Authorities were placed in an awkward position of determining a suitable punishment for female convicts on a level with the harsh punishments handed out to male convicts, such as lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails, or hard labour on road gang and treadmills, yet acceptable for public critique. It was in 1826 when an Act codified the summary punishment of misbehaving female convicts, including the sentence of Hard Labour. This was reported in the Colonial Times:

An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[i]


[i] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2


Female convicts were punished in different ways in the convict institutions, but the most common punishments was solitary confinement on bread and water, or separate treatment. Many punishments were a combination of 2 or more.

Elizabeth Boucher (per Mary Anne, 1821) in 1822, for stealing a pocket handkerchief and absconding from her mistress's premises was to be fed on bread and water 14 days, to wear an Iron Collar 7 days and sit in the Stocks 3 days one hour each day.


Additionally, all Crime (or 3rd) Class prisoners were punished on admittance by having their hair cut short.

Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 17 June 1826 p 2 Article

Last week, no less than 22 of the women confined in the Female Factory were sentenced to various punishments of solitary confinement, and being fed on bread and water, some of whom had been guilty of disorderly conduct, uttering insolent and abominable expressions, escaping from the cells, over and through the outer wall, and of other conduct highly unbecoming the female character. They were fortunately, prevented from escaping through a large. hole which they made in the wall, and some, of the punishments were inflicted for the ill-treatment the workmen received in mending it up.

Below is a list of punishments recorded for Colonial offences in Van Diemen's Land by the magistrates or Supreme Court.  Once returned to the House of Correction, female convicts could be subjected to secondary punishments as determined by the Superintendent of the establishment.  The methods and intensity of punishments changed over the years.  What was acceptable in the early years of the assignment period was phased out as the justice system came under scrutiny, as discussed at the Enquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline 1841-43.


  • Bread and Water Open or Close


    The Bread and Water punishment diet was widely used in British institutions, including prisons, until the latter part of the 20th century. (On US Navy vessels the practise continued until 2018!).[1]  Many Van Diemen’s Land convicts would have received the punishment diet of bread and water in prisons before, during and after transportation, usually in conjunction with solitary confinement.


    The surgeon superintendents on board the convict transport ships were very aware of the importance of diet in improving and maintaining health and well-being, and especially the value of lemon/lime juice in preventing scurvy on a long voyage. Often convicts boarding the transports were malnourished and it took a while for their depleted digestive systems to adjust to the ship’s ‘comparatively full diet‘.[2]  Placing a convict on a prolonged punishment diet of  bread and water would therefore be perceived as a threat to their physical health and, by combining it with solitary confinement, their mental well-being. The daily allowance of ‘bread’ on a convict ship was described as ‘biscuits’, with a ‘soft bread’ procured when in a port. [3]


    From Rules and Regulations to be observed on Board the Lord Sidmouth Convict Ship, departing September 1822 for passage to Van Diemen’s land and New South Wales, which was displayed in the ship’s prison:

    [Rule 2.] Any woman who shall be guilty of swearing or any expression of an indecent or immoral tendency (shall) be punished by solitary confinement and put on a bread and water ’till she shall appear to have mended her conduct.

    [Rule 5.] Any person found thieving from others shall be made a severe example of by putting them in solitary confinement on Bread and water and stopping all indulgence untill evident signs of Reform take place.


    In Van Diemen’s Land, the punishment of Bread and Water was prevalent during the assignment period of 1827 to 1841. More than 248 convicts were sentenced by the Magistrates to this punishment, many of them on multiple occasions. Bread and Water was also used extensively within the Cascades Female Factory as a punishment handed out by the Matron, Overseer or Superintendent. Some entries in the Female Factory Punishment Book refer to a punishment known as ‘brown rations’ - which was possibly the heavy, nutritionally-rich pollard or bran-laden brown bread, which was issued to miscreants 3 times a day for 2-3 days, usually for trifling misdemeanours.


    At the 1841 Inquiry into Female Convict Discipline, the question was asked: 27: ‘Which of the punishments mentioned do they dread most?’ The answer was:  Solitary confinement on bread & water.[4] The horrors of solitary confinement were enhanced by the accompanying bread and water diet. Afterwards, the female convict would be removed to a different probationary yard within the Factory, returned to her assignment, or reassigned elsewhere. The intention of relocation was to remove them from bad habits or acquaintances.


    The length of the punishment of Bread and Water, accompanied by solitary confinement or time in the cells, ranged from 2 days to 14 days. However, one of the early exceptions was Isabella Noble (Kangaroo 1814) who, on 11 December 1817, was convicted of stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, as reported in The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter:

    On Thursday, Isabella Thomas, a prisoner, was charged with privately stealing out of the dwelling house of Mr. DAVIS in Liverpool-street a quantity of wearing apparel, on Tuesday night last. She was sentenced 12 months' imprisonment in the county gaol; the first three months to be kept in a solitary cell fed on bread and water alone, and the remaining nine months to hard labor with the rest of the female prisoners. This abandoned character, who came from Port Dalrymple, had only been liberated a few days ago from a sentence of 2 years' confinement, by the humanity of His HONOR the LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR.[5]

    Susanna Wilson (Elizabeth Henrietta and Maria, 1818) endured 4 stints on Bread and Water. The first, in 1820, was combined with solitary confinement, her crime being neglect of duty and disobedience of her master’s orders.


    Between 1821 and 1826 there were very few cases receiving bread and water punishments, but it appears that between these years a standard for this diet punishment was set for 7 up to a maximum of 14 days.  This maximum was defined in an Act in August 1826:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony.

    1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[6]

    The Act was to remain in place for 2 years[7] but for most sentences after this date the 14-day maximum limit still applied. However, there were exceptions. From 1829 to 1838 there were 22 female convicts who received sentences of 21 days or more in the cells or solitary confinement. Some examples are: 


    - Elizabeth Ellerbeck of the Mary Anne received the sentence of ‘Cell on Bread and Water 28 days’ for being absent without leave in 1820.

