The HMS Anson was a 1,870 ton warship which arrived in Hobart in 1844 landing 499 male convicts. After disembarking her 'cargo', she was refitted as a prison and towed to Prince of Wales Bay, Risdon, near Hobart, where she was moored.

The Anson hulk was used to house female convicts from 1844 in an attempt to alleviate the overcrowding at Cascades Female Factory as more female convict ships arrived.

Dr and Mrs Bowden were appointed to manage the Anson Probation Station. For further information on employees of the Anson Probation Station see Employees: Arrival in the Colony.

Once the convicts had served their six months probation, they were hired into service as probation pass-holders.

The Anson was broken up in 1850.



Recent Updates:



Management of the Anson

There was often criticism of the way the Bowdens managed the Probation Station in the press. The Hobart Town Courier of 29 October 1844 (p.2 c.7) had the following to say about the Anson and Mrs Bowden's management of it.

We had the pleasure a few days since to pay a visit, too long deferred, to the female penitentiary on board the Anson, under the superintendence of Dr. and Mrs. Bowden.  As we ascended the ship ladder we were agreeably saluted by the singing of the prisoners, who are assembled on Wednesdays for afternoon service.  The singing, as well as the general service, is conducted by the Rev. Mr. Giles, and with very great effect, his congregation appearing to unite with him throughout.  Through the politeness of Mrs. Bowden, who appears desirous to afford strangers an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the system pursued by her, we were conducted through every particular of our inquiries.  We found that besides the necessary duties of the establishment in washing and cooking, the women were employed in various descriptions of needlework, in the manufacture of shoes, straw-hats, door mats, &c., as far as the very limited means at Mrs. Bowden's command will allow.  Every part of the ship exhibited remarkable cleanliness, and we could not have expected to witness such general health, and to find the ventilation so good, where so large a number are collected together in a limited space.  But these physical appearances constitute the least recommendation of those who superintend the arrangements on board the Anson.  We remarked with great satisfaction the subdued, respectful, and throughout proper deportment of the women, exhibiting a very striking contrast with what we have been too long accustomed to in similar establishments in this country.  No one who is acquainted with the trying circumstances in which the best disposed are placed in service in this colony, will expect too much from the subjects of Mrs. Bowden's management when they are again turned into society; but this reflects nothing upon that lady's management, from which, in more favourable circumstances, the best results could not fail to arise.  We only lament that one so well fitted for her sphere of duty, and actuated by principles so high, and distinguished by energy so great, should not find everything favourable to her permanent success.  As a mistake—arising from the letter of the Colonial Secretary to the Bench of Magistrates—generally exists, that the depôt at the Brickfields is peopled from the Anson, we may as well state that this is not the case at present, whatever may be contemplated by the Government.

The Launceston Examiner published the following extensive article on 16 November 1850 (pp.3–5). It includes responses from the Matron, Phillipa Bowden.


To the disgrace of the administration, and the confusion of Sir William Denison and his lieutenant, Dr. Hampton, the factories are now crowded with women, uncontrollable viragos. The local authorities triumphed: they broke up the only reformatory establishment in the colony; they clamored for more convicts, in opposition to the expressed wish of the people, often reiterated; they refused to provide suitable accommodation for proper discipline; and now the haunts of infamy, misnamed “factories," are gorged, and order, decency, and control have ceased to exist. Upon the publication of Captain Sir William Denison's despatches and Dr. Hampton's reports, the following paper was transmitted to the secretary of state, and Lord Grey, as well as his cousin, Sir George, who presides at the home office, are fully acquainted with the mercenary motives of those who rule in this land, and will ere long learn some of the results of their disastrous policy, which ought to secure their ignominious dismissal from offices they have so clearly dishonored. Never before did individuals bring to a task assigned them higher qualifications, or purer motives, than Dr. and Mrs. Bowden. But because they were zealous and earnest, their services were unsuited to this meridian of sham and cant, where corruption, not reformation, had been and is, the end of the hypocritical phantasies played off in the face of high heaven, under the misnomer of penal discipline: -


Upon Reports in the Blue Books laid upon the table of the House of Lords, respecting Female Transportation, in so much as relates to, the Reformatory established on board the "Anson," in Van Diemen's Land.

