Being ‘Returned to the Government’ would involve a female convict leaving her place of employment and being readmitted to a House of Correction, with all the attendant strict disciple, rules and regulations. This punishment was usually in response to a crime or complaint, and required a written authority or warrant from a Magistrate, stating the offence for which she had been found guilty and her sentence. There were regular occasions where no offence had been committed; this did not prevent the convict, while awaiting reassignment, from being subjected to the same strict Female Factory rules and regulations as someone who had committed a crime.[1] Being returned to the Female Factory would mean being allocated to one of three Classes (Wards) depending on the reasons for their return: First Class (or Assignable Class); Second Class (Probationary Class); and Third Class (Crime Class).


There were several reasons for female convicts being returned to the Government or Crown:


Imposition of a magistrate-ordered punishment.

A convict who was guilty of a range of offences including absconding, absent without leave, out after hours, insolence or neglect of duties would serve out her sentence at a House of Correction. In some cases, their assigned master/mistress would refuse to take them back which meant they would undergo their punishment then await re-assignment, often to another location. At other times the convict would undergo a term of punishment, such as solitary confinement on bread and water, then return to their previous service. A recommendation to be removed to a country district was often made, to extract them from bad influences. Cases were often discharged where the prosecutor did not appear in court.  


Margaret Shaw of the Westmoreland (1836) was, in 1843, at the age of 27, found in a disorderly house after hours and was returned to the government to serve out three months of hard labour with a recommendation that she never be permitted to go out to private Service again.


Susan Featherstone (per Platina 1837) in 1839, for ‘Gross Misconduct and general Irregular conduct’ and sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour at the wash tub and returned to Government. A year earlier Susan, having been absent all night, was sentenced to hard labour at the wash tub for one month then assigned in the interior. 


An article in Launceston Advertiser on Thursday 12 February 1846 mentioned ‘If a convict woman is hired for country service, and on proceeding to her destination, observes that her employer resides in a remote and consequently retired part of the country, she declares that punishment is better than such solitude, as it brings her to town, and she requests to be returned to government.’ Susan Featherstone, at 19 years of age and single may have wanted to return to town life.



GREEN PONDS March 8 [1849]

Clementina Wharnick, the wife of James Peters, better known in this place by the cognomen of Sheepy, was charged by her husband with being drunk and disorderly, and leaving her residence. It appeared that on his return home, expecting to find it in order, he was compelled to make a forcible entry into his own mansion, which led to high words between him and his spouse, and after disturbing the whole neighbourhood they attracted the constables' notice, and on Mr. Peters' charge she was conveyed to the watch house-her old place of retreat. Mr. Peters addressed a letter to the magistrate, stating his determination never to take her to his bosom again, but return her to the place from whence she came-Government. The fair one with a large bunch of black bushy hair in her hand, which she said Sheepy had torn from her head, implored pity and forgiveness. Sheepy was obdurate ; he was resolved to part for ever. The magistrates threatened, as they had so very frequently appeared on the police-office boards, to sentence her to condign punishment forthwith,when Mr. Peters craved a hearing, and acknowledged himself in fault. _ Here a series of riotous crimination ensued, which to end, and for the peace of the neighbours who had repeatedly complained of riotous conduct of the pair, their Worships sentenced the fair one to 6 months' hard labor, and at the end of that period to be disposed of by the Government. This was a death-blow to poor Sheepy who cried out, " must I lose her ; I'll take her back, your worships,"and a most affecting scene ensued, to end which the fair one was banded to durance vile, to prepare for her journey to the Cascade Convent. Peters begged that his wife might be indulged with a ride to town, to which their Worships paid no attention.  Colonial Times, Friday 6 April 1849 - Page 3




Returned for re-assignment.

This would occur if the convict was unsuitable or unqualified for the tasks required of them, ill, aged, unfit for service or the Master/Mistress no longer required the services of a servant. Under the Assignment system, if a Master/Mistress was dissatisfied with the assigned convict servant, he /she could apply to the Police Magistrate for the convict to be returned to the Government – it was then up to the magistrate to determine the particulars of the case and make a judgement.


The following examples would not be considered a crime unless the Master/Mistress instigated criminal proceedings in order to have the convict removed:


In 1835, Ellen Smith (per Hope) for being absent without leave was admonished and returned to the Factory being much too young for this Service and Mr. Newman having been authorised to receive an elderly woman only.


Lydia Hines (per Providence 1821) had a long history or being returned to the factory, nine times as a punishment and on two occasions for re-assignment. On 9 February 1833 she was returned to the factory without punishment, her Master having beaten and ill-treated her; the alleged crime was disobedience of orders and using abusive language. Only three months earlier she was charged by a previous master for stealing a pat of butter worth 10 pence resulting in her being acquitted and ordered to Hobart Town for assignment. 


Ellen King  (per Emma Eugenia) in 1842, for being absent without leave, was to be placed on probation having been returned to the Crown as utterly useless.



Before the Police Magistrate, and B. Berthon, Esq.. J. P.-Sarah Nicholls, a servant of Mr. Ellis's was charged with misconduct of a trifling nature Returned to the Government, her master declining her further service. Domestic Intelligence.  Colonial Times Tuesday 5 June 1849 p 2.