    - Catherine Lindsay had six spells on Bread and Water. Two of these, in 1836 and 1837, were in conjunction with 21 days’ solitary confinement.

    - Mary Fearns, per Edward, received 7 sentences in the cells or in solitary confinement between 1834 and 1841, all of them on bread and water. These sentences ranged between 10 and 28 days.

    - Harriet Matthews of the Edward must surely have set a record for her 23 sentences of bread and water in solitary confinement and the cells. One of these was for 21 days.


    The amount of bread ration provided to female convicts on a bread and water punishment diet has not been recorded. However, male convicts in solitary confinement on a bread and water punishment diet received a daily ration of ‘1-1/2 lb bread and as much water as he liked’. [8]  This male punishment diet is ¼ lb more than the regular daily diet for female convicts outlined by the House of Correction and printed by The Tasmanian Weekly News in 1829:

    The diet of the several classes shall be as follows:

    Breakfast 1/2lb bread and a pint of gruel.

    Dinner 1/2 lb. bread and a pint of soup.

    Supper ¼ lb. bread and pint of soup.

    The soup to be made in the proportion of 25 lbs. of meat to every 100 quarts of soup, and to be thickened with vegetables and peas, or barley, as may be most convenient.

    Ox or sheep heads may be used advantageously for making the soup.[9]


    The Hobart Town Courier Sat 7 Nov 1829 p.1 advertised specifications for the supply of bread:

    The Bread for the Troops, Hospital, and Female Orphan School to be made of wheaten flour, from which 20 per cent, has been extracted ; and that for the Male and Female Prisoners, in and out of Barracks, the Gaol, &c  &c, from which [18] per cent. has been extracted as bran or pollard and the flour for the Troops at the Out-stations to have 20 per cent, of bran or pollard extracted.




    [3] Bateson, C. The Convict Ships: 1787-1868, p.67, p.111.


    [5] The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, Saturday 13 December 1817 p 2

    [6] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser  Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [7] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [8] Tasmanian Weekly News, Saturday 3 April 1858 p 8

    [9] The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 10 October 1829 p 4


  • Death Sentence Open or Close


    Death sentence

    A sentence of death was a widely used penalty imposed by the courts on guilty felons in 18th  & 19th century Britain.  Many of these sentences were commuted, either through the judiciary or by a successful petition for a royal pardon, which contributed significantly to the overcrowding of gaols, as explained by Tony Moore:

    But reprieve from the gallows meant a long incarceration as a prisoner of His Majesty, and as the new laws for property took effect the country’s small number of gaols were swamped by the tide of commuted prison sentences. Transportation of criminals to colonies across the sea had begun in the seventeenth century, and evolved in the eighteenth century as a more humane alternative to the death sentence that removed the criminal with the finality of death, while cementing social control at home.[1]


    In total, 239 of the female convicts transported to Van Diemens Land had previously received a sentence of death in Britain. Their crimes ranged from the seemingly minor acts of stealing/robbery/burglary, coining/counterfeiting, house breaking, arson, highway robbery and wounding, to the more serious acts of attempted murder and murder. Perhaps the most obscure death sentence was handed down to Mary Ann Fielding in 1800 for ‘returning from transportation before her time had expired’.  Fielding was originally a convict on the Indispensable in 1796, transported to NSW for seven years for stealing shoes.  She was sent back to NSW on the Nile in 1801, ending up in VDL around 1808, having had her death sentence commuted to transportation for life. 


    Of the female convicts who ended up in VDL, the earliest trial resulting in the death penalty was that of Ann Steel in 1787 for a felony (highway robbery). Steel was ‘respited during His Majesty’s pleasure’.[2] As an indication of how indiscriminate the penalty was, that same year Jane Tyler was just 11 years old when she was tried for stealing 5 guineas and sentenced to death. A statute passing in 1713 made the crime of stealing over 4/- a capital offence, and unfortunately for Tyler, it was legal to hang children over the age of seven years. [3] [4] Tyler was respited and transported, along with Steel, on the Lady Juliana to NSW in 1780, although she remained in NSW.


    Two hundred and five of the convict women who ended up in Van Diemens Land had their sentences commuted to transportation for life, while eleven were commuted to seven years and twenty-four commuted to fourteen years transportation.

    Ann Margaret Wright per Providence II in 1826, escaped the hangman’s noose twice.  The first time in London in 1825 at the age of twenty when she was charged with the theft of three sovereigns, forty half crowns, eighty shillings, and forty sixpences. The second time was in Hobart Town in 1833 for the wounding of her husband with intent to murder him. Wright,at 27 years of age, was sentenced to be hanged, however a last minute reprieve by His Excellency, the Lieutenant-Governor, commuted the sentence to imprisonment for life. She ended up serving only 7 years of the sentence before she was freed.


    Hangings in VDL

    Twenty-two female convicts were colonially punished with the judgement of a death sentence in Van Diemens Land.  In all but four of the cases, the sentences were commuted.  The method of execution was by hanging. If dissection or anatomisation was part of the sentence, the body was cut down and removed to the General Hospital for dissection for medical study in accordance with the English  Murder Act 1752.[5] [6] [7] [8]

    The four women hanged in Van Diemens Land were:

    Mary McLaughlan (Harmony 1830) in 1830, for the murder of her infant child.

    Eliza Benwell (Hector 1835) in 1845 was charged with "feloniously, wilfully, and with malice aforethought," being present, "aiding, abetting, and assisting" in the murder of Jane Saunders on the18th of January last.[9] After hanging her body was dissected and anatomized..

    Mary Sullivan (John William Dare 1852) in 1852, for the wilful murder of Clara Adeline Fraser. Her body was given up for dissection.

    Margaret Galvin (Arabian 1847) in 1862 for the murder of her husband John Coghlin. Her body was dissected.


