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…………

The Females are to be placed in three distinct classes, which shall on no account be suffered to communicate with each other. [1]


The Class system classified and segregated convict women based on their behaviour. It was simultaneously a system of reward and punishment.  It was also a method of keeping incorrigible females separate from those who were well-behaved and capable of reform.  The number of classes changed over time, but by October 1829 the system consolidated into three distinct classes, or wards: First Class (Assignable Class); Second Class (Probationary Class); and Third Class (Crime Class).   The segregated convicts were housed in an appropriate yard: Assignable or 1st class yard (Yard 1), Probationary Yard (Yard 2) and Crime Class yard (Yard 3). Yard 2 was also where the wash tub punishment was carried out.


First Class or Assignable Class: The assignable class were those convicts who were able to be assigned (during the assignment period) or hired as probation pass holders (during the probation period). These were the best behaved convicts or those who had been returned by their employers for re-assignment.  They were not required to undergo any special punishment, but were required to undertake lighter tasks. First Class convicts were allowed to apply for the indulgence of getting married.

The first class shall consist of those women who may be placed in the establishment on their arrival from England, without any complaint from the surgeon superintendent,-of those who are returned from service with good characters,-and of those who have undergone at least three months' probation in the second, after their sentence in the third class has expired. The women of this class alone shall be considered assignable, and shall be sent to service when proper situations can be obtained.[2]


Second Class or Probationary Class: Prisoners in the second class at a female factory were those working their way up from third (or crime) class to first class, those imprisoned for general sentences of less than three months and those awaiting confinement. The second class women were assigned tasks such as spinning, weaving or needlework.

The second class shall consist of females who have been guilty of minor offences, and of those who by their improved conduct merit removal from the crime class.[3] 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.[4]


Third Class or Crime Class: Convicts sentenced to Crime Class undertook a punishment handed down by magisterial sentences or by the Supreme Court.[5]  This sentence could include a period of bread and water diet in the solitary cells, separate treatment cells, or hard labour in the wash house yard. Crime Class prisoners also had an inferior diet with oatmeal replacing sugar and coffee.[6] After a certain portion of their sentence was served and they were of good behaviour, they could be moved to the Second Class. When their punishment sentence at the Female Factory was served they were moved to the assignable class for assignment or hiring.


The third 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.[7]


The Rules and Regulations for the Management of the House of Correction (1829) describe the distinctive marks on the uniform worn by Crime Class women, and the tasks they were expected to perform:

- 3rd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C in the centre of the back of the jacket, one on the right sleeve, and another on the back part of the petticoat.

- The third class shall be employed in washing for the establishment, for the orphan schools, penitentiary, in carding wool, spinning, or in such other manner as shall be directed by the principal superintendent.[8]


Crime Class sentences ranged between 1 and 12 months, with a standard of 3 months. In some cases no time period was specified by the magistrates;   with extensions for misconduct under sentence, some women spent most of their transportation sentence in Crime Class.


Mary Wilson per New Grove in 1837 had her Crime Class sentence extended for one month for disobedience of orders in writing a letter with a pencil in the Crime Class yard.



The original Hobart Female Factory, built in 1821, was located within the precinct of the old Hobart Town gaol and separated from the Gaol by a brick wall. It proved unsatisfactory for the purpose of classification into different classes, as explained by Rayner:


In January 1826 [Lieutenant-Governor] Arthur finally ordered an investigation into the conditions at the Hobart Town Female Factory. Conditions were unsatisfactory. Fifty-five people were crammed into two sleeping rooms which were not only cramped and crowded but were also unventilated. There was only one yard for the use of the Factory, consequently no possibility of classification or keeping some women separate from others. The yard was in full view of executions in the gaol next door.[9] 


The earliest record of a Crime Class sentence was in April 1823, when Catharine Grady was charged with stealing a tin case and sentenced to 12 months’ crime class at the Hobart Female Factory, with one month to be spent in the iron collar. Previous to this the harsh punishment options had included imprisonment in the gaol (shared by the male convicts), the stocks, wearing the iron collar, and hard labour. In 1818 the Lieutenant-Governor also proposed transporting recalcitrant female convicts to New South Wales.  Two females were sent to Newcastle, and Sophia Stratford was sent to Sydney in October 1820 for imprisonment, possibly in anticipation of the planned completion of the Parramatta Female Factory in January 1821.