The reformatory for female convicts established on board the Anson, in the river Derwent, Van Diemen's Land, having been reported upon by the governor and comptroller of convicts at the colony to the right honorable the secretary of state for the colonies as a "complete failure, I feel called upon, in justice to the originators of that establishment, over which I presided for upwards of four years, and also in justice to the memory of my late husband, Dr. Bowden (associated with me by government in the work), to come forward and vindicate the reformatory by a plain unvarnished tale. In thus endeavoring to render justice to all concerned I hope to be able to include the wretched female convict, whose claims to be assisted in a restoration to society by a probationary system of reformation may otherwise be unintentionally lost sight of in a conflict of opinions.
Perhaps this will be the most fitting place to call attention to the fact that Thursday, the 4th. of March, 1847, was the day honored by the official visit of the governor and comptroller to the Anson, the former having taken office a few weeks the latter a few months previously; and this was the first and only official visit paid by either during my stay in the colony. The comptroller came two or three times afterwards, but merely on private business; on one occasion he was accompanied by Mr. Pringle Stewart, who went alone round the ship. Such cursory inspection will therefore stamp the condemnatory opinions with their just value. In the July following this single visit in March reports were sent to England by the governor and comptroller, of which the following are extracts :-
That from the comptroller of convicts, dated July, 1847, contains the following at page 77:
“I entertain the strongest general impression that the experiment 'is a total failure, as far as regards the real improvement of the female prisoner."

The Comptroller never even hinted this general impression to Dr. and Mrs. Bowden, although itchy were so deeply concerned in the success of the mission, and would have been too delighted at receiving useful suggestions.
The comptroller goes on to report (page 77):
“Although the detention of this class of prisoners on board the Anson, for six months after arrival, was at the time the measure was determined upon, considered only a temporary arrangement, circumstances have prevented any change hitherto; it was proposed to build a female penitentiary, upon a large scale, for their reception; and for this purpose, plans, and a large amount of material were furnished from England. There can be no doubt that, if the system of probation is to be applied to the female transports, an enlargement of the Cascade factory, and an extension of the same system and character of superintendence as now prevails there, is all that at present can be recommended."

The plans alluded to by the comptroller were, I believe, those by Colonel Jebb, and were shown to me in Downing-street previous to leaving England. Notwithstanding the governor and comptroller entertained such strong opinions against the efficiency of the Anson, they-made no efforts at a remedy by applying 'the plans and "large amount of material" to the purpose designed, but they were suffered to remain useless.
The Cascade factory system recommended is one entirely of punishment, not reformation.
The governor's despatch accompanying the preceding contains the following (page 81):
“From the returns accompanying the comptroller's report It will be seen that, a large proportion of women are under secondary punishment for offences committed in the colony, and an inference may from this be drawn unfavorable to the system of discipline and instruction pursued on board the Anson; there are many objections in fact, which at once strike any person who visits this establishment, the impossibility of properly separating and classifying the convicts; the absence of any efficient control, the want of means of instructing the women of any of those duties, which they will in all probability be hereafter called upon to perform.”

This "large proportion" consists of 581 out of 1141, the number sent out to service from April, 1844, to August, 1846, so that even under this view 610 females remained who may be presumed to have benefited by their treatment on board the Anson; many of the 531 under -went secondary punishment for very trivial offences. His excellency shows himself here perfectly unacquainted with the detail of the establishment: had he enquired he would have found that
1. There was discipline and instruction.
2. There was classification and separation.
3. There was efficient control and employment in duties such as they were expected to perform. 
I will prove these assertions in subsequent part of these remarks.
Extract from a despatch from the comptroller, dated 15th November, 1847, (page 123):
"Return No. 12, compiled with great care, shows that the discipline on board the Anson has failed to produce such great or permanent good effects as were expected, and that there has not been much difference, so far as recorded offence is concerned, between the conduct of women subjected to its influence, and those sent direct into private service under the assignment system and if due allowance is made for the improvements which have taken place in the condition of female convicts in private service, and in the regulations by which they have been made 'hired,' instead of 'assigned' servants, the balance would appear in favor of the women under the assignment system in short, as formerly reported, the close association of a large number of female convicts on board a crowded ship without suitable employment or separation, and subject to a monotonous system of coercion, must necessarily produce many injurious effects, which no vigilance or care would prevent. I, therefore, cannot use sufficiently forcible language in again expressing the opinion contained in my last half-yearly report, that the preliminary punishment considered necessary for women should be inflicted in England; but even if none is undergone, that it would be more advantageous to break up the establishment on board the Anson, and send female convicts into private service direct from the ship in which they arrive here; such an arrangement would be agreeable to the employers of female convicts throughout the colony, prevent much useless expense to the government, allow rightly disposed women an immediate opportunity of doing well in private service, without being subjected to the contaminating influence produced by associating for six months with a large body of convicts in half-idleness."

