The Probation System was introduced in Van Diemen's Land for female convicts in 1843–1844, a few years after it was introduced for men. The main differences of this system over the Assignment System were:

  • convicts spent 6 months on probation upon arrival in the colony—for female convicts this was on the Anson Probation Station, and, after its disbandment, New Town Farm.
  • After serving their 6 months probation, convicts were classified as probation passholders and hired out, for an annual wage, to employers

There were regulations for hiring probation passholders, issued on 1 July 1844 (ref: The Courier, 26 July 1844 p3).

REGULATIONS for hiring Probation Pass holders in Van Diemen's Land.

Convict Department, 1st July, 1844.

1. Pass-holders are divided into three Classes.

In respect to Pass-holders of the 1st Class, the consent of the Lieutenant-Governor must be obtained by the master previously to the completion of any engagement or contract with such Pass-holder. In the case of Pass-holders of the 2nd and 3rd Classes, there will be no interference previously to the contract being entered into, except that such persons as have not already had Convicts in their employment must obtain permission from this office to that effect.

2. All contracts must be according to the accompanying form, and must be written or printed on foolscap paper. Blank forms, if required, may be obtained at the Depots, Gangs, and Factories, on payment of sixpence for each form.

3. Every engagement will be for a fixed term of not less than a month, but may be terminated before the expiration of that period by ten days previous notice in writing of an intention so to do, given either by the master to the Comptroller-General, or by the Comptroller-General on behalf of the Pass-holder to the master; which notice must specify the Depot, Barrack, or Factory to which such Pass-holder will, in accordance with the 6th Section of these regulations, be sent. It may be here observed, that the contract being made with the Comptroller-General, the Pass-holder has no power to break the engagement thus entered into by giving or receiving notice personally. The master may, if he prefer it, pay a sum equal to ten days' wages to the Registrar of the Convict Department, in lieu of giving such notice. An engagement will also be annulled by any higher indulgence than a Probation Pass being granted to the convict for whose services it may have been made. A summary power, moreover, rests with the Lieutenant-Governor to cancel any such contract or engagement at His Excellency's pleasure. Should a Pass-holder agree to remain in any service after the expiration of the term specified in the con-tract, a fresh contract must previously to that period be transmitted to this office for approval.

4. No engagement to be annulled, as a matter of course, by any misconduct on the part of the Pass-holder; but in all cases where the master is desirous of cancelling the engagement, on account of misconduct, the circumstances must be reported to the Comptroller-General, who will lay the case before the Lieutenant-Governor, and communicate His Excellency's decision to the master.

5. No engagement is to be voidable, at the pleasure of the employer, on account of the inability of the Pass-holder for whose service it is entered into to perform any particular description of work, of which such Pass-holder may have at the time of hiring professed to be capable : such cases must be reported, if the master be desirous of cancelling the contract, in the manner directed as to misconduct. Pass-holders will, however, be liable to be punished by a Magistrate for misconduct in so misrepresenting their capacities.

6. Whenever such engagements are terminated, in the manner specified in the three preceding Sections, the male Pass-holders, if Probationers, are immediately to be sent by the masters under a pass to the nearest hiring Probation Depot, as the case maybe,—if old Convicts, to the Prisoners' Barracks at Oatlands, Hobart Town, or Launceston, which-ever may be most convenient to their residences. Female Pass-holders are to be returned, under proper charge, to the Factory at Hobart Town or Launceston, whichever may be nearest.

7. Passholders of the 3rd, or highest, Class will receive from their masters the whole amount of their wages ; those of the 2nd Class two-thirds of that amount ; and those of the 1st, or lowest, Class one-half the amount.

8. The proportion of wages thus kept back from Pass-holders of the 1st and 2nd Classes must be paid quarterly by their employers to the Registrar of the Convict Department, to be paid by him into the Savings' Bank at the Derwent Bank, Hobart Town, on account of such Pass-holders respectively. If the service be terminated before the end of a quarter, then whatever amount of such proportion may be due must be paid at the time of the Pass-holder's discharge.

9. The wages payable to Pass holders themselves may be paid either weekly, monthly, or quarterly, as agreed on ; and the whole amount due must be paid to them at the time of their being discharged, or to the Registrar when the engagement is terminated whilst the Pass-holder is under magisterial sentence. In the event of this not being done, or of the regulated portion of wages as before mentioned not being paid to the Registrar, the employers will render themselves liable to be proceeded against legally for the same.

