Authorities were placed in an awkward position of determining suitable secondary punishments for female convicts on a level with the harsh punishments handed out to male convicts, such as lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails, or hard labour on road gangs and treadmills, yet acceptable for public critique.  It was in 1826 when an Act codified the summary punishment of misbehaving female convicts, including the sentence of Hard Labour. This was reported in the Colonial Times:

An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[i]


[i] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2


The magistrates were responsible for determining the severity of a crime and if a complaint amounted to an indictable offence in Law. The police magistrates could issue a warrant or summons, and commit an accused persons for trial in a court of justice on criminal charges. When convicts were brought before magistrates to be charged with colonial offences, the magistrates used a list of offence classes to determine which of the five classes of offences the convict's colonial offence belonged, which in turn affected the sentences given. Overall, the majority of crimes committed by convict women within the colony resulting in punishments by the magistrates were offences against Good Order and Convict Discipline: absconding, being drunk and disorderly, insolence, assault, refusing to work, being out after hours, immoral conduct, pilfering.


Female convicts were punished in different ways in the convict institutions, but the most common punishments were solitary confinement on bread and water, or separate treatment, and hard labour at the wash tubs. Many punishments were a combination of 2 or more.


Elizabeth Boucher (per Mary Anne, 1821) in 1822, for stealing a pocket handkerchief and absconding from her mistress's premises was to be fed on bread and water 14 days, to wear an Iron Collar 7 days and sit in the Stocks 3 days one hour each day.


Additionally, all Crime (or 3rd) Class prisoners were punished on admittance by having their hair cut short.

Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 17 June 1826 p 2 Article

Last week, no less than 22 of the women confined in the Female Factory were sentenced to various punishments of solitary confinement, and being fed on bread and water, some of whom had been guilty of disorderly conduct, uttering insolent and abominable expressions, escaping from the cells, over and through the outer wall, and of other conduct highly unbecoming the female character. They were fortunately, prevented from escaping through a large. hole which they made in the wall, and some, of the punishments were inflicted for the ill-treatment the workmen received in mending it up.


Below is a list of punishments recorded for Colonial offences in Van Diemen's Land by the magistrates or Supreme Court.  Once returned to the House of Correction, female convicts could be subjected to secondary punishments as determined by the Superintendent of the establishment.  The methods and intensity of punishments changed over the years.  The physical retribution that appeared acceptable in the early years of the assignment period was phased out as the justice system came under scrutiny, as discussed at the Enquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline 1841-43.


  • Admonishment or Reprimand Open or Close


    Admonishment was a form of punishment dispensed by magistrates from 1824, reaching its peak in 1838 and gradually decreasing in use thereafter. The punishment could be in the form of:

    - a caution, which was a warning that their behaviour would not be tolerated next time they appeared in front of the magistrates

    - a reprimand, which was a very humiliating public berating

    In either case, it was entered into convict conduct records as a sentence, and even mentioned in newspapers. 


    There were levels within this category of punishment.  For example, a convict could be: admonished, severely admonished, reprimanded, admonished and reprimanded, reprimanded and cautioned, or severely reprimanded. The sentence was often accompanied with a return to the Government or, if the perpetrator was on a ticket-of-leave, a fine.


    Assigned masters/husbands/mistresses could request that a magistrate admonish or reprimand their assigned convicts. Where a crime was committed they could also vouch for the good behaviour of their convict, which would result in an admonishment/reprimand rather than a severe sentence which would have required the convict being removed from their service for a period of imprisonment:


    Ann Dunlop (per Harmony 1828) was charged with drunkenness in 1830 and reprimanded at the request of her master. Launceston Advertiser, Monday 13 December 1830 p 3


    Janet Mckean (per Navarino 1841), charged with being absent without leave and disorderly in 1841 and was reprimanded as requested by her mistress.


    Catherine Blakeney (per Persian 1827), charged with being drunk and insolent in her service in 1830.   Her mistress stated by letter that her conduct had been good - she was reprimanded and discharged.


    Hannah Hawkins (per Platina 1837) was reprimanded in 1840 at the request of her husband for being drunk and absent from home.


    Mary Smith (per Borneo 1828), charged with being drunk in 1830, was admonished and discharged, it being a requisite that she should attend her husband who had a broken leg.


    The patience of the Magistrate was often tested, as in the 1853 case of Elizabeth Johnson:

    Obstinate to the Last. — A female passholder, named Elizabeth Johnson, was charged at the police-office, on Tuesday last, with absenting herself from her hired service. She was admonished and discharged. The following day she was charged with refusing to return to her work, when she was again reprimanded and discharged. The next day the same virago was arraigned for disobedience of orders in refusing to work. On this occasion she was sentenced to three months' imprisonment.[1][*]


    The admonishment punishment was often the response to a first offence within the colony, and was also widely used in cases where the convict had a record of being of good character or had committed no offences for a substantial period of time. The punishment was usually reserved for trivial offences. For example, in 1840 the Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch reported:


    A ticket-of-leave woman was admonished for changing her residence without giving notice to the Police-office.[2]  


    Christian Stevenson (per Rajah) in 1841 for being drunk and absent without leave, was reprimanded being her first offence.  Her second and fifth offences, for being drunk, also received reprimands, however the magistrate was not so lenient for the other ten offences.


    While drunkenness was one of the main triggers for this offence, other minor offences were being absent without leave, insolence and disobedience. Female convicts with young children were often admonished rather than sentenced to imprisonment.


    There does not appear to be any consistency with the handing out of admonishments or reprimands and it was usually at the discretion of the magistrate. An example: in 1850, Ellen Whooly (per Kinnear 1848) was charged with drunkenness, her one and only crime. Having been of good character for 12 months, her punishment was admonishment. [3]  However, others were not so fortunate on their first offences:  Bridget Callaghan (per Australasia, 1849) received three months of hard labour for drunkenness in 1850; Ellen Connor (per Australasia 1849), received two months hard labour for drunkenness in 1850; their shipmate, Mary Tully, received seven days in the cells for being drunk in 1850.  Mary Ann King (per Sir Robert Seppings, 1852), who had a record of 14 previous offences, was admonished in March 1858 for being out after hours but one month later, for the same offence, was given 6 months Hard Labour.


    In the early years of the colony, before the new female factory was built, the magistrates and courts seemed to be hampered with not having an appropriate place for punishment for female convicts. The following punishment of admonishment was handed down to free women:

    In 1827 Sarah Bowling and Mary Anne Rowley were charged with being notorious and disorderly characters, without any fixed place of residence. These unhappy young women had been frequently at the Office on a similar charge, and there being no proper place of punishment, they were severely admonished by the magistrate and discharged, on promising to amend their lives.[4]


    In 1835: Louisa Kelly, being a married lady, presumed to wear the breeches, and was apprehended on suspicion of being a runaway and detained until night time, when some doubts were entertained of her sex, which ultimately was found to be of the feminine gender. She was allowed to alter her attire so as to appear decent before the Magistrate, who admonished her - she attempted to blush and retired much abashed. [5]


    Reprimand or Admonishment at the Cascades Female Factory

    Reprimand or Admonishment was a regular occurrence at the House of Correction, dispensed by the Superintendent and administrators or staff for breaches of regulations. Talking at labour or at the mess table, disorderly conduct or even improperly writing a letter are some examples of misconduct incurring the punishment. The punishment was noted in the ‘Punishment Book’ a record kept by the Superintendent; a copy exists of the records kept between 1851 and 1854.


    Mrs Hutchinson, matron of the Cascades Female Factory from 1832 until 1851 was questioned at the Enquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841-43, as to what were her duties:

    General superintendence & to assist in the assignment. I visit the bed rooms & the yards & the Hospital every day. I attend always when the women are brought in & see them searched & until lately upon their going out also. I always admonish them when I see anything improper in their conduct.



    [*] Matches with record of Colonial Offences for Elizabeth Johnston per Emma Eugenia 1850.


    [1] The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 21 December 1853 p 2

    [2]Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, Friday 24 April 1840 p 7

    [3] T.A. CON41/1/19

    [4] CRIMINAL COURT. FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 1827.  Hobart Town Gazette,  Saturday 31 March 1827 p 3

    [5] Hobart Town Police Report. Saturday, March 28th. Colonial Times, Tuesday 7 April 1835 p 7



  • Bread and Water Open or Close


    The Bread and Water punishment diet was widely used in British institutions, including prisons, until the latter part of the 20th century. (On US Navy vessels the practise continued until 2018!).[1]  Many Van Diemen’s Land convicts would have received the punishment diet of bread and water in prisons before, during and after transportation, usually in conjunction with solitary confinement.


    The surgeon superintendents on board the convict transport ships were very aware of the importance of diet in improving and maintaining health and well-being, and especially the value of lemon/lime juice in preventing scurvy on a long voyage. Often convicts boarding the transports were malnourished and it took a while for their depleted digestive systems to adjust to the ship’s ‘comparatively full diet‘.[2]  Placing a convict on a prolonged punishment diet of  bread and water would therefore be perceived as a threat to their physical health and, by combining it with solitary confinement, their mental well-being. The daily allowance of ‘bread’ on a convict ship was described as ‘biscuits’, with a ‘soft bread’ procured when in a port. [3]


    From Rules and Regulations to be observed on Board the Lord Sidmouth Convict Ship, departing September 1822 for passage to Van Diemen’s land and New South Wales, which was displayed in the ship’s prison:

    [Rule 2.] Any woman who shall be guilty of swearing or any expression of an indecent or immoral tendency (shall) be punished by solitary confinement and put on a bread and water ’till she shall appear to have mended her conduct.

    [Rule 5.] Any person found thieving from others shall be made a severe example of by putting them in solitary confinement on Bread and water and stopping all indulgence untill evident signs of Reform take place.


    In Van Diemen’s Land, the punishment of Bread and Water was prevalent during the assignment period of 1827 to 1841. More than 248 convicts were sentenced by the Magistrates to this punishment, many of them on multiple occasions. Bread and Water was also used extensively within the Cascades Female Factory as a punishment handed out by the Matron, Overseer or Superintendent. Some entries in the Female Factory Punishment Book refer to a punishment known as ‘brown rations’ - which was possibly the heavy, nutritionally-rich pollard or bran-laden brown bread, which was issued to miscreants 3 times a day for 2-3 days, usually for trifling misdemeanours.


    At the 1841 Inquiry into Female Convict Discipline, the question was asked: 27: ‘Which of the punishments mentioned do they dread most?’ The answer was:  Solitary confinement on bread & water.[4] The horrors of solitary confinement were enhanced by the accompanying bread and water diet. Afterwards, the female convict would be removed to a different probationary yard within the Factory, returned to her assignment, or reassigned elsewhere. The intention of relocation was to remove them from bad habits or acquaintances.


    The length of the punishment of Bread and Water, accompanied by solitary confinement or time in the cells, ranged from 2 days to 14 days. However, one of the early exceptions was Isabella Noble (Kangaroo 1814) who, on 11 December 1817, was convicted of stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, as reported in The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter:

    On Thursday, Isabella Thomas, a prisoner, was charged with privately stealing out of the dwelling house of Mr. DAVIS in Liverpool-street a quantity of wearing apparel, on Tuesday night last. She was sentenced 12 months' imprisonment in the county gaol; the first three months to be kept in a solitary cell fed on bread and water alone, and the remaining nine months to hard labor with the rest of the female prisoners. This abandoned character, who came from Port Dalrymple, had only been liberated a few days ago from a sentence of 2 years' confinement, by the humanity of His HONOR the LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR.[5]

    Susanna Wilson (Elizabeth Henrietta and Maria, 1818) endured 4 stints on Bread and Water. The first, in 1820, was combined with solitary confinement, her crime being neglect of duty and disobedience of her master’s orders.


    Between 1821 and 1826 there were very few cases receiving bread and water punishments, but it appears that between these years a standard for this diet punishment was set for 7 up to a maximum of 14 days.  This maximum was defined in an Act in August 1826:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony.

    1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[6]

    The Act was to remain in place for 2 years[7] but for most sentences after this date the 14-day maximum limit still applied. However, there were exceptions. From 1829 to 1838 there were 22 female convicts who received sentences of 21 days or more in the cells or solitary confinement. Some examples are: 


    - Elizabeth Ellerbeck of the Mary Anne received the sentence of ‘Cell on Bread and Water 28 days’ for being absent without leave in 1820.

    - Catherine Lindsay had six spells on Bread and Water. Two of these, in 1836 and 1837, were in conjunction with 21 days’ solitary confinement.

    - Mary Fearns, per Edward, received 7 sentences in the cells or in solitary confinement between 1834 and 1841, all of them on bread and water. These sentences ranged between 10 and 28 days.

    - Harriet Matthews of the Edward must surely have set a record for her 23 sentences of bread and water in solitary confinement and the cells. One of these was for 21 days.


    The amount of bread ration provided to female convicts on a bread and water punishment diet has not been recorded. However, male convicts in solitary confinement on a bread and water punishment diet received a daily ration of ‘1-1/2 lb bread and as much water as he liked’. [8]  This male punishment diet is ¼ lb more than the regular daily diet for female convicts outlined by the House of Correction and printed by The Tasmanian Weekly News in 1829:

    The diet of the several classes shall be as follows:

    Breakfast 1/2lb bread and a pint of gruel.

    Dinner 1/2 lb. bread and a pint of soup.

    Supper ¼ lb. bread and pint of soup.

    The soup to be made in the proportion of 25 lbs. of meat to every 100 quarts of soup, and to be thickened with vegetables and peas, or barley, as may be most convenient.

    Ox or sheep heads may be used advantageously for making the soup.[9]


    The Hobart Town Courier Sat 7 Nov 1829 p.1 advertised specifications for the supply of bread:

    The Bread for the Troops, Hospital, and Female Orphan School to be made of wheaten flour, from which 20 per cent, has been extracted ; and that for the Male and Female Prisoners, in and out of Barracks, the Gaol, &c  &c, from which [18] per cent. has been extracted as bran or pollard and the flour for the Troops at the Out-stations to have 20 per cent, of bran or pollard extracted.




    [3] Bateson, C. The Convict Ships: 1787-1868, p.67, p.111.


    [5] The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, Saturday 13 December 1817 p 2

    [6] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser  Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [7] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [8] Tasmanian Weekly News, Saturday 3 April 1858 p 8

    [9] The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4


  • Crime Class Open or Close


    No Female Convict shall be received into the Establishment (excepting such as may be placed there on their arrival from England) without the written authority or warrant of a Magistrate, stating the offence of which she has been guilty and her sentence,—if any shall have been passed…………

    The Females are to be placed in three distinct classes, which shall on no account be suffered to communicate with each other. [1]


    The Class system classified and segregated convict women based on their behaviour. It was simultaneously a system of reward and punishment.  It was also a method of keeping incorrigible females separate from those who were well-behaved and capable of reform.  The number of classes changed over time, but by October 1829 the system consolidated into three distinct classes, or wards: First Class (Assignable Class); Second Class (Probationary Class); and Third Class (Crime Class).   The segregated convicts were housed in an appropriate yard: Assignable or 1st class yard (Yard 1), Probationary Yard (Yard 2) and Crime Class yard (Yard 3). Yard 2 was also where the wash tub punishment was carried out.


    First Class or Assignable Class: The assignable class were those convicts who were able to be assigned (during the assignment period) or hired as probation pass holders (during the probation period). These were the best behaved convicts or those who had been returned by their employers for re-assignment.  They were not required to undergo any special punishment, but were required to undertake lighter tasks. First Class convicts were allowed to apply for the indulgence of getting married.

    The first class shall consist of those women who may be placed in the establishment on their arrival from England, without any complaint from the surgeon superintendent,-of those who are returned from service with good characters,-and of those who have undergone at least three months' probation in the second, after their sentence in the third class has expired. The women of this class alone shall be considered assignable, and shall be sent to service when proper situations can be obtained.[2]


    Second Class or Probationary Class: Prisoners in the second class at a female factory were those working their way up from third (or crime) class to first class, those imprisoned for general sentences of less than three months and those awaiting confinement. The second class women were assigned tasks such as spinning, weaving or needlework.

    The second class shall consist of females who have been guilty of minor offences, and of those who by their improved conduct merit removal from the crime class.[3] 3. No Female who shall have been returned from service for misconduct, shall be allowed to be again assigned, until she shall have undergone a probation of not less than three months in the 2d. Class ;—in cases of frequent misconduct in previous service, not less than six months,—and, in all cases of dishonesty, not less than twelve.[4]


    Third Class or Crime Class: Convicts sentenced to Crime Class undertook a punishment handed down by magisterial sentences or by the Supreme Court.[5]  This sentence could include a period of bread and water diet in the solitary cells, separate treatment cells, or hard labour in the wash house yard. Crime Class prisoners also had an inferior diet with oatmeal replacing sugar and coffee.[6] After a certain portion of their sentence was served and they were of good behaviour, they could be moved to the Second Class. When their punishment sentence at the Female Factory was served they were moved to the assignable class for assignment or hiring.


