Probation Extended.

The Probation System was introduced in Van Diemen's Land for female convicts in 1843-44. Female convicts spent 6 months at a dedicated probation station upon arrival in the colony – and after satisfactory evidence of amendment and improvement, convicts were classified as probation passholders and hired out to employers for an annual wage.


During their probationary period, the women underwent education and training; the intention was to achieve the moral and religious reformation of convicts.  Whilst in the ‘establishment’ they were to be kept at ‘constant employment and those who could not read and write with [tolerable] ease and accuracy were required to attend schools’. [1]


Extending the length of probation at the HMS Anson or New Town Farm probation stations was a punishment for mainly trivial offences against convict discipline and regulations. The ‘crimes’ were mostly covered in Clause 9 of the Regulations of the Probationary Establishment for Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land, 1 July 1845:

9. All articles of indulgence such as tea, tobacco, &c., are strictly prohibited. Nothing in addition to the rations and clothing supplied by the Government, which are ample, will be allowed.



Mary Ann Smith per Cadet June 1848, for receiving tea and sugar from one of the boats' crew – probation extended 3 months on board the Anson.


Ann Donnelly per Waverley, in January 1848, misconduct in having a quantity of potatoes in her possession, recommended that 3 months be added to her probation.


Eliza Jones per Tory in 1849, for having soap improperly in her possession was punished with her probation being extended 2 months.


Ann Roberts per Cadet in 1848, while on board the Anson,  had her Probation period extended by one month when she was found guilty of trafficking – by disposing of her wedding ring.



Probation extensions were generally from one to three months in length, although in theory they could last until the convicts were free by servitude[2]


The Superintendent of Convicts,  had the authority to admonish or mete out minor punishments, but anything more serious was referred to the visiting magistrate on his twice-weekly visits to the probationary establishment. Regulations advised that ‘admonition and kindness would, in most cases be found effectual; but if these fail, and it should be found necessary to resort to punishment, extension of the allotted period of probation—or separate or solitary confinement will be found sufficient,… the inevitable consequence of which must be, to delay the period of the offender’s emergence from probation, even—if rendered necessary by her own misconduct—to the termination of her sentence of transportation.[3] [4].


It would probably have been highly unpleasant for the women to spend additional probationary time on the HMS Anson, a converted 1,870-ton British warship built in 1812, which was moored on the River Derwent three miles from Hobart Town.  The women would have spent between 3 and 5 months on board a convict transport sailing from Britain, then another 6 months of probation on the HMS Anson on arrival. Probation extensions would have meant longer in cramped and confined conditions.  Extensions would also have contributed to the over-crowding experienced on the Anson during the height of convict transportation: during the 10-year period of the Probation System, approximately 6,650 women arrived. This was half of the total number of convict women sent to Van Diemen’s Land.



Mary McCann (per Australasia) was sentenced to one of the longer periods of Probation extended in 1849.  Mary refused to attend school and was punished by being placed on probation in a separate apartment at the Cascades Female Factory for six months.



Probation as a secondary punishment

If a woman was tried in the colony, an additional sentence of Probation was often attached to their primary punishment of transportation, transportation extended, hard labour, Crime Class or imprisonment.  In these cases, the length of time was determined in a court or by a visiting magistrate rather than the Regulations of the Probationary Establishment, and the term of probation would be served in a Female Factory or Gaol - the longest period recorded was 3 years. 



Mary Keegan (per Australasia 1855) was serving an existing sentence of Transportation when it was extended by 12 months; she was also sentenced to 12 months’ probation.


Harriet Hewens (per Sir Robert Seppings 1852): ‘Having been delivered of an illegitimate child whilst in private service, was forwarded to Ross to undergo the usual period of probation’  (Ross Female Factory).



Standards for recording a probationary sentence on convict conduct records vary widely. On some occasions the notations specifically included the length and location of probation, with accompanying punishments such as hard labour and the initials of the Magistrate or court imposing the sentence. In other cases the full meaning, context or extent of the punishment was not recorded, and it was often worded by the magistrates as a ‘recommendation’.



Mary Williams (per Westmoreland  1840) was sentenced for absconding: her original term of transportation was extended 2 years and it was recommended she spend 2 months on probation in the Female House of Correction and not again be assigned in the District of Campbell Town.



Probationary sentences were designed to inflict punishment and encourage reform; [5] the convicts were returned to the strict regulatory and disciplinary regime of a House of Correction or gaol where they would be expected to display good behaviour and religious reformation.  A ticket of leave could be suspended or removed as a consequence of this punishment. Convicts would have to serve their required period of Probation and prove through good behaviour that they could move into the Assignable Class (yard 1) at the House of Correction.  Misconduct could add several months to a period of probation.


The Cascades Female Factory had a dedicated Probationary yard (yard 2) where readmitted females convicted of minor crimes were housed, before they passed into the assignable class.[6][7]  Report Of The Committee Of Inquiry Into Female Convict Prison Discipline, 1841, questioned Mr Hutchinson, the Superintendent:

13. Do all the women you receive pass into the crime class?

No: they are sometimes sentenced by the Magistrates warrant to the 2nd or probation yard;  - sometimes to the wash-house yard.[8]


Probation as a secondary punishment, while not to be confused with the Probationary System introduced in VDL for female convicts around 1843-44, shares the same underlying aspiration of reformation.


The concept of Probation as a punishment was often queried in the media:

Eliza Peacock was "sentenced" to two years additional transportation, and six months probation at the factory for stealing two dollars from some other woman, the " six months" would seem quite sufficient. It is called " probation," rather it should be ultra-punishment. There can be no "probation" where there is no volition. What proof of reform can there be in a prison, or a gang?  The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, Tuesday 28 January 1840 - Page 7



See also:

The Probation System:

Probation Stations:

The Anson:




[1] Regulations Of The Probationary Establishment For Female Convicts In Van Diemen’s Land Hobart Town July 1st, 1845

[2] Regulations Of The Probationary Establishment For Female Convicts In Van Diemen’s Land Hobart Town July 1st, 1845 Clause 57.

[3]  Regulations Of The Probationary Establishment For Female Convicts In Van Diemen’s Land Hobart Town July 1st, 1845, Clause 53-57.

[4] Regulations Of The Probationary Establishment For Female Convicts In Van Diemen’s Land Hobart Town July 1st, 1845, Clause 53.

[5] The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 11 April 1840 - Page 4

[6]  Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction for Females, 1829

[7]  Report Of The Committee Of Inquiry Into Female Convict Prison Discipline, pp. 25-26,

[8]  Report Of The Committee Of Inquiry Into Female Convict Prison Discipline, p. 26,



By E. Crawford (Sept 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].