    In the early years of the colony, hangings took place in public at the gallows set up on the docks in Hobart Town.[10]  

    The Old Wharf, as its name implies, was the first constructed on the shores of the Derwent. At that time it only consisted of a small jetty, launches being used for conveying cargo to and from the vessels which lay out in the stream. A small island, which now does not exist, having been reclaimed from the river, was then used as the usual place of execution, and many a poor wretch has there on the gallows expiated his crimes. This island was named Hunter's Island, and is also, remarkable as the spot upon which Governor Collins landed and built a store. It was from this store that provisions and other requisites were, for some time, issued to the early settlers.[11]


    By 1828 the gallows had moved to the Hobart Town gaol at the corner of Murray and Macquarie Street where they were on view to the public. From the Colonial Times, it can be established that the old gallows were replaced in 1834:

    We understand that the Reverend Mr. Bedford, having made some very strong representations to the Government that the old gallows was quite worn out, after a long and faithful service, a new one has been this week erected, which, from its huge proportions, bids defiance to every exertion that may be  made against it. Mr. Bedford's anxiety on all these matters of his duty is most laudable, and entitles him to the very highest praise!![12]


    In 1856 the gallows were placed behind high walls and were no longer visible to the public:

    First Private Execution under the New Act.-Yesterday Thomas Rushton and John Mellor, the bushrangers, convicted before Mr. Justice Home, at the late session of oyer and terminer and general gaol delivery of the supreme court, of shooting at Hugh Simpson, an overseer at St Peter's Pass, with intent, &c, underwent the extreme  penalty of the law within the walls of Her Majesty's gaol at Hobart Town, this being the first execution under the New Criminals Execution Act. The gallows was placed in a secluded portion of the yard behind the prison, the ground having been excavated to a depth of eight feet to admit of the requisite drop. The space was enclosed with a wooden fence and covering, to render the sad ceremony as private is possible.[13]


    There was also a gallows outside the Launceston gaol which was removed in 1853 and rebuilt within the walls of the gaol.[14][15] A description of the structure of the Launceston gallows is given in the Colonial Times 11 June 1853:

    One Step in Advance.-It is one of the happy results of the cessation of transportation to this colony, that instructions have been given to pull down the gallows at Launceston. Facing the river, the first object which met the stranger's eye was the permanent gallows, a substantial affair, built up with bricks and stone, and having a huge beam securely let into the walls ; altogether designed for any amount of service. But convictism has ceased, and it is rather significant that the removal of the gallows should be ordered immediately. [16]


    Abolitionists and the public spectacle

    Hangings in both Britain and Australia were traditionally conducted in public as a means of deterrent and entertainment. The hanging of Mary McLaughlan in Hobart in 1830 was a public spectacle, as was the 1845 hanging of Eliza Benwell, which attracted a crowd (reported by the Launceston Examiner 1 Oct 1845) estimated to be in excess of 5000 people:

    EXECUTION of ELIZA BENWELL-This miserable woman expiated the dreadful crime of which she was convicted at the last Sessions, this morning, at the usual time and place. A large crowd had assembled to witness this horrid ceremony, and much do we regret to state, that many, very many females, respectable enough in appearance, as far as that goes, formed a large portion of the multitude: children, too, especially boys, were there in abundance, amusing themselves, so long as they had room on the pavement to do so, by playing leap-frog, marbles, and other juvenile games.

    Colonial Times, Tuesday 30 September 1845 p 3 Article


    Eliza’s death prompted a second edition of the Herald Extraordinary, which documented her trial and hanging:





    By the middle of the eighteenth century the idea of capitally punishing women was increasingly met with public outcry, condemned by abolitionists as cruel and immoral. In Britain in 1847, Charles Gilpin, an abolitionist Quaker, designed a satirical poster inviting the public to ‘A Grand Moral Spectacle!’ to observe a young girl, Catherine Foster, aged 17, ‘publicly strangled in front of the County Jail, Bury Street, Edmonds’. Catherine Foster was the last woman to be hanged in Suffolk.[17]

    GrandMoralSpectacle lr


    The pregnant Charlotte Harris, (per Anna Maria 1852) sentenced to death in 1849, also galvanised the abolitionists, who endeavoured to enlighten the masses and employed shock-tactics, garnering petitions with over 4,000 signatures to further their cause.  After giving birth, Harris was eventually respited by Her Majesty, and transported per Anna Maria in 1852.

    A petition was also raised against the hanging of 16-year old Mary Sullivan in Hobart in 1852 but was unsuccessful and her execution still attracted crowds of spectators

    EXECUTION*. — On Thursday morning last, a large number of females (the worst class in Hobart Town) as well as a great concourse of the male population, assembled opposite the gaol, to witness the execution of the girl Mary Sullivan, for the murder of Mr. Frazer s child.

    Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania, Saturday 7 August 1852 p 3 Article


    By 1862, Margaret Galvin’s hanging would take place behind the gaol’s wall, thus denying the curious public a morning’s entertainment:

     But few persons beside the officials and a small body of police were present, and although several collected outside the gaol, and some applied for admission, they were very properly refused.

    The Mercury, Wednesday 19 February 1862 p 2


    Sentenced to death with respited sentences in Van Diemen’s Land

    The following 18 women were sentenced to death in VDL/Tasmania between 1833 and 1879, with their sentences later commuted. Sixteen were convicts or had previously been convicts who were transported to Van Diemens Land, Mary Ann Ellington was a native of Tasmania, and 25 year-old Caroline Smith was born in England and arrived free with her family at age 2.  Full records are available from the Female Convicts in Van Diemens Land database.


    Prisoner name

    Ship & arrival date




    Death communted to:

    Ann Margaret Wright (Ann Edwards)

    Providence 11 1826


    Attempted murder of her husband


    Eliza Owen

    Hindostan 1839


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox


    Mary Sheriff

    Atwick 1838


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox


    Elizabeth Elemore

    Gilbert Henderson 1848


    Stabbing Dr G Maddox

    Death recorded; transported for life beyond the seas and confined in Female House of Correction in a separate working cell for 3 years

    Ann Edwards

    Margaret 1843


    Stabbing with intent to murder James Howard; stabbing with intent to do bodily harm

    Death recorded; transportation for 15 years

    Mary Carroll

    Asia 1847


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; 18 months hard labour.