    The third or crime class shall consist of those females who shall have been transported a second time, or who shall have been guilty of misconduct on their passage to the colony,-of those who shall have been convicted of offences before the Supreme Court, who shall have been sent in under the sentence of a magistrate, or who shall have been guilty of offences within the walls,-they shall never be removed from the 3rd to the 1st class.[7]


    The Rules and Regulations for the Management of the House of Correction (1829) describe the distinctive marks on the uniform worn by Crime Class women, and the tasks they were expected to perform:

    - 3rd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C in the centre of the back of the jacket, one on the right sleeve, and another on the back part of the petticoat.

    - The third class shall be employed in washing for the establishment, for the orphan schools, penitentiary, in carding wool, spinning, or in such other manner as shall be directed by the principal superintendent.[8]


    Crime Class sentences ranged between 1 and 12 months, with a standard of 3 months. In some cases no time period was specified by the magistrates;   with extensions for misconduct under sentence, some women spent most of their transportation sentence in Crime Class.


    Mary Wilson per New Grove in 1837 had her Crime Class sentence extended for one month for disobedience of orders in writing a letter with a pencil in the Crime Class yard.



    The original Hobart Female Factory, built in 1821, was located within the precinct of the old Hobart Town gaol and separated from the Gaol by a brick wall. It proved unsatisfactory for the purpose of classification into different classes, as explained by Rayner:


    In January 1826 [Lieutenant-Governor] Arthur finally ordered an investigation into the conditions at the Hobart Town Female Factory. Conditions were unsatisfactory. Fifty-five people were crammed into two sleeping rooms which were not only cramped and crowded but were also unventilated. There was only one yard for the use of the Factory, consequently no possibility of classification or keeping some women separate from others. The yard was in full view of executions in the gaol next door.[9] 


    The earliest record of a Crime Class sentence was in April 1823, when Catharine Grady was charged with stealing a tin case and sentenced to 12 months’ crime class at the Hobart Female Factory, with one month to be spent in the iron collar. Previous to this the harsh punishment options had included imprisonment in the gaol (shared by the male convicts), the stocks, wearing the iron collar, and hard labour. In 1818 the Lieutenant-Governor also proposed transporting recalcitrant female convicts to New South Wales.  Two females were sent to Newcastle, and Sophia Stratford was sent to Sydney in October 1820 for imprisonment, possibly in anticipation of the planned completion of the Parramatta Female Factory in January 1821.


    The Crime Class system was standard between 1828, when the new Cascades Female Factory opened, and the end of the Assignment period in 1844. The Probation period then commenced and the degrading punishment system transitioned to a reward-based system based on wages. Fines therefore became a more common punishment. Instead of a general sentence to Crime Class, punishments became more specific, although sentences of hard labour or solitary confinement were invariably carried out in the Crime Class yard.


    Women accused of misconduct or a breach of regulations in the Crime Class yard by female factory staff were brought before the Principal Superintendent, who could issue a secondary punishment. Examples of such punishments included extension of the original sentence, referral to a visiting magistrate; a fine or incarceration in the cells on bread and water.[10]  The secondary offences could be trifling: Eliza Brinton (per Australasia) in 1851, received 48 hours on bread and water and 10 days separate treatment for not performing her work in a proper manner.


    Most of Crime Class sentences were served at the Cascades House of Correction. Transferring convicted women from out-lying police districts to Hobart offered some challenges;  the female factories at George Town, Launceston and Ross also provided the separate yards and hard labour necessary for crime class sentences.


    Mary Brodie per Elizabeth and Henry, in 1849 at Ross, was sentenced to 14 days of hard labour for giving bread to the women in the Crime Class. Fellow shipmate Mary Ann Kelly committed the same offence at Ross in 1849, and only received a reprimand.


    The effectiveness of the enforcement of Crime Class punishments for convict women was questioned in the press on occasion:




    OATLANDS. - Sarah Wallace was charged by Mr. Duncan Campbell, with drunkenness, gross insolence, using profane language towards Mrs. Campbell, and destroying her master's goods – for which she was sentenced to six calendar months imprisonment in the crime class, Female Factory -fourteen days thereof in solitary confinement – to wear the iron collar - and to have her head shaved. We only wish some such punishment as this, would be more frequently enforced. Were such the case, we are quite sure that a better system of female prison discipline would be the result; as to the labours of the crime class, we are certain, they are absolutely farcical ; and, as to their effects, we know them to be futile. [Tasmanian Critic]

    The Sydney Herald, Monday 23 September 1833 - Page 1



    Pregnancy and Crime Class

    A pregnant woman would be returned to the government for confinement at a female factory under a magistrate’s warrant. After weaning, the mother of an illegitimate child had to serve ‘the usual probationary period’, which was six months in the Crime Class at a female factory.[11]  In some instances women were sentenced to longer periods, up to 12 months, with the possibility of hard labour. Tickets-of-leave could also be revoked by a magistrate.


    In 1842 both Sally Clark per Garland Grove and Sarah Morris per Rajah for misconduct in having an illegitimate child 6 months hard labor in Crime Class to commence when her child is weaned.


    Catherine Kennedy per Kinnear in 1851 while on a ticket-of-leave, committed the offence of being illegitimately with child and was sentenced to nine months of hard labour.


    The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction

    On January 1 1829 the Colonial Secretary's Office, under His Excellency, J. Burnett’s command, issued ‘The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction’ for the administration and management of convict women.


    Further information on the Rules and Regulations is available here.


    [1] Rules and regulations [for the management of the House of Correction] The Hobart Town Courier, Sat 10 Oct 1829, p.4.

    [2] Ibid

    [3] Ibid

    [4] RULES AND REGULATIONS. The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. 1827 - 1839), Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4

    [5] The 1841 Inquiry into Female Prison Discipline p.25

    [6] The 1841 Inquiry into Female Prison Discipline p. 26

    [7] Rules and regulations [for the management of the House of Correction] The Hobart Town Courier, Sat 10 Oct 1829, p.4.

    [8] RULES AND REGULATIONS. The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. 1827 - 1839), Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4

    [9] Rayner, T.,  Female Factory Female Convicts  (p.117).

    [10] Ibid

    [11] Article - The Tasmanian, Friday 31 January 1834 - Page 6


  • Death Sentence Open or Close


    Death sentence

    A sentence of death was a widely used penalty imposed by the courts on guilty felons in 18th  & 19th century Britain.  Many of these sentences were commuted, either through the judiciary or by a successful petition for a royal pardon, which contributed significantly to the overcrowding of gaols, as explained by Tony Moore:

    But reprieve from the gallows meant a long incarceration as a prisoner of His Majesty, and as the new laws for property took effect the country’s small number of gaols were swamped by the tide of commuted prison sentences. Transportation of criminals to colonies across the sea had begun in the seventeenth century, and evolved in the eighteenth century as a more humane alternative to the death sentence that removed the criminal with the finality of death, while cementing social control at home.[1]


    In total, 239 of the female convicts transported to Van Diemens Land had previously received a sentence of death in Britain. Their crimes ranged from the seemingly minor acts of stealing/robbery/burglary, coining/counterfeiting, house breaking, arson, highway robbery and wounding, to the more serious acts of attempted murder and murder. Perhaps the most obscure death sentence was handed down to Mary Ann Fielding in 1800 for ‘returning from transportation before her time had expired’.  Fielding was originally a convict on the Indispensable in 1796, transported to NSW for seven years for stealing shoes.  She was sent back to NSW on the Nile in 1801, ending up in VDL around 1808, having had her death sentence commuted to transportation for life. 


    Of the female convicts who ended up in VDL, the earliest trial resulting in the death penalty was that of Ann Steel in 1787 for a felony (highway robbery). Steel was ‘respited during His Majesty’s pleasure’.[2] As an indication of how indiscriminate the penalty was, that same year Jane Tyler was just 11 years old when she was tried for stealing 5 guineas and sentenced to death. A statute passing in 1713 made the crime of stealing over 4/- a capital offence, and unfortunately for Tyler, it was legal to hang children over the age of seven years. [3] [4] Tyler was respited and transported, along with Steel, on the Lady Juliana to NSW in 1780, although she remained in NSW.


    Two hundred and five of the convict women who ended up in Van Diemens Land had their sentences commuted to transportation for life, while eleven were commuted to seven years and twenty-four commuted to fourteen years transportation.

    Ann Margaret Wright per Providence II in 1826, escaped the hangman’s noose twice.  The first time in London in 1825 at the age of twenty when she was charged with the theft of three sovereigns, forty half crowns, eighty shillings, and forty sixpences. The second time was in Hobart Town in 1833 for the wounding of her husband with intent to murder him. Wright,at 27 years of age, was sentenced to be hanged, however a last minute reprieve by His Excellency, the Lieutenant-Governor, commuted the sentence to imprisonment for life. She ended up serving only 7 years of the sentence before she was freed.


    Hangings in VDL

    Twenty-two female convicts were colonially punished with the judgement of a death sentence in Van Diemens Land.  In all but four of the cases, the sentences were commuted.  The method of execution was by hanging. If dissection or anatomisation was part of the sentence, the body was cut down and removed to the General Hospital for dissection for medical study in accordance with the English  Murder Act 1752.[5] [6] [7] [8]

    The four women hanged in Van Diemens Land were:

    Mary McLaughlan (Harmony 1830) in 1830, for the murder of her infant child.

    Eliza Benwell (Hector 1835) in 1845 was charged with "feloniously, wilfully, and with malice aforethought," being present, "aiding, abetting, and assisting" in the murder of Jane Saunders on the18th of January last.[9] After hanging her body was dissected and anatomized..

    Mary Sullivan (John William Dare 1852) in 1852, for the wilful murder of Clara Adeline Fraser. Her body was given up for dissection.

    Margaret Galvin (Arabian 1847) in 1862 for the murder of her husband John Coghlin. Her body was dissected.


    In the early years of the colony, hangings took place in public at the gallows set up on the docks in Hobart Town.[10]  

    The Old Wharf, as its name implies, was the first constructed on the shores of the Derwent. At that time it only consisted of a small jetty, launches being used for conveying cargo to and from the vessels which lay out in the stream. A small island, which now does not exist, having been reclaimed from the river, was then used as the usual place of execution, and many a poor wretch has there on the gallows expiated his crimes. This island was named Hunter's Island, and is also, remarkable as the spot upon which Governor Collins landed and built a store. It was from this store that provisions and other requisites were, for some time, issued to the early settlers.[11]


    By 1828 the gallows had moved to the Hobart Town gaol at the corner of Murray and Macquarie Street where they were on view to the public who were encouraged to attend as a deterrent.*   From the Colonial Times, it can be established that the old gallows were replaced in 1834:

    We understand that the Reverend Mr. Bedford, having made some very strong representations to the Government that the old gallows was quite worn out, after a long and faithful service, a new one has been this week erected, which, from its huge proportions, bids defiance to every exertion that may be  made against it. Mr. Bedford's anxiety on all these matters of his duty is most laudable, and entitles him to the very highest praise!![12]


    In 1856 the gallows were placed behind high walls and were no longer visible to the public:

    First Private Execution under the New Act.-Yesterday Thomas Rushton and John Mellor, the bushrangers, convicted before Mr. Justice Home, at the late session of oyer and terminer and general gaol delivery of the supreme court, of shooting at Hugh Simpson, an overseer at St Peter's Pass, with intent, &c, underwent the extreme  penalty of the law within the walls of Her Majesty's gaol at Hobart Town, this being the first execution under the New Criminals Execution Act. The gallows was placed in a secluded portion of the yard behind the prison, the ground having been excavated to a depth of eight feet to admit of the requisite drop. The space was enclosed with a wooden fence and covering, to render the sad ceremony as private is possible.[13]


    There was also a gallows outside the Launceston gaol which was removed in 1853 and rebuilt within the walls of the gaol.[14][15] A description of the structure of the Launceston gallows is given in the Colonial Times 11 June 1853:

    One Step in Advance.-It is one of the happy results of the cessation of transportation to this colony, that instructions have been given to pull down the gallows at Launceston. Facing the river, the first object which met the stranger's eye was the permanent gallows, a substantial affair, built up with bricks and stone, and having a huge beam securely let into the walls ; altogether designed for any amount of service. But convictism has ceased, and it is rather significant that the removal of the gallows should be ordered immediately. [16]


    Abolitionists and the public spectacle

    Hangings in both Britain and Australia were traditionally conducted in public as a means of deterrent and entertainment. The hanging of Mary McLaughlan in Hobart in 1830 was a public spectacle, as was the 1845 hanging of Eliza Benwell, which attracted a crowd (reported by the Launceston Examiner 1 Oct 1845) estimated to be in excess of 5000 people:

    EXECUTION of ELIZA BENWELL-This miserable woman expiated the dreadful crime of which she was convicted at the last Sessions, this morning, at the usual time and place. A large crowd had assembled to witness this horrid ceremony, and much do we regret to state, that many, very many females, respectable enough in appearance, as far as that goes, formed a large portion of the multitude: children, too, especially boys, were there in abundance, amusing themselves, so long as they had room on the pavement to do so, by playing leap-frog, marbles, and other juvenile games.

    Colonial Times, Tuesday 30 September 1845 p 3 Article


    Eliza’s death prompted a second edition of the Herald Extraordinary, which documented her trial and hanging:





    By the middle of the eighteenth century the idea of capitally punishing women was increasingly met with public outcry, condemned by abolitionists as cruel and immoral. In Britain in 1847, Charles Gilpin, an abolitionist Quaker, designed a satirical poster inviting the public to ‘A Grand Moral Spectacle!’ to observe a young girl, Catherine Foster, aged 17, ‘publicly strangled in front of the County Jail, Bury Street, Edmonds’. Catherine Foster was the last woman to be hanged in Suffolk.[17]

    GrandMoralSpectacle lr


    The pregnant Charlotte Harris, (per Anna Maria 1852) sentenced to death in 1849, also galvanised the abolitionists, who endeavoured to enlighten the masses and employed shock-tactics, garnering petitions with over 4,000 signatures to further their cause.  After giving birth, Harris was eventually respited by Her Majesty, and transported per Anna Maria in 1852.

    A petition was also raised against the hanging of 16-year old Mary Sullivan in Hobart in 1852 but was unsuccessful and her execution still attracted crowds of spectators

    EXECUTION*. — On Thursday morning last, a large number of females (the worst class in Hobart Town) as well as a great concourse of the male population, assembled opposite the gaol, to witness the execution of the girl Mary Sullivan, for the murder of Mr. Frazer s child.

    Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania, Saturday 7 August 1852 p 3 Article


    By 1862, Margaret Galvin’s hanging would take place behind the gaol’s wall, thus denying the curious public a morning’s entertainment:

     But few persons beside the officials and a small body of police were present, and although several collected outside the gaol, and some applied for admission, they were very properly refused.

    The Mercury, Wednesday 19 February 1862 p 2


    Sentenced to death with respited sentences in Van Diemen’s Land

    The following 18 women were sentenced to death in VDL/Tasmania between 1833 and 1879, with their sentences later commuted. Sixteen were convicts or had previously been convicts who were transported to Van Diemens Land, Mary Ann Ellington was a native of Tasmania, and 25 year-old Caroline Smith was born in England and arrived free with her family at age 2.  Full records are available from the Female Convicts in Van Diemens Land database.


    Prisoner name

    Ship & arrival date




    Death communted to:

    Ann Margaret Wright (Ann Edwards)

    Providence 11 1826


    Attempted murder of her husband


    Eliza Owen

    Hindostan 1839


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox


    Mary Sheriff

    Atwick 1838


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox


    Elizabeth Elemore

    Gilbert Henderson 1848


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox

    Death recorded; transported for life beyond the seas and confined in Female House of Correction in a separate working cell for 3 years

    Ann Edwards

    Margaret 1843


    Stabbing with intent to murder James Howard; stabbing with intent to do bodily harm

    Death recorded; transportation for 15 years

    Mary Carroll

    Asia 1847


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; 18 months hard labour.

    Margaret Cleary

    Tory 1848


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; imprisoned

    Bridget Long

    Kinnear 1848


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; 2 years separate imprisonment with solitary confinement on the 6th, 12th and 18th months

    Maria Drake

    Margaret 1843


    Attempting to poison Oliver Adams

    Death recorded; life of penal servitude

    Sophia Kennedy

    Sea Queen 1858


    Feloniously assaulting Eliza Rowe and putting her in bodily fear; stealing 14/s and other property from her

    Death recorded; 7 years penal servitude

    Mary Mulhair (Mary Lott)

    Phoebe 1845


    Shooting with intent

    Death recorded; 10 years penal servitude

    Ann Conolly

    Maria 1849



    Penal servitude for life

    Julia Gunderson

    St Vincent 1850


    Assault & armed robbery

    Death recorded; 10 years penal servitude in a House of Correction

    Ephemia Lawson

    Borneo 1828


    Feloniously stabbing Mary Worster with intent

    Death recorded; transportation for life and detention in the Female House of Correction  in the Crime Class for 5 years

    Mary McDonough

    Martin Luther 1852


    Administering poison to John Lane

    Death recorded; 21 years penal servitude

    Catherine Brian (Lee)

    Woodbridge 1843



    Imprisoned for life in the House of Correction

    Mary Ann Ellington

    Native of VDL


    Murdering her illegitimate child

    Imprisonment for life

    Caroline Smith

    Arrived free


    Feloniously administering poison in an attempt to poison herself and her infant

    Death recorded; 6 months imprisonment. To be released on finding an approved person to provide surety for her good behaviour.



