When held in convict institutions, convicts were made to wear what was essentially a uniform. The uniform differed across the convict institutions—Female Factories and the Anson Probation Station. Clothing issued on board the convict ships were supplied by the Admiralty.
The earliest mention of convicts receiving clothing in VDL was (HRA 3, 1, p 530,) an order at Hobart 8 Mar 1805, convict women just arrived on Sophia to receive: 1 jacket with Sleeves, 1 petticoat, 1 shift, 1 pr stockings, 1 cap, 1 pr shoes, 1 hat. No underwear was mentioned for women, though the men were to receive a pair of drawers each.
The first convict ship direct into Van Diemen’s Land, The Morley in 1820, had a list of provisions on board as follows:
20th April 1820
A List of Stores shipped on board the Morley Convict Ship, Robert Brown Master, for the use of 120 female convicts, passengers, and 50 children, during their voyage to New South Wales, or Van Diemen’s Land, and of clothing for the use of the convicts upon their arrival at the colony.
Clothing for the Use of the Convicts upon their Arrival.
Brown serge jackets, 120 : petticoats, 120 : linen shifts, 240 : linen caps, 120 : stockings, 120 pairs: shoes, 120 pairs : neck-handkerchiefs, 120 : beds complete, 170 : cots, 4 : hammocks slung, 6.
Clothing for 17 Male Children.
Blue kersey jackets, 17 : waistcoats, 17 : raven duck trowsers, 17 pairs : shirts, 51 : stockings, 34 pairs : woollen caps, 17 : neck-handkerchiefs, 17 : shoes, 17 pairs.
Clothing for 33 Female Children.
Brown serge jackets, 33 : petticoats, 33 : linen shifts, 66 : linen caps, 33 : stockings, 33 pairs : shoes, 33 : neck-handkerchiefs, 33.
Source: Two Voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land – by Thomas Reid pp 16,17
Female Factory Clothing
What convicts wore when in Female Factories was stipulated in the Rules and Regulations for Female Houses of Correction. Convicts in each of the three Classes were distinguished by markings on their clothing.
- 1st Class convicts wore the uniform without any distinguishing mark.
- 2nd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C on the left sleeve of the jacket.
- 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.
Each female convict in a Female Factory (from 1829) was issued with the following clothing made of cheap and coarse materials:
- 1 cotton or stuff gown or petticoat
- 1 jacket
- 2 aprons
- 2 shifts
- 2 caps
- 2 handkerchiefs
- 2 pair stockings
- 1 common straw bonnet of strong texture
There are also records in the Punishment Book of 1851-4 of women in the Cascades Female Factory having to wear 'punishment dress' of a black cap and a black short-sleeved jacket as a punishment for misconduct.
In 'Backward Glances', G.P. recalls the Crime (3rd) Class convicts wearing brown serge uniforms with a red C on the back of the uniform and right sleeve, with a white mop cap.
On 11 February 1845, the Superintendent of the Launceston Female Factory sent a memo to B Bayly Esq. outlining the clothing issued to female convicts at the Establishment (ML, CY2283).
Female House of Correction
February 11th 1845
The mode adopted at this Establishment for supplying the convicts with clothing is the Sup makes a demand for what he thinks necessary for the quarter. The clothing is issued and required by circumstances and worn by the convict as long as serviceable. When unserviceable the clothing is stored and kept until inspected and condemned by the Ordnance. Great care is taken that the clothing is made to last as long as possible by repairs.
The usual annual allowance to each woman is viz
Hobart Launceston 3 2 Serge petticoats 3 2 Serge jackets 4 4 Pairs shoes 4 4 Shifts 3 4 Aprons 4 4 Pair stockings 4 4 Caps 4 5 Handkerchiefs
Which is generally about the annual requisition. The usual practice is when women are received whose sentence is over three months, new suits are issued them and those under that period, with old.
Note that Hobart in this instance refers to Cascades Female Factory.
The convicts on board the Anson Probation Station wore different clothing to those convicts in the Female Houses of Correction.
Edward Bowden, Superintendent of the Anson Probation Station sent a letter regarding the clothing of female convicts on board the Anson to the Principal Storekeeper on 10 February 1845 (reference ML, CY2283).