A reference to this return shows that, on a comparison, between 1470 women assigned, and 1430 from the Anson, the former committed 8040 breaches of discipline; the latter, 2698; difference in favor of the Anson, 972, or nearly one-third. The number of moral offences in each case was less than 100, and still in favor of the Anson. These favorable results appear, notwithstanding the difficulties attendant on a new system.
The Anson records show that from April, 1844, to August, 1846, there were discharged to service 1141, out of which number is that time were punished 531; leaving a total in favor, 610.-(Extracted from books kept at the Cascade factory.)
As regards the "close association," the Anson is a large 74 gun ship with three decks, each of these divided into four wards, each ward capable of accommodating 50 or more inmates. The total number after 1844 never exceeded 400. (Vide Dr. Bowden's report, 1845, p. 7.) I have no means of judging whether "employers of female convicts" here mentioned do - or do not prefer servants direct from prison to such as have undergone probationary discipline: the comptroller says they do! (Vide Dr. Bowden's report on the state of the convicts “direct from the ship” in which they arrive, page 14)
Respecting “contaminating influence" and idleness" vide Dr. Bowden's report, 1845, on the routine and general discipline adopted, page 10.
Extracts from Dr. Bowden's report of 1845 to his Excellency the Governor Sir Eardley Wilmot, ordered to be printed June 12, 1746, page 41 and 42:–
"Sundry divisions were made of the prison wards for schools and work-rooms, and for the various purposes of separation, cleanliness, &c.
At first, employment was scarce the last 21 years of 1845, 1846, and 1847 it was abundant, and the women never idle.
"The school, the hospital, the store, and the work room, the laundry and kitchen had its superintendent.
"To every prison ward was also assigned a female officer in charge, whose duty was to maintain a constant and careful watch over the prisoners, to keep them diligently employed, and to exercise every possible moral control and influence over them."
"The expectations which we formed from these arrangements have been amply realised in the general good conduct of the prisoners.
“The following is the daily routine observed on board:-At an early hour the ship's bell is rung to summon all parties to their several posts ; the hammocks in which the prisoners sleep are brought on deck, the bedding aired and stowed away in the nettings, the wards are cleaned, and the school opened: at eight, the wards and messes are summoned in rotation by sound of bell to the galley to receive their bread for the day, and their morning meal; the breakfast being finished, the bell is rung for prayers; the chaplain officiates for the protestants, and the Roman catholic catechist for the catholics; at nine, the bell is again rung for silence, and for the general duties of the day; at noon, the prisoners dine, after which, the duties are recommenced until the evening meal and prayers. The beds are then brought down by sound of bell, and the women are mustered in their respective wards. The importance of regular and sufficient employment in an establishment for the training of female prisoners can hardly be overrated; and is a subject, that has engaged much of our attention. In absence of fullemployment our attention has also been given to the manufacture of straw into hats, with tolerable success, and we have thus put into the hands of many, a means of getting an honest living when thrown at some future time upon their own resources. 
"Employment is found for others in this establishment, in the manufacture of stockings from wool, the whole process, of which is washing, carding, spinning, knitting, and dying is completed on board; others are employed in shoemaking and mending, &c.; whilst the kitchen, the laundry, afford to numbers the means of instruction and employment, to which as far as is possible, the women are prepared for an industrious life in the colony; education and instruction as a means of moral influence and training meets with that attention on board due to its importance. The school is opened daily seven hours, and is superintended by the chaplain and one of the assistants acting as schoolmistress.
The women are taught by divisions, in classes in the usual way. It is reasonable to conclude that, besides the instruction afforded, habits of order, of attention, and reflection may be formed by attendance at school, from which, society will thereafter reap the advantage.
"Exercise, although more a matter of hygiene than of moral influence, yet is not without its effect, as well upon the mind as the body, it is therefore made the subject of regulation in this establishment. The women who are not actively employed, are paraded on deck, in divisions, for one hour twice a day; when the numbers admit of it, they walk in files of two or three with utmost order on the upper deck, not in absolute silence, but without noise; nor is it the least interesting sight in this ship, when from one hundred to two hundred women in uniform parade the deck with the utmost decorum, unrestrained, save by the presence of the female officer of their ward.
"Although the degree of exercise thus described might at first view be considered as inadequate for the preservation of health, yet experience has proved it sufficient for the purpose, and the sanitary condition of the establishment has been remarkable, one death only having occurred on board, and the numbers of sick in hospital at one time not averaging more than three per cent of the number of prisoners on board.
“A few deaths have occurred in her Majesty's hospital at Hobart Town of prisoners discharged from the ship, the result of consumption or a disease of a consumptive character.
"I will now briefly advert to one or two other measures considered as of importance in carrying out the moral discipline of the establishment. In this point of view a due classification of the prisoners is important, and has always much engaged our attention. 
"The basis of our present arrangement is that of conduct under probation, and a division of the women, in accordance with this, into three classes.
"It is our endeavor to attach a high moral value to the first class, independent of any privilege or indulgence which may attach to it; whilst of the third class we strive to inspire a salutary dread, by the withdrawal of all conntenance and the forfeiture of every privilege. Degradation to this class is considered by the prisoners in this establishment as a very severe punishment, although in effect but little positive inconvenience or suffering is connected with it.
“The number in this class is consequently very small.
"Female prisoners, upon their arrival on board, are placed under supervision and surveillance in the second class; at the end of every month, or sooner, if necessary, the classification is revised, and the women promoted or degraded according to conduct.
"Constant supervision is, we think, the most important feature in the moral discipline of the establishment, and to its influence must be attributed the peace, propriety of conduct, and good order so prevalent on board.
“The constant presence, admonition, and example of a conscientious and zealous female in every prison ward, cannot fail to influence permanently, we hope, the mural and religious character of the women under their charge.
"In conclusion, Mrs. Bowden and myself beg to express an entire satisfaction with the Anson as a place of reformatory discipline for the female convicts. We are of opinion, from an experience of nearly two years, that it is peculiarly favorable to the objects of our establishment, that the success of our labor has at any rate been commensurate with our expectations, if not with our desires; and we should view with apprehension our removal from hence, or any departure from existing arrangements, until the completion of a building on shore combining all the advantages which our present residence and position affords.
"(Signed) Edmund Bowden.
Anson, November 20, 1845."