No wages will, however, be demandable for any portion of the term of hiring during which the Pass-holder may have been under punishment.

10. Masters paying Pass-holders of the 1st and 2nd Classes the proportion of wages required by Section 8 to be paid to the Registrar will, not-withstanding such payment to the Pass-holders themselves, be called upon to fulfil the regulations, by paying to the Registrar whatever proportion of wages should, according to their classes, be placed in the Savings' Bank, notwithstanding the amount so overpaid to them. But when a Passholder shall be indebted to any master for money so overpaid, or for articles supplied by him at the Pass-holder's request, such master may pay himself, by deducting the amount from the proportion of wages which, in accordance with the regulations, may be payable to the Pass-holder.

11. It is to be understood that the sums so paid to the Registrar will be liable to deduction for any claims substantiated by the masters to the satisfaction of the Comptroller-General at the period of the Pass-holders respectively becoming entitled to their savings.

12. Masters will in every case be required to provide suitable lodging and bedding tor their servants, without making any deduction from their wages on that account. They will also be required to supply their servants with a sufficient quantity of wholesome provisions and soap, according to the following scale of daily Rations:

1 lb. Meat.                                             |         1 oz. Sugar.

1 1/2 lbs. Bread, or                                |         1 oz. Roasted Wheat.

1 lb. Bread and 2 lbs.                           |         1/2 oz. Soap.

    Vegetables.                                      |         1/s oz. Salt.

Pass-holders having received wages will be liable to be tried for misconduct should they neglect to provide themselves with proper clothing.

13. 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.

14. Pass-holders are to be sent by their masters to the District Master of Pass-holders on the first Sunday of each month, unless exempted by the Comptroller-General.

15. Whenever there is a place of Worship within two miles of the usual place of work or residence of Pass-holders, they must attend Divine Service at least once every Sunday.

16. Masters are required to send a written notice to the Comptroller-General of the date of arrival of Pass-holders at their residences to enter upon service, and also the date of departure from their services, immediately on either of such occurrences taking place ; and a similar notice to the Police Magistrate of their several Districts.

17. Pass-holders in private service are amenable to Convict Law only.

18. It is to be expressly understood, that the Comptroller-General is not to be considered responsible for any loss or damage occasioned by acts either of omission or commission on the part of the Pass-holders; the remedy of their employers for the same being confined to the mode prescribed in Section 11.

19. Until an engagement expires, or is terminated in one of the modes hereinbefore specified, the employer will be liable for wages according to the terms of the contract, notwithstanding he may have dismissed the Pass-holder from his service contrary to regulation.

20. No contract will be invalid on account of any mistake which may be made in inserting the name, ship, number, or class of the Pass-holder for whose services it is entered into, or in omitting any of the three latter particulars, as any errors or omissions of this nature may be corrected by the Comptroller-General, or other proper Officer :provided that in case of any alteration in the class, notice in writing of the class to which the Pass-holder actually belongs be sent to the employer.

21. Should a Pass-holder be no longer required by any master in whose service he may at the time be employed, and another master be willing to engage him, on the prescribed contract being previously transmitted to the Comptroller-General by the new master, accompanied by a written memorandum from the first employer expressing his consent to the transfer, the Pass-holder maybe allowed to enter into such service pending His Excellency's approval.

22. In like manner when any engagements are terminated by the prescribed notice, or payment in lieu thereof, the Pass-holders may be hired on their road to the Depot, Barrack, or Factory, as the case may be; provided the prescribed contract be transmitted by the hirer within one week to the Comptroller-General, as directed in the preceding section, for His Excellency's approval.

M. Forster, Comptroller-General.

Just as the newspapers ranted against the Assignment System, pointing out its weaknesses, they also ranted against the Probation System. The following article appeared in the Cornwall Chronicle on 22 April 1843 (p.3). The writer obviously opposed the Franklin administration and suggested giving female convicts their freedom on arrival!