    Margaret Cleary

    Tory 1848


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; imprisoned

    Bridget Long

    Kinnear 1848


    Setting fire to H.M gaol

    Death recorded; 2 years separate imprisonment with solitary confinement on the 6th, 12th and 18th months

    Maria Drake

    Margaret 1843


    Attempting to poison Oliver Adams

    Death recorded; life of penal servitude

    Sophia Kennedy

    Sea Queen 1858


    Feloniously assaulting Eliza Rowe and putting her in bodily fear; stealing 14/s and other property from her

    Death recorded; 7 years penal servitude

    Mary Mulhair (Mary Lott)

    Phoebe 1845


    Shooting with intent

    Death recorded; 10 years penal servitude

    Ann Conolly

    Maria 1849



    Penal servitude for life

    Julia Gunderson

    St Vincent 1850


    Assault & armed robbery

    Death recorded; 10 years penal servitude in a House of Correction

    Ephemia Lawson

    Borneo 1828


    Feloniously stabbing Mary Worster with intent

    Death recorded; transportation for life and detention in the Female House of Correction  in the Crime Class for 5 years

    Mary McDonough

    Martin Luther 1852


    Administering poison to John Lane

    Death recorded; 21 years penal servitude

    Catherine Brian (Lee)

    Woodbridge 1843



    Imprisoned for life in the House of Correction

    Mary Ann Ellington

    Native of VDL


    Murdering her illegitimate child

    Imprisonment for life

    Caroline Smith

    Arrived free


    Feloniously administering poison in an attempt to poison herself and her infant

    Death recorded; 6 months imprisonment. To be released on finding an approved person to provide surety for her good behaviour.


    [1] Moore, T. (2010), Death or Liberty rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788-1868, Pier 9, p.35

    [2] Northampton Mercury, Oct. 27, 1787



    [5] The Tasmanian (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1827 - 1839) Friday 22 February 1833 p 7 Article




    [9] Colonial Time, Friday 5 September 1845 p 3

    [10] The Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 13 January 1858 p 2

    [11] The Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 13 January 1858 p 2

    [12] Colonial Times, Tuesday 6 May 1834 p 5

    [13] Colonial Times, Wednesday 20 February 1856 p 2

    [14] The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 7 January 1854 p 4

    [15] THE GALLOWS. —The permanent gallows, which for so long a time disgraced the appearance of the Launceston gaol, is now entirely removed. The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 10 December 1853 p 3

    [16] Colonial Times, Saturday 11 June 1853 p 2

    [17] Charlotte Harris 1818-1862Convict conduct record CON41/1/32



    Further Resources:




  • Hair Cut Close or Head Shaved Open or Close



    The practices of hair cutting and head shaving were widely used in English prisons and asylums for medical or hygiene purposes and also as humiliating punishments for incorrigible female prisoners.


    Elizabeth Fry, in 1827, when outlining methods for distinguishing different classes of prisoners, and promoting modest prison attire, also suggested that if the long hair on convicted felons were cut off and kept short during their term of imprisonment, ‘it would be found to act as a certain yet harmless punishment that would promote that humiliation of spirit which, for persons so circumstanced, is an indispensable step to improvement and reformation’.[1]


    Cutting off the hair and head shaving were seen as highly effective punishments precisely because the women detested them. As was intended, they were felt to be personally degrading or, as described by Joy Damousi, ‘defeminising’.[2] The magistrates could order their application in conjunction with other punishments, such as a term of imprisonment;  admittance to the female factories for a period of detention would automatically include having the hair cut short. What is not always obvious from the records was the difference between cutting the hair short, cutting the hair close to the head and shaving the head; having the head shaved was a more targeted and demeaning deterrent. 


    Hair cutting of female convicts on the convict transport ships to Van Diemen’s Land was a form of punishment that could be carried out in a confined space and, unlike solitary confinement, could be implemented simultaneously on more than one convict at a time.  It was first recorded on a voyage to Van Diemen's Land by Mr Robert Espie, Surgeon Superintendent of the Lord Sidmouth (arrived 1823), who used head shaving as a punishment on at least four separate occasions during the voyage, mentioning that the punishment was customary in cases of thieving. Espie also noted that ‘this mode of punishment seems to be the only thing they regard’.[3]  An article printed in 1866 called ‘Life on Board a Female Convict Ship’ described how cropping of the hair was regarded as ‘the severest punishment of all’:

    I believe there was not a female on board, old or young, who would not almost as soon have lost her life as have had her hair cut close. It not only deprived them of their most cherished natural ornament, but it branded them as infamous on their arrival in the colony, and rendered them objects of ridicule and derision.[4]


    Espie later altered his opinion on the effectiveness of solitary confinement combined with hair cutting, noting that this punishment only incited the convicts to be more defiant:

    I commenced to giving up my whole time and attention to the service I was employed on, but I had imbibed (and have still a strong prejudice) against corporal punishment and I tried all I could by other means such as solitary confinement and cutting their hair. These trifles only incited them to go to greater lengths to bid me utter defiance with a thousand threats of what they would do when they got to Sydney. [5]


    Whilst there are reports of female convicts having their hair cut and heads shorn in Van Diemen’s Land from the 1790’s, they were first recorded as a punishment in 1824 and became systematic practise in 1826 under Governor Ralph Darling, reaching a peak between 1826 and 1831. During this time hair cutting became an accepted form of punishment of women in the third penitentiary class in the female prisons and of ‘incorrigibles’, habitual offenders for whom hair cutting was applied in conjunction with other punishments.  In 1829 hair cutting was codified in The Rules and Regulations for the management of the House of Correction for Females, published in the Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829: ‘if incarcerated for any offence, she shall have her hair cut short’. This would indicate the House of Correction used this as a general deterrent, in addition to punishments meted out by the courts.[6] 


    Some examples of hair cutting as a punishment:

    - The earliest report of hair cutting in the conduct records involved Ann Williams (per Mary 1823) who in 1824 was convicted of stealing a pair of stockings, the property of the Crown. Her punishment was 14 days in the iron collar and having her hair cut off.

