Female convicts serving sentences in female factories or gaols for crimes committed in the colony were subject to sentence extensions, resulting in additional time in Crime Class or imprisonment with hard labour, if they erred whilst incarcerated.


This punishment was predominately used towards the end of the assignment era and during the probation period, at a time when physically demeaning punishments for women, such as wearing the iron collar, being placed in the stocks, and having their heads shaved had fallen out of favour.


The more serious sentence of extension of transportation was handed out by a court of Quarter Sessions, but extensions to existing sentences were handled by visiting magistrates or the Principal Superintendent of Convicts.   The Principal Superintendent of Convicts had been given authority to deliver moderate punishments in the 1826 Act for the Summary Punishment of Disorderly Conduct in Female Offenders, in an attempt to lighten the load of magistrates.  Where the offences were handled ‘in-house’  by the Superintendent, details were entered into Punishment Books, of which only two survive, covering the period 1851 to 1854; they were also signed off by visiting magistrates. Those offences judged to be ‘serious’, or where a message of non-tolerance was to be conveyed, were passed on to the visiting magistrates for sentence. There was, however, a great deal of inconsistency in terms of what qualified as a more serious offence, despite the Instructions to Visiting Magistrates issued on 1 July 1845 which stated:

—A distinction is also to be drawn between offences: some in their nature are criminal, whilst others are mere breaches of discipline or of regulation.[1]


The recorded instances of sentence extension were mainly for offences against convict discipline or regulations, including neglect of duty or work, having tobacco in their possession, trafficking, insolence, insubordination and idleness.  The offences, which could be considered quite petty, reflected the strict discipline enforced in the Female Factories.    The following are some of the specific instances that resulted in existing sentence extensions by the visiting magistrates:

-  having soap in her possession for which she could not account

- talking loudly

- dancing in the Mess room on Sunday

- Having in her possession a torn Govt. Handkerchief and a pipe with tobacco in it

- Absent from her proper work and being in the privy of the Superintendents quarters for an improper purpose

- having white bread improperly in her possession

- Giving White bread to a woman under sentence

- Giving away her Government Shoes

- Tearing a blanket, the property of the Crown

- Having cotton and tobacco improperly in her possession

- Having tallow improperly in her possession

- Writing a letter without permission &c


In 1854, Jane Stewart, while serving 6 months hard labour for absconding, had her sentence of imprisonment extended one month for making tea etc.!


Susan Johnson per Emma Eugenia (3) in October 1847 was sentenced to Hard Labour for 18 months at the Cascades Female Factory, for stealing a piece of silk.  Just a year later her sentence was extended by a further 6 months - a total of 2 years of imprisonment with Hard Labour.  Her crime for the 2nd offence was having money in her possession and resisting the Matron when desired to give it up.[i]


Sentence extensions increased the length of the original colonial sentence for a period of time ranging from 7 days to 18 months.  The extensions were almost exclusively for sentences of imprisonment with hard labour, with an occasional extension of a Crime Class sentence.  Previous behaviour and convictions were taken into account when sentencing, which resulted in some inconsistencies; the 1845 Probationary Establishment Regulations for the Visiting Magistrates offered some justification for this:

‘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.[2]


The extent of existing sentence extensions was perhaps under-reported as in some cases they could have been recorded as new or cumulative sentences. Cumulative sentences were the bane of many recalcitrant convicts; as one punishment finished another was waiting to be served.[3] [ii] Cumulative sentences of imprisonment with hard labour, served in gaols or at the Female Factories,[4]  could result in a longer period of imprisonment than those resulting from the maximum 3-year sentence of transportation extension.


Sarah Todd per Duchess of Northumberland was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour for absconding in February 1855. One month later her sentence was extended by 6 months imprisonment cumulative upon her existing sentence.  Her crime was contracting marriage without permission. 


For convicts, the original sentence of transportation was not concluded until all extensions or secondary sentences handed down while under penal servitude were completed or, in extenuating circumstances, remitted. [5]  Extensions to existing sentences were served concurrently during the period of transportation, enforcing the harshness of the transportation sentence for unacceptable behaviour.  Sentence extensions therefore resulted in a delay in assignment or probation, and also in the awarding of indulgences such as a ticket of leave, permission to marry, or remission of sentence.


[i] Female convicts on entering the Female Factories were stripped, searched and required to hand over any money for safe keeping. Money was sewn into clothes as a way to smuggle it in. The Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct of 1841 stated: Q. 95. Then when they go into assignment, they are permitted to take their money with them? Yes, they are; but the amount is generally very small – 5 s/ or 10 s/.  Money smuggled in could be used to purchase food or banned items - tobacco and alcohol - from factory staff ( e.g. Turnkeys, guards) or outside messengers. “Those who have money can always get enough to eat whilst the others are Hungry”.  (The statement of Grace Heinbury in the Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct of 1841  page 259).

[ii] 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,



[1]  Regulations of the Probationary Establishment for Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land (July 1, 1845).



[3] Government Notice No.133, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 - 1839)Friday 29 May 1835 - Page 2

[4] 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) Clause XXI

[5] 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), http://www7.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/tas/num_act/aatcaacotlrttcogqsattmepacotaoo6win21750/

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 (Aug. 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].