    * Researcher and Author, Richard P. Davis in his book The Tasmanian Gallows: A study of Capital Punishment, provides the figure of 260 executions from 1824 - 1836 (during the appointment of Governor Arthur), many of them men found guilty of sheep stealing.


    [1] Moore, T. (2010), Death or Liberty rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788-1868, Pier 9, p.35

    [2] Northampton Mercury, Oct. 27, 1787



    [5] The Tasmanian (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1827 - 1839) Friday 22 February 1833 p 7 Article




    [9] Colonial Time, Friday 5 September 1845 p 3

    [10] The Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 13 January 1858 p 2

    [11] The Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 13 January 1858 p 2

    [12] Colonial Times, Tuesday 6 May 1834 p 5

    [13] Colonial Times, Wednesday 20 February 1856 p 2

    [14] The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 7 January 1854 p 4

    [15] THE GALLOWS. —The permanent gallows, which for so long a time disgraced the appearance of the Launceston gaol, is now entirely removed. The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 10 December 1853 p 3

    [16] Colonial Times, Saturday 11 June 1853 p 2

    [17] Charlotte Harris 1818-1862Convict conduct record CON41/1/32



    Further Resources:




  • Hair Cut Close or Head Shaved Open or Close



    The practices of hair cutting and head shaving were widely used in English prisons and asylums for medical or hygiene purposes and also as humiliating punishments for incorrigible female prisoners.


    Elizabeth Fry, in 1827, when outlining methods for distinguishing different classes of prisoners, and promoting modest prison attire, also suggested that if the long hair on convicted felons were cut off and kept short during their term of imprisonment, ‘it would be found to act as a certain yet harmless punishment that would promote that humiliation of spirit which, for persons so circumstanced, is an indispensable step to improvement and reformation’.[1]


    Cutting off the hair and head shaving were seen as highly effective punishments precisely because the women detested them. As was intended, they were felt to be personally degrading or, as described by Joy Damousi, ‘defeminising’.[2] The magistrates could order their application in conjunction with other punishments, such as a term of imprisonment;  admittance to the female factories for a period of detention would automatically include having the hair cut short. What is not always obvious from the records was the difference between cutting the hair short, cutting the hair close to the head and shaving the head; having the head shaved was a more targeted and demeaning deterrent. 


    Hair cutting of female convicts on the convict transport ships to Van Diemen’s Land was a form of punishment that could be carried out in a confined space and, unlike solitary confinement, could be implemented simultaneously on more than one convict at a time.  It was first recorded on a voyage to Van Diemen's Land by Mr Robert Espie, Surgeon Superintendent of the Lord Sidmouth (arrived 1823), who used head shaving as a punishment on at least four separate occasions during the voyage, mentioning that the punishment was customary in cases of thieving. Espie also noted that ‘this mode of punishment seems to be the only thing they regard’.[3]  An article printed in 1866 called ‘Life on Board a Female Convict Ship’ described how cropping of the hair was regarded as ‘the severest punishment of all’:

    I believe there was not a female on board, old or young, who would not almost as soon have lost her life as have had her hair cut close. It not only deprived them of their most cherished natural ornament, but it branded them as infamous on their arrival in the colony, and rendered them objects of ridicule and derision.[4]


    Espie later altered his opinion on the effectiveness of solitary confinement combined with hair cutting, noting that this punishment only incited the convicts to be more defiant:

    I commenced to giving up my whole time and attention to the service I was employed on, but I had imbibed (and have still a strong prejudice) against corporal punishment and I tried all I could by other means such as solitary confinement and cutting their hair. These trifles only incited them to go to greater lengths to bid me utter defiance with a thousand threats of what they would do when they got to Sydney. [5]


    Whilst there are reports of female convicts having their hair cut and heads shorn in Van Diemen’s Land from the 1790’s, they were first recorded as a punishment in 1824 and became systematic practise in 1826 under Governor Ralph Darling, reaching a peak between 1826 and 1831. During this time hair cutting became an accepted form of punishment of women in the third penitentiary class in the female prisons and of ‘incorrigibles’, habitual offenders for whom hair cutting was applied in conjunction with other punishments.  In 1829 hair cutting was codified in The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction for Females, published in the Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829: ‘if incarcerated for any offence, she shall have her hair cut short’. This would indicate the House of Correction used this as a general deterrent, in addition to punishments meted out by the courts.[6] 


    Some examples of hair cutting as a punishment:

    - The earliest report of hair cutting in the conduct records involved Ann Williams (per Mary 1823) who in 1824 was convicted of stealing a pair of stockings, the property of the Crown. Her punishment was 14 days in the iron collar and having her hair cut off.

    - The Hobart Town Gazette of 10 December 1825 reported that seven prisoners who escaped from the Female Factory at night by means of a hole in the wall were sentenced to confinement in the cells on bread and water, the wearing of an iron collar and having their hair cut close to the head. The women included Ann Riley, Ellen Holland, Mary Thomas and Elizabeth Slater. [7]

    - On 7th May 1827 Ann Wilson (ux. Bruin) per Morley 1820, was defiant when sentenced to have her hair cut off:

    Hannah, the wife of Richard Brum, for disorderly conduct in the Factory, breaking Mr. Drabble's windows, and being insolent and abusive, to the said Mr. Drabble. Ordered to George Town, for 18 months. On receiving sentence, she turned round in at impudent way, saying she was glad of it, she wanted to go there. On being brought back and sentenced to sit in the stocks for four hours, she in the same manner replied you shall not cut my hair off. She was again brought back and sentenced to have her hair cut off. This seemed to make some impression …….. [8]

    -For refusing to go to her service in 1829, Mary Kirkland (per Harmony 1828) was punished by : ‘Cell on bread and water 10 days have her hair shaved when about to come out of the Factory be sent to the Interior and placed 6 months in the Crime Class’.


    George Pullen, who in the late 1820s lived in the Hobart and Cascades Female Factories with his uncle, the assistant superintendent, described the process of cutting off the convict women’s hair: ‘For all those sentenced to the cells or crime class there was invariably a preliminary ordeal to be gone through in the loss of their hair. It certainly was a sight to arouse one's pity to witness the long flowing raven or auburn locks falling to the ground to the rhythmic snipping of the barber's great shears. The women looked upon it as a barbarous, personal outrage – a degrading humiliation. Many who would have borne stolidly any other kind of punishment shed bitter tears over the loss of their hair; some fainted, and now and then one would fight like a tigress for the retention of her highly valued and petted locks, and the operation had to be performed under the persuasive influence of physical force.’[9] His comments are supported by convict Eliza Churchill (per Navarino) who stated:   ‘Cutting off their hair was a punishment generally disliked I have heard Jane Carr say she would rather take two years in the factory than have her hair cut off & I have heard many others make similar remarks’.[10]


    During the 1830’s, convict women in New South Wales rioted against the continued punishment of hair cutting.[11]  However, records show that in Van Diemen’s Land the practise was rarely used during this time and by 1841 the Superintendent of the Cascades Female Factory, John Hutchinson, and Principal Superintendent of Convicts, Josiah Spode, both stated that it was no longer used.[12] [i] Appearing before the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline 1841 – 43, Spode did, however, appear to support hair cutting as a punishment:

    Q.219: Do you think that the power vested in the Magistrates and Officers of the Factory in reference to female convicts is sufficient for the purposes of discipline and of deterring women from the commission of offences? If not, what additional means would be recommended?

    A.: It is with the exception of one point viz the power of cutting off the hair which was formerly adopted in cases of disorderly conduct in the House of Correction which was found to be very effective. An order was issued about five years since prohibiting the employment of this punishment; but I am of opinion that it would be advisable to resume that custom.[13]


    Records show that magistrates ordered hair cutting as a punishment only twice after 1841:  in February and March 1843 Mary Grant (per Atwick, 1837), and Ellen Gavin (per Gilbert Henderson, 1839) were both punished for insubordination by having their hair cut off.  However, a stricter regime began at the Cascades Female Factory in 1851 which resulted convict women routinely having their hair cut off on arrival. This practise was under discussion in 1855:

    INSULTING TREATMENT. –It is not generally known, perhaps, that, when free females are sentenced to imprisonment, under the Servants Hired Act, and are sent to the factory, that they have their hair cut closely off their head. We had supposed, that this pitiful indignity had been long since abolished, even with female prisoners, but, it seems, we are mistaken, although, we believe, the practice was, at one time, discontinued. With whom its revival rests, we know not, but, we feel assured, that we have only to bring the subject under the notice of His Excellency Sir F. Young, to have it at once, and immediately abolished. (Hobarton Mercury 10 January 1855)


    Perhaps partly due to this article, the practice was abolished. Later that year, giving evidence at an enquiry, the Matron of the Cascades Female Factory, Charlotte McCullagh, stated that:

    It is not the custom to cut off women's hair when received; it has not been for eight or nine months. There is a free division of the Factory. Up to that time it was the invariable practice to cut off the women's hair on being received, without reference to the length or nature of the sentence. I do not know why the practice was discontinued. The superintendent gave the order. (Courier, 24 December 1855).


    Further Resources:

    Damousi, Joy, Depraved and Disorderly Female Convicts Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia Chapter 4: Defeminising Convict Women, Headshaving as Punishment in the Female Factories.

    Enquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841-1843.


    [i] Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct 1841-43

    1. Are these the only punishments you have ever used? Women have in some cases been sentenced to have their hair cut off, & to wear the Iron collar.
    2. Are these sentences ever given now? No; They have been discontinued for some time.
    3. Do you think that the power vested in the Magistrates and Officers of the Factory in reference to female convicts is sufficient for the purposes of discipline and of deterring women from the commission of offences? If not, what additional means would be recommended? It is with the exception of one point viz the power of cutting off the hair which was formerly adopted in cases of disorderly conduct in the House of Correction which was found to be very effective. An order was issued about five years since prohibiting the employment of this punishment; but I am of opinion that it would be advisable to resume that custom. Note: Was not this order issued before my arrival? If so it is more than five years. JM


    [1] Fry, Elizabeth Gurney, (1827) Observations on the Visiting, Superintendence, and Government of Female Prisoners p.61,, accessed 21/03/2020

    [2] Damousi, Joy, (1997) Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, Cambridge University Press. P.86




    [6] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829

    [7] Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 10 December 1825 p 2 Article

    [8] FROM THE TASMANIAN. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Friday 1 June 1827 p 2 Article

    [9] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3. by G.P.[George Pullen]

    Launceston Examiner Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2 Article


    [11] Robbins, W.M. (2001) THE MANAGEMENT OF CONVICT LABOUR EMPLOYED BY NEW SOUTH WALES GOVERNMENT 1788-1830.p.230.  accessed 21/03/2020




  • Hard Labour Open or Close


    Hard Labour was perhaps the most common of the punishments handed down by the Magistrates and the Supreme Court to female convicts, comprising up to one-third of all punishments. The women were returned to a Female Factory or House of Correction to serve out the sentence, which was commonly between one to six months in length, although instances ranging between 24 hours and 6 years have been recorded.


    Authorities had been placed in an awkward position of determining a suitable punishment for female convicts on an appropriate level with the harsh hard labour punishments handed out to male convicts, such as the road gang or treadmills, yet acceptable for public critique. An Act promulgated in 1826 codified the summary punishment of misbehaving female convicts, including the sentence of Hard Labour. This was reported in the Colonial Times:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[1]


    The exact work required of female convicts with a sentence of Hard Labour was usually not specified by the magistrates and tasks would have been allocated at the discretion of the superintendents or overseers of the Female Factories or Houses of Correction.[*] In cases where magistrates did specify a hard labour punishment it was usually hard labour at the wash tub. Hard Labour was usually accompanied by other punishments including suspension of ticket-of-leave, wearing of an iron collar, imprisonment in crime class, solitary or separate working cells, removal to the interior (country) or forfeit of wages.



    Mary Jones (2),(per Sir Robert Steppings ) Must surely hold the record for the punishment of hard labour.  Mary was a 54 year-old widow when she arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1852.  Between 1852 and 1878 Mary was punished 52 times by the magistrates, 43 of these was at hard labour, accumulating to 135 months (11.25 years) and six days.  While Mary's crimes started out to be wide-ranging, ironically, her main crime for the last 14 years appears to be 'idle and disorderley'.  Mary died three years after her last crime, in 1881 - she would have been 83 years old!  




    Within the Female Factories and Houses of Correction the women were allocated to solitary confinement cells or to a particular yard, and the work they did depended on the tasks that could be completed in those areas. The wash tub yard was used for heavy duty washing for institutions such as the hospitals, military barracks and orphan school. For those in solitary confinement, plain needlework or picking oakum were regular tasks.  Picking oakum involved working with old tarred and oiled ropes, which were cut into two foot lengths, beaten with a mallet to remove the tar[2]  and then unravelled and shredded into fibres.  In the police reports for 10 February 1849:

    Jane Willis, overcome with alcohol on her master's premises yesterday evening at the early hour of [8] o'clock, three months hard labour in the female house of correction, where she will have to pick oakum, preparatory to an inland tour up the country.[3].

    Picking oakum was not a pleasant task and it was shared by male and female prisoners and people in workhouses as a way to pay for their lodgings. Picking oakum was, at times, considered hard labour (even for males) and in other accounts was considered light labour.[4] [5] [6] The Government would sell the oakum, which would be re-used as caulking to fill in the gaps between the wooden planks of ships to make them watertight.[7] [8]


    All the women, whether awaiting assignment or serving a term of punishment, usually had a quota and/or standard of task work to complete and if this was not done the Female Factory Punishment Book records that they were punished with a range of measures including the wash tub, bread and water or solitary confinement. 



    Mr Elliston: Women sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour at the Cascades are employed at the wash-tub. While in separate treatment they do needlework. All women received are subject to a certain portion of separate treatment in cells. The needle-work is government work, No embroidery, crochet, or fancy work is done by those in separate treatment Fine work is done for families. Many women are incapable of using their needle; they are employed at picking oakum and hair. The charge for fine work is according to the description of article; gentlemen's plain shirts are charged 3s, fancy ditto up to 5s. Those regulations are published; there is a scale of charges in .the office. Very many private individuals avail themselves of this regulation The clerk, Mr. Atkins, receives the money. He pays it to the Superintendent When the women are discharged from separate treatment they go to the wash-tub. That is considered hard. labour.[9] [†]       

    With regard to the means for placing Females to labor in the Crime Class Yard; measures for this there are really none, the only employment is carding and spinning, which for want of room can be performed but by few, and so far from being a punishment it appears to be rather a mere pastime, for small is the number of those who are not soon tired of total idleness and at such work they can exert themselves as much or as little as they please. The 1841-1843 Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct p. 126.





    The 1841-1843 Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct examined the punishment regime at the Female Factory: 

    Q.9. Under what circumstances are these women placed under your charge?  With the exception of five [sic] they are sent in under magisterial sentences & those of the Supreme Court.

    Q.10. How are they employed in the establishment & to what punishment are they subjected?  In picking, carding & spinning wool, oakum & horse hair; washing for the colonial hospital, military hospital, and military barracks, the ordinance store, & the orphan school: - their punishments are solitary confinement in cells with work or in dark cells with bread & water, & confinement in the crime class and probationary yards.

    Q.11. What do you mean by the crime class & probationary yard?  It is the yard into which all women under a general sentence to hard labour are received.

    Q.104. When a convict woman is sent in under punishment what is done with her? She is received in the same way, searched and dressed and sent to her proper place according to the warrant, viz, the cells, the wash-house or the third yard – if the sentence be generally to hard labour for three months she is sent to the second yard, if for more than three months to the third yard.

    Q.105. What is the labour performed in the second yard?  Picking, carding and spinning.

    Q.106. Do you consider that more severe than the labour of the first yard?  Yes, it is more severe– carding is hard work so is spinning – picking is light work – they take generally turn about of the different kinds of work. [10]



    Although the Act specified that the punishment of Hard Labour was not to exceed three months, in practise, however, it was regularly extended:

    The punishment of Mary Pendle for stealing in a dwelling house, was necessarily different from that of the others guilty of a like offence, owing to the difficulty at present existing in the Colony of finding punishments suited to female offenders. She was sentenced to Six months’ imprisonment and hard labour, and his Honor added, that he really hoped the labour she would undergo would be hard.[11]


    The longest recorded sentence of Hard Labour was that of Judy Collins (per Australasia) in 1862, for stealing £16. The Supreme Court sentenced her to 6 years’ penal servitude. Under the Penal Servitude Act of 1857, penal servitude replaced transportation and included hard labour for repeat offenders.[12]

    Another female convict serving a long sentence of hard labour was Isabella Thompson (ship unknown) who was sentenced in 1863 to 3 years’ imprisonment with hard labour at Launceston House of Correction for house breaking.


