Rewards bestowed on convicts were referred to as ‘indulgences’.  An indulgence was granted if the convict was of good behaviour and displaying evidence that they were on the path to becoming reformed. The granting of an indulgence could greatly improve the circumstances of a convict.

The main indulgences for female convicts were:

Granting a ticket of leave

Remission of sentence

Permission to marry

Permission to re-unite with families

Permission to leave the State

Other indulgences, perhaps applying more to male convicts, could also include obtaining lands and cattle.

Following the appointment in 1827-28 of Police Magistrates in VDL, applications for indulgences from convicts were to be sent through them to the Chief Police Magistrate, along with supporting information. The factory Rules and Regulations of 1829 set out that If the female convict applying for an indulgence had been placed in the House of Correction, the testimony of the Superintendent, as to the character of any female applicant, was indispensable before her application could be considered.

Indulgences could be revoked by the magistrates as punishment for misconduct. Convicts could apply for the indulgences to be reinstated after a period of good conduct or after a specific period imposed by a Magistrate.

Ticket of leave

A ticket of leave indulgence operated in the Australian colony from 1801, it began as an ad hoc, exploited indulgence which raised concerns leading to a more defined and formalised system for Indulgences in 1811, with refinements over the following two years.* The ticket of leave system was the most common Indulgence handed out and had many benefits for the convict.  After serving a portion of their sentence and being of good behaviour, a convict could apply in writing for a ticket of leave to the Lieutenant-Governor.  A ticket of leave allowed convicts to choose their employer and decide on their own place of residence, but it restricted them to a particular police district. Convicts were also able to own personal property, a benefit enshrined in an act passed in April 1843: 

Those persons who have obtained tickets-of-leave may possess personal property, and may bring actions for the recovery of any property with the exception of real property, which they cannot hold…. Launceston Examiner, Saturday 2 March 1844 - Page 6

Tickets of leave could also be transferred to and from other jurisdictions:

22/10/1833: NSW Colonial Secretary’s Office:

The Female Prisoner named in the margin (Abbey Murphy now Phillipson) having received the permission of the Government to proceed to Van Diemen’s Land in the Jolly Gambler for the purpose of joining her husband James Phillipson.__

I have the honour by direction of Major General Bourke to annex the usual particulars of this woman and to request that as she held a Ticket of Leave in this Colony you will move his Excellency Lieutenant Governor Arthur to grant her a similar Indulgence in Van Diemen’s Land.

The Honorable John Burnett Esq.,. Colonial Secretary, Van Diemen’s Land.


The ticket of leave was recognised as an effective tool in controlling convicts. The 1841 Enquiry into Female Convict Discipline, heard from John Price Esq., Police Magistrate for Hobart Town:

These women previously to their Tickets of Leave have acquired a general knowledge of Colonial service & so are able to turn their hands to everything & are in consequence far more useful than free immigrants. They are under better control in as much as gross misconduct they are liable to be deprived of their indulgences & be returned to the condition of assigned servants after undergoing a punishment sentence in the Female House of Correction...[1]

A ticket of leave was a reward, and the first step towards freedom. It was highly prized by the convicts, which made revocation a serious loss. Female convicts whose ticket of leave was revoked were returned to the government (ie sent to a female factory) on a warrant from the magistrate. This punishment was often accompanied by a period of hard labour, commensurate with the crime and the number of times previously punished, and by assignment to Crime Class with all the resultant deprivations.


Elinor Brady (per Canada into NSW 1817) was the earliest recorded female convict in VDL to have her ticket of leave revoked.  On 7 December 1818 she was charged with being drunk and disorderly.  The Magistrate sentenced her to forfeit her ticket of leave and undergo hard labour in Gaol until she could be assigned. Brady was not granted another ticket of leave. She became free by servitude in 1822.


The personal property owned by a convict could also be seized if a ticket of leave were revoked:

wherever a ticket-of-leave is revoked, the property so acquired is declared to vest in the crown, and shall be disposed of at the discretion of the governor, subject to such instructions as shall be forwarded from one of the secretaries of state.. Launceston Examiner, Saturday 2 March 1844 - Page 6


Tickets of leave could be revoked (or the indulgence forfeited) for any breaches of the convict laws, including absconding, being absent from muster or, for women, being in a state of ‘illegitimate pregnancy’


The Ticket-of-Leave granted to Catherine Fawles, per Hector, has been cancelled by order of the Lieutenant-Governor; His Excellency considering her unworthy of the indulgence, in consequence of her having been sent to the Female House of Correction in a state of illegitimate pregnancy.