    - The Hobart Town Gazette of 10 December 1825 reported that seven prisoners who escaped from the Female Factory at night by means of a hole in the wall were sentenced to confinement in the cells on bread and water, the wearing of an iron collar and having their hair cut close to the head. The women included Ann Riley, Ellen Holland, Mary Thomas and Elizabeth Slater. [7]

    - On 7th May 1827 Ann Wilson (ux. Bruin) per Morley 1820, was defiant when sentenced to have her hair cut off:

    Hannah, the wife of Richard Brum, for disorderly conduct in the Factory, breaking Mr. Drabble's windows, and being insolent and abusive, to the said Mr. Drabble. Ordered to George Town, for 18 months. On receiving sentence, she turned round in at impudent way, saying she was glad of it, she wanted to go there. On being brought back and sentenced to sit in the stocks for four hours, she in the same manner replied you shall not cut my hair off. She was again brought back and sentenced to have her hair cut off. This seemed to make some impression …….. [8]

    -For refusing to go to her service in 1829, Mary Kirkland (per Harmony 1828) was punished by : ‘Cell on bread and water 10 days have her hair shaved when about to come out of the Factory be sent to the Interior and placed 6 months in the Crime Class’.


    George Pullen, who in the late 1820s lived in the Hobart and Cascades Female Factories with his uncle, the assistant superintendent, described the process of cutting off the convict women’s hair: ‘For all those sentenced to the cells or crime class there was invariably a preliminary ordeal to be gone through in the loss of their hair. It certainly was a sight to arouse one's pity to witness the long flowing raven or auburn locks falling to the ground to the rhythmic snipping of the barber's great shears. The women looked upon it as a barbarous, personal outrage – a degrading humiliation. Many who would have borne stolidly any other kind of punishment shed bitter tears over the loss of their hair; some fainted, and now and then one would fight like a tigress for the retention of her highly valued and petted locks, and the operation had to be performed under the persuasive influence of physical force.’[9] His comments are supported by convict Eliza Churchill (per Navarino) who stated:   ‘Cutting off their hair was a punishment generally disliked I have heard Jane Carr say she would rather take two years in the factory than have her hair cut off & I have heard many others make similar remarks’.[10]


    During the 1830’s, convict women in New South Wales rioted against the continued punishment of hair cutting.[11]  However, records show that in Van Diemen’s Land the practise was rarely used during this time and by 1841 the Superintendent of the Cascades Female Factory, John Hutchinson, and Principal Superintendent of Convicts, Josiah Spode, both stated that it was no longer used.[12] [i] Appearing before the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipline 1841 – 43, Spode did, however, appear to support hair cutting as a punishment:

    Q.219: Do you think that the power vested in the Magistrates and Officers of the Factory in reference to female convicts is sufficient for the purposes of discipline and of deterring women from the commission of offences? If not, what additional means would be recommended?

    A.: It is with the exception of one point viz the power of cutting off the hair which was formerly adopted in cases of disorderly conduct in the House of Correction which was found to be very effective. An order was issued about five years since prohibiting the employment of this punishment; but I am of opinion that it would be advisable to resume that custom.[13]


    Records show that magistrates ordered hair cutting as a punishment only twice after 1841:  in February and March 1843 Mary Grant (per Atwick, 1837), and Ellen Gavin (per Gilbert Henderson, 1839) were both punished for insubordination by having their hair cut off.  However, a stricter regime began at the Cascades Female Factory in 1851 which resulted convict women routinely having their hair cut off on arrival. This practise was under discussion in 1855:

    INSULTING TREATMENT. –It is not generally known, perhaps, that, when free females are sentenced to imprisonment, under the Servants Hired Act, and are sent to the factory, that they have their hair cut closely off their head. We had supposed, that this pitiful indignity had been long since abolished, even with female prisoners, but, it seems, we are mistaken, although, we believe, the practice was, at one time, discontinued. With whom its revival rests, we know not, but, we feel assured, that we have only to bring the subject under the notice of His Excellency Sir F. Young, to have it at once, and immediately abolished. (Hobarton Mercury 10 January 1855)


    Perhaps partly due to this article, the practice was abolished. Later that year, giving evidence at an enquiry, the Matron of the Cascades Female Factory, Charlotte McCullagh, stated that:

    It is not the custom to cut off women's hair when received; it has not been for eight or nine months. There is a free division of the Factory. Up to that time it was the invariable practice to cut off the women's hair on being received, without reference to the length or nature of the sentence. I do not know why the practice was discontinued. The superintendent gave the order. (Courier, 24 December 1855).


    Further Resources:

    Damousi, Joy, Depraved and Disorderly Female Convicts Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia Chapter 4: Defeminising Convict Women, Headshaving as Punishment in the Female Factories.

    Enquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841-1843.


    [i] Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct 1841-43

    1. Are these the only punishments you have ever used? Women have in some cases been sentenced to have their hair cut off, & to wear the Iron collar.
    2. Are these sentences ever given now? No; They have been discontinued for some time.
    3. Do you think that the power vested in the Magistrates and Officers of the Factory in reference to female convicts is sufficient for the purposes of discipline and of deterring women from the commission of offences? If not, what additional means would be recommended? It is with the exception of one point viz the power of cutting off the hair which was formerly adopted in cases of disorderly conduct in the House of Correction which was found to be very effective. An order was issued about five years since prohibiting the employment of this punishment; but I am of opinion that it would be advisable to resume that custom. Note: Was not this order issued before my arrival? If so it is more than five years. JM


    [1] Fry, Elizabeth Gurney, (1827) Observations on the Visiting, Superintendence, and Government of Female Prisoners p.61,, accessed 21/03/2020

    [2] Damousi, Joy, (1997) Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, Cambridge University Press. P.86




    [6] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829

    [7] Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 10 December 1825 p 2 Article

    [8] FROM THE TASMANIAN. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Friday 1 June 1827 p 2 Article

    [9] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3. by G.P.[George Pullen]

    Launceston Examiner Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2 Article


    [11] Robbins, W.M. (2001) THE MANAGEMENT OF CONVICT LABOUR EMPLOYED BY NEW SOUTH WALES GOVERNMENT 1788-1830.p.230.  accessed 21/03/2020




  • Hard Labour Open or Close


    Hard Labour was perhaps the most common of the punishments handed down by the Magistrates and the Supreme Court to female convicts, comprising up to one-third of all punishments. The women were returned to a Female Factory or House of Correction to serve out the sentence, which was commonly between one to six months in length, although instances ranging between 24 hours and 6 years have been recorded.


