A glossary of terms related to female convicts is provided here.
If you want to know the meaning of a term and it is not listed here, please contact us to have it added.
For 19th century medical terms, go to the Hunter Valley Colonial Medical Practitioners Index.
Absolute Pardon: An Absolute Pardon meant that a convict's sentence was completely remitted. They were free with no conditions and could move beyond the limits of the colony or even return to Britain. All their civil rights were restored. To obtain an Absolute Pardon an application was made at the office of the Comptroller-General, Hobart Town, or at that of a Police Magistrate in the interior. A recommendation was then made to Her Majesty the Queen to grant the Absolute Pardons.
Anson: The HMS Anson arrived at Hobart as a male convict transport in 1844 and was subsequently refitted as a probation station for female convicts. It was then towed to Prince of Wales Bay, Risdon, near Hobart, where it was moored. This hulk housed female convicts during their six months' probation upon arrival in Van Diemen's Land from 1844 to 1850.
Appropriation List: This convict record was used by the local authorities to record the place or employer to whom a convict was assigned on arrival in Van Diemen's Land during the assignment period.
Assignable Class: See Class System
Assignment System: The assignment system operated for female convicts from 1803 until 1843. Under this system, eligible convicts were assigned to employers (masters/mistresses) to work as domestic servants. The convicts were not paid a wage and could be returned for re-assignment by their employer if they were not longer needed or were unsuitable.
Brickfields Hiring Depot: This hiring depot was situated at the Brickfields, New Town where North Hobart Oval and Rydges Hotel now stand. Female convicts eligible for assignment or hiring as probation pass holders were housed here between 1842 and 1852. It was a branch factory of Cascades Female Factory.
Brickfields Invalid Depot: See Brickfields Pauper Establishment.
Brickfields Pauper Establishment: Also known as Brickfields Invalid Depot, this was the same site as Brickfields Hiring Depot. It operated as an invalid depot for men from 1859 until 1882. The majority of inmates were ex-convicts.
Campbell Street Gaol: This gaol began in 1821 as a convicts barracks and from 1846 also served as a civilian prison. It became Hobart's main gaol in 1853 and the only gaol in the south from 1877 when Port Arthur closed. Campbell Street Gaol closed in 1960 when a new gaol was opened at Risdon.
Capital Respite: The process whereby a person sentenced to hang had their sentence changed to transportation.
Cascades Female Factory: This was the third-built female factory in Van Diemen's Land, after Hobart Town Female Factory and George Town Female Factory. The first female convicts went to Cascades Female Factory in December 1828 and it operated as a female factory until 1856 when administration was passed to local authorities and it then operated as a gaol.
Cascades Gaol: Cascades Gaol was essentially the same establishment as Cascades Female Factory, but it operated under local authority administration from 1856 till its closure in 1877 when the remaining female prisoners were removed to Campbell Street Gaol.
Cascades Invalid Depot: The site of Cascades Female Factory operated as an invalid depot from 1867 till 1879, though women were only housed there until 1874 when they were removed to New Town Pauper Establishment.
Certificate of Freedom: Convicts were eligible to receive a Certificate of Freedom (also known as a Free Certificate) when they had completed their sentence of transportation (but not if they were sentenced to life). Not all convicts collected their Certificate of Freedom, and some only did so several years after their sentence expired. The Certificate allowed them to travel wherever they wished.
Chief Station House: This was the main police station in Hobart.
Class System: 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.
During the assignment period there were three classes:
- First Class or Assignable Class: the best behaved convicts awaiting assignment 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 and were allowed to apply for the indulgence of getting married.
- Second Class or Probationary Class: 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. These women were assigned tasks such as spinning, weaving or needlework.
- Third Class or Crime Class (punishment class): Those sentenced to a punishment handed down by a magistrate or the Supreme Court which could include a period of bread and water diet in the solitary cells, separate treatment cells, or hard labour in the wash house yard. These prisoners also had an inferior diet with oatmeal replacing sugar and coffee. After part of their sentence was served and they were of good behaviour, they could be moved to the Second Class. When their punishment sentence was served they were moved to the first class for assignment or hiring.