FEMALE PROBATION.—It is asserted by the Panier Carrier, that the female prisoners in this colony, and those to arrive, are to be probationized!! At the recommendation of His Excellency. Now we have had some little experience with the class of women who, for the most part, comprise the prisoner population, having commanded a ship which conveyed into the sister colony a couple of hundred of them, and we are puzzled to know by what means His Excellency purposes to carry out his plan of probationism. Men may be made to submit to this new fangled system, but Sir John Franklin will find that females are not to be drilled into discipline, and coerced with the cat and irons. A probationary system for female prisoners is, in our opinion, a more Utopoian measure than Captain Maconcochie's at Norfolk Island. How are women to be probationized?—that is the question. If they cannot be managed in comparative liberty? We tell His Excellency the general opinion is, that the best means he can adopt to probationize the female prisoners would be to turn them adrift—by doing so he would save a considerable expense to the country, and assist in a trifling degree to equalize the sexes.—His Excellency would check the evils which exist in the Factory to a degree almost beyond credibility, and be discharging one of the first and chiefest duties of a Governor. The probationizing of women is humbug—the suggestion is worthy of Sir John Franklin's administration.

The hiring of female probation pass-holders from Brickfields Hiring Depot did not always occur according to the regulations.

The following letter from Lord Stanley to Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin, printed in the Examiner on 21 February 1844 outlines the vision held by Her Majesty's government for the implementation of the probation system in relation to female convicts.


Sir,—In my despatch of this date, No. I have communicated to you very fully the views of her Majesty's government as to the future conduct of the system of transportation in reference to male convicts; an equally important, and, in some respects, a more difficult subject, is the application of the same sentence to the cases of female convicts.

The difficulties are greater, inasmuch as those with whom we have to deal are in general as fully depraved as the male convicts, while it is impossible to subject them to the same course of discipline, and thus no alternative seems to be left but either to detain them in actual confinement, or to permit them to enter, in some mode or other, into the mass of the population, where the knowledge of their former characters subjects them to continual degradation; and having neither sound principles, nor feelings of self-respect to protect them, and surrounded by peculiar temptations arising out of the peculiar state of the population, it is hardly to be wondered that they be come, with few exceptions, at once reckless and hopeless, and plunge deeper and deeper into misery and crime

Looking to the alarming disproportion, which exists and  must continue to exist in Van Diemen's Land between the sexes, it would obviously be the policy and the wish of the government to carry into actual execution the sentence of transportation on females as generally as possible, but I cannot but feel that the government are bound, at the same time, to give to these unhappy beings every chance for reformation, and that they incur a serious responsibility by inflicting upon them a sentence which rather tarnishes additional incentives to vice, than encouragements and facilities for reformation; and I am compelled to express my fears that female transportation, as it has hitherto been conducted, has par taken more of the former than of the latter character.

According to the present system, it appears that on the arrival of a female convict ship, notice is given to parties desirous to apply for assigned servants; and that the females so applied for are immediately transferred to the service of their employers, while the remainders are detained in the female factory.

It may appear extraordinary, looking to the great scarcity of females, and the great demand for their services in Van Diemen's Land, that there should in ordinary circumstances be any "remainder" left upon the hands of the government, yet I am in formed that not only is this the case, but that great difficulty is experienced in disposing of these females. If this be so, it is it fact which marks most strongly the general feelings of the population, and the almost insuperable difficulties with which these poor creatures have to contend in the attempt, if ever made, to return to a better and more respectable line of life.

The system of assignments, in regard to male convicts, has been loudly and unequivocally condemned - I confess I think myself too loudly and too indiscriminately, though I am not insensible to the Many and obvious objections which may be urged against it. But whatever those objections may be, they apply, with at least equal weight to the case of females, aggravated, as it seems to me, by other and peculiar objections which will readily suggest themselves.

I have no doubt that the local government do their utmost to throw the shield of their protection around the women ; but the difficulty of obtaining admission for them into respectable situations is notorious; and assigned to the less scrupulous and less moral portion of the community, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they must be continually exposed to criminal solicitation, to grievous oppression, and often to personal violence; while from their previous character, little confidence is placed or can be placed in the truth of their complaints, if they should venture or be disposed to com plain to superior authority. Yet I am unwilling to believe that even among these Women there are some, perhaps even many, who may be capable of better things; on whom instruction, careful superintendence, and, above all, the stimulus of hope, might work beneficial effects, and make their sentence, instead of being a curse to themselves and to the colony contributory to the advantage and benefit of both.

But in anxiously considering this question with my colleagues, we are decidedly of opinion that no real amount of good can be effected without putting an absolute stop to the assignment of females, and I am therefore to convey to you the instructions of her Majesty's government, that you do not permit the future assignment of any female convicts who may arrive subsequent to the receipt of this despatch, or who may not have been already assigned.