Extract from a despatch of his Excellency Sir W. Denison, dated December, 1847: -
“In my last despatch I stated my opinion of the unsatisfactory nature of the establishment for female convicts on board the Anson - since then Dr. Bowden has died, and Mrs. Bowden has been continued, though on a reduced salary as superintendent. I cannot, however, refrain from impressing upon your lordship the advisability, in every point of view of breaking up the establishment altogether.
"The returns which accompany the report of the comptroller general that the discipline, if such it cats be called, is altogether inoperative in producing improved moral habits, and the material results are equally nugatory."
"The saving of expense by allowing the female convicts to be hired at once on their arrival will be very great, and I feel certain that this change will beneficial in every way.

These extracts from Dr. Bowden's report to the Governor Sir E. Wilmot show that the women were not congregated in crowded numbers, without employment, or separation, or classification, or instruction, as the governor's despatch, formerly quoted, seems to intimate.
The report passed regularly through the authorities at Van Diemen's Land, and was transmitted home its due course, as was also a subsequent one for 1846. 
I declare conscientiously that these reports contained nothing but the simple truth. I cannot avoid remarking the fact that the single visit made by the governor and comptroller could not, and did not, suffice to inform them correctly of the system pursued: Neither Dr. Bowden nor myself ever received any suggestion for improvement or intimation of dissatisfaction, or in short any clue to lead us to think the authorities felt any interest in the success, of the establishment.
Dr. Bowden having been called upon by his Excellency Sir Eardley Wilmot for another report upon the Anson, one was made in October, 1840. It refers to the preceding report, and confirms the detail upon which principle "we have continued to act to the present time, and, as we believe, with satisfactory results.”
"On the main deck are placed the pass-holder, awaiting service, also in separate compartments the sick and infirm.
"It seems scarcely reasonable to doubt the propriety, not to say the necessity, of subjecting the female transport upon her arrival in the colony to a reformatory process of some kind, and to retain them under it until they obtain some settlement, either by service or by marriage.
"The effects produced may be considered by some as not commensurate with the machinery employed or the expense incurred, but surely the neglect of all discipline and religious training, excepting what accident may give them, in respectable service can neither be recommended nor justified."
"The female prisoners, or a majority of them, arrive here in a sad state of mural disorgination and religious ignorance, few of them have been subjected to any ameliorating influences since their conviction, except, perhaps, for a short time whilst in prison waiting for the means of transport.
"More than ordinary exertions then must be required to remove religious ignorance and in. difference, to awaken or renew better sympathies and feelings, to instruct in moral and social duties, to repair past neglect, and. to the extent of human ability, to ensure their future amendment of life, always recollecting that nothing is done whilst anything is left undone.
"The best interests of frail, erring, responsible, and immortal beings demand no less.
"It may be considered superfluous to remark that the results of any system of moral training must be greatly influenced by the degree of moral support and countenance afforded to its conductors.
"Our expectations in this respect, with few exceptions, have been lamentably disappointed, with little to cheer us 'in our work beyond the sense of duty, we have had much to harass, mortify, and distress.
"(Signed) E. & P. Bowden."

The report of which the above are extracts does not appear, as far as I can ascertain, in any book printed officially.
Extract from a despatch by his Excellency Sir W. Denison, the governor, dated June 27, 1848, page 246:-
“In this report the comptroller general alludes as indeed he has done in his two former reports to the condition of the female convicts on board the Anson, and has expressed his anxious wish that an end should be put to the establishment. In this wish I fully concur.
“I am most decidedly of opinion that there would be a far better prospect for the reformation of the women who were sent to the colony were they at once hired from on board ship as pass-holders, than is now the case where they are congregated together on board a hulk, without any convenience for separation, classification, or instruction.”