In 1850 Charlotte Ferreman per Emma Eugenia 1847, was charged for stealing soap but had her case discharged, there being no evidence against her, and was returned to the Government.


As experienced by Charlotte Ferreman, often the charges were of a minor and unsubstantiated nature.  The magistrates would have been aware that pressing charges was a means of dismissing an assigned servant.  This was the case with Mary Williams (Emma Eugenia 1847) in 1849.  The charge was ‘not proceeding to the Depot according to her pass &c.’  It was determined that her master had connived at her absence.  Her case was discharged and she was returned to the Government with a recommendation that she be sent to the Interior.  In the 1831 case of Priscilla Smith, (per Sir Charles Forbes 1827), the magistrate determined that she was unfit for her assignment and that she be returned to the government;  the charges of disobedience of orders by Mrs. Aitcheson against Priscilla were dismissed.  Magistrate Anstey determined Mrs Aitcheson, was under the influence of liquor at the time, but the prisoner being very deaf and thereby unfit for the duties of a public House was to be returned to the Female Factory.


The following example is somewhat different in that the convict, Bessy Fury, instigated her own return to government.

The Mercury 26 Oct 1856: Surrender.- Bessy Fury placed herself in the dock, on the charge of disliking her master's (Mr. Cook's) mode of ill-using and abusing her. She was sentenced to be returned to the service of the Government.


Returned for medical examination, treatment or infirmity.

Under the regulations governing the probation system:  “ Medicine and Medical attendance when requisite must also be provided by the master but when proper attention has been paid by the master to any Pass-holder who may fall sick in his service, the Comptroller-General will, in cases of protracted illness, recommend that such servant may be received into hospital, and the agreement cancelled.”[2]  (Regulation 13)


The following cases are returns to the Government for medical treatment or inspection; these were accompanied by a crime:

In 1837, Mary Ann Foster (per America 1831), was Absent without Leave but returned to Government for medical treatment.


Elizabeth Elphinstone (per Garland Grove 1841) was returned to the factory for medical inspection, her crime was being absent without leave.


The case of Eliza Davidson (per Atwick 1837) in 1847 at the age of 50, was one of infirmity – a condition affecting many of the older convicts.  Her record states that she was unable, from bodily infirmity, to obtain livelihood.  She was subsequently temporarily deprived of her Ticket of Leave and returned to the Crown.  Eliza died three years later aged 53, sixteen months after her conditional pardon was approved.


Punishment for Pregnancy

Becoming pregnant was considered immoral conduct.  A pregnant woman was returned to the Government/Crown for confinement, as she would be considered unfit or incapable of performing her duties.  Besides being returned to the House of Correction there were other punishments, determined by the Magistrate, for the crime of having an illegitimate child; these included relegation to Crime Class, a period of hard labour or having her Ticket-of-Leave revoked. At the expiration of the period of her confinement and/or punishment, she would be re-assigned, often to a different location. For more information on pregnancy and children:


The first reported instance of being returned to the female factory for a pregnancy was in August 1824: Lucy Hodges (per Lord Sidmouth 1823), was returned to the factory at Hobart and delegated to crime class, it appearing that with her master's knowledge she was pregnant and he permitted her to go and lay in at Mrs Bellinger's.[3]


Other examples:

In 1837 Ann Moore of the Westmoreland (1836) was returned. to the Crown in consequence of her advanced state of pregnancy.


In 1833 Elizabeth Banks of the Princess Charlotte was charged with being pregnant and was returned to Crime Class.


In 1841 Ann Smith of the Edward was charged with Misconduct in being pregnant. Her punishment was 6 months hard labuor in the Female House of Correction; it was also recommended that she be deprived of her Ticket-of-Leave.


In 1851 Catherine Kennedy of the Kinnear, whose crime was being ‘illegitimately with child’ was given 9 months’ hard labour at the Ross Female Factory. Catherine had her Ticket-of-Leave revoked.


Mary Porter (per Mellish) in 1832, was discharged. from her Service to be sent to the Female Factory at George Town for being in an advanced state of pregnancy.


Terms of assignment or probation no longer existed.

Often changes occurred in the life of the people involved in the assignment of the convict which made continuation of the original agreement impossible. If a convict woman were assigned to her husband and the husband subsequently deserted his wife, was under sentence, left the state or died, the female convict would be returned to the Female Factory for re-assignment. These circumstances would be described as being ‘illegally at large‘ or ‘not being under proper control’. The absence of a husband was often not picked up until the female convict was charged with a secondary crime.


In 1848 Sarah Baker (per Royal Admiral) was returned  to the Depot, her husband was in hospital and there being no funds to provide for her maintenance.


Lillah Proctor (per Emma Eugenia, 1843) in 1848, was illegally at large, her husband having left the colony she was returned to the government for not being under any control.


Eliza Downe Williams (per Cadet)  in 1850, on the complaint of her husband that they are always fighting and cannot agree, Eliza was returned to the government at the mutual request of both the parties.