    An Act promulgated in 1826 codified the summary punishment of misbehaving female convicts, including the sentence of Hard Labour. This was reported in the Colonial Times:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[1]


    The exact work required of female convicts with a sentence of Hard Labour was usually not specified by the magistrates and tasks would have been allocated at the discretion of the superintendents or overseers of the Female Factories or Houses of Correction.[*] In cases where magistrates did specify a hard labour punishment it was usually hard labour at the wash tub. Hard Labour was usually accompanied by other punishments including suspension of ticket-of-leave, wearing of an iron collar, imprisonment in crime class, solitary or separate working cells, removal to the interior (country) or forfeit of wages.


    Within the Female Factories and Houses of Correction the women were allocated to solitary confinement cells or to a particular yard, and the work they did depended on the tasks that could be completed in those areas. The wash tub yard was used for heavy duty washing for institutions such as the hospitals, military barracks and orphan school. For those in solitary confinement, plain needlework or picking oakum were regular tasks.  Picking oakum involved working with old tarred and oiled ropes, which were cut into two foot lengths, beaten with a mallet to remove the tar[2]  and then unravelled and shredded into fibres.  In the police reports for 10 February 1849:

    Jane Willis, overcome with alcohol on her master's premises yesterday evening at the early hour of [8] o'clock, three months hard labour in the female house of correction, where she will have to pick oakum, preparatory to an inland tour up the country.[3].

    Picking oakum was not a pleasant task and it was shared by male and female prisoners and people in workhouses as a way to pay for their lodgings. Picking oakum was, at times, considered hard labour (even for males) and in other accounts was considered light labour.[4] [5] [6] The Government would sell the oakum, which would be re-used as caulking to fill in the gaps between the wooden planks of ships to make them watertight.[7] [8]


    All the women, whether awaiting assignment or serving a term of punishment, usually had a quota and/or standard of task work to complete and if this was not done the Female Factory Punishment Book records that they were punished with a range of measures including the wash tub, bread and water or solitary confinement. 



    Mr Elliston: Women sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour at the Cascades are employed at the wash-tub. While in separate treatment they do needlework. All women received are subject to a certain portion of separate treatment in cells. The needle-work is government work, No embroidery, crochet, or fancy work is done by those in separate treatment Fine work is done for families. Many women are incapable of using their needle; they are employed at picking oakum and hair. The charge for fine work is according to the description of article; gentlemen's plain shirts are charged 3s, fancy ditto up to 5s. Those regulations are published; there is a scale of charges in .the office. Very many private individuals avail themselves of this regulation The clerk, Mr. Atkins, receives the money. He pays it to the Superintendent When the women are discharged from separate treatment they go to the wash-tub. That is considered hard. labour.[9] [†]       

    With regard to the means for placing Females to labor in the Crime Class Yard; measures for this there are really none, the only employment is carding and spinning, which for want of room can be performed but by few, and so far from being a punishment it appears to be rather a mere pastime, for small is the number of those who are not soon tired of total idleness and at such work they can exert themselves as much or as little as they please. The 1841-1843 Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct p. 126.





    The 1841-1843 Enquiry into Female Convict Conduct examined the punishment regime at the Female Factory: 

    Q.9. Under what circumstances are these women placed under your charge?  With the exception of five [sic] they are sent in under magisterial sentences & those of the Supreme Court.

    Q.10. How are they employed in the establishment & to what punishment are they subjected?  In picking, carding & spinning wool, oakum & horse hair; washing for the colonial hospital, military hospital, and military barracks, the ordinance store, & the orphan school: - their punishments are solitary confinement in cells with work or in dark cells with bread & water, & confinement in the crime class and probationary yards.

    Q.11. What do you mean by the crime class & probationary yard?  It is the yard into which all women under a general sentence to hard labour are received.

    Q.104. When a convict woman is sent in under punishment what is done with her? She is received in the same way, searched and dressed and sent to her proper place according to the warrant, viz, the cells, the wash-house or the third yard – if the sentence be generally to hard labour for three months she is sent to the second yard, if for more than three months to the third yard.

    Q.105. What is the labour performed in the second yard?  Picking, carding and spinning.

    Q.106. Do you consider that more severe than the labour of the first yard?  Yes, it is more severe– carding is hard work so is spinning – picking is light work – they take generally turn about of the different kinds of work. [10]



    Although the Act specified that the punishment of Hard Labour was not to exceed three months, in practise, however, it was regularly extended:

    The punishment of Mary Pendle for stealing in a dwelling house, was necessarily different from that of the others guilty of a like offence, owing to the difficulty at present existing in the Colony of finding punishments suited to female offenders. She was sentenced to Six months’ imprisonment and hard labour, and his Honor added, that he really hoped the labour she would undergo would be hard.[11]


    The longest recorded sentence of Hard Labour was that of Judy Collins (per Australasia) in 1862, for stealing £16. The Supreme Court sentenced her to 6 years’ penal servitude. Under the Penal Servitude Act of 1857, penal servitude replaced transportation and included hard labour for repeat offenders.[12]

    Another female convict serving a long sentence of hard labour was Isabella Thompson (ship unknown) who was sentenced in 1863 to 3 years’ imprisonment with hard labour at Launceston House of Correction for house breaking.