The hiring or assignment system is here again recommended. When all are not hired on the arrival of the ship, those remaining must necessarily be congregated somewhere. The only places remaining after the breaking up of the Anson will be the Brickfields and the Cascade house of correction, where there is an absence of all reformatory discipline.
The governor here proceeds upon the same erroneous views of "absence" of classification and instruction on board the Anson, which have been before refuted.
"The evidence which I have been able to procure of the conduct of the women emerging from probation, is certainly not such as to justify the opinion that the discipline on board the Anson has had any beneficial moral effect on those subjected to it."

No evidence is here offered by his excellency as the basis of his opinion. The return, No. 12, quoted at page 4, is all that appears to bear upon the subject, and is not disadvantageous to the Anson, but the contrary.
“I would besides mention to your lordship that by breaking up the establishment in question, a great diminution in the convict expenditure would result.”

The saving of expenditure here referred to will, it appears, be partly absorbed in the alteration of a building at Ross, thus described by the comptroller-general, Nov., 1847, p. 129: - 
“The station at Ross, formerly used for a chain gang, is now being converted into a house of correction, hiring depot, and lying-in establishment for female convicts."

Extract from a despatch by the comptroller general, dated May 30, 1848, page 253.
"Having in former reports explained more fully my views and opinions as regards the present system of female convict management in this colony, I can only now after a more extended experience, reiterate those opinions, and express my anxious hope that instructions will shortly be received authorising your excellency to break up the establishment on board the Anson, as it is costly to the government, and certainly not beneficial to women immured in a ship, under a system of discipline and general circumstances which cannot fall to be highly injurious, if for no other reason than the aggregation of these women in a place where it is impossible to prevent the thoroughly depraved contaminating the comparatively well disposed, and as formerly reported where there is neither suitable employment for the convicts, nor their obtaining such exercise as is in dispensable for the preservation of health."

The opinions here expressed against the system pursued on board the Anson are at variance with the facts detailed in Dr. Bowden's report, page 9 and 10, which is true in every particular, such opinions betray a great want of needful detailed knowledge upon the subject.
Further extract from the same despatch—
“The matron of the Anson recently made an urgent application for twelve months leave of absence, which was granted in expectation of the early breaking up of the establishment, and her duties transferred to the chief warder and the chaplain.
My application for leave was founded upon impaired health and spirits, consequent upon the death of my husband, as also the apprehended decease of a brother in England, who died before I could reach his bedside. 
The comptroller-general here assigns a mean motive for granting my leave; namely, the expectation of the establishment being broken up, and although in my letter to the governor, asking the indulgence of twelve months leave, I stated my intention to return to Van Diemen's Land by the following Christmas, yet not the slightest intimation of the expectation and wish of the local government respecting the Ansonwas ever hinted to me. The style of this extract will, I think, convey to every can did mind (and perhaps even to the writer of it, on reflection) an impression of regret that a gentleman holding the important office of comptroller-general should use his opportunities in attempting to depreciate my services in my absence. On the other hand, I am grateful to the comptroller-general for bearing testimony to the existence of discipline, cleanliness, and order, in consequence, as he states, of the chief warder, Miss Holditch, having been accustomed to carry out the detail - my confidence in her I am happy to find has not been misplaced.
“The absence of the matron has not produced any inconvenience, for the chief warder had previously been accustomed to carry out the detail of the discipline, and now I have every reason to believe adheres strictly to the regulations, whilst the cleanliness and order on board are in no degree-impaired under the new arrangement as to management."