During the probation period, those undergoing probation were classified as above and, when they had completed their period of probation (usually 6 months), they could be assigned or hired out as probation pass holders. However, the classification for probation pass holders while awaiting placement was reversed with third class being the highest, then second class and the lowest those of the first class.
Conditional Pardon: A convict became eligible to apply for a Conditional Pardon after a certain amount of their sentence had expired. It was approved if they were of good behaviour. Convicts applied at their local Police Office and the application was sent to the King or Queen for approval, which was often given a year or so after the application. A Conditional Pardon gave the convict the status of a free person except that they were only allowed to travel within certain jurisdictions, usually the Australian colonies and New Zealand.
Conduct Record: This is the main convict record used by the colonial authorities to record convict details. The conduct record contained slightly different information in the assignment period (example) and the probation period (example). The original records are held at the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) as the CON 40 series for the assignment records (example) and the CON 41 series for the probation records (example) for female convicts.
Crime Class: see Class System
Description List: This convict record was used by the local authorities to give a description of the convicts. The original records are held at the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) in the CON 19 series for female convicts (example, transcribed example).
Disorderly House: This usually referred to a brothel, but could also refer to an unlicensed premises selling alcohol. Often the two were combined.
Dynnyrne Nursery: This nursery operated from 1842 to 1851 at Dynnyrne House, South Hobart, not far from Cascades Female Factory. The establishment was run by Matron Slee.
Dysentery: An illness characterised by frequent, small-volume, severe diarrhoea which shows blood in the faeces along with internal cramping and painful straining to pass stools. Other symptoms include fever and malaise.
Ecclesiastical Objection (EO): When convicts sought permission to marry sometimes their application was refused on the grounds of Ecclesiastical Objection. In essence, this often meant that that one or other of the parties was still married or there was some other religious or legal impediment to the marriage (e.g. age, consent, degrees of kinship etc.).
Female Factory: A house of correction for female convicts used as a place of punishment, confinement and hiring or assignment. While in the factory, convicts were expected to work at a range of tasks. There were five female factories in Van Diemen's Land: Hobart Town, George Town, Cascades, Launceston and Ross.
Female Orphan School: This was the female school at the Queen's Orphan Schools.
Field Police: The field police, established in 1826, comprised male convicts under sentence. They were armed and worked in the interior to assist with arresting runaways and bushrangers. An inducement to join the field police was a pardon for good service.
First Class: See Class System.
Free Certificate: See Certificate of Freedom.
Free Pardon: A Free Pardon was granted to a convict being officially forgiven, usually as a reward for an act of bravery in helping to capture bushrangers, or dangerous absconders.
Hard Labour: A punishment served in female factories, usually in the crime class. Two common forms of hard labour were washing clothes at the wash tub and picking oakum. The washing was often conducted in wet, cold conditions and was heavy work; picking oakum involved unraveling the hemp fibres from old tarry rope and often made the fingers bleed.
Hiring Depot: A place where employers could hire convicts into service. The main hiring depot was Brickfields in Hobart; though there were also hiring depots in Launceston and Ross. At one time, a hiring depot also operated from a house in Liverpool Street, Hobart.
Hobart Benevolent Society: Founded in 1832, the Hobart Benevolent Society aimed to help those in need, though it was always short of funds and its members preferred to help the deserving poor rather than malingers, drinkers or criminals. Due to lack of support it closed in 1839, but re-opened in 1860.
Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street: See Campbell Street Gaol.
Hobart Town Gaol, Macquarie Street: See Old Hobart Gaol.
House of Correction: A place of punishment for convicts charged with offences (usually against convict discipline). Female factories were houses of correction. For more on Houses of Correction read here...
Hulk: A hulk was a prison ship. Usually these ships were no longer sea worthy and were converted to house convicts in a floating prison. The Anson hulk was used as a probation station for female convicts near Hobart.
Indent: This convict record was one of the three main documents the colonial authorities used to record details of convicts. Indents were not as detailed as conduct records and repeated a lot of the same information. In addition, however, indents provided information on living relatives of the convicts. Most of these records are held at the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) in the record series CON 15 for female convicts (example, transcribed example). Some of the indents are held in the Mitchell library in Sydney.
Infant School: One of the schools which made up the Queen's Orphan Schools. It catered for children from about three to seven years of age.