    Spinning Jenny

    Between 1834 and 1840, newspapers regularly published reports of women (mostly free) who were sentenced to spend time at the Cascades House of Correction on the spinning jenny.  The spinning jenny was a multi-spindle spinning frame and was one of the key developments in the industrialization of weaving during the early Industrial Revolution.[13]


    Conduct records do not mention the spinning jennies as a specific punishment, but spinning generally was task work allocated to women within the House of Correction, and was considered hard work, as mentioned above. However,  as mentioned in the following newspaper articles, in some cases it was not perceived as a worthy punishment:

    - January 28, 1834: ‘Margaret Mason, having paid so many recent visits at this office, was ordered three months to the Cascade spinning jenny, for the benefit of her health.’[14]

    - October 3, 1834, ‘Elizabeth Humphries, Jane Welsh, MaryAnn Norman, Sarah Smith, John Elliot, and Elizabeth Knight—such of those persons as could not pay five shillings for drunkenness, each defaulter received an extra dose – the ladies to the Spinning Jenny, and the gentlemen, to the Stock Exchange.’[15]

    - February 3, 1835: Ann Dutton, a free woman living with Mr. Rowlands; who has continually set all laws at defiance, to convince her that though free, she was subject to restrictions as well as her neighbours, she was ordered seven days at the Cascade spinning jenny for misbehaviour in her service and absconding. [16] Catherine Rooke was fined 5s. for drunkenness, and 5s. for using her clapper too indecently and freely, and in default of payment, was ordered to the spinning jenny for a month.[17]

    - May 5, 1835: James Humphries, Elizabeth Simpson, and Ann Neale, were all convicted of drunkenness, and fined 5s. each. The ladies had no loose change, money nor friends, and, having made so many visits at this office, in default of payment, they were ordered to a little Spinning Jenny work, at the Cascade, for fourteen days each.-[These are free women, sent to the Female Convict Factory. This is prison discipline, for which the free Colonists pay one hundred thousand pounds a year !-ED.][18]

    - June 7, 1836: Mary Norman was ordered to retire to the Cascade nunnery, to enjoy the amusement of the spinning jenny for three months; to keep her from bad company.[19]

    - February 6, 1838: James Morrow, John Sykes. James Revell, Henry Warner, Elizabeth O'Neil, William Carter, Hugh Green, Margaret Mason, Ann Newell, Richard Lears, Charles Hinton, John Petquin, George Paul, John Burns, Ransom Reynolds, Peter Grant, John Leunan, James Wilson, John, Kermode, and Thomas Randall,a tolerable specimen of sober morals, for nearly all pleaded guilty to drunkenness, and made many excuses. Some six or seven having no funds, the males were ordered to grace the stocks, and the females to amuse themselves with the spinning jenny at the Factory.[20]   

    - February 7, 1840: Several ladies of distinction, notorious for their rambling propensities at unseasonable hours in the public streets, were now provided with board and lodging according to the provisions of the Police Act, namely, wash-tub, spinning-jenny, and other such like amusements at the house of correction.[21]


    [*] Women allocated to the crime class and probationary yards in the Female Factories and Houses of Correction were mainly employed in task work that included needlework; knitting; wool-picking, carding, spinning and weaving; cleaning the dormitory and hospital; cleaning the yards; work in the cookhouse; duty in the hospital yard and at Brickfields, New Town Farm, the Watch houses.



    [1] Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [2] accessed 1/03/2020

    [3] Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania, Saturday 10 February 1849 p 3

    [4] Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 - 1857) Friday 19 April 1850 p 4

    [5] The Mercury, Thursday 19 June 1862 p 2

    [6] accessed 1/03/2020

    [7] The Mercury, Thursday 19 September 1861 p 4


    [9] The Courier, Monday 24 December 1855 p 2

    [10] p.37

    [11] Criminal Court, Hobart Town, December 30,1826, Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 6 January 1827 p 4



    [14] Colonial Times, Tuesday 28 January 1834 p 7

    [15] Trumpeter General, Friday 3 October 1834 p 2

    [16] Morning Star and Commercial Advertiser, Tuesday 3 February 1835 p 2

    [17] Colonial Times, Tuesday 3 February 1835 p 8

    [18] Colonial Times, Tuesday 5 May 1835 p 7                                                                 

    [19] Colonial Times, Tuesday 7 June 1836 p 8

    [20] Colonial Times, Tuesday 6 February 1838 p 7

    [21] Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, Friday 7 February 1840 p 6


    Further Resources:

    Picking Oakum:

  • Iron Collar Open or Close


    There were several versions of the iron collar used for the punishment of female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land used between 1815 and 1834. The iron collar was a cast iron neck collar possibly hinged at the sides and either locked into place or riveted into place by a blacksmith.[1] [*] James Boyce, in his book Van Diemen’s Land, described the iron collar as ‘a large band of iron placed around the neck’ which was ‘occasionally, if illegally, used’.  The collar weight varied depending on its design;  however, it was reported in the 1820 Magistrate's Inquiry into the punishment of Alice Robson (Blackstone), that the collar used in her punishment weighed six and a quarter pounds.[†]


    iron collar sketch

    Reproduction of an iron neck collar used on convicts in NSW[2]

    The punishment handed down by the Van Diemen's Land magistrates merely states that a female convict was to wear the iron collar for a period of 7 days, 14 days or 28 days, up to a maximum of one month. The iron collar was used mostly as a punishment for the crime of absconding but could also be used for other crimes, including stealing, intoxication, neglect of duty and disobedience. Lt. Col. G. Cimitiere, Commandant at George Town in 1820, described the iron collar as ‘a badge of infamy and disgrace, this Collar being the usual Instrument throughout the Colonies which is put round the neck of women of Infamous character’.[3]


    The use of the punishment peaked around 1827 and was not recorded on the conduct records as a punishment for colonial offences for female convicts after 1834. During this time, wearing an iron collar was used as a punishment on at least 91 occasions.


    The iron collar should not be confused with the spiked iron collar (see spiked iron collar). The spiked iron collar was not an authorised punishment handed down by magistrates. Anecdotal reports suggest it was used within the House of Correction or female factories as an unofficial ‘in-house’ punishment. The ‘iron collar’ and the ‘spiked iron collar’ are often confused in female convict history. They were distinct forms of punishment.


