Stocks and the pillory were forms of punishment first referenced around 820 AD[1]. They were used in many countries as a means of public humiliation and also, as mentioned by the Examiner in 1907, a form of restraint:


To cast ridicule and ignominy on offenders, was evidently the chief aim of the judicial authorities in olden days (writes "An Englishman" in the "S.A.Register'), and it was for this reason, no doubt, that such instruments as the stocks, pillory, brank, etc., were the popular agents for inflicting chastisement on those guilty of crimes not considered serious enough to merit death or any of the severer forms of punishment. Every village possessed a pair of stocks - indeed all places which did not do so were not regarded as of sufficient importance to deserve a higher designation than that of hamlet. They were usually placed by the side of the highway in the case of towns, and. in the villages, on the greens. A constable, in default of a better place of security for his prisoner, had a perfect right to confine him for the time being in the stocks, just as he would handcuff him in similar circumstances at the present time.[2]


The pillory was used in NSW in the early part of the 19th century and considered a superior form of the stocks. Prisoners would stand with their head and arms and / or feet locked into place for a defined number of hours. There is no record of Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) having a pillory.  Instead, the punishment recorded for female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land was “to sit in the stocks” wherein the prisoner would be placed on a low seat with their feet and ankles locked into place.


A description of the stocks was published in the Examiner in 1907:

The general form of stocks consisted of two upright posts of wood, between the lower parts of which was extended another piece of wood having two semi-circular holes, or four, if it was thought necessary to provide for the accommodation of two persons, as it usually was cut out of the top of it. These were, of course, the receptacles for the legs of the person. or persons, to be confined; and when the limbs were in position another piece of timber was lowered on to them, in which were cut convex, semi-circular holes, which fitted exactly over those in the under board. These were then clamped or otherwise fastened securely together, so that the person confined was utterly unable to draw his legs, his feet acting as a preventive.[3]


An illustrated version of the stocks.


The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 by an Act of Parliament. The stocks, however,  were not formally abolished and the last recorded use was in 1872 in England.[4]  For the female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land the last recorded use was in November 1841.[5] 


An article from 1832 indicates the stocks used for male and female prisoners in Hobart Town were originally located on the footpath ‘on the highway’ [Macquarie Street], near the old gaol and the Waterloo Inn which was located in Murray Street near the corner of Davey Street. It was an inconvenient location - a ‘public nuisance - and had been the means of seriously injuring several persons, while walking along the footpath’, and especially inconvenient for tripping over in the night. [6]  At one point it was removed in the night, as mentioned in the following extract from The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural 1832:

But Captain Forster was determined to shew his contempt of public opinion and public convenience by replacing the stocks in the very spot from whence they were moved, and where they now stand as an obstruction on a foot-path which, from it's height, is sufficiently dangerous, even without an obstruction. This is evidently done in the pure spirit of arbitrary contradiction ; for it is a most inconvenient spot, as regards the police themselves. And on a cold day, with a sharp wind, blowing from the river or from the mountain, through the confined space in Murray-street, the punishment of sitting in the stocks must be little short of torture. We know that one poor women died soon after sitting in them, and it was generally believed that her death was accelerated by the sufferings she endured in the stocks. We trust that his excellency will give orders for their removal to some more public and convenient situation. [7]

The woman mentioned in the above article was Mary Barnett (per Kangaroo 1816, and Alexander 1815) who, on the 12th April 1827, was sentenced by magistrate A.W.H. Humphrey to sit in the stocks for 6 hours. She was free by servitude at the time she was convicted of being ‘drunk and disorderly and found in an indecent situation with a man named Peter Miller last night near the Bee Hive Public House in Murray St at half past 8 o'clock.’  Mary died on the 25th April 1827, aged 41 years. Although a record of her inquest has not been found, the Hobart Town Gazette on 28 April 1827 reported:  Inquisition 'held on the body of Mary Cam, who was found dead lying undressed on her bed on the previous day.  She had been placed in the stocks a fortnight before ...  She has left three small children.'[8]


Public protest suggested the stocks be relocated to Market Place, as reported in the Colonial Times on 9 October 1821.  This would be in keeping with the stocks in British towns which were commonly located in the market place:

Our recommendation as to removing the stocks to the Market-place, has not only met with consideration, but the plan suggested has been partially adopted. We had proposed that the plan at Sydney, of elevating the stocks some thirty feet above the ground, should be applied here ; by that means, the parties on whom the punishment is inflicted, would become much more conspicuous. Perhaps, however, as retrenchment is the order of the day, His Excellency will not allow such lavish expenditure on such worthless objects. Be that as it may, both the manner and situation in which the stocks are now placed, is not exactly that which ought to have been chosen; and some wag appears to have thought so, for he has written on the stocks-" For sale ; apply to Captain Forster”.[9]

The relocation to Market Place eventually went ahead, as evidenced by the 1833 sentence of Dennis Driscoll, who was ordered to sit in the stocks in the Market-place for four hours, for drunkenness.[10]


The stocks were used as a form of punishment in Hobart Town on 232 occasions, for convict women, between 1813 and 1841, with the majority occurring between 1822 and 1830. A total of 169 female convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks, some on more than one occasion.


The first recorded punishment was 23 February 1813, when Ann Thompson (of the Indispensable into Sydney 1796, and transported to VDL in 1803) was charged with defaming the character of Mr. Huxley and sentenced to sit in the stocks for one hour.  Ann was one of the first female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land but little is known about her and how she ended up being transported to the island.


In 1816 six convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks.  One of these was Ann Darcey of the Kangaroo who, on 2 December 1816, was sentenced to sit in the stocks for three hours. In June 1817 Ann was again sentenced to sit in the stocks, this time for 3 hours on 3 successive days, followed by another sentence on 4 August 1817, when she returned to the stocks for 6 hours, this time also wearing an iron collar.  In 1821 she had two further sentences of 2 hours in the stocks.


It appears that age was no barrier to being placed in the stocks as Mary Ann Whitfield (Lady of the Lake 1829) would have been aged around 50 when sentenced on 30 June 1841 to two hours in the stocks for misconduct arising from intoxication.  The last time the stocks were used for a female convict was in November 1841 when repeat offender Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830), was convicted of misconduct and punished with two hours in the stocks. 



[2] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

[3] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner  Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

[4] accessed 1/01/2020.

[5] Four sentences of stocks in 1841 with the last being Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830) who spent 2 hours in the stocks for misconduct.

[6] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

[7] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

[8] Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 28 April 1827 p 2

[9]> Colonial Times, Tuesday 9 October 1832 p 2

[10] The Tasmanian, Friday 11 January 1833 p 6



 By. E. Crawford (Aug 2020)

Sketch by J. Browning (Aug 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].