    Spinning Jenny

    Between 1834 and 1840, newspapers regularly published reports of women (mostly free) who were sentenced to spend time at the Cascades House of Correction on the spinning jenny.  The spinning jenny was a multi-spindle spinning frame and was one of the key developments in the industrialization of weaving during the early Industrial Revolution.[13]


    Conduct records do not mention the spinning jennies as a specific punishment, but spinning generally was task work allocated to women within the House of Correction, and was considered hard work, as mentioned above. However,  as mentioned in the following newspaper articles, in some cases it was not perceived as a worthy punishment:

    - January 28, 1834: ‘Margaret Mason, having paid so many recent visits at this office, was ordered three months to the Cascade spinning jenny, for the benefit of her health.’[14]

    - October 3, 1834, ‘Elizabeth Humphries, Jane Welsh, MaryAnn Norman, Sarah Smith, John Elliot, and Elizabeth Knight—such of those persons as could not pay five shillings for drunkenness, each defaulter received an extra dose – the ladies to the Spinning Jenny, and the gentlemen, to the Stock Exchange.’[15]

    - February 3, 1835: Ann Dutton, a free woman living with Mr. Rowlands; who has continually set all laws at defiance, to convince her that though free, she was subject to restrictions as well as her neighbours, she was ordered seven days at the Cascade spinning jenny for misbehaviour in her service and absconding. [16] Catherine Rooke was fined 5s. for drunkenness, and 5s. for using her clapper too indecently and freely, and in default of payment, was ordered to the spinning jenny for a month.[17]

    - May 5, 1835: James Humphries, Elizabeth Simpson, and Ann Neale, were all convicted of drunkenness, and fined 5s. each. The ladies had no loose change, money nor friends, and, having made so many visits at this office, in default of payment, they were ordered to a little Spinning Jenny work, at the Cascade, for fourteen days each.-[These are free women, sent to the Female Convict Factory. This is prison discipline, for which the free Colonists pay one hundred thousand pounds a year !-ED.][18]

    - June 7, 1836: Mary Norman was ordered to retire to the Cascade nunnery, to enjoy the amusement of the spinning jenny for three months; to keep her from bad company.[19]

    - February 6, 1838: James Morrow, John Sykes. James Revell, Henry Warner, Elizabeth O'Neil, William Carter, Hugh Green, Margaret Mason, Ann Newell, Richard Lears, Charles Hinton, John Petquin, George Paul, John Burns, Ransom Reynolds, Peter Grant, John Leunan, James Wilson, John, Kermode, and Thomas Randall,a tolerable specimen of sober morals, for nearly all pleaded guilty to drunkenness, and made many excuses. Some six or seven having no funds, the males were ordered to grace the stocks, and the females to amuse themselves with the spinning jenny at the Factory.[20]   

    - February 7, 1840: Several ladies of distinction, notorious for their rambling propensities at unseasonable hours in the public streets, were now provided with board and lodging according to the provisions of the Police Act, namely, wash-tub, spinning-jenny, and other such like amusements at the house of correction.[21]


    [*] Women allocated to the crime class and probationary yards in the Female Factories and Houses of Correction were mainly employed in task work that included needlework; knitting; wool-picking, carding, spinning and weaving; cleaning the dormitory and hospital; cleaning the yards; work in the cookhouse; duty in the hospital yard and at Brickfields, New Town Farm, the Watch houses.



    [1] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [2] accessed 1/03/2020

    [3] Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania, Saturday 10 February 1849 p 3

    [4] Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 - 1857) Friday 19 April 1850 p 4

    [5] The Mercury, Thursday 19 June 1862 p 2

    [6] accessed 1/03/2020

    [7] The Mercury, Thursday 19 September 1861 p 4


    [9] The Courier, Monday 24 December 1855 p 2

    [10] p.37

    [11] Criminal Court, Hobart Town, December 30,1826, Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 6 January 1827 p 4



    [14] Colonial Times, Tuesday 28 January 1834 p 7

    [15] Trumpeter General, Friday 3 October 1834 p 2

    [16] Morning Star and Commercial Advertiser, Tuesday 3 February 1835 p 2

    [17] Colonial Times, Tuesday 3 February 1835 p 8

    [18] Colonial Times, Tuesday 5 May 1835 p 7                                                                 

    [19] Colonial Times, Tuesday 7 June 1836 p 8

    [20] Colonial Times, Tuesday 6 February 1838 p 7

    [21] Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, Friday 7 February 1840 p 6


    Further Resources:

    Picking Oakum:

  • Indulgences Revoked Open or Close


    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


    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 system operated in the colony from 1801.* It 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.






  • Iron Collar Open or Close


    There were several versions of the iron collar used for the punishment of female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land used between 1815 and 1834. The iron collar was a cast iron neck collar possibly hinged at the sides and either locked into place or riveted into place by a blacksmith.[1] [*] James Boyce, in his book Van Diemen’s Land, described the iron collar as ‘a large band of iron placed around the neck’ which was ‘occasionally, if illegally, used’.  The collar weight varied depending on its design;  however, it was reported in the 1820 Magistrate's Inquiry into the punishment of Alice Robson (Blackstone), that the collar used in her punishment weighed six and a quarter pounds.[†]


    iron collar sketch

    Reproduction of an iron neck collar used on convicts in NSW[2]

    The punishment handed down by the Van Diemen's Land magistrates merely states that a female convict was to wear the iron collar for a period of 7 days, 14 days or 28 days, up to a maximum of one month. It was almost consistently used with time in solitary confinement on a bread and water diet, at least for the initial part of the sentence. The iron collar was used mostly as a punishment for the crime of absconding but could also be used for other crimes, including stealing, intoxication, neglect of duty and disobedience. Lt. Col. G. Cimitiere, Commandant at George Town in 1820, described the iron collar as ‘a badge of infamy and disgrace, this Collar being the usual Instrument throughout the Colonies which is put round the neck of women of Infamous character’.[3]


    The use of the punishment peaked around 1827 and was not recorded on the conduct records as a punishment for colonial offences for female convicts after 1834. During this time, wearing an iron collar was used as a punishment on at least 91 occasions.


    The iron collar should not be confused with the spiked iron collar (see spiked iron collar). The spiked iron collar was not an authorised punishment handed down by magistrates. Anecdotal reports suggest it was used within the House of Correction or female factories as an unofficial ‘in-house’ punishment. The ‘iron collar’ and the ‘spiked iron collar’ are often confused in female convict history. They were distinct forms of punishment.


    One of the earliest mentions of being punished by wearing the iron collar in Van Diemen’s Land was the case of Ann Ward  Active in 1815. Ann stole goods which were the property of her master and, as punishment, was forced to wear an iron collar for a week as well as being kept to hard labour in the gaol. In the same year, she was again punished with the iron collar for stealing. In 1816, Mary Evers Kangaroo had to wear the iron collar for 28 days for disorderly conduct and grossly abusing the constables in the execution of their duty.


    The iron collar punishment was usually accompanied by one or more supporting punishments. Hannah Burton Mary, for example, who absconded in 1824, was sentenced to the Crime Class at the Cascades Factory for three months and had to wear the iron collar for one month. By 1829, when Mary Davis Harmony absconded from her place of service, she was sentenced to six months in the Crime Class at the Female Factory and had to wear the iron collar for one month, have her hair cut off and be placed in solitary confinement on bread and water for 14 days.

    BENCH OF MAGISTRATES.—On Wednesday Ann Bass, a crown servant, was brought before a Bench of Magistrates, charged with behaving in a riotous and disorderly manner to her mistress, and attempting to quit her place without leave, contrary to the Colonial Regulations. The charge being most clearly proved, she was sentenced to be put in the stocks 8 hours, at two different periods, with an iron collar placed upon her neck, and to be imprisoned in the county gaol for 3 months. The complaint was peculiar aggravating, this woman having only been released from prison a few days back on a similar case.[4]


    The iron collar was a controversial legacy of the slave trade, which used various versions, usually riveting the collar into place for permanency and connecting chains to rings on the collar, therefore creating both a means of restraint and a symbol of slavery.  The legality of using the iron collar as a punishment for slaves in the Caribbean was called into question in 1816, however the discussion did not include using iron collars on convicts in the colonies of Australia.

    Government-house, November 19, 1816.

    At a meeting of the Privy Council, present

    His Excellency Charles W. Maxwell, Governor,

    &c. &c. &c.

    His Excellency called the attention of the Board to the punishment inflicted on slaves by their owners, and other persons having authority over them, by placing iron collars, puddings, and chains with weights, ROUND THE NECK, LEGS, and other parts of their bodies, IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF HUMANITY AND THE LAW, and expressed his wish of having a stop put to such practices. It clearly appearing that punishments of this description were unauthorised by law, his Excellency suggested to the Board the propriety of sending a circular letter to the magistrates of the town of Roseau, and of the different parishes, requesting them to make inquiry in their different neighbourhoods for all instances of cruelty, and to notify to all persons who may be discovered to use such punishment in future, that the law will be enforced on any repetition of such offences.— The Board readily agreed with his Excellency in the propriety of this step, and the following circular, was sent to the magistrates in conformity:—[5]


    The controversy surrounding the use of the iron collar on female convicts did not have any effect in Van Diemen’s Land until 1834 when it was phased out as a punishment by the Magistrates.


    The Spiked Iron Collar

    The spiked iron collar was used in the slave trade, as described in the diary of John Nicol on his voyage to St. George’s, Grenada in 1784-85.[6]

    There were two or three slaves upon the estate who, having once run away, had iron collars round their necks with long hooks that projected from them to catch the bushes should they run away again. These they wore night and day.[7]

    Although the slave trade was outlawed in British dominions in 1807, it still continued illegally for many years.[8]  Outlawing the slave trade did not prevent the iron chains and collars being used on British convicts.


    In its application on convicts in Van Diemens Land, the spiked iron collar was not mentioned by the Magistrates as a form of punishment but anecdotal reports have it being used surreptitiously within the Cascades Female Factory.


    The spiked iron collar was described as an instrument of torture in an account by George Pullen, who in the late 1820s lived in the Hobart and Cascades Female Factories with his uncle, the assistant superintendent. In memories of George Pullen printed in The Launceston Examiner 1892, he describes the following:

    Another form of punishment that was only resorted to in cases of violent insubordination was the iron collar. This instrument of torture (I use the term advisedly) was formed of a band of iron of about an inch and a half in depths, opening by a hinge at the back and, being clasped round the neck, was fastened at the front by a padlock. From this collar band projected outwards four iron spikes of about a foot in length, tapering off and terminating in sharp points, the whole weight of iron resting on the tender collar-bones of the woman, as may be supposed, peculiarly painful and irritating. No alleviation of the terrible and dreadful torture was provided for the sentence recorded, but the humane feelings of one of the superintendents to whom the punishment was particularly distasteful and who- I may say in passing, was altogether too sensitive for his position-supplied relief, as far as it was possible, in the form of padding, to make the punishment easier to be borne.



    The term for wearing the collar was from 24 to 60 hours, and was intended to be continuous; but as it was impossible for the unhappy sufferer to take rest in sleep, this official chose to incur the risk of censure by having it removed at night and replaced in the morning. There was also another collar, lighter in weight, having longer spikes of [3/8] round iron, each spike terminating in a nob. This was for those of a pugilistic turn, the knobs answering the same purpose, I presume, as those placed on the horns of cattle to prevent them from goring their fellows. This punishment was very rarely inflicted.[9]


    It is highly questionable as to whether the factory Superintendents, under Rules and Regulations governing their punishment of female convicts, were permitted to carry out such a punishment:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[10]


    Further anecdotal accounts of the spiked iron collar being used by the Female Factory to ensure discipline in church services are as follows:

    The men would play at cards in the gallery during the service; and the women wore iron collar; with sharp prongs or spikes to prevent them from reclining their heads for indulgence in sleep. Such treatment, as may be supposed, did not produce love or reverence for Sabbath worship; and in too many instances the clergyman officiating contented himself by formally doing duty.[11]


    Goodridge, the runaway sailor, in his amusing autobiography, has something to say on the women prisoners. “Previous to Governor Arthur's time,” says he, a frequent punishment inflicted on females was the placing of an iron collar round their neck, on each side of which was a long prong which gave them the appearance of horned cattle, and with this head-dress they were exposed in church during service. - Certainly this was one mode of gathering a congregation.[12]


    In February, 1812, Colonel Geils became acting Lieutenant-Governor, and remained until the arrival of Colonel Davey in 1813.[13]  He was reported in the Launceston Examiner in 1858, in an article on historical reflections, as having used the iron spiked collar on the neck of a free woman.[14]  However, it was Governor Ralph Darling, appointed governor of New South Wales in 1824, who has been attributed with introducing the spiked iron collar to the colony, which was given the pejorative name of “Darling’s Necklace” or the Darling’ Collar”.[15] Darling had, in all likelihood, seen it used illegally in the slave trade in Mauritius, where he had been Acting Governor between 1819 and 1823.[16],[17],[‡] [§]



    [*] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868: Sarah Wilson, while in a state of pregnancy at George Town in 1820, was fitted with the iron collar which she wore for approximately 15 days. She was able to take it off for 4 or 5 nights.  ‘Mr. Boothman and Doctor McCabe came to me; the next night a Constable came, I was in bed with the Collar on, the rivet was loose; the next morning Mr. Leith sent the Constable to order me down to the Black-smith's Shop to have the Collar on again.

    [†] HRA III, Vol.3 pp.853-868:  In 1820, Alice Robson was the subject of a Magistrate's Inquiry. On orders of Lieutenant Colonel Cimitiere, Commandant of the Port Dalrymple settlement, around 8am on 19 September 1819 Alice set off to walk thirty-five miles from George Town to Launceston with an 'iron collar' (weighing six-and-a-quarter pounds) round her neck.

    [‡]  The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial... (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1834 - 1844) Friday 23 October 1835 p 3


    Late Attorney General of New South Wales.

    " The said Saxe Bannister by his affidavit sworn at Paris the 26th January, 1835.

    ‘And deponent believes that spiked iron collars were not the usual irons of the said Colony, and that they are unlawful : and deponent hath read in a recent Parliamentary document an account of such spiked iron collars being discovered by the Commissioners of Inquiry in use in the Colony of Mauritius, about the year 1827, and before that year. And deponent believes that said Governor Darling held some office in the said Colony of Mauritius before coming to New South Wales, and that the said collars were introduced into New South Wales by, or under the sanction of, the said Governor Darling.’

    [§] A version was made and used as  military discipline in a famous case in NSW in 1826, attributing the death of Joseph Sudds to Darling’s spiked iron collar. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Thursday 4 July 1839 p 3. Also mentioned in Governor Ralph Darling’s Iron Collar  by Marcus Clark ( accessed 29/02/2020):

    Mr. Mackaness, the sheriff, stated also that, calling at Government House with Colonel Mills a few days prior to the punishment of Sudds and Thompson, he saw on the right hand of the hall after entering the door “either one or two sets of irons, having collars and iron spikes projecting from them,” which now he has no doubt were the same he afterwards saw upon the men in gaol. Mackaness “took them to be newly-invented man-traps.” 



    [1] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868.

    [2] Carters,

    [3]HRA III, Vol.3 pp.863.

    [4] Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter 27 September 1817 p.2.

    [5] The Australian, Friday 13 July 1827 p 3

    [6] The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, Chapter 5, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [7]The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [8] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 11 January 1827 p 3

    [9] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3. Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2

    [10]  Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [11] The Mercury, Wednesday 22 December 1869 p 3

    [12] Notes by the Way,  Critic, Friday 28 September 1917 p 4

    [13] West, J. (1852) History of Tasmania- Volume 1

    [14] SELECTIONS FROM WEST'S "HISTORY OF TASMANIA." THE FIRST SETTLEMENT. Launceston Examiner, Thursday 8 July 1858 p 4

    [15] The Maitland Daily Mercury, Saturday 20 February 1904 p 6

    [16] Darling, Sir Ralph (1772–1858), Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed 29/04/2020

    [17] The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial, Friday 23 October 1835 p 3

  • Lashing or Flogging Open or Close


    Lashing was a common form of punishment in British gaols, until it was outlawed for women in 1817.[1][2] Recognised as a convenient physical punishment for male convicts that could be carried out anywhere and anytime, it was also a brutal and degrading punishment which was inflicted on early female convicts in New South Wales and in one recorded case in Van Diemen's Land (VDL).