Launceston Examiner on Saturday 19 March 1842 (p.8).


In most instances, revoking a ticket of leave would be a last resort for magistrates, who initially would have tried incremental punishments: admonishments, fines, hard labour and confinement in solitary cells.


Remission of Sentence

A Remission of Sentence resulted in a female convict being granted a Conditional Pardon. Applying for this indulgence was a lengthy process which was regulated in an Act on 19 July 1823 and ultimately required Royal sanction:

XXXV. All Remissions of Sentence here-after shall be transmitted to His Majesty, and in case His Majesty's approbation thereof be signified by the Secretary of State, then and in such case only, such Remission of Sentence shall have the same Effect in Law within New South Wales and its Dependencies, but not elsewhere, as if a General Pardon had been passed under the Great Seal. [2]

Mary Byrne (per Mexborough) requested a Remission of Sentence in 1848, and subsequently, permission to leave the state with her husband:

CON44/5: Convict Memorials for Indulgences Sep 1833 - Oct 1864 (1848)

No 5. Mary Byrne per ‘Mexborough’ whose original sentence expired in January last petitions for remission of three sentences of extensions passed on her in 1843 for absconding amounting together to 21 months.... She is married to a free man who, she states, is desirous of proceeding to Port Phillip.

7th August 1848.

To apply again in 4 months ... 10 Aug ‘48


A Conditional Pardon could be rescinded.  The punishment was often applied in cases where women did not attend a required muster or failed to produce their certificate when asked at a muster.

An Absolute Pardon was also a possibility, however only two females have been found who applied - unsuccessfully - for an Absolute Pardon.

The granting of Absolute Pardons being the highest and greatest Indulgence which can be extended to those under the Sentence of the Law, and consequently of the utmost importance, it will be strictly confined to the industrious, sober, honest, and truly meritorious, and the most unquestionable Proofs of Rectitude of Conduct for a long Series of Years will in all cases be required His Excellency therefore orders and directs, that no Person under Sentence of Transportation for Life shall apply for an Absolute Pardon until he or she shall have resided for the Space of Fifteen Years in this Colony. And such Persons as have been transported for limited Periods are desired not to apply for Absolute Pardons until they shall have resided in the Colony for at least three-fourths of the original Period of their Transportation. (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 23 January 1813 - P1)

More detailed information on Freedoms available here...


Permission to Marry

Tardif explains that one of the motivations for the transportation of convict women was to ensure a supply of ‘sexual commodities whose role was to pacify a highly volatile and disorderly society’.[3]  To this end, marriage was encouraged by the authorities: it had the effect of settling down the convicts, promoting the development of towns and communities and contributing to population growth.


Up until the later 1820’s there did not appear to be any impediments to marriage, but, from  1829, strict controls on marriage permissions were instigated by Lt. Governor Arthur. Applications to marry were recorded in memorial books, and certificates allowing the marriage were forwarded to the relevant minister of religion. Convicts under sentence (including holding a ticket of leave) required permission to marry from the Convict Department from at least 1829 until 1858. 


Factory Rules and Regulations 1829:  "no Female will be allowed to marry from the 2d. or 3d. Classes, nor, indeed, from the 1st., unless she can obtain a favourable certificate from the Principal Superintendent'.


The first recorded Permission to Marry was in March 1829 when William Osborne per Earl St. Vincent applied for permission to marry Ann Stone per Mermaid. They married a year later.


Approval of a Permission to Marry application was seen as an ‘indulgence’ - a reward for good behaviour, and an incentive to reform:

No 210
Colonial Secretary's Office,
September 23, 1829

APPLICATIONS being frequently made for the Marriage of Female Convicts without adverting to their eligibility for the indulgence solicited;—It is hereby notified, that no such applications will be received until the Female shall have conducted herself properly in service for the period of at least one year, without any fault being recorded against her.  

Hobart Town Gazette in September 1829 (p.201).

Revoking or denying a Permission to Marry approval as a punishment would not only deny a woman her opportunity to settle down with her male of choice, in some cases it would also condemn her to additional time as assigned labour, as explained by Tardiff:

One way a woman could escape a ‘bad’ master was by marrying, for a woman married to a free man could usually be assigned to him…..As assigned servant to her husband, she was exempt from the vagaries of assigned labour.[4]


In 1835 Mary Anne Porter of the New Grove, for absenting herself from her Master’s premises without permission during her Master and Mistress’s absence, received three months hard labour and the promise of permission to be married to be cancelled during that period.  Indulgence Revoked.