I am aware that this may occasion, in the first instance, some and perhaps a consider able increase of expense; but her Majesty's government are of opinion that the interests involved are too important and too urgent to allow such considerations to interfere with the immediate adoption of a system recommended by motives of justice and humanity.

You will therefore consider yourself authorized, in respect of females who may hereafter arrive, either to hire buildings for their confinement and superintendence apart from those who are already in the colony; or, if that cannot be accomplished at a reasonable expense, to detain the convict 'ship in which they may arrive, and in which some arrangements will, have been made for their classification, and to allow them to remain on board until you shall be able to effect more permanent arrangements.

All accounts which I have received concur representing the state of the female factories at Hobart Town and Launceston as exceedingly discreditable; as crowded to such  an extent as not only to have rendered it necessary to abandon all attempts at employing the greater portion of the prisoners, but as defying all classification, and subjecting every class of offenders to the contamination of mutual bad example, in rooms so crowded that, according to very high authority, it has occurred that a portion of the prisoners have been kept standing while others rested.

In these factories are confined convicts who are unable to obtain assignments, together with those who have been returned from assignment for the purposes of punishment, and those who being with child from illicit connexions are thrown back on the hands of the government, and who, after their delivery and being attended to at the public expense, again go forth, leaving the children a burden on the public, through the whole period of infancy and childhood, to return again, in many cases, under similar circumstances.

This is a system which it is necessary altogether to remodel; while it continues, the evil which it engenders is constantly perpetuating and increasing itself.

No respectable person will take a servant out of such a school; those who go out from it, go out to all sorts of temptation and vice, and again return, adding, by their numbers to the crowds which render discipline impossible, and by their language and example, to the mass of vice which prevents the inmates from being healthily absorbed into the population. I proceed to state to you the manner in which her Majesty's government purpose to deal with a state of things so fearful and requiring so urgently a prompt and effectual remedy.

It is our intention that measures should be adopted, with the least possible delay, for the construction, in a healthy situation inland, and at a distance certainly not less than twenty miles from Hobart Town, of a penitentiary upon the most approved plan, capable of containing at least 400 female prisoners. Instructions have been given to the inspectors of prisons in England to prepare the plan of such a building, which will be constructed at the expense of the home government. Immediately on the receipt of this despatch, you will, in concurrence with your council, institute inquiries as to the best site for such a prison, taking into consideration the healthiness of the situation, constant and easy access to good water, facilities of transport of building materials, and especially the neighbourhood of stone and timber, but above all the former; when, in conjunction with your council, you will immediately report to me your selection, and the reasons which have influenced you in making it; but you will not think it necessary to await my approval before you commence such preparations as do not require that you should have the plan before you. It is necessary, therefore, that I should impress upon you the propriety of well considering every circum stance before you incur the responsibility of making a selection on which so much depends. When you shall have decided, you will communicate with the director of the probation gangs, and remove thither as large a number of convicts as can be safely housed and usefully employed, and occupy them in felling timber, quarrying stone, and all the more laborious work which will be required for the construction of the new penitentiary.

When the plans shall have been furnished to her Majesty’s government and approved by them, they shall be sent out, together with such persons as it may be thought proper to select here for the purpose of superintending their execution.

To this penitentiary, when completed, it is the intention of her Majesty's government that every female convict, on her arrival, without exception, shall be sent for a period of not less than six months.

It is hoped that considerable improvements has of late taken place in the management and discipline of female convict ships.

It will be the endeavour of her Majesty's government still further to improve the reformatory system on board, and to continue it, and keep alive the good feelings which, it may have produced after the arrival of the convicts on shore.

I shall, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for the home department, endeavour to engage the services of competent persons to undertake the superintendence of this new establishment, who will be furnished with detailed rules, for their guidance and for the conduct of the penitentiary, in which we shall endeavour as much as possible to surround the convicts with attendants of their own sex.

I have already stated to you the intention of her Majesty's government to apply to parliament without delay for an amendment of the act 2 and 3 Will. IV., which has hitherto prevented the issuing of tickets of-leave to female convicts, until the expiration of a considerable period of their sentence. We propose, when that act shall have been amended, that every female convict who shall have conducted herself properly on board ship, and during the six months of her imprisonment, shall obtain, not a ticket-of-leave in the first instance, but a probation pass, upon the same principles which I have already explained to you in reference to the male convicts; that the contract of service shall be entered into at the penitentiary itself with the consent of the convict, and subject to the approbation of the governor. It will be expected that in all cases the employer should, be bound to afford to the convict his personal protection in removing her to the place of her service.