    The earliest recorded lashing of a female convict was that of Nance Ferrel, who was lashed on the Lady Juliana in 1789, according to the journal of John Nicol, mariner:

    We were forced to tie her up like a man, and give her one dozen with the cat-o'-nine-tails, and assure her of a clawing every offence. This alone reduced her to any kind of order.[3]


    One of the earliest punishments of a female convict recorded in Van Diemen’s Land was the lashing of Elizabeth Murphy.  Elizabeth was 19 years old when tried at Middlesex on 28 October 1801 for stealing a straw bonnet.  She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years, arriving in NSW on the Glatton on 11 March 1803.  She was transferred to Van Diemen’s Land on the Sophia in early February 1805, becoming one of the first female convicts to arrive in the state; only 12 female convicts were recorded as having previously arrived before this date. On 15 March 1806, Elizabeth was accused of ‘writing or causing to be wrote a letter directed to Francis Dring* containing the most infamous language & accusing him of a most heinous Crime’. She was sentenced by His Honor the Lieut. Governor to be tied by her hands to the cart drawn by the gaol gang, to be stripped and receive 25 lashes before being sent to the settlement at Risdon.  The punishment of 25 lashes was equivalent to the minimum given to male convicts, who would normally receive sentences of between 25 and 300 lashes.


    Elizabeth Murphy’s punishment fits the description given in the article ANCIENT PUNISHMENTS IN THE BAD OLD TIMES’ in the Examiner on 19 January 1907:


    Whipping posts were sometimes attached to the stocks for convenience in thrashing beggars and petty thieves whose delinquencies were thought to merit the double punishment. These poor wretches were generally stripped from the waist upwards, and the lash laid on with such unsparing hand that often enough their backs were covered with blood long before the chastisement was concluded. Some offenders were whipped at the cart's tail, i.e., they were tied to the end of a cart after being stripped partially or wholly naked, and 'then dragged through the public streets, and thashed unmercifully throughout the whole of the journey.[4]


    The lashing of Elizabeth Murphy may have been the only recorded sentence of lashing (or flogging) of a female convict in Van Diemen’s Land, however two former female convicts who arrived in VDL in 1808 on the City of Edinburgh also experienced  lashings on Norfolk Island.  First Fleeter, Elizabeth Bruce per Lady Penrhyn to Sydney, arriving in 1788, was sent to Norfolk Island on the Golden Grove 10 months later. In 1790 she received 25 lashes for allowing one of her pigs to go into someone’s garden and another 75 lashes in 1791 for stealing a hen. She left the island as a freewoman on the City of Edinburgh, arriving in Hobart in 1808. Also on the ‘City of Edinburgh’, arriving Hobart in 1808, was Mary Higgins who had arrived in NSW on the Lady Juliana in 1790. She had been sentenced on Norfolk Island in 1791 to 50 lashes, receiving 26 lashes. Her offence was stealing corn from the public fields (with Catherine White) - caught by John Thomas Dodge, Superintendent of Convicts. The floggings of Elizabeth Bruce and Mary Higgins were not  isolated incidents in New South Wales as evidenced by a letter addressed to Earl Bathurst, per Favour of the Sydney Gazette on October 12th 1825:  ‘The history of Castle Hill, and Toongabbee;- of the system of stripping females and flogging them in the common gaol-yard of Sydney...’[5]


    Although the type of lash used on Elizabeth Murphy is not recorded, the lash used at Port Arthur was the infamous ‘Cat-o’-nine-tails’. It was a wooden-handled whip with nine knotted whip cords, noted for its use on mariners, the Royal Navy and British Army long after its use at Port Arthur was discontinued.  Its construction meant that for every lash there would be 9 ‘stripes’ with the three knots along each cord adding extra weight to the punishment, and responsible for the clawing, as attributed to a cat, noted in the lashing of Nance Ferrel.


    Unfortunately, male and female convicts were not the only people to experience the sting of the lash in VDL.  In 1839 the editor of the Hobart Town Courier newspaper raised the alarm that the cat-o’-nine-tails was being used by the Orphan School’s headmaster as an instrument of punishment on the boys[7]:

    One of the charges preferred against Mr. Offer, was the extreme severity of treatment which he adopted towards the children. Mr. McKay, who was in the 21st regiment for twenty years, a testimonial of whose services and character is to be found in the handsome letter addressed to him on the part of the regiment by Major Deare, gave evidence to the effect, that during the whole period of his service, he had never witnessed flogging in the army more severe in proportion, than that which it was the constant habit of Mr. Offor to administer with a cat-o'-nine-tails, on the bare backs of lads under and about twelve years of age. By the written regulations of the School, the punishment allowed to be administered shall not exceed twelve lashes. Notwithstanding the constant remonstrances of Mr. Naylor, Mr. Offor boasted that he should do as he chose ; and in illustration of his position, frequently doubled the amount of punishment, and in one instance actually inflicted thirty-one lashes!

    The Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser took up the story in 1841, confirming that the cat-of-nine-tails had been previously used for floggings at the Orphan School but reassuring readers that the practice had since ceased:

    In regard to the last, the application of the infernal " cat-of-nine-tails" to those poor children, we are enabled to state in the most positive terms, that no such hateful instrument has been in the Institution, since the appointment of the Rev. Mr. Ewing, and the other changes in the direction, which some time since took place. It is quite true, that an individual formerly employed there, being charged with using such an abominable method of punishment, was removed from his employment, on that very ground (although the charge was by no means ascertained, at least to the extent apprehended), but we repeat, we are enabled to assert positively that from that period to this day, not only has no such hateful torture been known, but no such instrument for the inflicting it, been permitted in the Institution.[8]


    Lashing or flogging continued as a punishment frequently imposed on male convicts up until 1840, when it was increasingly replaced with solitary confinement before being phased out for convicts by 1850.[6] 



    *Francis Dring, a convict tried at Middlesex and sentenced to transportation for seven years, arrived on the Coromandel and Experiment 1804 to NSW.


    [1] accessed 2/03/2020

    [2] Damousi, Joy, (1997) Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, Cambridge University Press.

    [3] The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [4] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner, Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [5] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 20 October 1825 p 4

    [6] James Parker, accessed 1/03/2020

    [7] The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen's Land Gazette, Friday 9 August 1839 p 2

    [8]The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, Hobart Town, Tuesday 8 June 1841 p 2.



  • Macquarie Harbour Open or Close


    Macquarie Harbour, situated on the rugged west coast of Van Diemen’s Land, was accessed by sea, through a treacherous, narrow harbour mouth. The settlement, consisting of several out-settlements scattered around the shore of Macquarie Harbour and on various islands within the harbour, was almost entirely reliant on supplies from Hobart Town. This perilous voyage of 220 miles, subject to unpredictable weather and rough seas, could take several weeks.[1]  Transportation to the Colonies of New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land was described as being ‘sent to the end of the world’, while Macquarie Harbour was described as ‘Hell on Earth’ by those who ended up there.[2] Whilst being sent to Macquarie Harbour was an extreme punishment in its’ own right, further punishment was in store for those who did not conform there. For the convicts, administrators, officers, soldiers and free settlers it was a miserable existence. 


    The prisoners who are banished to this settlement are generally of the worst description, and such only as can scarcely be trusted with safety in the main colony, or whose offences have deserved the signal punishment which this place is intended to inflict.[3]


    The Macquarie Harbour Penal Station operated between 1822 and 1833[4].  The headquarters of the settlement was located on Sarah Island in the south eastern corner of the harbour, about 25 miles [^] from the harbour mouth.[5] Male convicts were quartered on Sarah Island, while female convicts were quartered on Grunnet Island, a small island half a mile distant from Sarah Island.[6] In total just over 1150 prisoners served time at Macquarie Harbour; researchers place the number of women at fewer than thirty although the exact number of female convicts is still being researched. [7]  Of these women, perhaps half would have been assigned servants accompanying administrators, officers or soldiers.  A letter from L.G. William Sorell to Under Secretary Goulburn dated December 1821, mentions eight female convicts as being part of the first contingent of the 110 persons sent to Macquarie Harbour to establish the settlement. There were also 44 'Convicts under Sentence and of bad Character and incorrigible conduct'; 'Convict Artificers and Mechanics of good character, intended to receive indulgence after a period' totalled 11; 'Other Convicts of useful avocations not under Punishment, in-cluding Pilot's Boat's Crew' totalled 11. There was no indication of whether the female convicts came under any of the categories allocated to the male convicts sent to the settlement. (HRAIII-iv p.44)


    ‘Macquarie Harbour’ as a punishment was one of transportation to the unknown, removal to the extreme wilderness, isolation from all access to civilisation, and being placed in an environment with the most uncontrollable and depraved of the male convicts sent there for 'rigorous restraint and reform'. (HRAIII-iv p.42)  The women would have worked in the hospital, at task work, or as assigned servants to the officers, administrators or free settlers. Jane Davis was assigned to her husband, a hospital attendant.


    Records show that nine women were sentenced specifically to transportation to Macquarie Harbour as punishment for crimes within the colony. At least two women ended up at Macquarie Harbour in response to the magistrate’s judgement: ‘to be transported to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor may think proper for the remainder of her sentence’. Research indicates that another two women (Sarah Fenton and Rachael Chamberlain) possibly were sent there for misconduct on their transport ship, the Mary Ann.[*] 


    Women sentenced to Macquarie Harbour (as recorded in Convict Conduct Records):


    Jane Davis (nee Williams) was a Native of Norfolk Island, who arrived free in VDL with her adopted (Cropper) family. She was convicted with her husband, Sergeant William Davis, of receiving sheep, knowing them to have been stolen, at Broadmarsh, and tried in Hobart in June 1824. Their sentence was ‘to be transported for the term of 14 years’ to such place’. [8] They both ended up at Macquarie Harbour. William Davis, a hospital attendant, was later moved to Maria Island. In 1826 Jane received a further sentence while living at Macquarie Harbour: on 20 May she was sentenced to wash 40 prisoner’s shirts weekly, a punishment for disobedience of orders and sending an improper message to Mr Barnes, the Assistant Surgeon.


    Isabella Hamill (per Mary Ann 1822): in September 1822 Isabella was found guilty of feloniously receiving 300 shirts and 5 pairs of duck trowsers, stolen from H.M. Magazine in Hobart Town. She was sentenced to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years.


    Elizabeth Gould (per Providence, 1821): in 1823, 22-year-old Elizabeth was convicted for receiving from Thomas Rigbey a quantity of pork, the property of W Field, knowing it to have been stolen. She was sent to Macquarie Harbour for 3 years.


    Hannah Bell (per Lord Sidmouth, 1823): in 1823, for stealing 91 dollars from Mr Harris Walker in the dwelling house of Mr Lakeland, Hannah was sentenced to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years. However, she was still located at the Female Factory one month later when sentenced to seven days on bread and water. She has not been confirmed as being transferred to Macquarie Harbour.


    Ann Brucefield (per Lord Sidmouth, 1823): In 1823, for stealing at various times 1 plaid striped jacket, 1 white jacket and other articles, Ann was sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years.


    Mary Evans (per Mary 1823): in 1824, for felony, Mary was sentenced to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years. One year later she was located at the Hobart Female Factory.


    Ann Riley (per Mary, 1823): in January 1824, for attempting to break out of the Hobart Female Factory, Ann was sentenced to transportation to Macquarie Harbour for 2 years and ‘to be kept to hard labour till she can be sent’. By March 1825 Ann was located back at the Hobart Female Factory.


    Mary Ann Furze (per Princess Charlotte, 1820): in 1821, for absconding into the woods and being absent from the service of her master Joseph Wright without a pass, Mary Ann was ‘to be transported to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant Governor may deem proper for the remainder of her sentence’. Mary Ann was punished for 3 more offences while at Macquarie Harbour. While the first sentence of solitary confinement does not mention the location, the next two sentences mention Sarah Island.  As described in 1929, the gaol on Sarah Island was ‘a miserable, small place, containing one room and three small cells.’ [9]

    In May 1824, for disobeying orders at Macquarie Harbour, Mary Ann was punished by Solitary Confinement for 3 days and was to be fed on bread and water only.

    On 31st Aug 1824, Mary Ann’s second spell on Sarah Island was for three days of solitary confinement for neglect of duties.

    On 9th September 1824 Mary Ann was punished with a further three days of solitary confinement on Sarah Island, on a diet of bread and water. Her crime was neglect of duty, using threatening language to the Dispenser of Medicine and destroying the fresh water kept for Hospital use.  [†]


    Margaret Morgan (per Princess Charlotte, 1820): for stealing promissory notes to the value of £8/10s, Margaret was transported to Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of her original sentence. Margaret was located at the Hobart Female Factory 5 months later.


    Margaret Graham (per Morley): in 1821, for stealing promissory notes to the value of £10 from her master, Richard Lewis, Margaret was sentenced to be transported ‘to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor may think proper for the remainder of her sentence’.


    Ann Barker (per Morley 1820): in 1823, for possessing and passing counterfeit money, Ann was sentenced to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for 12 calendar months from the date of her arrival at that settlement. The charge was later dismissed. Ann has not been identified on any muster as having definitely been at Macquarie Harbour.


    Ann Bryant: little is known about Ann, a native of New South Wales. In 1823, for unlawfully receiving goods feloniously stolen from August William Coulston of Launceston, she was sentenced in the Supreme Court to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 2 years.


    Judith Chambers (per Alexander 1816): there are no records showing how Judith ended up at Macquarie Harbour in 1822. She was sentenced repeatedly between 1817 and 1821 with punishments including sitting in the stocks and at least six stints in the Hobart Town Gaol where she would have been placed at hard labour.  On the 1821-22 muster she was located at New Norfolk and in 1822 was sent to the newly established penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour. 



    In a sworn statements taken at Macquarie Harbour on 20 June 1822 Judith Chambers and Thomas Allmet, claiming that the day before, three soldiers names Maurice Walsh, Terence Cahill and Henry Leech arrived at the Island (Small Island later named Grunnet Island) where the convict women worked and shared a hut with Thomas Allmet, the convict hut keeper, who was also a hospital attendant, and the overseer. This island contained a wooden penitentiary, with the hospital nearby.  Allmet questioned the soldiers as to how they had came onto the island, and if they have a pass. They admitted that they didn't have one.  Allmet then went to make a signal to Sarah Island (half a mile away) but they stopped him, as they did not want to be reported because they had been given the boat by the mate off the brig, to go fishing. The soldiers left but not before threatening that as the women had beds, they may stay on or come back later. The soldiers were later sent up to Hobart on charges of repeated misconduct. The charge was dismissed for lack of evidence.[10]



    By April 1823 Judith is Free by Servitude, but reports of her misconduct continue up until February 1829.  A year later, on 14 January 1830, 30 year old Judith Chambers was admitted to New Norfolk Insane Asylum with mania.[11]  She died there 30 years later in 1860. Whether Judith had problems with mania prior to her experience at Macquarie Harbour is unknown. Incarceration in that brutal environment may possibly have had a lasting impact on her mental health.



     [^] Distance is approximately 17 miles on recent maps.

    [*] Rachael Chamberlain and Sarah Fenton were possibly not sentenced to removal to Macquarie Harbour by a magistrate's warrant.  On arrival at VDL they were quickly put on a boat heading to Macquarie Harbour possibly through reprisal for their behaviour on the ship Mary Ann.  Their records locate them there in 1822, however it is not specifically mentioned whether they were assigned to anyone.

    [†] ‘The small island, [Grunnet Island] like the settlement [Sarah Island] has no water, which, as well as wood, was carried over [every] day’.  Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 31 August 1843 - Page 4


    [1] ACCOUNT OF MACQUARIE HARBOUR, Launceston Examiner, Wed 30 Apr 1890, Page 2

    [2] Coultman Smith, B. 1846, Shadow over Tasmania, J. Walch & Sons, Hobart, 4 edn. P.40

    [3]  The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 15 January 1831 - Page 4

    [4] Macquarie Harbour Penal Station

    [5] The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 15 January 1831 - Page 4

    [6] . Article - Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 30 April 1890 - Page 2

    [7] Macquarie Harbour Penal Station


    [9] Advocate, Friday 21 June 1929 - Page 8


    [11] HSD104/1/1 Female (mental) (Volume No. 13). Item Number HSD246/1/9 Folio 154 Judith Chambers 49 Kangaroo, Mania Admitted 14 Jan 1830




  • Penal Servitude Open or Close

    Penal servitude replaced transportation as a primary punishment for convicted felons in 1853. The sentence of transportation had involved the relocation of a convict to a penal settlement, with a term of imprisonment that usually included hard labour.[1]  With the cessation of transportation to the eastern Australian colonies, the Penal Servitude Acts of 1853 and 1857 introduced the punishment of Penal Servitude. The provisions of this sentence did still allow transportation of a prisoner out of the country in which they were sentenced, but in most cases the punishment was served within that country.


    Penal Servitude Acts of 1853 and 1857.