The Crime Class system was standard between 1828, when the new Cascades Female Factory opened, and the end of the Assignment period in 1844. The Probation period then commenced and the degrading punishment system transitioned to a reward-based system based on wages. Fines therefore became a more common punishment. Instead of a general sentence to Crime Class, punishments became more specific, although sentences of hard labour or solitary confinement were invariably carried out in the Crime Class yard.


Women accused of misconduct or a breach of regulations in the Crime Class yard by female factory staff were brought before the Principal Superintendent, who could issue a secondary punishment. Examples of such punishments included extension of the original sentence, referral to a visiting magistrate; a fine or incarceration in the cells on bread and water.[10]  The secondary offences could be trifling: Eliza Brinton (per Australasia) in 1851, received 48 hours on bread and water and 10 days separate treatment for not performing her work in a proper manner.


Most of Crime Class sentences were served at the Cascades House of Correction. Transferring convicted women from out-lying police districts to Hobart offered some challenges;  the female factories at George Town, Launceston and Ross also provided the separate yards and hard labour necessary for crime class sentences.


Mary Brodie per Elizabeth and Henry, in 1849 at Ross, was sentenced to 14 days of hard labour for giving bread to the women in the Crime Class. Fellow shipmate Mary Ann Kelly committed the same offence at Ross in 1849, and only received a reprimand.


The effectiveness of the enforcement of Crime Class punishments for convict women was questioned in the press on occasion:




OATLANDS. - Sarah Wallace was charged by Mr. Duncan Campbell, with drunkenness, gross insolence, using profane language towards Mrs. Campbell, and destroying her master's goods – for which she was sentenced to six calendar months imprisonment in the crime class, Female Factory -fourteen days thereof in solitary confinement – to wear the iron collar - and to have her head shaved. We only wish some such punishment as this, would be more frequently enforced. Were such the case, we are quite sure that a better system of female prison discipline would be the result; as to the labours of the crime class, we are certain, they are absolutely farcical ; and, as to their effects, we know them to be futile. [Tasmanian Critic]

The Sydney Herald, Monday 23 September 1833 - Page 1



Pregnancy and Crime Class

A pregnant woman would be returned to the government for confinement at a female factory under a magistrate’s warrant. After weaning, the mother of an illegitimate child had to serve ‘the usual probationary period’, which was six months in the Crime Class at a female factory.[11]  In some instances women were sentenced to longer periods, up to 12 months, with the possibility of hard labour. Tickets-of-leave could also be revoked by a magistrate.


In 1842 both Sally Clark per Garland Grove and Sarah Morris per Rajah for misconduct in having an illegitimate child 6 months hard labor in Crime Class to commence when her child is weaned.


Catherine Kennedy per Kinnear in 1851 while on a ticket-of-leave, committed the offence of being illegitimately with child and was sentenced to nine months of hard labour.


The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction

On January 1 1829 the Colonial Secretary's Office, under His Excellency, J. Burnett’s command, issued ‘The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction’ for the administration and management of convict women.


Further information on the Rules and Regulations is available here.


[1] Rules and regulations [for the management of the House of Correction] The Hobart Town Courier, Sat 10 Oct 1829, p.4.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] RULES AND REGULATIONS. The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. 1827 - 1839), Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4

[5] The 1841 Inquiry into Female Prison Discipline p.25

[6] The 1841 Inquiry into Female Prison Discipline p. 26

[7] Rules and regulations [for the management of the House of Correction] The Hobart Town Courier, Sat 10 Oct 1829, p.4.

[8] RULES AND REGULATIONS. The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. 1827 - 1839), Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4

[9] Rayner, T.,  Female Factory Female Convicts  (p.117).

[10] Ibid

[11] Article - The Tasmanian, Friday 31 January 1834 - Page 6



By E. Crawford (Feb. 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].