During both the assignment period and the probation period, female convicts were placed in service, both in Hobart and, what was called, the Interior. During the probation period the women were paid wages—they were engaged to service for a period of no more than 12 months and engaged for no less than £7 per year in wages.
During the assignment period, female convicts were assigned to employers as servants.
During the probation period, female convicts were hired to employers as probation pass-holders.
During both convict periods, many female convicts absconded from service. Some, but by no means all, female convicts were abused in service.
Female Assigned Servants
The following newspaper article on female convicts in service appeared in The Independent on 25 May 1831 (p.2 c.4). It laments the paucity of female servants in the colony and suggests the building of a female factory in Launceston as the George Town factory is too distant.
Female Assigned Servants
It is acknowledged on all sides that the greatest hindrance to the comfort of a family in this colony, is found in the difficulty first of procuring and then of keeping female assigned servants. In Launceston, and throughout the country, this evil is felt in, we may almost safely say, a tenfold greater degree than on the other side. Whether this is to be accounted for, by their not being held in such strict surveillance in the factory here—at George town, a distance of FORTY MILES! we mean—as as Hobart Town, or the reluctance on the part of the inhabitants to send away their servants, we cannot say. But it is really a matter of doubt, when a servant is sentenced to be confined in the factory for a breach of good behaviour, whether it is the servant or her mistress that is punished. A case in point—Some time ago, a resident in the country a few miles from town, found it necessary to the peace and confort of his family that one of his female assigned servants should be brought up to town, before the Police bench. The sitting magistrate sentenced to to six months' confinement in the factory. Upon her return from thence, when she was reproved for some misconduct, she replied, "Oh send me to the factory! I had much rather be there than here! Plenty there to eat, and very little to do." According to the representation of some of our correspondents, the women are partly employed in washing, mending, and making clothes for the George Town gentlefolks, J.P.'s, &c. But be this true or false, it is fit that some employment should be found for the numbers of women so—according to our opinions injudiciously, to say the very least possible—confined in factories; but that employment should be stated, and a failure in the performance thereof, unless in case of sickness, should be met with a proportionable punishment. (We do not mean, however, such ridiculously cruel punishments as the cutting off that natural ornament, on the possession of which it is well known women most pride themselves—their long hair, and shaving their heads, and other similar nonsense.) There should be a factory (if such a thingis considered desirable) built within a moderate distance of the principal place for which it is required, the town of Launceston; when there, the inmates whould be classed according to their several characters and grades in crime—they should be rationed, not all alike and equal, but in proportion to the rank of the class to which their merits may entitle them—and some kind of labour, more or less severe, expected from all of them. Bad as many of them undoubtedly are, we are still glad to get them, and consider it a great oversight of the home government, that they send us out so comparatively very few. However, we hope, that the subject will be taken up by the authorities, and some remedy provided for the disadvantage we have pointed out as falling to the lot of those requiring servants of this description.
Absonding From Service
Many female convicts absconded from their masters and mistresses when in service. They were usually apprehended quickly and either returned to their service or to the Crown for punishment, but not always.
On 22 July 1850, Mary Conroy, who arrived on the Kinnear, absconded with two male convicts from the Circular Head district. The following letter was written by Chief Police Magistrate Francis Burgess to the authorities in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne to notify them of their escape. (Ref: ML, CY 3065)
Van Diemen's Land
10th August 1850
I have the honor to inform you that the Prisoners of the Crown named in the margin [Thomas Gardiner "Susan", William Whitehouse "Agincourt", Mary Conroy "Kinnear"] absconded from their authorised places of residence viz at Circular Head in this Island and are now illegally at large.
They are supposed to have escaped on the 22 ultimo in the Vessel "Emergency" bound from Circular Head to Melbourne and with a view to their apprehension I enclose Warrants and descriptios of their several persons.
I have the honor to be Sir
Your very obedient servant
(signed) F Burgess
Abuse Of Female Servants
Life as a female convict servant was not always easy and the prisoner was not always the one at fault. The following anti-transportation article appeared in the Cornwall Chronicle on 26 May 1852 (p.332 c.3).
Prisoner servants and their employers.—In a letter to the H.T. Advertiser, the following is related of the treatment of a servant of this class received from her mistress; it seems to argue the probability, if not certainty, that such cases are more common than is, perhaps, geneerally supposed[?] or at least admitted; ergo, the fault is not always on the side of the prisoners, and furnishes another proof, if another were necessary, of the necessity for doing away with the white slavery,–called Transporation. "I happened to call on business to the house of a farmer well known to me, not twenty miles from Jerusalem [now Colebrook], when I was much surprised to hear a great altercation within doors, and having frequently been there before, knew all the parties of which the family consisted. I was not, therefore, long in conjecturing from whence the row proceeded. The first expression which caught me was from the mistress, who said "You Irish convict bitch I'll split your head open," and many such expressions were made use of and repeated during the short stay I made. However, I could not help remarking the harsh words made use of, when she turned round upon me. I told her it would be doing an act of justice to report the case in some public journal, just to let people see how many of the unfortunate prisoners (especially women) are treated by persons permitted to have passholders, but who do not know how to behave to them properly. She told me I was not game to publish it in the papers."