    The Penal Servitude Act 1853[*], long titled “An Act to substitute, in certain Cases, other Punishment in lieu of Transportation” (amended in 1857), operated in conjunction with the Convict Prisons Act 1853 (16 & 17 Vict. c. 121), long titled "An Act for providing Places of Confinement in England or Wales for Female Offenders under Sentence or Order of Transportation”.

    The Penal Servitude Act of 1853 gave judges the discretion to sentence anyone who might otherwise have been transported for less than 14 years to serve a term of ‘Penal Servitude’. This meant imprisonment which could also include hard or light labour in a gaol. [2]



    Abolition of Transportation. — This Act provides that no person shall in future be sentenced to transportation for less than 14 years, and empowers the Court at its discretion to substitute " penal servitude" in the proportion of 4 years of the latter for 7 years of the former, 4 to 6 years servitude for 7 to 10 years transportation, 6 to 8 years servitude for 10 to 15 years transportation, 10 years servitude for more than 15 years' transportation, and servitude for life for transportation for life. It also enables her Majesty, under seal of the Secretary of State, to grant license to any convict to be at large in such part of the United Kingdom, and for such portion of the term of transportation or imprisonment as shall seem fit, and to revoke such license at pleasure, upon which revocation the convict may be apprehended and committed to prison. Persons convicted of larceny, having been before convicted, are not in future to be liable to transportation.


    Title ACTS OF THE LATE SESSION Date Wednesday,  Aug. 31, 1853 Bury and Norwich Post (Bury Saint Edmunds, England)  Issue Number 3714 Source Library British Library  Gale Document Number GALE|R3209875318



    For women convicted of serious felonies the 1853 Act was inadequate.  The Act was amended by the Penal Servitude Act 1857 which allowed for women convicted of serious crimes to undergo lengths of sentences of 14 years and over and up to life in penal servitude [†][3] The 1857 amendment abolished the sentence of transportation in all cases and provided that a person who would otherwise have been liable to transportation would now be liable to penal servitude instead. Exceptions were still being made, at the discretion of judges, to sentence male convicts to transportation to Western Australia up until 1868.[4] 



    An Act to amend the Act of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Years of Her Majesty, to substitute in certain Cases other Punishment in lieu of Transportation.

    26 June 1857:

    Sentence of transportation abolished, and sentence of penal servitude substituted.

    No person shall be sentenced to transportation; and any person who, if this Act and the said Act[*] had not been passed, might have been sentenced to transportation, shall be liable to be sentenced to be kept in penal servitude for a term of the same duration as the term of transportation to which such person would have been liable if the said Act and this Act had not been passed; and in every case where, at the discretion of the court, one of any two or more terms of transportation might have been awarded, the court shall have the like discretion to award one of any two or more of the terms of penal servitude which are hereby authorized to be awarded instead of such terms of transportation:

    *The “said Act” means the Penal Servitude Act 1853 (c. 99)


    Penal Servitude Act 1857,



    The 1857 amendment allowed:

    Any Person now or hereafter under Sentence or Order of Penal Servitude may, during the Term of the Sentence or Order, be conveyed to any Place or Places beyond the Seas to which Offenders under Sentence or Order of Transportation may be conveyed, or to any Place or. Places beyond the Seas which may be hereafter appointed as herein mentioned’ …’Magistrates may recommit Convicts whose Licences are revoked to Penal Servitude in any Convict Prison’.’[5]


    The only convicts transported to Australia after this 1857 amendment were male prisoners sent to the penal settlement in Western Australia, which eventually closed in 1868.


    The Penal Servitude Act of 1853 (amended in 1857, 1864, 1891 and 1926), lasted under British Law until 1948, when it was repealed by the Criminal Justice Act 1948, s.83(3) & Sch.10, Pt.I.  


    Convict Women in Van Diemen’s Land punished with Penal Servitude

    Between 1855 and 1866 thirty-six convict women in Van Diemen’s Land were sentenced by the Supreme Court or at the Quarter Sessions to Penal Servitude for serious felonies.  At the time of their offences, thirty women were free by servitude or had gained their certificate of freedom, four had their ticket-of-leave and two unknowns.  Five women guilty of murder and attempted murder had the death sentence recorded which was commuted to Penal Servitude for periods between 10 years and life:



    Maria Drake [Thompson] (per Margaret 1843) in 1858, for attempting to poison, had death recorded, commuted to Life of Penal Servitude.[6]


    Ann Conolly [Ryan] (per Maria 1849) while free by servitude for eleven years, In 1861, was found guilty of the murder of a 6-week old baby, and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to Penal Servitude for life. Article - The Mercury, 15 April 1861 - Page 2



    In 1856 Van Diemen’s Land changed its name to Tasmania.  The same year the Cascades Female Factory was proclaimed a gaol and transferred to the local authorities (Sheriff’s Department). From this time, until the Cascades Gaol closed in 1877, when all inmates were moved to Campbell Street Gaol, there appears to be some confusion over record keeping with a cross-over of responsibilities or duplication of records.  As explained by Eldershaw, if a convicted person had previously been in the convict system their records would be maintained by the convict department, however it would have been difficult to keep track of name changes.[7]  Many female convicts disappeared from the records, and a few – possibly only six who were native born or had arrived free- appeared in the convict department’s records, serving imprisonment, who should have had their records kept by the Sheriff’s department.




    [*] The Penal Servitude Act 1853 ( 16 & 17 Vict c 99 ) substituted penal servitude for transportation to a distant British colony, except in cases where a person could be sentenced to transportation for life or for a term not less than fourteen years. [

    [†] Section 2 of the Penal Servitude Act 1857 ( 20 & 21 Vict c 3 ) abolished the sentence of transportation in all cases and provided that in all cases a person who would otherwise have been liable to transportation would be liable to penal servitude instead.



    Appendix 1: List of Female Convicts sentenced to Penal Servitude in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania)








    [6] Conduct Register of Female Convicts Reconvicted in the Colony. (CON42)






    Further Resources

    UK Parliament Transportation And Penal Servitude Bill 9 Feb 1857.

    An Act to amend the Act of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Years of Her Majesty, to substitute in certain Cases other Punishment in lieu of Transportation. [26th June 1857.]






  • Relocation/Removed to the Interior Open or Close


    The punishment of being ‘removed to the interior’ served three main functions:

    - it protected well-behaved females from being corrupted by association with bad company and bad habits, which may have included drinking and prostitution

    - it isolated badly behaved women

    - it was a means of providing female servants to settlers in unappealing, isolated regions.


    Female convicts returned to the government, under warrant of a magistrate, were required to complete a term of punishment within the House of Correction (refer also to Crime Class punishment), such as solitary confinement, bread and water, or hard labour – usually at the wash tub.  The conviction also determined if the convict was to be re-assigned to a different location.  It was sometimes noted on conduct records that the convict was not to be re-assigned in Hobart Town or a town/district nominated by the magistrate, for example:


    - Mary Ann M'Cleish, passholder, was charged with being out after hours. ’Constable Hands stated the prisoner has become connected with some fellow who was always enticing her from her service. Three months' hard labour and a removal to the interior, that the force of aggregation might be overcome’.[1]


    - Jane Carr (per Edward): for using improper language and ‘going into the mens hut’, Jane was returned to the House of Correction for one month then ‘not to be assigned within 40 Miles of this Town’.


    - Catherine McCallum (per Anna Maria): in 1853 Catherine was convicted of being absent all night from her service. She received two months’ hard labour and it was recommended that she not be allowed to reside south of Oatlands.


    - Ann Jones [1] (per Asia): for ‘having in her Separate Apartment two notes of an improper character &tc.’, Ann was punished with three months’ hard labour in a separate cell and was then sent to ‘the other side of the Island’ on expiration of her sentence. Ann completed her sentence in Launceston, a town that was perceived as receiving the rejects.[2]


    Based on the conduct report provided by the surgeon superintendent on board their transport ship to Van Diemen’s Land, some female convicts were removed to the interior immediately on arrival. Sarah Fenton and Rachel Chamberlain, female convicts who arrived on the Mary Ann on 2 May 1822, received an extremely adverse conduct report by the ship’s surgeon superintendent, who had been troubled by their behaviour for the entire voyage. Within two days of their arrival a ship left Hobart Town for the recently established penal station at remote Macquarie Harbour with two female prisoners on board, believed to be Sarah and Rachel.


    Being assigned to settlers in the isolated interior of Van Diemen’s Land exposed the female convicts to a range of challenges that would have included raids by bushrangers and natives, rough unformed roads and a lack of amenities.  A mail coach ride from Hobart to Launceston took 14 hours in 1849.[3]  The women often took matters into their own hands:   the 1841 Enquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline heard ‘that many women ordered to be assigned in the interior only commit offences for the purpose of being brought down to Hobart Town’.[4]  An article in the Launceston Advertiser on Thursday 12 February 1846 stated:   

    If a convict woman is hired for country service, and on proceeding to her destination, observes that her employer resides in a remote and consequently retired part of the country, she declares that punishment is better than such solitude, as it brings her to town, and she requests to be returned to government.


    This statement would apply to 19-year-old Susan Featherstone (per Platina 1837).  In 1838 Susan, having been absent all night, was sentenced to hard labor at the wash tub for one month then assigned in the interior. In 1839 her assignment to Mr. Bethon’s service (Woodlands at Green Ponds) ended with a charge of gross misconduct and general irregular conduct. She was punished with three months hard labour at the wash tub and returned to Government.   If Susan’s aim was to return to town life she succeeded.


    Transportation of the convicts to their new assignments in the interior, or back to a Female Factory for punishment, was also a problem:  the convict women were placed in the care of coachmen, constables or agents / servants of their assigned masters for their journey.  They would have waited in a district gaol until transportation could be arranged back to a House of Correction.  The 1841 Enquiry heard that some constables charged with escorting the women had been punished for misconduct:

    …for making them drunk, for taking them to disorderly houses in Hobart Town, for leaving them at large & absconding with the warrant. They are seldom brought straight to the watch-house unless passed in with the district Constable. The constables are generally themselves convicts, men who have been vagrants & travelling thieves, at home frequenting the fairs & Staties/Statutes/ where they have fallen in with the class of women generally misconducting themselves in assigned service in this country, they having themselves been vagrants, hawkers, or pickpockets.[5]


    The punishment of being removed to the interior sometimes resulted in female convicts leaving husbands and dependent children behind, as in the case of Jeannet Beaton:


    GREEN PONDS, March 28 [1849]

    Jeannet Beaton (ticket-of-leave) was charged before the Police Magistrate and Richard Pitt, Esq , J.P., with being a disorderly character and sleeping away from her authorised place of residence : it appeared she had been ordered to leave Hobart Town (not for her good conduct), and take up her abode in the interior ; she had pitched her tent at the Ponds, but had not escaped the vigilance of the constabulary : she pleaded for pity, and urged her distressed state of mind, having been compelled to leave her husband and two children at Hobart Town, and promising to obtain a respectable service, she was admonished. The idea of sending females of her description into the interior for reformation appears injudicious ; but the frailty of human nature, and the difficulty of adopting means to eradicate the seeds of vice and dissipation not only "puzzles the wise," but frustrates the endeavours of the wisest men.[6]




    [1] Article - The Britannia and Trades' Advocate,Thursday 30 November 1848 - Page 2

    [2] Coultman Smith, R., Shadow Over Tasmania, 1946, 4th edn. P.27.

    [3] Advertising - Launceston Examiner, Saturday 22 December 1849 - Page 2

    [4] p.65.


    [6] Article - Colonial Times, 6 April 1849 - Page 3

  • Returned to the Government Open or Close


    Being ‘Returned to the Government’ would involve a female convict leaving her place of employment and being readmitted to a House of Correction, with all the attendant strict disciple, rules and regulations. This punishment was usually in response to a crime or complaint, and required a written authority or warrant from a Magistrate, stating the offence for which she had been found guilty and her sentence. There were regular occasions where no offence had been committed; this did not prevent the convict, while awaiting reassignment, from being subjected to the same strict Female Factory rules and regulations as someone who had committed a crime.[1] Being returned to the Female Factory would mean being allocated to one of three Classes (Wards) depending on the reasons for their return: First Class (or Assignable Class); Second Class (Probationary Class); and Third Class (Crime Class).


    There were several reasons for female convicts being returned to the Government or Crown:


    Imposition of a magistrate-ordered punishment.

    A convict who was guilty of a range of offences including absconding, absent without leave, out after hours, insolence or neglect of duties would serve out her sentence at a House of Correction. In some cases, their assigned master/mistress would refuse to take them back which meant they would undergo their punishment then await re-assignment, often to another location. At other times the convict would undergo a term of punishment, such as solitary confinement on bread and water, then return to their previous service. A recommendation to be removed to a country district was often made, to extract them from bad influences. Cases were often discharged where the prosecutor did not appear in court.  


    Margaret Shaw of the Westmoreland (1836) was, in 1843, at the age of 27, found in a disorderly house after hours and was returned to the government to serve out three months of hard labour with a recommendation that she never be permitted to go out to private Service again.


    Susan Featherstone (per Platina 1837) in 1839, for ‘Gross Misconduct and general Irregular conduct’ and sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour at the wash tub and returned to Government. A year earlier Susan, having been absent all night, was sentenced to hard labour at the wash tub for one month then assigned in the interior. 


    An article in Launceston Advertiser on Thursday 12 February 1846 mentioned ‘If a convict woman is hired for country service, and on proceeding to her destination, observes that her employer resides in a remote and consequently retired part of the country, she declares that punishment is better than such solitude, as it brings her to town, and she requests to be returned to government.’ Susan Featherstone, at 19 years of age and single may have wanted to return to town life.



    GREEN PONDS March 8 [1849]

    Clementina Wharnick, the wife of James Peters, better known in this place by the cognomen of Sheepy, was charged by her husband with being drunk and disorderly, and leaving her residence. It appeared that on his return home, expecting to find it in order, he was compelled to make a forcible entry into his own mansion, which led to high words between him and his spouse, and after disturbing the whole neighbourhood they attracted the constables' notice, and on Mr. Peters' charge she was conveyed to the watch house-her old place of retreat. Mr. Peters addressed a letter to the magistrate, stating his determination never to take her to his bosom again, but return her to the place from whence she came-Government. The fair one with a large bunch of black bushy hair in her hand, which she said Sheepy had torn from her head, implored pity and forgiveness. Sheepy was obdurate ; he was resolved to part for ever. The magistrates threatened, as they had so very frequently appeared on the police-office boards, to sentence her to condign punishment forthwith,when Mr. Peters craved a hearing, and acknowledged himself in fault. _ Here a series of riotous crimination ensued, which to end, and for the peace of the neighbours who had repeatedly complained of riotous conduct of the pair, their Worships sentenced the fair one to 6 months' hard labor, and at the end of that period to be disposed of by the Government. This was a death-blow to poor Sheepy who cried out, " must I lose her ; I'll take her back, your worships,"and a most affecting scene ensued, to end which the fair one was banded to durance vile, to prepare for her journey to the Cascade Convent. Peters begged that his wife might be indulged with a ride to town, to which their Worships paid no attention.  Colonial Times, Friday 6 April 1849 - Page 3




    Returned for re-assignment.

    This would occur if the convict was unsuitable or unqualified for the tasks required of them, ill, aged, unfit for service or the Master/Mistress no longer required the services of a servant. Under the Assignment system, if a Master/Mistress was dissatisfied with the assigned convict servant, he /she could apply to the Police Magistrate for the convict to be returned to the Government – it was then up to the magistrate to determine the particulars of the case and make a judgement.


    The following examples would not be considered a crime unless the Master/Mistress instigated criminal proceedings in order to have the convict removed:


    In 1835, Ellen Smith (per Hope) for being absent without leave was admonished and returned to the Factory being much too young for this Service and Mr. Newman having been authorised to receive an elderly woman only.


    Lydia Hines (per Providence 1821) had a long history or being returned to the factory, nine times as a punishment and on two occasions for re-assignment. On 9 February 1833 she was returned to the factory without punishment, her Master having beaten and ill-treated her; the alleged crime was disobedience of orders and using abusive language. Only three months earlier she was charged by a previous master for stealing a pat of butter worth 10 pence resulting in her being acquitted and ordered to Hobart Town for assignment. 


    Ellen King  (per Emma Eugenia) in 1842, for being absent without leave, was to be placed on probation having been returned to the Crown as utterly useless.



    Before the Police Magistrate, and B. Berthon, Esq.. J. P.-Sarah Nicholls, a servant of Mr. Ellis's was charged with misconduct of a trifling nature Returned to the Government, her master declining her further service. Domestic Intelligence.  Colonial Times Tuesday 5 June 1849 p 2.


    In 1850 Charlotte Ferreman per Emma Eugenia 1847, was charged for stealing soap but had her case discharged, there being no evidence against her, and was returned to the Government.