The reformatory system on board the Anson having been abolished in compliance with the foregoing opinions expressed by the governor and comptroller-general, I am led to examine the grounds upon which such opinions rest as shewn in the despatches. They are, the want of discipline, instruction, classification, separation, absence of control, the state of idleness while on board, and the conduct of the women alter having left the Anson. I have only to refer to the late Dr. Bowden's report, 1845, (page 6, &c.) to disprove all the assertions relating to the arrangements while the convicts were on board the Anson, and can only discover the following evidence of their conduct after leaving it and going into service, viz: "Return No. 12"' (page 4) in which the figures, while showing large amount of delinquency, do yet greatly preponderate in favor of the Anson system.  No other mode is open to me of negativing positive opinions, but that of making their foundations apparent. As, however, a high and noble work, the attempted restoration of female convicts has been over turned, and although it appears no blame is attached to me, I cannot but feel anxious for the position in which the female convict will now be placed by this decision. She ought to have a door opened for repentance, and in no way can repentance be more fitly fed than by secular and religious education, as practiced on board the Anson, combined with the various helps referred to in Dr. Bowden's report. No one it is presumed who reads those details can deny their good tendency upon sinful humanity; if then such good tendency be admitted, why are these frail creatures to be deprived of it. The Cascade is hinted at as a substitute -" the Cascade" is a place of punishment, a prison, and even supposing the Anson detail introduced there, can the combination succeed? I think not, reformation and punishment cannot be allowed to mix; a distinct chain of feeling is set up by each process; one all hope; the other all recklessness, and in the jostle reformation is damaged.
My own narrative shall be as abort as truth will allow. I had filled the office of matron at Harwell Asylum for some, years, when in 1843, I, with Dr. Bowden, was selected by the Right Honorable Lord Stanley, then secretary of state for the colony, to undertake the institution of a new reformatory for female convicts. The scheme contemplated the erection of a suitable building in Van Diemen's Land; but in the mean while the Anson, seventy-four, was selected in which to commence the work. If any one will contemplate 5 or 600 women of the dregs of prisons in all parts of the three kingdoms, placed under our control, in order to be cleansed from pollution, and readapted for society, some idea will lie formed of the arduous nature of our undertaking; but I carried into it a whole heart, a vigorous determination, and an unbounded hope, that with the help of God, I might become a humble instrument of usefulness to this unhappy class.
The ship was moored three miles from Hobart Town, the daily routine has been before de tailed (p. 6 &c.) and a candid mind will, I think, admit the regulations sowed good seed, whatever may be the opinion of the fruit borne. My troubles now began, employment I must have for the women, and none offered, this was in 1844. I exerted myself in every direction, and at last succeeded in obtaining some from respectable tradesmen at a certain price, because that price was somewhat lower than fixed for I such work by an antiquated tariff: will it be believed that an official thunderbolt was launched against me, and that I was required I to make up the difference personally, which was remitted only after great remonstrance by Dr. Bowden, and our prices sanctioned. Wool was next procured (raw) and the process introduced of washing, carding, spinning, knitting, and dying, finishing by making hose for women, which were sent to the ordinance store. (This has given rise to a misconception that woolen cloth was made on board). An idea then occurred to me that straw bonnet making would be a useful and profitable employment; but, on, I applying at bonnet shops in Hobart Town, no machinery was to be had, and when I had obtained a model from one of the convict women, I could not get the proper instrument for a commencement. Some ingenious women on board, however, succeeded in making straw splitters out of beef bones; these were followed by other necessaries, and having obtained some straw by promising to procure the grain heads to be cut off, we were fairly set a-going, and accomplished the making of both hats and 4 straw bonnets. Until the introduction of straw bonnet making on board, nearly all the poor women were obliged to leave us for going to service without any bonnet. On a representation to Sir E. Wilmot, they were permitted to be supplied with one.
I now propose to give a brief sketch of the fate of the female convict on leaving the Anson. Six months having been passed on board the ship, those whose conduct had been satisfactory were permitted to leave for service, having first been classed by the government. Persons desiring servants obtain orders from the comptroller's office, and make their selection on board-now, fairly launched again on the world (and a world too, that presents to her unusual immorality in every direction) the convict has to run her chance with the master who has selected her, and of course, the six months on board the Anson may or may not have sufficed to impart the, degree of knowledge or duties required of her (those in many cases being as professed cooks, laundresses, or thorough servants). To the common frequent causes of disagreement between master and servant must be added the peculiar position of the parties-one exacting-the other hopeless disagreements commence, and the code of offences, necessarily strict for convicts, easily swells the catalogue as in "Return No. 12." Returned to government charge, the convict is consigned to the Brickfields, where she mixes unrestrainedly with criminals returned from punishment at the Cascade factory prison, and, as in the Brickfields, there are no means of classification, the good impressions implanted in the mind are liable to be rapidly eradicated--there she remains until re-hired, and her life alternates thus--between service, the Brickfields, and the Cascade prison. There has always been a preference shewn for servants from the Anson, and in February, 1848, on 112 females becoming eligible, the applications were far beyond that number, and they all left the ship in a few hours.
Whatever good has been effected by the institution in the Anson, there is no doubt much more might have been accomplished but for the general apathy and indifference which hung around me like a shroud; every one can appreciate the distinction between official formality and cordial help, and I have felt such bitterly.
These lines have had in view the single object of putting right the misconception that under my management on board the Anson, there was neither discipline, classification, instruction, nor employment. I hope I have made the error apparent, and vindicated myself and all concerned from an aspersion most probably unintentional.

Phillipa Bowden,
Superintendent of the Anson.”
March, 1849.

* A female officer saw to their employment and moral control.

* Appended is a list of work done by the convicts for the years 1845, 1846, and 1847 and also the average number of women on board in each year. In addition to this needlework, were the kitchen work, employing from eight to twelve, and the laundry work employs from thirty to fifty.

