The Courts of General or Quarter Sessions, held in NSW and VDL, had the authorisation to punish a person by extending the time for which they were originally transported. This punishment was reserved for crimes and misdemeanours not punishable by death, committed by felons transported to the penal colonies whose sentence had not expired or been remitted.  It was one of the sentence options available to the courts for crimes including Drunkenness, Disobedience of Orders, Neglect of Work, Absconding or Desertion, abusive Language to Employers or Overseers and disorderly Conduct. [1]. [2]  The extension of the original sentence could not exceed three years.


Although Extension to Transportation was defined as a punishment in 1824 (amended in 1835), there are only 8 recorded instances of female convicts in VDL receiving the punishment over the following decade, although it was used more extensively for male convicts.  It was not until the latter part of the Assignment period, from 1835 to 1844, that its use became prevalent for females, before tapering off over the following 10 years.  The increase in use of this punishment from 1835 to 1844 coincides with the decrease in use of unpopular and physically demeaning punishments for women, such as wearing the iron collar, being placed in the stocks, and having their heads shaved.


Female convicts in VDL received sentence extensions most frequently for the crime of absconding, followed by larceny under £5, insubordination and, rarely, for assault.  Absconding usually resulted in 12 months’ extension to the existing sentence of transportation. For most women, absconding was not an attractive option: as stated by Tardiff:


‘For most, though, the balance of punishment and reward imposed by the convict system of Van Diemen’s Land was such that the benefits of remaining in servitude far outweighed the risks inherent in flight.’ [3]


Those who did choose to abscond were probably motivated by circumstances outside their control. This newspaper report on Mary Breen, a woman with several charges of insolent behaviour and absconding, demonstrates in her own words what some of the circumstances might have been:


An Insolent Servant.-Mary Breen, p.h., in the service of Mr. Drake, was charged by her master with neglect of duty and insolence, on Sunday morning.… She was sentenced to one months' imprisonment with hard labor. On leaving the office the prisoner exclaimed in an insolent manner, addressing Mr. Drake : " You want a slut, and not a servant." The Hobarton Mercury, Wednesday 20 February 1856 - Page 3


Larceny of under £5 could result in a 2-year extension of an existing sentence. As with all punishments, there were inconsistencies in application resulting in instances ranging from 6 months up to 2 years, often dependent on past behaviour. The punishment was, on occasions, accompanied with a recommendation for a period of hard labour, such as 3 months at the wash tub on probation.


In the 1845 Regulations for the Visiting Magistrates some justification for inconsistencies in sentencing was offered:

‘He will investigate all charges brought against the women, and award punishment, as sanctioned by law. In the discharge of this duty care will be taken to regulate the description and amount of punishment by the temper, disposition, and understanding of the offender. The description of punishment, which to one would be trifling, to another would be severe. Want of attention in inflicting punishment on this principle frequently renders it unequal and unjust.[4]



Mary Smith (per Eliza 1830), serving a 7-year transportation sentence, was described as a 30 year old widow and ‘lame’ or ‘crippled’. She was charged with Felony in February 1831. This was her first offence in the colony. She was committed to trial at the Quarter Sessions, New Norfolk:

Mary Smith was convicted of stealing a pair of shoes and other articles of apparel, the property of her master, F. Smith, Esq., of the Coal River. The prisoner in her defence threw herself on the mercy of the Court, and appeared to feel great contrition for her offence. She was admonished by the Chairman, who said he hoped the lenient sentence he should pronounce would not be lost upon her - good conduct for the future, being all that was required of her, in return for the mercy that was now shewn to her. Sentenced to have her original term extended two years.

Colonial Times, Friday 29 April 1831 - Page 3




Ellen Malony, aged 17 years, was tried in 1834 and transported for 7 years per New Grove, arriving in VDL March 1835. In a report on her 1834 trial, The Morning Advertiser stated:

The prisoner left the bar with all the assurance imaginable, and appeared much delighted with her sentence.[5]


Once in the colony it appears that her initial delight in being sentenced to transportation soured; over the following five years her sentence was extended 4 times, for a total of 7 years, thereby doubling her initial length of transportation:

16 May 1836:  extended 3 years  - insubordination

11 January 1837: extended 12 months - absconding

9 May 1838:  extended 12 months – absconding

26 October 1840: extended 2 years - insubordination 


Ellen’s many colonial offences included 13 instances of being absent without leave or absconding; she was also charged with insolence, violent assault of her mistress and drunkenness.  She was constantly moved around the colony with 16 masters/mistresses over almost 14 years of servitude, interspersed with many spells in the Houses of Correction at Cascades and Launceston. 

Ellen’s punishments started within 2 months of arrival and continued for almost 14 years.  It was not until November 1845 that she received a ticket-of-leave and was free by servitude in 1848.



Approximately 917 female convicts received sentences extending their original period of transportation. Around 40 women were punished with the maximum period of 3 years. These women were overwhelmingly repeat offenders or described as incorrigible, for whom other punishments had failed; many received more than one extended sentence.  Stealing the property of their masters was often the crime that resulted in the maximum 3-year extension.


The original period of transportation for convicts was not concluded until all extensions or secondary sentences handed down while under penal servitude were completed or, in extenuating circumstances, remitted. [6]



Ellen Wilson per Edward 1834 was one of the few female convicts who had their transportation sentence extended for the maximum of three years.

Ellen was originally transported for 7 years. In May 1835 she received a second sentence of transportation which added another 7 years to her sentence.  Her 14-year sentence was extended by 1 month in October 1837, when she was charged for not attending religious instruction.  In January 1838 she received another 3 year extension at the Quarter Sessions.

Ellen had gained a ticket of leave in 1844 and applied for her Certificate of Freedom in 1846. However, in October 1847 she was again transported for 7 years for stealing a ham, with imprisonment at the House of Correction for the first 9 months and several sentences of hard labour and solitary confinement added concurrently. 

In 1848 Ellen successfully petitioned for a remission of the unexpired portion of her sentence. In total she had been sentenced to 24 years and 1 month; she was finally free by servitude in October 1850, having served 16 years under penal servitude.






[1] ANALYSIS OF AN ACT[?] To provide for the better Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, and for the more effectual Government there of. 4 GEO. IV.—CAP. XCVI. (Passed, 19th July, 1823). Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser, 9 January 1824 - Page 2

[2] An Act To Consolidate And Amend Certain Of The Laws Relating To The Courts Of General Quarter Sessions And To The More Effectual Punishment And Control Of Transported And Other Offenders (6 Will IV, No 2) bin/viewdb/au/legis/tas/num_act/aatcaacotlrttcogqsattmepacotaoo6win21750/

[3] Tardiff, P., Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: Convict Women in Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1829, p.32


[5] Morning Advertiser - Wednesday 27 August 1834.

[6] An Act To Consolidate And Amend Certain Of The Laws Relating To The Courts Of General Quarter Sessions And To The More Effectual Punishment And Control Of Transported And Other Offenders (6 Will IV, No 2)  (20 August 1835.

An Act To Amend The Act Lately Passed For Consolidating The Laws Relating To The Punishment And Control Of Transported And Other Offenders (6 Will IV, No 8) (1 October, 1835).

Punishment of Offenders Act Sections 33 and 34 certain parts of those Sections repealed



By E. Crawford (July 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].