Admonishment was a form of punishment dispensed by magistrates from 1824, reaching its peak in 1838 and gradually decreasing in use thereafter. The punishment could be in the form of:

- a caution, which was a warning that their behaviour would not be tolerated next time they appeared in front of the magistrates

- a reprimand, which was a very humiliating public berating

In either case, it was entered into convict conduct records as a sentence, and even mentioned in newspapers. 


There were levels within this category of punishment.  For example, a convict could be: admonished, severely admonished, reprimanded, admonished and reprimanded, reprimanded and cautioned, or severely reprimanded. The sentence was often accompanied with a return to the Government or, if the perpetrator was on a ticket-of-leave, a fine.


Assigned masters/husbands/mistresses could request that a magistrate admonish or reprimand their assigned convicts. Where a crime was committed they could also vouch for the good behaviour of their convict, which would result in an admonishment/reprimand rather than a severe sentence which would have required the convict being removed from their service for a period of imprisonment:


Ann Dunlop (per Harmony 1828) was charged with drunkenness in 1830 and reprimanded at the request of her master. Launceston Advertiser, Monday 13 December 1830 p 3


Janet Mckean (per Navarino 1841), charged with being absent without leave and disorderly in 1841 and was reprimanded as requested by her mistress.


Catherine Blakeney (per Persian 1827), charged with being drunk and insolent in her service in 1830.   Her mistress stated by letter that her conduct had been good - she was reprimanded and discharged.


Hannah Hawkins (per Platina 1837) was reprimanded in 1840 at the request of her husband for being drunk and absent from home.


Mary Smith (per Borneo 1828), charged with being drunk in 1830, was admonished and discharged, it being a requisite that she should attend her husband who had a broken leg.


The patience of the Magistrate was often tested, as in the 1853 case of Elizabeth Johnson:

Obstinate to the Last. — A female passholder, named Elizabeth Johnson, was charged at the police-office, on Tuesday last, with absenting herself from her hired service. She was admonished and discharged. The following day she was charged with refusing to return to her work, when she was again reprimanded and discharged. The next day the same virago was arraigned for disobedience of orders in refusing to work. On this occasion she was sentenced to three months' imprisonment.[1]


The admonishment punishment was often the response to a first offence within the colony, and was also widely used in cases where the convict had a record of being of good character or had committed no offences for a substantial period of time. The punishment was usually reserved for trivial offences. For example, in 1840 the Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch reported:


A ticket-of-leave woman was admonished for changing her residence without giving notice to the Police-office.[2]  


Christian Stevenson (per Rajah) in 1841 for being drunk and absent without leave, was reprimanded being her first offence.  Her second and fifth offences, for being drunk, also received reprimands, however the magistrate was not so lenient for the other ten offences.


While drunkenness was one of the main triggers for this offence, other minor offences were being absent without leave, insolence and disobedience. Female convicts with young children were often admonished rather than sentenced to imprisonment.


There does not appear to be any consistency with the handing out of admonishments or reprimands and it was usually at the discretion of the magistrate. An example: in 1850, Ellen Whooly (per Kinnear 1848) was charged with drunkenness, her one and only crime. Having been of good character for 12 months, her punishment was admonishment. [3]  However, others were not so fortunate on their first offences:  Bridget Callaghan (per Australasia, 1849) received three months of hard labour for drunkenness in 1850; Ellen Connor (per Australasia 1849), received two months hard labour for drunkenness in 1850; their shipmate, Mary Tully, received seven days in the cells for being drunk in 1850.  Mary Ann King (per Sir Robert Seppings, 1852), who had a record of 14 previous offences, was admonished in March 1858 for being out after hours but one month later, for the same offence, was given 6 months Hard Labour.


In the early years of the colony, before the new female factory was built, the magistrates and courts seemed to be hampered with not having an appropriate place for punishment for female convicts. The following punishment of admonishment was handed down to free women:

In 1827 Sarah Bowling and Mary Anne Rowley were charged with being notorious and disorderly characters, without any fixed place of residence. These unhappy young women had been frequently at the Office on a similar charge, and there being no proper place of punishment, they were severely admonished by the magistrate and discharged, on promising to amend their lives.[4]


In 1835: Louisa Kelly, being a married lady, presumed to wear the breeches, and was apprehended on suspicion of being a runaway and detained until night time, when some doubts were entertained of her sex, which ultimately was found to be of the feminine gender. She was allowed to alter her attire so as to appear decent before the Magistrate, who admonished her - she attempted to blush and retired much abashed. [5]


Reprimand or Admonishment at the Cascades Female Factory

Reprimand or Admonishment was a regular occurrence at the House of Correction, dispensed by the Superintendent and administrators or staff for breaches of regulations. Talking at labour or at the mess table, disorderly conduct or even improperly writing a letter are some examples of misconduct incurring the punishment. The punishment was noted in the ‘Punishment Book’ a record kept by the Superintendent; a copy exists of the records kept between 1851 and 1854.


Mrs Hutchinson, matron of the Cascades Female Factory from 1832 until 1851 was questioned at the Enquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841-43, as to what were her duties:

General superintendence & to assist in the assignment. I visit the bed rooms & the yards & the Hospital every day. I attend always when the women are brought in & see them searched & until lately upon their going out also. I always admonish them when I see anything improper in their conduct.




[1] The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 21 December 1853 p 2

[2]Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, Friday 24 April 1840 p 7

[3] T.A. CON41/1/19

[4] CRIMINAL COURT. FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 1827.  Hobart Town Gazette,  Saturday 31 March 1827 p 3

[5] Hobart Town Police Report. Saturday, March 28th. Colonial Times, Tuesday 7 April 1835 p 7



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].