This next article was published in The Sunday Times in London on 18 January 1846 (p.7 Issue 1213). It provides an insight into how female convicts in Van Diemen's Land were viewed in the 'mother country'. It appears to be quite a biased article (towards Mrs Bowden and against convict governance) and erroneous in several particulars—for example, the Anson brought out male convicts to Van Diemen's Land, not female convicts; and convicts were not held on board for three years. It does, however, provide information on the work convicts were engaged in on the Anson. It also provides a picture of life at Brickfields Hiring Depot.


The circumstances under which Van Diemen's Land is now placed have attracted the attention of the press, but scarcely any one is aware of the intensity of the evil. The numbers of convicts which are poured forth upon that unhappy land are rapidly destroying all sound public opinion, and substituting a code of convict morals in its place. A few years ago Lord Stanley felt the mischief thus produced, and strongly expressed in a despatch his sense of it, more especially his attention was drawn to the wretched state of female transports when they arrive in that island. Their first home and their place of return when out of service was and is a barrack called the Brickfield Factory, an abode of horrors not to be described. As much more dreadful than the Black Hole of Calcutta, as moral depravity is worse than physical suffering. It was determined to make a change, and 500 female convicts were sent out in the ship Anson, under the conduct of Mrs. Bowden, the intelligent and exemplary matron of the lunatic asylum at Hanwell. Another vessel was to be despatched before the Anson, with male convicts, who, according to the intention of Lord Stanley, would have arrived in Van Diemen's Land, and been cleared from the vessel by the time the Anson had made the island. The second vessel was not, however, despatched until long after the Anson had sailed, and matters were so thoroughly mismanaged, that when the last accounts came away, viz., three years after the convicts had been put on board the Anson, Mrs. Bowden and such of the females as had not been placed out to service were still remaining in that vessel.

With regard to those who had obtained a service, if for any reason or accident they could not remain with the particular employers with whom they had been placed, they were sent, not to the Anson, to be again under the superintendence of Mrs. Bowden, but to this pandemonium, the Brickfield Factory, to mingle with the mosts abandoned of their sex. On a visit of inspection made by Mrs. Bowden to this wretched place, the poor creatures who had been under her care implored her, with tears and passionate entreaties, to take them again to the Anson; but this was beyond her power. Mrs. Bowden's difficulties with regard to the female who remaned with her were very great, and would have paralysed the efforts of any person of inferior zeal and fewer resources. Like all others who have effected any good in their attempts at reforming prisoners, Mrs. Bowden depended very much on being able to command a supply of useful labour for them. She desired to employ them in making their clothes, but the local government chose to supply her with clothes already made. She then made application to the shopkeepers in the island who sell ready-made linen to employ her prisoners in making shirts, which they were willing to do, but could only afford to pay sevenpence per shirt. This price she gladly accepted, but the regulations of the government again presented an obstacle. Local wisdom had determined that the true price for making a shirt was half-a-crown, and that Mrs. Bowden was responsible for as many half-crowns as the Anson produced shirts, and she was actually surcharged for the difference betwen sevenpence and half-a-crown as to every shirt made under her superintendence. It is true that after many protocols, much diplomancy, and great misgivings on the pasrt of the local government, Mrs Bowden obtained forgiveness for the past, but she was obliged to turn her attention to some other pursuit for the future.

In this perplexity it occurred to her that the island furnished plenty of straw of an appropriate species for the manufacture of hats and bonnets, and there being no makers of those articles on the island the local Solons had left the regulation of the 'manufacture' out of their code. It is true neither Mrs. Bowden nor her prisoners had ever learned to plait straw, but the difficulty of acquiring this art was little or nothing compared with that of a conflict against the legislation of the southern hemisphere, so they set about their work and soon accomplished a hat, which was presented to the governor.

Since that time they have made hats and bonnets in consideratble quantities; nevertheless, as this task is not suited to all, Mrs. Bowden is still suffering under want of employment for many of her prisoners. We believe this slight sketch of convict management, as regards one particular class, will furnish no unfair specimen of the state of our convict population in Australia.

Hiring Servants from the Anson

The Anson also acted as a hiring depot. On 25 January 1848, the Hobart Town Gazette (p.102) announced that female convicts who had arrived on the Asia V on 21 July 1847, having completed their six months probation on board, were eligible for private service as probation pass-holders on Friday, 28 January 1848.

The contracts for service will be entered into on board the Anson, between the hours of 10 and 4.

On 2 March 1847, the Colonial Times published the following article on the assignment of female convicts from the Anson.

FEMALE SERVANTS.—We are authorised to state, that on Friday, the 5th instant, at noon, upwards of one hundred women who have finished their period of probation on board the Anson, will be eligible for private service, and that previous to that hour of Friday, no one will be at liberty to engage them as servants, or to communicate with them. This precautionary measure has been adopted that the public generally may be placed on the same footing as to obtaining female servants from the Anson. There exists at present a great demand for female servants of this class.