In 1852 Susan Corr (per Australasia) was brought up on a charge of being out after hours. The punishment was three months’ hard labour and return to the Government, her husband having left the Colony.


Jean Main (per Borneo 1828) in 1834 was returned to the Factory in consequence of the decease of her husband.


Jean Main was the mother of three small children located in the Queens Orphan School from 1829 to 1832.  There is no record of what happened to her children when she was returned to Government in 1834. An article in The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser Tue 21 May 1839, raised the question of what happened to the children of mothers who were in servitude in instances where the husband died or the female convict was returned to government. ‘These circumstances are placed beyond the means of maintaining and educating their own off-spring’.   The mothers of young children were often admonished rather than sent back to the House of Correction thus  necessitating the children to be placed in the Orphan Schools.



Unable to Produce Certificates or Tickets-of-Leave at Muster

In many instances a return to government may be a consequence of indulgences being revoked.

All Persons whose Term of Transportation has expired, and who have Certificates, and all who have obtained Free or Conditional Pardons, are to produce their Certificates, Free or Conditional Pardon, as the Case may be ; and all Ticket of Leave Men and Women are to exhibit their Tickets of Leave, at the Time of Muster; and all Persons neglecting to do so are to be considered as Prisoners of the Crown and returned to Government Service.  Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser, Friday 15 October 1824, Page 1 Government & General Orders.


During the Assignment period – up until 1843 – female convicts were assigned to work for Masters or Mistresses without any wages.  They often had no experience with the tasks assigned to them and received no remuneration for their work; there was little incentive for them to be obliging.

Further information on the Assignment system:


The probation system came into effect in 1844. After serving their 6 months’ probation, convicts were classified as probation passholders and hired out, for an annual wage, to employers. Under the probation system, regulations were set in place for hiring probation passholders, issued on 1 July 1844 (ref: The Courier, 26 July 1844 p3).  These regulations included:

[6]. Whenever such engagements are terminated…. Female Pass-holders are to be returned, under proper charge, to the Factory at Hobart Town or Launceston, whichever may be nearest.[4]

Further information on the Probation system:



Return to the House of Correction


Once returned to the House of Correction, convicts underwent a term of punishment and/or awaited re-assignment.  During this period they would be under strict discipline and compliance determined by the administration of the House of Correction.  As mentioned in the following article published in the Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829, there were procedures for receiving the convicts back into the establishment, whether they were sent there by a magistrate under punishment, or otherwise:

No Female Convict shall be received into the Establishment (excepting such as may be placed there on their arrival from England) without the written authority or warrant of a Magistrate, stating the offence of which she has been guilty and her sentence,—if any shall have been passed.— Every Female brought to the Establishment shall be placed in the reception-room until she shall have been examined by the Surgeon ;—she shall then be bathed, washed, and dressed in the clothing of the Establishment ; and, if incarcerated for any offence, she shall have her hair cut short. The clothes which she shall have brought with her shall be burned, if foul or unfit to be preserved; but if otherwise, they shall be washed and kept for her benefit on her discharge from the Establishment. All Articles so kept, shall, in the presence of the Female, be entered in the "Private property book," be made up into a parcel, numbered and marked with the name of the Female to whom it belongs, and shall be kept in a place appropriated for that purpose, and shall be delivered up to her on her discharge from the Establishment. The Females are to be placed in three distinct classes, which shall on no account be suffered to communicate with each other.

The 3rd., or Crime Class, shall consist of those Females who shall have been transported a second time, or who shall have been guilty of misconduct on their passage to the colony,—of those who shall have been convicted of offences before the Supreme Court, who shall have been sent in under the sentence of a Magistrate, or who shall have been guilty of offences within the walls,—they shall never be removed from the 3rd. to the 1st. Class.[5]

General Regulations:

[3]. No Female who shall have been returned from service for misconduct, shall be allowed to be again assigned, until she shall have undergone a probation of not less than three months in the 2d. Class ;—in cases of frequent misconduct in previous service, not less than six months,—and, in all cases of dishonesty, not less than twelve. [Rules and Regulations 1829]


The powers of the Superintendent of Convicts to order ‘moderate’ punishment was called into question in a Colonial Times editorial in 1831:


There is an important act which requires the attention of our Colonial Secretary. It is an act which empowers the Superintendent of convicts to inflict punishment upon female convicts, by a summary process, without the cognizance of any justice or magistrate whatever, which had previously been required. If the convict is in the service of Government, the Superintendent may even dispense with any complaint or examination of witnesses upon oath, and he may inflict what is termed moderate punishment. This moderate punishment may extend to solitary confinement upon bread and water for 14 days, or to imprisonment and hard labour for three calendar mouths. What Colonial Secretary would dare to justify in Parliament his sanction of a law like this? We would not wish to lessen a single exertion of humanity in favour of the negro, but a little humane attention to other classes of sufferers is devoutedly to be wished.[6]



[1] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

[2] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3 

[3] T.A. Con40.

[4] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3

[5] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

[6] Colonial Times, Wednesday 9 November 1831 p 3


By E. Crawford (Oct. 2021)



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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].