Interior: Any part of Van Diemen's Land outside the two main centres, Hobart and Launceston. Convicts were often sent to the interior to remove them from bad influences in the towns.
Iron Collar: This was a punishment device made of heavy iron, placed around the neck and locked or riveted into place. It was worn for periods of one week up to one month. A spiked iron collar was possibly used for short periods of a few hours to 60 hours, however only anecdotal reports exist of its use in VDL.
Launceston Female Factory: This female factory opened in November 1834, replacing the George Town Female Factory. It closed in 1855, but then continued to operate as a women's prison. It was situated on the site of the present-day Launceston College, next to the men's gaol.
Launceston Gaol: This was the same establishment as the Launceston Female Factory after it ceased to operate as a female factory, with control handed over to the local authorities. There was also a Launceston Gaol for male prisoners, next door.
Launceston Pauper Establishment: This invalid depot was situated near York Park in Launceston, behind the old Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery building in Paterson Street.
Light Working Cells: See Separate Working Cells.
Male Orphan School: This was the male school at the Queen's Orphan Schools.
Millbank Penitentiary: This was a large penitentiary situated on the Thames River, London which opened in 1821. It was demolished in 1890 and the Battersea Power Station built on the site, now the Tate Britain art gallery. Silent treatment was the main form of control used in the penitentiary, which had a male and a female section.
Muster: A muster was a survey of the population. It required the population to assemble at specified locations on appointed days, to be counted and information collected. A ship's muster was a list detailing information collected on a convict's embarkation or disembarkation of a ship. It would usually include name, ship, age, trial place, trial date, and term of transportation.
New Town Farm: New Town Farm was attached to the Queen's Orphan Schools complex. It operated mainly as a farm for the Queen's Orphan Schools, but also at various times as a probation station and a nursery.
New Norfolk Insane Asylum: This hospital was built in 1829 located near Willow Court in the Royal Derwent Hospital precinct at New Norfolk. The site was used as a mental hospital from 1833 until 2000–2001.
New Town Charitable Institution: This was an invalid depot which mainly housed ex-convicts, which operated on the site of the Queen's Orphan Schools at New Town from 1874 for women and from 1879 for men.
New Town Invalid Depot: See New Town Charitable Institution.
New Town Pauper Establishment: See New Town Charitable Institution.
Nursery: Many female convicts brough young children with them when they were transported, or bore children (often illegitimate) while under sentence. Those under three years of age were usually housed in a nursery. At various times the nurseries were part of the female factories and at others were in separate institutions, especially in Hobart, where nurseries existed at various times in a house in Liverpool Street, at Dynnyrne House, at Brickfields and at New Town Farm.
Old Hobart Gaol: This was the first gaol built in Hobart, in 1817, and was located on the south-west corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets. It mainly housed male prisoners, but before the Hobart Town Female Factory opened there was a room for female prisoners. The gallows were located in the yard of the gaol. The gaol closed in 1854.
On the Town: This phrase when noted on the indent and/or conduct record meant that a woman had worked as a prostitute however it could imply merely that she was living on parish charity.
Penal Servitude was a generalised term describing the punishment of convicts under a sentence of transportation. The 1853 abolition of the Transportation Bill resulted in the Penal Servitude Act 1853 coming into force to allow the substitution in certain cases of other punishment in lieu of transportation. Penal Servitude was then used as a specific term for sentences imposed locally after transportation to the eastern Australian colonies ceased.
Permission to Marry: From 1829 to 1857, convicts in Van Diemen's Land were required to seek permission to marry from the Lieutenant-Governor, even if only one of them was a convict. It was usually the male who applied for permission to marry.
Port Arthur: The penitentiary at Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula operated from 1830 to 1877. It catered for re-offending male convicts.
Prison Hulk: See Hulk.
Probation System: From 1844 till the end of transportation in 1853, female convicts were required to serve six months’ probation upon arrival in Van Diemen's Land. This probation period was designed to teach convicts desirable skills—including reading, writing, ciphering (numeracy), needlework, domestic service—and also to separate the newly arrived convicts from the more hardened criminals in the female factories.
