Convicts under sentence (including holding a ticket of leave) required permission to marry from the Convict Department authorities from at least 1829 until 1858. In most cases it was the man who applied to marry the woman, but those applications listed in the CON 53 register held at the Archives Office of Tasmania are where the woman applied to marry the man.
The CON53 records date from March 1853. Some women listed in the register are free, but if so, the man is a convict. Many of the men are free. The details given are: date of application, woman’s name, ship, man’s name and ship if he is a convict.
You can view the CON53/1/1 Register here.
Notification regarding permission to marry applications appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette in September 1829 (p.201).
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.
Many applications for permission to marry were turned down for this reason. They were also refused if it was determined either party was already married.
There are, however, instances of convicts already married (mostly in their homeland) marrying again in Van Diemen's Land without the death of their former spouse being proved. However, the law did not "turn a blind eye" to bigamy as the following case shows.
On 2 March 1841, Sarah Nichols, free, was tried at the Hobart Supreme Court for bigamy and sentenced to transportation for seven years. On her conduct record, her statement of offence reads: "Bigamy, my first husband prosecuted me, Thomas Soles was the name of my second husband, had been married to him 5 months prior to this prosecution and 2 years to my first husband Nichols." She was sent to Cascades Female Factory for 12 months and then was to be assigned in any District removed from the residence of either of her husbands. She gained her Certificate of Freedom on 14 December 1850 after twice having her sentence extended 12 months for absconding.
The Hobart Town Courier summarised her court case on 5 March 1841 (p.2 c.4–5). She was tried at the Criminal Sittings of the Supreme Court before His Honor Mr Justice Montagu and a common jury. On Tuesday, 2 March Sarah Nichols pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy and was remanded for sentence. She was brought up for sentencing on Wednesday 3 March.
Sarah Nicholls was brought up for sentence, when his Honor observed, that although this was the first case for bigamy which had come before that Court, it was a very bad one; she had married her first husband in 1839, and while he was absent whaling, she had married another man, and even made a matter of jocularity of it as she returned from church! His Honor was very glad that the Attorney-General had prosecuted the prisoner, for bigamy was by no means unfrequent in this colony, in consequence of the impunity with which it had been hitherto permitted. The sentence that he should pass was, that the prisoner be transported for seven years, and he hoped that the publicity which would be given to this sentence would have the effect of putting a stop to so bad a practice.