    As experienced by Charlotte Ferreman, often the charges were of a minor and unsubstantiated nature.  The magistrates would have been aware that pressing charges was a means of dismissing an assigned servant.  This was the case with Mary Williams (Emma Eugenia 1847) in 1849.  The charge was ‘not proceeding to the Depot according to her pass &c.’  It was determined that her master had connived at her absence.  Her case was discharged and she was returned to the Government with a recommendation that she be sent to the Interior.  In the 1831 case of Priscilla Smith, (per Sir Charles Forbes 1827), the magistrate determined that she was unfit for her assignment and that she be returned to the government;  the charges of disobedience of orders by Mrs. Aitcheson against Priscilla were dismissed.  Magistrate Anstey determined Mrs Aitcheson, was under the influence of liquor at the time, but the prisoner being very deaf and thereby unfit for the duties of a public House was to be returned to the Female Factory.


    Returned for medical examination, treatment or infirmity.

    Under the regulations governing the probation system:  “ Medicine and Medical attendance when requisite must also be provided by the master but when proper attention has been paid by the master to any Pass-holder who may fall sick in his service, the Comptroller-General will, in cases of protracted illness, recommend that such servant may be received into hospital, and the agreement cancelled.”[2]  (Regulation 13)


    The following cases are returns to the Government for medical treatment or inspection; these were accompanied by a crime:

    In 1837, Mary Ann Foster (per America 1831), was Absent without Leave but returned to Government for medical treatment.


    Elizabeth Elphinstone (per Garland Grove 1841) was returned to the factory for medical inspection, her crime was being absent without leave.


    The case of Eliza Davidson (per Atwick 1837) in 1847 at the age of 50, was one of infirmity – a condition affecting many of the older convicts.  Her record states that she was unable, from bodily infirmity, to obtain livelihood.  She was subsequently temporarily deprived of her Ticket of Leave and returned to the Crown.  Eliza died three years later aged 53, sixteen months after her conditional pardon was approved.


    Punishment for Pregnancy

    Becoming pregnant was considered immoral conduct.  A pregnant woman was returned to the Government/Crown for confinement, as she would be considered unfit or incapable of performing her duties.  Besides being returned to the House of Correction there were other punishments, determined by the Magistrate, for the crime of having an illegitimate child; these included relegation to Crime Class, a period of hard labour or having her Ticket-of-Leave revoked. At the expiration of the period of her confinement and/or punishment, she would be re-assigned, often to a different location. For more information on pregnancy and children:


    The first reported instance of being returned to the female factory for a pregnancy was in August 1824: Lucy Hodges (per Lord Sidmouth 1823), was returned to the factory at Hobart and delegated to crime class, it appearing that with her master's knowledge she was pregnant and he permitted her to go and lay in at Mrs Bellinger's.[3]


    Other examples:

    In 1837 Ann Moore of the Westmoreland (1836) was returned. to the Crown in consequence of her advanced state of pregnancy.


    In 1833 Elizabeth Banks of the Princess Charlotte was charged with being pregnant and was returned to Crime Class.


    In 1841 Ann Smith of the Edward was charged with Misconduct in being pregnant. Her punishment was 6 months hard labuor in the Female House of Correction; it was also recommended that she be deprived of her Ticket-of-Leave.


    In 1851 Catherine Kennedy of the Kinnear, whose crime was being ‘illegitimately with child’ was given 9 months’ hard labour at the Ross Female Factory. Catherine had her Ticket-of-Leave revoked.


    Mary Porter (per Mellish) in 1832, was discharged. from her Service to be sent to the Female Factory at George Town for being in an advanced state of pregnancy.


    Terms of assignment or probation no longer existed.

    Often changes occurred in the life of the people involved in the assignment of the convict which made continuation of the original agreement impossible. If a convict woman were assigned to her husband and the husband subsequently deserted his wife, was under sentence, left the state or died, the female convict would be returned to the Female Factory for re-assignment. These circumstances would be described as being ‘illegally at large‘ or ‘not being under proper control’. The absence of a husband was often not picked up until the female convict was charged with a secondary crime.


    In 1848 Sarah Baker (per Royal Admiral) was returned  to the Depot, her husband was in hospital and there being no funds to provide for her maintenance.


    Lillah Proctor (per Emma Eugenia, 1843) in 1848, was illegally at large, her husband having left the colony she was returned to the government for not being under any control.


    Eliza Downe Williams (per Cadet)  in 1850, on the complaint of her husband that they are always fighting and cannot agree, Eliza was returned to the government at the mutual request of both the parties.


    In 1852 Susan Corr (per Australasia) was brought up on a charge of being out after hours. The punishment was three months’ hard labour and return to the Government, her husband having left the Colony.


    Jean Main (per Borneo 1828) in 1834 was returned to the Factory in consequence of the decease of her husband.


    Jean Main was the mother of three small children located in the Queens Orphan School from 1829 to 1832.  There is no record of what happened to her children when she was returned to Government in 1834. An article in The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser Tue 21 May 1839, raised the question of what happened to the children of mothers who were in servitude in instances where the husband died or the female convict was returned to government. ‘These circumstances are placed beyond the means of maintaining and educating their own off-spring’.   The mothers of young children were often admonished rather than sent back to the House of Correction thus  necessitating the children to be placed in the Orphan Schools.



    Unable to Produce Certificates or Tickets-of-Leave at Muster

    In many instances a return to government may be a consequence of indulgences being revoked.

    All Persons whose Term of Transportation has expired, and who have Certificates, and all who have obtained Free or Conditional Pardons, are to produce their Certificates, Free or Conditional Pardon, as the Case may be ; and all Ticket of Leave Men and Women are to exhibit their Tickets of Leave, at the Time of Muster; and all Persons neglecting to do so are to be considered as Prisoners of the Crown and returned to Government Service.  Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser, Friday 15 October 1824, Page 1 Government & General Orders.


    During the Assignment period – up until 1843 – female convicts were assigned to work for Masters or Mistresses without any wages.  They often had no experience with the tasks assigned to them and received no remuneration for their work; there was little incentive for them to be obliging.

    Further information on the Assignment system:


    The probation system came into effect in 1844. After serving their 6 months’ probation, convicts were classified as probation passholders and hired out, for an annual wage, to employers. Under the probation system, regulations were set in place for hiring probation passholders, issued on 1 July 1844 (ref: The Courier, 26 July 1844 p3).  These regulations included:

    [6]. Whenever such engagements are terminated…. Female Pass-holders are to be returned, under proper charge, to the Factory at Hobart Town or Launceston, whichever may be nearest.[4]

    Further information on the Probation system:



    Return to the House of Correction


    Once returned to the House of Correction, convicts underwent a term of punishment and/or awaited re-assignment.  During this period they would be under strict discipline and compliance determined by the administration of the House of Correction.  As mentioned in the following article published in the Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829, there were procedures for receiving the convicts back into the establishment, whether they were sent there by a magistrate under punishment, or otherwise:

    No Female Convict shall be received into the Establishment (excepting such as may be placed there on their arrival from England) without the written authority or warrant of a Magistrate, stating the offence of which she has been guilty and her sentence,—if any shall have been passed.— Every Female brought to the Establishment shall be placed in the reception-room until she shall have been examined by the Surgeon ;—she shall then be bathed, washed, and dressed in the clothing of the Establishment ; and, if incarcerated for any offence, she shall have her hair cut short. The clothes which she shall have brought with her shall be burned, if foul or unfit to be preserved; but if otherwise, they shall be washed and kept for her benefit on her discharge from the Establishment. All Articles so kept, shall, in the presence of the Female, be entered in the "Private property book," be made up into a parcel, numbered and marked with the name of the Female to whom it belongs, and shall be kept in a place appropriated for that purpose, and shall be delivered up to her on her discharge from the Establishment. The Females are to be placed in three distinct classes, which shall on no account be suffered to communicate with each other.

    The 3rd., or Crime Class, shall consist of those Females who shall have been transported a second time, or who shall have been guilty of misconduct on their passage to the colony,—of those who shall have been convicted of offences before the Supreme Court, who shall have been sent in under the sentence of a Magistrate, or who shall have been guilty of offences within the walls,—they shall never be removed from the 3rd. to the 1st. Class.[5]

    General Regulations:

    [3]. No Female who shall have been returned from service for misconduct, shall be allowed to be again assigned, until she shall have undergone a probation of not less than three months in the 2d. Class ;—in cases of frequent misconduct in previous service, not less than six months,—and, in all cases of dishonesty, not less than twelve. [Rules and Regulations 1829]


    The powers of the Superintendent of Convicts to order ‘moderate’ punishment was called into question in a Colonial Times editorial in 1831:


    There is an important act which requires the attention of our Colonial Secretary. It is an act which empowers the Superintendent of convicts to inflict punishment upon female convicts, by a summary process, without the cognizance of any justice or magistrate whatever, which had previously been required. If the convict is in the service of Government, the Superintendent may even dispense with any complaint or examination of witnesses upon oath, and he may inflict what is termed moderate punishment. This moderate punishment may extend to solitary confinement upon bread and water for 14 days, or to imprisonment and hard labour for three calendar mouths. What Colonial Secretary would dare to justify in Parliament his sanction of a law like this? We would not wish to lessen a single exertion of humanity in favour of the negro, but a little humane attention to other classes of sufferers is devoutedly to be wished.[6]



    [1] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

    [2] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3 

    [3] T.A. Con40.

    [4] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3

    [5] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

    [6] Colonial Times, Wednesday 9 November 1831 p 3

  • Stocks Open or Close


    Stocks and the pillory were forms of punishment first referenced around 820 AD[1]. They were used in many countries as a means of public humiliation and also, as mentioned by the Examiner in 1907, a form of restraint:


    To cast ridicule and ignominy on offenders, was evidently the chief aim of the judicial authorities in olden days (writes "An Englishman" in the "S.A.Register'), and it was for this reason, no doubt, that such instruments as the stocks, pillory, brank, etc., were the popular agents for inflicting chastisement on those guilty of crimes not considered serious enough to merit death or any of the severer forms of punishment. Every village possessed a pair of stocks - indeed all places which did not do so were not regarded as of sufficient importance to deserve a higher designation than that of hamlet. They were usually placed by the side of the highway in the case of towns, and. in the villages, on the greens. A constable, in default of a better place of security for his prisoner, had a perfect right to confine him for the time being in the stocks, just as he would handcuff him in similar circumstances at the present time.[2]


    The pillory was used in NSW in the early part of the 19th century and considered a superior form of the stocks. Prisoners would stand with their head and arms and / or feet locked into place for a defined number of hours. There is no record of Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) having a pillory.  Instead, the punishment recorded for female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land was “to sit in the stocks” wherein the prisoner would be placed on a low seat with their feet and ankles locked into place.


    A description of the stocks was published in the Examiner in 1907:

    The general form of stocks consisted of two upright posts of wood, between the lower parts of which was extended another piece of wood having two semi-circular holes, or four, if it was thought necessary to provide for the accommodation of two persons, as it usually was cut out of the top of it. These were, of course, the receptacles for the legs of the person. or persons, to be confined; and when the limbs were in position another piece of timber was lowered on to them, in which were cut convex, semi-circular holes, which fitted exactly over those in the under board. These were then clamped or otherwise fastened securely together, so that the person confined was utterly unable to draw his legs, his feet acting as a preventive.[3]


    An illustrated version of the stocks.


    The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 by an Act of Parliament. The stocks, however,  were not formally abolished and the last recorded use was in 1872 in England.[4]  For the female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land the last recorded use was in November 1841.[5] 


    An article from 1832 indicates the stocks used for male and female prisoners in Hobart Town were originally located on the footpath ‘on the highway’ [Macquarie Street], near the old gaol and the Waterloo Inn which was located in Murray Street near the corner of Davey Street. It was an inconvenient location - a ‘public nuisance - and had been the means of seriously injuring several persons, while walking along the footpath’, and especially inconvenient for tripping over in the night. [6]  At one point it was removed in the night, as mentioned in the following extract from The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural 1832:

    But Captain Forster was determined to shew his contempt of public opinion and public convenience by replacing the stocks in the very spot from whence they were moved, and where they now stand as an obstruction on a foot-path which, from it's height, is sufficiently dangerous, even without an obstruction. This is evidently done in the pure spirit of arbitrary contradiction ; for it is a most inconvenient spot, as regards the police themselves. And on a cold day, with a sharp wind, blowing from the river or from the mountain, through the confined space in Murray-street, the punishment of sitting in the stocks must be little short of torture. We know that one poor women died soon after sitting in them, and it was generally believed that her death was accelerated by the sufferings she endured in the stocks. We trust that his excellency will give orders for their removal to some more public and convenient situation. [7]

    The woman mentioned in the above article was Mary Barnett (per Kangaroo 1816, and Alexander 1815) who, on the 12th April 1827, was sentenced by magistrate A.W.H. Humphrey to sit in the stocks for 6 hours. She was free by servitude at the time she was convicted of being ‘drunk and disorderly and found in an indecent situation with a man named Peter Miller last night near the Bee Hive Public House in Murray St at half past 8 o'clock.’  Mary died on the 25th April 1827, aged 41 years. Although a record of her inquest has not been found, the Hobart Town Gazette on 28 April 1827 reported:  Inquisition 'held on the body of Mary Cam, who was found dead lying undressed on her bed on the previous day.  She had been placed in the stocks a fortnight before ...  She has left three small children.'[8]


    Public protest suggested the stocks be relocated to Market Place, as reported in the Colonial Times on 9 October 1821.  This would be in keeping with the stocks in British towns which were commonly located in the market place:

    Our recommendation as to removing the stocks to the Market-place, has not only met with consideration, but the plan suggested has been partially adopted. We had proposed that the plan at Sydney, of elevating the stocks some thirty feet above the ground, should be applied here ; by that means, the parties on whom the punishment is inflicted, would become much more conspicuous. Perhaps, however, as retrenchment is the order of the day, His Excellency will not allow such lavish expenditure on such worthless objects. Be that as it may, both the manner and situation in which the stocks are now placed, is not exactly that which ought to have been chosen; and some wag appears to have thought so, for he has written on the stocks-" For sale ; apply to Captain Forster”.[9]

    The relocation to Market Place eventually went ahead, as evidenced by the 1833 sentence of Dennis Driscoll, who was ordered to sit in the stocks in the Market-place for four hours, for drunkenness.[10]


    The stocks were used as a form of punishment in Hobart Town on 232 occasions between 1813 and 1841, with the majority occurring between 1822 and 1830. A total of 169 female convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks, some on more than one instance.


    The first recorded punishment was 23 February 1813, when Ann Thompson (of the Indispensable into Sydney 1796, and transported to VDL in 1803) was charged with defaming the character of Mr. Huxley and sentenced to sit in the stocks for one hour.  Ann was one of the first female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land but little is known about her and how she ended up being transported to the island.


    In 1816 six convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks.  One of these was Ann Darcey of the Kangaroo who, on 2 December 1816, was sentenced to sit in the stocks for three hours. In June 1817 Ann was again sentenced to sit in the stocks, this time for 3 hours on 3 successive days, followed by another sentence on 4 August 1817, when she returned to the stocks for 6 hours, this time also wearing an iron collar.  In 1821 she had two further sentences of 2 hours in the stocks.


    It appears that age was no barrier to being placed in the stocks as Mary Ann Whitfield (Lady of the Lake 1829) would have been aged around 50 when sentenced on 30 June 1841 to two hours in the stocks for misconduct arising from intoxication.  The last time the stocks were used for a female convict was in November 1841 when repeat offender Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830), was convicted of misconduct and punished with two hours in the stocks. 



    [2] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [3] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner  Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [4] accessed 1/01/2020.

    [5] Four sentences of stocks in 1841 with the last being Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830) who spent 2 hours in the stocks for misconduct.

    [6] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

    [7] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

    [8] Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 28 April 1827 p 2

    [9]> Colonial Times, Tuesday 9 October 1832 p 2

    [10] The Tasmanian, Friday 11 January 1833 p 6




  • Wash Tub Open or Close



    ‘Wash tub’ was a secondary punishment handed down by Magistrates, and was the only punishment specifically nominated as hard labour for female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL). This sentence was mostly a stand-alone punishment for female convicts, although it was sometimes accompanied with other punishments, including sleeping in a solitary cell at night and assignment to the interior. The colonial crimes that would result in a sentence of ‘wash tub’ included absconding, drunkenness, absent without leave, neglect of duty, insolence and disobedience.


    Wash Tub was mainly confined to the Assignment Period of 1832 to 1844; approximately 1475 sentences at the wash tub were recorded in conduct records. After 1844 there were very few wash tub sentences recorded in the conduct records, but since several Female Factories were operating commercial laundries the women would still have been labouring at the wash tub even if not specifically sentenced to do so.  The punishment of 'wash tub' was also regularly handed out by the superintendent or other staff at the Female Factories for disobedience or disorderly conduct within the establishment, as seen in the 1851-1854 Cascades Female Factory Punishment Book.