Permission to re-unite with family

From the early 1800’s the British government initiated various schemes to unite convicts with their families.[5] It was a policy to encourage convicts to settle down within the colony and contribute to their reform as explained in a letter from L.G. Wm Sorell to Under Secretary Goulburn in December 1821:

'Ample Enquiry has been made as to the Capability of Each Convict to maintain his family, and, as The presence of their Wives and Children so much Contributes to the commencement or The confirmation of reform, and habits of Industry; and even the acceptance of the Petition and the expectation thereby created that the prayer would be successful has in some instances caused an immediate change of conduct...'.(HRAIII-iv p.44)


It was a well-documented indulgence for male convicts, and it also applied to female convicts.  As an incentive for good behaviour, female convicts could apply for the ‘indulgence’of their families in the United Kingdom – husbands, children, mothers, siblings – joining them in Van Diemen’s Land.   Only 85 women in VDL successfully applied to bring out family members; in most cases these were children that they had left behind.  As applied to male convicts,  female convicts had to sign a declaration that they could support their families on arrival, and this was certified before permission was granted; this condition may have made it prohibitive for most women. After 1850 there was also a requirement for the convicts to pay – or raise the money – for half the fare.

Comptrollers-General’s Office, 21st November, 1850,

J.S. Hampton, Comptroller-General

The wives and families of this class of convict [probationary?] will be sent out to the Colony when half the cost of doing so has been paid by themselves, or their friends, or parishes in the United Kingdom; and any sums paid by the Employers to the Government, under the preceding regulations, will be accepted as part of the contribution towards this object.


Revoking or denying this indulgence would have delayed or prevented the reunification of convict women with their loved ones.


Permission to leave the state

Women could apply to accompany their husbands to mainland Australia (the lure of the goldfields drew many freed convicts to Victoria),  or  to accompany their masters/mistresses when they were re-deployed outside the state or colony.  Withdrawal or refusal of this indulgence could result in the woman losing her employment or being abandoned by her husband; destitution for the woman and her dependent children was a possible outcome.


The story of Amelia Hough ( highlights the problem of convict servants wanting to accompany their masters/mistresses when they are re-deployed outside the state or colony.  Amelia’s experience with petitioning to be allowed to leave the colony was not related to an indulgence being revoked, rather that she had not served enough of her sentence to be permitted an indulgence.


Other Indulgences

Other perceived indulgences included attending church.  Removing the indulgence of attending church was inconsistent with a condition of their ticket-of-leave which required attendance at church. 


Convict Department Regulations for the hiring of Probationary Ticket of Leave holders. Clause 7:

‘The convict must attend Divine Service in accordance with his professed creed, at least once every Sunday, wherever there is a place of worship within two miles or other reasonable distance of his employer’s residence.’[6]


Sally Clark per Atwick, in 1839, Absent beyond her pass, the indulgence of being allowed to attend church to be withdrawn.


Male convicts' indulgences could also include: to sleep out of barracks, to have wife assigned to him, to be released from irons.


The Superintendent of the Female Factory could impose punishments for misconduct by revoking Female Factory-specific indulgences. Typical examples were:

deprived of a blanket, or straw for a palliasse (mattress)

being placed on half rations

not being allowed to have meals in the mess room

being moved to a lower ‘class’ (see Crime Class)

no exercise for a specified period (normally one week)

not allocated task work until further orders or deprived of task work for the whole sentence (this would prevent the convict earning credits from task work, and often forfeiting previously earned credits)[7]


* The earliest ticket of leave was granted in 1806 to Elizabeth Hemmings, a convict to NSW on the Glatton in 1803, sent to VDL on the Active in 1804. (




[1] Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct Female Prison Discipline, Mr Price John Price Esqre Police Magistrate Hobart Town, called in and examined. P. 61

[2] GO33-1-72 image 641

[3] Tardiff, P., Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: Convict Women in. Van Diemen’s Land 1803 – 1829, p.22

[4]Tardiff, P., Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: Convict Women in Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1829, p.21-11

[5] Convict Family Reunion Scheme _to_tasmanian_history/C/Convict%20Family%20Reunion%20Scheme.htm

[6], Regulations for hiring Probation Pass holders in Van Diemen's Land. Convict Department, 1st July, 1844. Clause 15




Further reading:

Parrott, JJ, For the moral good? : The government scheme to unite convicts with their families, 1818-1843 accessed 7/01/2021.



 By E. Crawford (April 2021)




Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

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].