A classification system existed — 'the first [class] will be composed of the best conducted women who have been longest in the Establishment, and who are therefore nearest to emergence; the second of those, who, although generally well conducted, [but] not so regular as the women of the first class, and have not been so long in the Establishment; and the third will consist of the disobedient and intractable.' (Regulations of the Probationary Establishment for Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land, 1st July 1845).
When their six months’ probation was completed, a convict became a probation pass-holder.
Probation Pass-holder: A probation pass-holder was able to be hired to work by an employer. They were paid a minimum wage of £7 per annum. Again a classification system existed. There were three classes of pass-holders which were the reverse of the probationary and crime classes—those of the 3rd or highest Class; 2nd Class; and those of the 1st or lowest, Class. (The Regulations for hiring Probation Pass holders in Van Diemen’s Land July 1844).
Probation Station: A probation station was where convicts completing their six months probation period were housed and worked. For male convicts, probation stations were dotted all over Van Diemen's Land. For female convicts, the Anson hulk was the main probation station. New Town Farm operated temporarily as a probation station for female convicts in 1850.
Probationary Class: see Class System
Queen's Orphan School(s): This institution comprised three schools—the male school, the female school and the infant school. It was located at New Town in what is now known as the St John's Park precinct. Children of convicts were sent there when they arrived on convict transports or when their mother was under punishment.
Queen's Orphanage: See Queen's Orphan School(s).
Ross Female Factory: This female factory opened in March 1848 and closed in November 1854. It was the healthiest of the factories.
Ross Hiring Depot: This hiring depot operated from within the Ross Female Factory.
Scorbutus: This medical condition is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. It is characterised by spongy and bleeding gums, bleeding under the skin and extreme weakness. It can fatal.
Scurvy: See Scorbutus.
Second Class: see Class System
Secondary Punishment: While the sentence of Transportation (penal servitude) was the primary punishment, further punishment imposed for crimes within the colony whilst a convict was still under penal servitude was referred to as secondary punishment. For more on secondary punishments read here...
Separate Apartments: These punishment cells were located in Yard 3 at Cascades Female Factory. They were completely dark when both the inner and outer doors were shut and locked. Silence prevailed in these apartments.
Separate Working Cells: These were solitary confinement cells which allowed light in above the door so that prisoners could work, probably at picking oakum (see Hard Labour for a description) or suchlike, whilst in confinement. They were situated in Yard 3 at Cascades Female Factory.
Solitary Cells: These were cells in female factories and gaols where prisoners would be kept apart from others. They were usually dark and cramped.
Solitary Confinement: This punishment kept a prisoner separate from all other prisoners, locked in a small dark cell or separate apartment. They were often fed only on bread and water while in solitary confinement. The maximum number of days a prisoner could spend in solitary confinement at one stretch was fourteen.
Solitary Working Cells: See Separate Working Cells.
Stocks: This punishment device was located in a public space, both in Launceston and Hobart Town.
Surgeon Superintendent: This was the medical attendant on board transport ships. He was responsible both for the medical care of the convicts and for their discipline.
Surgeon's Journal: This document was recorded by the Surgeon Superintendent on board the convict ship during the voyage. It included a sick list, records of cases in the hospital and general remarks. The journals are microfilmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.
Third Class: See Class System.
Ticket of Leave: After serving a portion of their sentence and being of good behaviour, a convict could apply for a Ticket of Leave. This allowed them to work for whom they chose, but it often restricted them to a particular police district. It was the first step towards freedom. Generally, women transported for 7 years were eligible for a ticket of leave after 4 years; those transported for 14 years after 7 years 9 months; and those transported for life after 8 years and 7 months.
Visiting Magistrate: Several visiting magistrates operate across the state. They visited hiring depots, gaols and female factories to pass sentence on prisoners charged with major crimes within the establishments.
Wash Tub: This was a punishment usually given when female convicts were sentenced to hard labour. Female convicts worked at the wash tub in Yard 2 at Cascades Female Factory washing clothes and linen. It was difficult, heavy, wet and cold work.
Watch house was a building where night-watchmen were stationed, where apprehended people were secured until they could appear before a magistrate, and where prisoners were held before undergoing punishment such as being put in the stocks or flogged. It was also used to hold persons awaiting capital punishment.
Working Yards: These were the yards at the female factories where prisoners worked, mainly at washing.