    The Cascades Female Factory was opened in 1829. Before this time there were two reports of the Wash Tub punishment being handed out. The first was in 1817 when Catherine Wells (per Kangaroo 1816) was convicted of receiving stolen property and imprisoned; she was to wash for the Gaol Gang and to be confined in the gaol at nights.  The second was Jane Davis, a Native of Norfolk Island, who arrived free in VDL around 1824.  She and her husband were convicted of stealing sheep at Broadmarsh, and tried in Hobart in June 1824, both receiving 14 years’ transportation.  In 1826 she would have been one of the few female convicts to be assigned to Macquarie Harbour, where, on 20 May 1826, she was sentenced to wash 40 prisoner’s shirts weekly, a punishment for disobedience of orders and sending an improper message to the Assistant Surgeon.


    At the Cascades Female Factory, washing was carried out for the colonial hospital, military hospital, military barracks, ordinance store, orphan schools, penitentiary and mental asylum, in addition to the Factory itself. The washing included all manner of clothes, bedding and towels.[1][2] The superintendent of the factory also stated that ‘it was impossible to maintain complete cleanliness given that bedding from prison ships, which were ‘generally covered with vermin’, were washed in the Factory by the women’.[3]


    The Factory had a dedicated ‘light and airy’ wash house yard (Yard 2), which was opened in 1832.[4][5]  Extensive wash house sheds ran along the outer walls of the yard, and the centre was an open space for washing lines.[6] Although it is not known what laundry facilities were utilized, washing machines and mangles were regularly advertised for sale in the local papers as early as 1823.[7]  Coppers for heating water would have been available. Soap was a luxury item and was rationed to female convicts for personal hygiene, but for large-scale laundry purposes, a mixture of animal fat, ash and lye was used in the early 19th century. [8]


    Female Prisoners in Brixton prison wash house


    Wash-house at the Brixton Prison (1862). From J. Binney and H. Mayhew The Criminal Prisons of London


    The specified time for sentences at the wash tub ranged between 6 days[*] to 6 months, with exceptions where women were awaiting further orders.  Between 1836 and 1839, there were several instances of excessive or undefined periods at the wash tub:

    - Eleanor Brown (per America 1831), in 1831 for not doing her work in a proper manner and when spoken to on the subject being insolent:

    It appearing to the P.S. [Principal Superintendent of Convicts] that this Female does not do her work sufficiently she is to be kept at hard labor at the Wash Tub in the House of Correction until such time the P.S. thinks her sufficiently improved in her conduct to return to her Service.[9]

    - Mary Ann Little (per Arab 1836), for refusing to return to her Masters service in 1837: ‘the 2 years addition to her existing sentence to be passed at the Wash Tub’.[10]

    - Mary Williams (3) (per America 1831) in 1836 was sentenced to nine months hard labor at the Wash Tub and to have her head shaved for the ‘grossest insolence and disobedience of orders’. Williams had previously served 3 months at the wash tub in 1832, and another month in 1835.

    - Mary Price (per Borneo 1828), who had gathered a total of 29 offences, was sentenced to 18 months hard labor at the Wash Tub at the Female House of Correction Launceston, for absconding in 1839.

    - Ann Murrell (per America 1831) for being absent without leave, was sentenced to 2 months at the wash tub. In 1836, for the same offence, she was reprimanded “but having refused to go back to her service, was placed at the Wash Tub until she chooses to go back and to sleep in a solitary cell at night.”


    Whilst work at the wash tub would have been physically demanding, it was derided as a punishment in the opinion piece appearing in the Colonial Times 18 February 1840:


    The system, with regard to the management of Female Prisoners, is decidedly and most radically wrong; they are subjected to no punishment, they are exposed to no, or at least but too few, hardships- The wash tub affords an opportunity for the merry laugh, the song and the joke, and this punishment is laughed at, absolutely laughed at.[11]


    This was backed up by a statement by Mary Kirk in the 1841 Enquiry into Convict Discipline: ‘The cells are considered as punishment but the wash tub is not, the well-disposed women prefer being there to the crime class yard. Mrs Pearson generally selects the best disposed women & young girls for the wash tub. I think the wash tub is unpleasant work though I think by working hard they might do their days work in 6 or 7 hours’.[12]  Women set to task work were required to work for a fixed number of hours per day: ten in summer, reducing to seven and a quarter in winter with intermediate hours in spring and autumn.


    In 1852, Emma Minton (Garland Grove 1843) was mentioned in the Punishment Book as being punished by the Warder, Miss Wigmore, for talking at the washing tub, requiring her to wear the punishment dress for 10 days, indicating that behaviour at the wash-tub was regulated - at times.[13]


    'The washing for the hospital and the King's Orphan Schools the latter only recently established –was all done in the ' House,' and the premises appropriated to the latter occupation were rather extensive. Still the work in which they were employed was not laborious, and there were several hours in the summer days in which the women wandered listlessly about the yards.'

    Backwards Glances by G.Pullen. [14]


    (George Pullen, nephew of Jesse Pullen, an assistant superintendent in about 1829)


    By 1839 the Launceston Female Factory was also operating a commercial laundry, albeit on a much smaller scale to the Cascades Female Factory. From January 1844, the Factories were advertising to take in washing from private individuals. If there were insufficient women sentenced specifically to the wash tub, their numbers were supplemented from those women serving the longest sentences.[15] The number of women sentenced to the Wash Tub was reported in the ‘State of the Factories’, printed weekly in the Hobart Town Gazette.  Records commenced for the Cascades Female Factory in September 1833, with 22 women, and in Launceston in February 1839, with 10 women. While the numbers at Launceston remained reasonably constant over the next 5 years, the maximum reached in Hobart was in the week ending 27th February 1844, when 138 women were sentenced to the wash tub.[16]


    By June 1844, sentences at the wash tub were no longer included in the Gazette’s ‘State of the Factories’.  However, commercial laundry services continued, and would have been operated by women punished with hard labour by the courts or ‘in-house’ punishment within the relevant factories. It also appears that washing was still being undertaken at the Female House of Correction well after transportation had ceased, as per The Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 30 May 1870:

    A man named James McKay, under sentence in the Male House of Correction, was one of a party who took up the week's washing from the Female House of Correction to the General Hospital, in a cart on Saturday. When returning through Bathurst-Street, McKay fell down opposite the Hibernia Inn, and was conveyed into the House of Correction, where he soon after expired.[17]


    [*] Sarah Hutson (per Edward 1834) for leaving her service on the pretence of getting married – wash tub 6 days. (CON40).



    [1] RULES AND REGULATIONS. The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4

    [2] p.25

    [3] AOT CSO 1/895/19025, Letter from John Hutchinson to the Colonial Secretary, 22 December 1836, in Kippen R. The convict nursery at the Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, accessed 2/05/2020.

    [4] Coroner's Inquest. INSPECTION OF THE FEMALE FACTORY. Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 - 1857) Tuesday 3 April 1838 p 6

    [5] p.25

    [6] Nash, M. 2016, Convict Places: A guide to Tasmanian Sites. P.65

    [7] Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser  Sat 22 Mar 1823  p 2 



    [10] TA CON40

    [11] Female Servants. Colonial Times, Tuesday 18 February 1840 p 4

    [12] p.98-99

    [13] TA Con13 p.196.

    [14] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3.  Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2

    [15] p.94


    [17] The Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 30 May 1870 p 2




    Further Reading:


    James Parker: To The Tubs: The laundry as female punishment  FCRC Seminar Autumn 2012


    Old and Interesting: History of laundry after 1800





Committed for trial
Probation/Probation Extended
Sent or returned to Parramatta
Separate Treatment/Separate Apartments
Solitary Confinement/Confined Cells/Solitary Working Cells
Transportation Sentence Extended/Existing Sentence Extended



Punishments used by the Female House of Correction:

The Principal Superintendent of Convicts was given powers of a Justice of the Peace/Magistrate and whose daily duty, as set out in the Rules and Regulations   included  'hearing and determining offences committed within the walls'. The Superintendent and Overseer also had limited powers for 'moderate' secondary punishment as set out in 'AN ACT for the Summary Punishment of disorderly Conduct in Female Offenders in the Service of the Government, or of any Inhabitant of Van Diemen's Land;...'. Their powers were further defined in the 1829 Rules and Regulations: 

Females guilty of disobedience of orders, neglect of work, profane, obscene, or abusive language, insubordination, or other turbulent or disorderly, or disrespectful conduct, shall be punished by the Superintendent with close confinement in a dark or other cell, until her case shall be brought under the consideration of the Principal Superintendent.


There are anecdotal reports of the superintendent exceeding his powers of 'moderate' secondary punishment by using the spiked iron collar, and solitary confinement boxes - described as 'like sentry boxes'  (The Courier, Tuesday 18 December 1855 - Page 2).


The superintendent was responsible for recording offences and sentences  in punishment books, two of which have survived, covering the period 1851 to 1854. The punishments methods within the establishment endeavoured to be  judicious but on close inspection were inconsistent. Besides punishments mentioned above as determined by magistrates, further examples of in-house punishments, many for petty offences, are:


  • Gagging Open or Close

    On 19 July 1843, Jane Eskett, who was transported on the Garland Grove, was charged at Cascades Female Factory on the complaint of the Superintendent John Hutchinson with insubordination in openly resisting his lawfully constituted authority on the night of Monday 17 July. Jane pleaded guilty. The case of insubordination was dismissed but she was found guilty of misconduct and received 14 days in solitary confinement. Jane's case is interesting in that John Hutchinson quelled her behaviour by using a gag. At her hearing, the Superintendent stated the following (TAHO, AC480/1/1).

    I am the Superintendent of the Female House of Correction, and on Monday last at 12 o'clock in the day there was a considerable noise and uproar proceeding from the cells. I first went Mrs Stewart to beg they would desist and to inform them if they did not I should come to them, Mrs Stewart is one of the Officers of the Establishment. I was obliged to go to them with cuffs & gags the noise proceeded from Eskith no one of the number she was in one of the cells confined under a special order of the Governor. I opened the cell door in which she was confined, her conduct was so riotous I was compelled to put the gag on. I repeatedly advised her to desist, and at last she did, her behaviour was such as to cause insubordination in the Building so I was compelled to remover her. After she confessed her fault I took off the gag and she then commenced most violent language in consequence of a noise in the adjoining cell. Her language was not bad but violent. I was compelled her to removed her to one of cells. Her language was not bad to me personally. She did not continue violent in the next cell. Eskitt's general conduct up to the time of this disturbance has been very good. There about thirty or thirty five women engaged in the disturbance it did not commence with this woman and she was not worse than the rest. She was using violent language at the time I gagged her she did not fight.



Punishment dress

Cleaning the yards

Credit stopped

Night watch

Deprived of comforts: half rations, removal of blankets or straw in bedding, not to be exercised


  • The 1826 Act for the Summary Punishment of Disorderly Conduct in Female Offenders Open or Close







    COPIES of the LAWS and ORDINANCES passed by the Governor and Council of the Colony of Van Diemen's Land: 1826-1830


    Anno Septimo GEORGII IV. REGIS • No. 1.


    By his Excellency Colonel George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of the Island of Van Diemen's Land and its Dependencies, with the Advice of the Legislative Council.


    AN ACT for the Summary Punishment of disorderly Conduct in Female Offenders in the Service of the Government, or of any Inhabitant of Van Diemen's Land; and for vesting in the Principal Superintendent of Convicts the like Powers and Authorities as are given to the several Justices of the Peace, by a Law or Ordinance made in the Sixth Year of His Majesty's Reign, by his Excellency Sir Thomas Brisbane, late Governor of New South. Wales, with the Advice of the Council of that Colony, intituled, "An Act for the Summary Punishment of disorderly Conduct in any Offender in the Service of Government, or of " any Inhabitant of New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land, " and by the present Act.

    WHEREAS; under and by virtue of the said Law or Ordinance, the several Justices Of the Peace in this Colony are authorized to take cognizance, in a summary way, of every complaint made against any such male offender as is therein described, for misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during the term of his transportation or subsisting conviction; and upon conviction of any such offender, to inflict or cause to be inflicted such moderate punishment as in and by the said Law or Ordinance is mentioned and allowed, subject nevertheless to the proviso and restriction therein in that behalf contained; But no provision is thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour and disorderly conduct of female offenders of the like description; For·remedy whereof be it Enacted, by his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land; with the advice of the Legislative Council, That it shall and may be lawful for any Justice assigned to. keep the peace within this Colony, to take cognizance, in a summary way, of any complaint made before him against any female offender convicted in Great Britain, or other parts of The King's dominions, and transported to this Colony, or convicted in this Colony and under sentence or order of transportation for misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during such her term of transportation, or during the time she shall be under such sentence or order of transportation, whether such female offender be in the service of the Government or of  any inhabitant of this Colony or its dependencies, and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for any term not exceeding Fourteen days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place for any term not exceeding Three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.

    Provided alway, That a quarterly return of all sentences imposed by every such Justice, under the authority of this Act, shall be made to the Governor or Acting Governor for the time being of this Colony.

    And whereas, under and by virtue of an Act of Parliament made and passed in the Fifth year of His Majesty's reign, intituled, " An Act for the Transportation of " Offenders from Great Britain," His Majesty is authorized to direct that male offenders convicted in Great Britain, and being under sentence or order of transportation, shall be removed to any part of His Majesty's dominions out of England, and there confined and kept to hard labour, under the custody and management of a Superintendent and an Overseer, to be respectively appointed as therein mentioned; and such Superintendent and Overseer are thereby respectively authorized to inflict upon any such offender who shall be guilty of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct, during such custody, such moderate punishment as shall be allowed by one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; and such Superintendent is thereby authorized, in every such place of confinement, to act in every respect as a Justice of the Peace:

    And whereas the duties of the Principal Superintendent of Convicts in this Colony are similar to those of the said Superintendent mentioned in the said Act of Parliament:

    And whereas the necessity of resorting to the police and other magistrates for the punishment of such male offenders as aforesaid, in the service of the Government, as have been guilty of misbehaviour and disorderly conduct, hath frequently occasioned great hindrance both to the magistrates in the execution of their offices, and to the carrying on of the public works and the maintenance of good order amongst such male and female offenders as aforesaid would be greatly facilitated by giving and conveying to the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts the powers, and authorities hereinafter contained in that behalf:

    Be it therefore further Enacted, by the authority and with the advice aforesaid, That it shall be lawful for the Principal Superintendent of Convicts for the time being to take cognizance, in a summary way, of every complaint made before him against any male or female offender convicted in Great Britain, or any other part of the King's dominions, and transported to this Colony, or convicted in this Colony, and being under sentence or order of transportation for any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during his or her term of transportation, or during such time as he or she shall be under sentence or order of transportation whether such offender be in the service of the Government, or of any inhabitant of the said Colony or its dependencies; and to examine into, hear, and determine the matter of every such complaint; and upon proof by one or more credible witnesses upon oath, (which oath such Principal Superintendent of Convicts is hereby authorised to administer,) to convict or acquit the offender against whom such complaint shall be made; and also, without the complaint of any other person, and without examination of any witness or witnesses, to convict any such male or female offender, being in the service of the Government, of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct committed by him or her within the view of the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts; and upon every such conviction as aforesaid, to order and cause such moderate punishment to be inflicted upon the offender convicted, as under and by virtue of the said recited Law or Ordinance, and of the present Act, or either of them, any Justice of the Peace is authorized to inflict or cause to be inflicted in a like case.

    Provided alway, That nothing herein contained shall be deemed to authorize any Justice of the Peace, or the said Superintendent of Convicts, to take cognizance of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct of any such offender as aforesaid, who, at the time of such misbehaviour or disorderly conduct, shall be in the-private service of such Justice, or the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts respectively.

    Provided also, That the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts shall make a weekly Return, on Monday in every week, to the Governor or Acting Governor for the time being of this Colony, of all. convictions made and all punishments ordered by him, under the authority of this Act, during the week preceding every such Report.

    Provided also, That this Act shall continue and: be in force for the term of Two-years from and after the making hereof, and no longer.


    Passed the Council this 1st day of August 1826.

    John Montagu, Clerk of the Council.



Punishments within Probationary Establishments


The following regulations were defined for the Visiting Magistrate in 'REGULATIONS OF THE PROBATIONARY ESTABLISHMENT FOR FEMALE CONVICTS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND' (July 1, 1845):




  • —The probationary Establishment will be visited by this Magistrate at least twice in each week.
  • —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.
  • —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; and it is not too much to expect that, under a strict system of personal superintendence on the part of the Officers, offences will not be frequent, and severe punishment seldom required.
  • —Advice, admonition, and kindness, will 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, it is hoped, in most cases, be found sufficient.







Further Resources:

Convict Ship Punishments

Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline 1841-1843

Offence Classes

The Prosecution Project:  Tasmanian Courts, Early Justice

Punishment of Convicts in Colonial Australia








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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 [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].