board to the punishment inflicted on slaves by their owners, and other persons having authority over them, by placing iron collars, puddings, and chains with weights, ROUND THE NECK, LEGS, and other parts of their bodies, IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF HUMANITY AND THE LAW, and expressed his wish of having a stop put to such practices. It clearly appearing that punishments of this description were unauthorised by law, his Excellency suggested to the Board the propriety of sending a circular letter to the magistrates of the town of Roseau, and of the different parishes, requesting them to make inquiry in their different neighbourhoods for all instances of cruelty, and to notify to all persons who may be discovered to use such punishment in future, that the law will be enforced on any repetition of such offences.— The Board readily agreed with his Excellency in the propriety of this step, and the following circular, was sent to the magistrates in conformity:—[5]


The controversy surrounding the use of the iron collar on female convicts did not have any effect in Van Diemen’s Land until 1834 when it was phased out as a punishment by the Magistrates.


The Spiked Iron Collar

The spiked iron collar was used in the slave trade, as described in the diary of John Nicol on his voyage to St. George’s, Grenada in 1784-85.[6]

There were two or three slaves upon the estate who, having once run away, had iron collars round their necks with long hooks that projected from them to catch the bushes should they run away again. These they wore night and day.[7]

Although the slave trade was outlawed in British dominions in 1807, it still continued illegally for many years.[8]  Outlawing the slave trade did not prevent the iron chains and collars being used on British convicts.  Research indicates use of the spiked iron collar on female convicts was ad hoc, the reports anecdotal, and it is difficult to substantiate the extent of its use, especially following the adverse publicity surrounding the military discipline case in NSW in 1826 (see below).

In its application on convicts in Van Diemens Land, the spiked iron collar was not recorded as an authorised form of punishment by Magistrates, however anecdotal reports have it being used surreptitiously within the Female Factory in the early days - before rules and regulations were defined and instigated: 

The spiked iron collar was described as an instrument of torture in an account by George Pullen, who in the late 1820s lived in the Hobart and Cascades Female Factories with his uncle, the assistant superintendent. In memories of George Pullen printed in The Launceston Examiner 1892, he describes the following:

Another form of punishment that was only resorted to in cases of violent insubordination was the iron collar. This instrument of torture (I use the term advisedly) was formed of a band of iron of about an inch and a half in depths, opening by a hinge at the back and, being clasped round the neck, was fastened at the front by a padlock. From this collar band projected outwards four iron spikes of about a foot in length, tapering off and terminating in sharp points, the whole weight of iron resting on the tender collar-bones of the woman, as may be supposed, peculiarly painful and irritating. No alleviation of the terrible and dreadful torture was provided for the sentence recorded, but the humane feelings of one of the superintendents to whom the punishment was particularly distasteful and who- I may say in passing, was altogether too sensitive for his position-supplied relief, as far as it was possible, in the form of padding, to make the punishment easier to be borne.

The term for wearing the collar was from 24 to 60 hours, and was intended to be continuous; but as it was impossible for the unhappy sufferer to take rest in sleep, this official chose to incur the risk of censure by having it removed at night and replaced in the morning. There was also another collar, lighter in weight, having longer spikes of [3/8] round iron, each spike terminating in a nob. This was for those of a pugilistic turn, the knobs answering the same purpose, I presume, as those placed on the horns of cattle to prevent them from goring their fellows. This punishment was very rarely inflicted.[9]

Further anecdotal accounts of the spiked iron collar being used by the Female Factory to ensure discipline in church services are as follows:

The men would play at cards in the gallery during the service; and the women wore iron collar; with sharp prongs or spikes to prevent them from reclining their heads for indulgence in sleep. Such treatment, as may be supposed, did not produce love or reverence for Sabbath worship; and in too many instances the clergyman officiating contented himself by formally doing duty.[11]


Goodridge, the runaway sailor, in his amusing autobiography, has something to say on the women prisoners. “Previous to Governor Arthur's time,” says he, a frequent punishment inflicted on females was the placing of an iron collar round their neck, on each side of which was a long prong which gave them the appearance of horned cattle, and with this head-dress they were exposed in church during service. - Certainly this was one mode of gathering a congregation.[12]


George Pullen's memories of the spiked iron collar are also backed up by Henry Widowson who arrived in 1824 as an agent for the van Diemen’s Land Agricultural Establishment. He left in about 1828 and returned to England where he published his book in 1829:  Henry Widowson, Present state of Van Diemen’s Land; account of its agricultural capabilities, with observations on the present state of farming, &c, &c, pursued in that colony; and other important matters connected with emigration. London, 1820.

cutting their hair off… ‘it was at any rate a better mode of punishment than the other in use for refractory women. This torture (for it deserves no better name) consists of a heavy iron collar, made fast round the neck; from this, pointing different ways, are four irons, each about ten inches long, the consequence is, those doomed to wear the collar cannot lie down without risk of dislocating their necks.’