The Colonial Times and Tasmanian printed the following article on the Anson on 28 April 1848 (p.3 c.5).

THE ANSON.—We have more than once had occasion to impute blame to the officers on board the Anson, in their mode of awarding female pass-holders to the various applicants; and we are much pleased in being enabled to state, that yesterday, when the first of the new draft was assignable, the greatest attention was paid to the applications by Mr. A. B. Jones and Mr. Emmett, who rendered every accommodation to the public, both to the saving of time, and the judicious appropriation of the servants.


The following article was transcribed from the Hertford Mercury and Reformer 15 May 1847



At the Middlesex Sessions on Wednesday ELIZA JOHNSON aged 20 years pleaded GUILTY to indictment charging her with felony – The prisoner was rather good looking, and upon being interrogated by the Court respecting her motive for committing the offence which she acknowledged, she said she was tired of the mode of life that she had been pursuing, and she thought that to commit some theft was the readiest way of causing herself to be sent out of the country. The prisoner said that she was quite tired of her life here. What was she to do? She had no friends and it was her wish to get away from the life she had been thrown into, and which she had been compelled to leave for some time. She was quite tired of it – the learned Judge directed her to be remanded till the following morning, in order that some inquiries might be made about her. He should not, under the present state of matters with respect to females who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land, feel so much difficulty in sending out females to that country as he should have done some twelve months since. At that period the state of affairs in connection with the female transports was most lamentable. Now, however, he was happy to say that it was otherwise. An excellent institution for the reformation of female convicts had been established in that colony and placed under the superintendence of Mrs BOWDEN, the late matron of the County Lunatic Asylum at Hanwell. The views and efforts of that lady had been warmly seconded by the Government. The late Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir EARDLEY WILMOT had been removed as the jury might know, and it might not be improper to say that one reason for the removal of that gentleman was, that he had not sent any reports to this country upon the subject. He (the learned Judge) had for some years been in communication with Mrs BOWDEN, while she resided at Hanwell, and had there for an opportunity of judging of her capacity of mind and fitness for situations such as she now filled. Since she had occupied her present situation, she had received material assistance from the home government in carrying out her benevolent views. Upon her arrival in VDL she was astonished to find that all the clothes of the female convicts were sent out from England readymade, and that there was no means of giving employment even by the manufacture of the very clothes they were to wear. The first step she took to correct this evil was to apply to the Government at home to have the unmade material sent out, in order that the female convicts should at least be employed to making their own wearing apparel. That, however, proved insufficient to keep them in work, and she endeavoured to obtain contracts for them to manufacture shirts. These contracts she obtained, but she met with a difficulty in reference to the price for which she had contracted to make them, it being something less that the price of those articles in the colony. Mrs BOWDEN was, in consequence, subjected to a penalty upon the protection system. She was exchequered for making shirts at an under price, but the Government interfered. There was still insufficient employment for the women, and she determined to put them to making bonnets, but upon endeavouring to set about it, to her astonishment she discovered that there was not a single individual in Hobart Town who knew how to make a bonnet. There articles were all sent to the colony readymade, although there was there some of the most beautiful straw in the world. Some of this straw was quickly obtained, and before long Mrs BOWDEN taught herself how to make one; and then teaching the women, she soon succeeded in establishing a straw bonnet manufactory, in which she employed more than 150 convicts. But even after the introduction of these improvements it was found that all the women were not fully employed. Her next efforts were turned to the establishment of a manufactory for cloth on a small scale. In that, too, she succeeded and now had a vessel, the ANSON, engaged to take out wool in the raw state for the purposes of the manufactory. The result of this energy of conduct, was, that the means of full employment were found for all the female convicts, and from a letter which he had received from Mrs BOWDEN the other day, the state of things was gratifying in the extreme, and, in consequence, he should have less difficulty in sending out female convicts in future. If a woman conducted herself well, even although transported for life, she would be benefited by the system now in operation, and she might gain a letter of leave to quit her confinement. She might set up for herself, or marry, and become once more a decent and respectable member of society. The efforts of moral influence had been witnessed by Mrs BOWDEN at the Hanwell Asylum, in the treatment of lunatics; she had applied the system to female convicts and the results had been equally successful.

Information taken from Hertford Mercury and Reformer 15 May 1847

Breaking Up The Anson

After it finished service as a probation station for female convicts in 1850, the Anson hulk was broken up and the timbers were sold off and some were used in buildings around Hobart. Max Crawford wrote about this in his diary, a transcript of which has been kindly provided by his granddaughter Anne Kiely.



Brad Williams, Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (2005), 29: 77–86,
The archaeological potential of colonial prison hulks: The Tasmanian case study. Available here.




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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 online [date].

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