10 February 1845
For the information of the Comproller General and in explanation of the accompanying return of clothing issued to the Females in this Establishment I have the honor to state that each woman on joining the Ship is supplied with the following articles
Shift one Petticoat blue one Petticoat brown one Dress blue one Apron blue one Neckerchiefs one Caps day one night one Stockings pairs one Shoes pairs one
These articles, shoes excepted, are changed, washed & mended weekly, the blue dress every third week. The whole are kept as far as possible in thoro' repair.
Each woman leaving the Establishment and having no clothes of her own is furnished as follows.
Shifts two Apron one Neckerchiefs two Petticoat brown one Dress brown one Cap day one Stockings pairs two Shoes pairs one
The blue dresses are never parted with but are reserved for successive wear as the livery or uniform of the Establishment.
It will be seen by the return that the consen...tition[?] of clothing is very durable in this Establishment, not exceeding one entire suit per annum, & must be attributed to the arrangement in question as well as to the care taken in keeping the several articles in repair.
The blue cotton stripe dress is also a stronger material than the ordinary brown prison dress & consequently wears better.
If I may be allowed to give an opinion as to the clothing required annually for this Establishment I should consider that one blue dress and one brown suit with two of each of the other articles would be amply sufficient at least according to our present experience.
I beg to add that as a matter of economy as well as of discipline I consider the use of the blue stripe cotton dress as a uniform for this Establishment of the greatest importance and beg that if possible we may continue to be supplied with it and to hope that every effort will be made for that purpose.
I have the honor to be Sir Yr very obedient Servant
The Tasmania sailed from Dublin on 2 September 1845 on her second voyage as a female convict transport carrying 138 female convicts and 37 of their children. The convicts and their children were supplied with the following articles of Admiralty clothing (ref: ML, CY1366 Clothing List for Tasmania 1845).
|WOMEN||CHILDREN Males||CHILDREN Females|
|1||Flannel Petticoat||Trowsers||Pair of Stockings|
|1||Pair of Stockings||Cotton Shirt||Pair of Shoes|
|1||Shift||Pair of Stockings||Handkerchief|
|1||Linen Cap||Pair of Shoes|
|1||Pair of Shoes|
Slop clothing referred to clothing or uniforms issued through Commissariet stores which, beside clothing convicts it could also include 'Government Men of Magistrates, Superintendents, &c. and also to Invalids' (Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser, Saturday 4 January 1823 - Page 2). The term 'Slop Clothing' is thought to arise from old navy slang for cheap, ready-made clothing.
In August 1820, in a letter from Gov.. Macquarie to Lieut.Gov. Sorell, it accused the commander of the ship Janus of failing to provide Slop Clothing to the Sixty Female Convicts who were sent down to Van Diemen's Land in the Princess Charlotte previous to their departure to VDL. ‘This omission was owing to the neglect of the Commissariat Department in not sending an officer on board the Janus, agreeably to orders to issue the Slops to the Women before they Trans-shipped. The Slop Clothing, however, belonging to these Sixty Convicts, will be forwarded to you by the present conveyance for the purpose of being issued’. The reply stated the issuance of slop clothing or stores would have to wait until an ample supply arrived from England, and there would be 'no retrospect to the time past, as no arrears of slop clothing or bedding can possible be allowed to the Convicts either here [NSW] or in Van Diemen's Land'. Earlier in the year the supply of slop clothing was distressingly scarce to the point where Lieut.Gov. Sorell issued a directive to issue sheets and bed ticks, with thread, to be cut up into Trowsers. (HRA Series 3, Vol iii. pp.48-50, p.85.)
Further reference to convict Slop Clothing: Museums of History NSW https://mhnsw.au/stories/general/slop-clothing/
Millbank Prison, England
The Board of Ordnance have established at Millbank prison a depot of materials for clothing, for the use of the convicts in the penal colonies; and a supply, ready cut out, is placed on board each convict ship, to be worked up during the voyage. Morning Chronicle, Saturday, Aug. 30, 1845 (extract)
Wicklow Prison, Ireland
Registry of persons sent to Transportation. 5. Essy Markham, ... Supplied with 2 chemise, 2 caps, 2 aprons, 1 handkerchief, 1 wrapper, 2 petticoats, 2 pair stockings, 1 pair shoes, 1 bonnet, 1 cloak, 1 bag. Wicklow Prison General Register 1848-1880, Book no 1/41/1, item 3