During the whole period of the six months constant reports will be made, and retained, as to the conduct of the prisoners, and no prisoner will be allowed the privilege of a probation pass unless the conduct on the whole shall have been satisfactory.

It may be superfluous for me to add, that it is intended to regulate the gradual advance of the females, through the stages of probation passes and tickets-of-leave, on the same principles which are directed to be applied to male convicts; with the same inducements to good conduct, and similar penalties attached to bad, during each stage of the process.

It is hoped and believed that by regulations,—such as I have described, an incentive to good conduct will be held out to the convict from the very first, in the hope not only of escaping from the coercion of prison discipline, but in that, which she can hardly have in any case under the present system, of redeeming her character, and being readmitted, after a graduated system of probation, into respectable and virtuous society.

We hope also, that the knowledge of these precautions on the part of the government, will tend materially to diminish the reluctance of respectable colonists to engage the service of female convicts a reluctance which it is obvious, on the present system, nothing but absolute necessity can overcome-on the part of any persons with whom it may be desirable to place the convicts.

We are the rather led to indulge this hope, because we are informed on the high authority of the late Colonial Secretary, that there is even now no difficulty in obtaining employment for females with tickets-of-leave; and that the instances are very rare in which tickets-of-leave have been again forfeited by females who have been fortunate enough to obtain then.

However painful may be the condition of those unhappy women who may be undergoing the sentence of transportation, I feel it absolutely essential to the hopes of success under the new system, that no transfer should take place from the existing factories to the intended penitentiary. At the same time, I am very anxious that the inmates of the former should not be left in their present hopeless condition, and I have therefore to instruct you to cause an immediate inquiry to be made into the present state of the factories, both at Hobart Town and Launceston; and to endeavour to ascertain the practicability even in their present crowded condition of improving the classification, and effecting a more complete separation between those who may seem wholly irreclaimable, and those of whom better hopes may be entertained. You will be authorised to hold out to the latter, and even to the former, the hope that when the law allows it, probation passes, the nature of which you will cause to be explained to them, may be granted to them; but that such indulgence, and still more the higher one of tickets-of-leave, will be dependent wholly on their own conduct, and on their ability, consequent on such conduct, to obtain employment. If you shall succeed by these means in diminishing the existing pressure on the factories, you will endeavor by improved arrangements, to make them, what I fear they are not now in any degree, places at once of punishment, of employment, and of reformation; and you will constantly bear in your own mind, and endeavour to impress on those of the convicts, that while the degradation of assignment is finally put an end to, the privilege of employment in private service can only he the consequence, the reward, and the encouragement of good conduct.

When the new system shall be operation, it is to be understood that the penitentiary about to be built is to be devoted exclusively to the newly-arrived convicts; that the places of punishment will be the factories; and that those who having obtained probation passes, or tickets-of-leave, will, if they forfeit them, be returned, not to the penitentiary, but to the severer discipline of the factory; for the regulation of which, in such a sense, it will be necessary to provide.

Under the system which we propose, it is calculated that 600 females annually may be expected to pass through a penitentiary capable of containing 400 at one time; and should it happily succeed, as with God's blessing we may reasonably hope that it may, the government will act on the principle of carrying into effect almost universally the sentence of female transportation, in the belief that by so doing, under pro. per restrictions, they will be conferring a benefit on the colony, at the same time that they give to the convicts themselves the best prospect of regaining character; and stations, both of which, in this country, would be nearly hopeless, and I fear at present even more so in Van Diemen's Land.

I have not entered in this despatch into minute details.

I have rather desired to put you fully in possession of the views and intentions of her Majesty's government as to a system which cannot be brought into immediate operation, but for the adoption of which it is desirable that immediate preparation should be made; and I feel assured that the vital importance of the subject will render it quite unnecessary for me to Commend it to your immediate and anxious attention.

I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient humble servant, (Signed) STANLEY.


Further Resources

The convict probation system, Van Diemen's Land 1839-1854 : a study of the probation system of convict discipline, together with C.J. La Trobe's 1847 report on its operation and the 1845 report of James Boyd on the probation station at Darlington, Maria Island / commentary and notes by Ian Brand ; edited by M.N. Sprod.






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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].