It is highly questionable as to whether the factory Superintendents, under Rules and Regulations governing their punishment of female convicts, were permitted to carry out such a punishment:

[1826] An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[10]

In February, 1812, Colonel Geils became acting Lieutenant-Governor, and remained until the arrival of Colonel Davey in 1813.[13]  He was reported in the Launceston Examiner in 1858, in an article on historical reflections, as having used the iron spiked collar on the neck of a free woman.[14]  However, it was Governor Ralph Darling, appointed governor of New South Wales in 1824, who has been attributed with introducing the spiked iron collar to the colony, which was given the pejorative name of “Darling’s Necklace” or the Darling’ Collar”.[15] Darling had, in all likelihood, seen it used illegally in the slave trade in Mauritius, where he had been Acting Governor between 1819 and 1823.[16],[17],[‡] [§]


[*] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868: Sarah Wilson, while in a state of pregnancy at George Town in 1820, was fitted with the iron collar which she wore for approximately 15 days. She was able to take it off for 4 or 5 nights.  ‘Mr. Boothman and Doctor McCabe came to me; the next night a Constable came, I was in bed with the Collar on, the rivet was loose; the next morning Mr. Leith sent the Constable to order me down to the Black-smith's Shop to have the Collar on again.

[†] HRA III, Vol.3 pp.853-868:  In 1820, Alice Robson was the subject of a Magistrate's Inquiry. On orders of Lieutenant Colonel Cimitiere, Commandant of the Port Dalrymple settlement, around 8am on 19 September 1819 Alice set off to walk thirty-five miles from George Town to Launceston with an 'iron collar' (weighing six-and-a-quarter pounds) round her neck.

[‡]  The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial... (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1834 - 1844) Friday 23 October 1835 p 3


Late Attorney General of New South Wales.

" The said Saxe Bannister by his affidavit sworn at Paris the 26th January, 1835.

‘And deponent believes that spiked iron collars were not the usual irons of the said Colony, and that they are unlawful : and deponent hath read in a recent Parliamentary document an account of such spiked iron collars being discovered by the Commissioners of Inquiry in use in the Colony of Mauritius, about the year 1827, and before that year. And deponent believes that said Governor Darling held some office in the said Colony of Mauritius before coming to New South Wales, and that the said collars were introduced into New South Wales by, or under the sanction of, the said Governor Darling.’

[§] A version was made and used as  military discipline in a famous case in NSW in 1826, attributing the death of Joseph Sudds to Darling’s spiked iron collar. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Thursday 4 July 1839 p 3. Also mentioned in Governor Ralph Darling’s Iron Collar  by Marcus Clark ( accessed 29/02/2020):

Mr. Mackaness, the sheriff, stated also that, calling at Government House with Colonel Mills a few days prior to the punishment of Sudds and Thompson, he saw on the right hand of the hall after entering the door “either one or two sets of irons, having collars and iron spikes projecting from them,” which now he has no doubt were the same he afterwards saw upon the men in gaol. Mackaness “took them to be newly-invented man-traps.” 



[1] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868.

[2] Carters,

[3]HRA III, Vol.3 pp.863.

[4] Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter 27 September 1817 p.2.

[5] The Australian, Friday 13 July 1827 p 3

[6] The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, Chapter 5, accessed 29/02/2020.

[7]The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, accessed 29/02/2020.

[8] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 11 January 1827 p 3

[9] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3. Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2

[10]  Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

[11] The Mercury, Wednesday 22 December 1869 p 3

[12] Notes by the Way,  Critic, Friday 28 September 1917 p 4

[13] West, J. (1852) History of Tasmania- Volume 1

[14] SELECTIONS FROM WEST'S "HISTORY OF TASMANIA." THE FIRST SETTLEMENT. Launceston Examiner, Thursday 8 July 1858 p 4

[15] The Maitland Daily Mercury, Saturday 20 February 1904 p 6

[16] Darling, Sir Ralph (1772–1858), Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed 29/04/2020

[17] The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial, Friday 23 October 1835 p 3

 By E. Crawford (April 2020)

Sketch by J. Browning (April 2020)



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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed online [date] from [http address].