    One of the earliest mentions of being punished by wearing the iron collar in Van Diemen’s Land was the case of Ann Ward  Active in 1815. Ann stole goods which were the property of her master and, as punishment, was forced to wear an iron collar for a week as well as being kept to hard labour in the gaol. In the same year, she was again punished with the iron collar for stealing. In 1816, Mary Evers Kangaroo had to wear the iron collar for 28 days for disorderly conduct and grossly abusing the constables in the execution of their duty.


    The iron collar punishment was usually accompanied by one or more supporting punishments. Hannah Burton Mary, for example, who absconded in 1824, was sentenced to the Crime Class at the Cascades Factory for three months and had to wear the iron collar for one month. By 1829, when Mary Davis Harmony absconded from her place of service, she was sentenced to six months in the Crime Class at the Female Factory and had to wear the iron collar for one month, have her hair cut off and be placed in solitary confinement on bread and water for 14 days.

    BENCH OF MAGISTRATES.—On Wednesday Ann Bass, a crown servant, was brought before a Bench of Magistrates, charged with behaving in a riotous and disorderly manner to her mistress, and attempting to quit her place without leave, contrary to the Colonial Regulations. The charge being most clearly proved, she was sentenced to be put in the stocks 8 hours, at two different periods, with an iron collar placed upon her neck, and to be imprisoned in the county gaol for 3 months. The complaint was peculiar aggravating, this woman having only been released from prison a few days back on a similar case.[4]


    The iron collar was a controversial legacy of the slave trade, which used various versions, usually riveting the collar into place for permanency and connecting chains to rings on the collar, therefore creating both a means of restraint and a symbol of slavery.  The legality of using the iron collar as a punishment for slaves in the Caribbean was called into question in 1816, however the discussion did not include using iron collars on convicts in the colonies of Australia.

    Government-house, November 19, 1816.

    At a meeting of the Privy Council, present

    His Excellency Charles W. Maxwell, Governor,

    &c. &c. &c.

    His Excellency called the attention of the Board to the punishment inflicted on slaves by their owners, and other persons having authority over them, by placing iron collars, puddings, and chains with weights, ROUND THE NECK, LEGS, and other parts of their bodies, IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF HUMANITY AND THE LAW, and expressed his wish of having a stop put to such practices. It clearly appearing that punishments of this description were unauthorised by law, his Excellency suggested to the Board the propriety of sending a circular letter to the magistrates of the town of Roseau, and of the different parishes, requesting them to make inquiry in their different neighbourhoods for all instances of cruelty, and to notify to all persons who may be discovered to use such punishment in future, that the law will be enforced on any repetition of such offences.— The Board readily agreed with his Excellency in the propriety of this step, and the following circular, was sent to the magistrates in conformity:—[5]


    The controversy surrounding the use of the iron collar on female convicts did not have any effect in Van Diemen’s Land until 1834 when it was phased out as a punishment by the Magistrates.


    The Spiked Iron Collar

    The spiked iron collar was used in the slave trade, as described in the diary of John Nicol on his voyage to St. George’s, Grenada in 1784-85.[6]

    There were two or three slaves upon the estate who, having once run away, had iron collars round their necks with long hooks that projected from them to catch the bushes should they run away again. These they wore night and day.[7]

    Although the slave trade was outlawed in British dominions in 1807, it still continued illegally for many years.[8]  Outlawing the slave trade did not prevent the iron chains and collars being used on British convicts.


    In its application on convicts in Van Diemens Land, the spiked iron collar was not mentioned by the Magistrates as a form of punishment but anecdotal reports have it being used surreptitiously within the Cascades Female Factory.


    The spiked iron collar was described as an instrument of torture in an account by George Pullen, who in the late 1820s lived in the Hobart and Cascades Female Factories with his uncle, the assistant superintendent. In memories of George Pullen printed in The Launceston Examiner 1892, he describes the following:

    Another form of punishment that was only resorted to in cases of violent insubordination was the iron collar. This instrument of torture (I use the term advisedly) was formed of a band of iron of about an inch and a half in depths, opening by a hinge at the back and, being clasped round the neck, was fastened at the front by a padlock. From this collar band projected outwards four iron spikes of about a foot in length, tapering off and terminating in sharp points, the whole weight of iron resting on the tender collar-bones of the woman, as may be supposed, peculiarly painful and irritating. No alleviation of the terrible and dreadful torture was provided for the sentence recorded, but the humane feelings of one of the superintendents to whom the punishment was particularly distasteful and who- I may say in passing, was altogether too sensitive for his position-supplied relief, as far as it was possible, in the form of padding, to make the punishment easier to be borne.



    The term for wearing the collar was from 24 to 60 hours, and was intended to be continuous; but as it was impossible for the unhappy sufferer to take rest in sleep, this official chose to incur the risk of censure by having it removed at night and replaced in the morning. There was also another collar, lighter in weight, having longer spikes of [3/8] round iron, each spike terminating in a nob. This was for those of a pugilistic turn, the knobs answering the same purpose, I presume, as those placed on the horns of cattle to prevent them from goring their fellows. This punishment was very rarely inflicted.[9]


    It is highly questionable as to whether the Superintendents, under Rules and Regulations governing their punishment of female convicts, were permitted to carry out such a punishment:

    An Act has been promulgated in the Government gazette of last week, by His Excellency lieutenant Governor Arthur, for the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female prisoners in this Colony. After reciting that in an Act of Sir Thomas Brisbane, passed in the sixth year of his present Majesty, provision was made for the summary punishment of male convicts, but that no provision was thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour of females. It enacts :-1st, That it shall be lawful for any Justice of the Peace within this Colony, to take cognizance in a summary way of any complaint made before him against any female prisoner, whether in the service of Government or of any Inhabitant of this Colony ; and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for a term not exceeding 14 days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place not exceeding three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.[10]


    Further anecdotal accounts of the spiked iron collar being used by the Female Factory to ensure discipline in church services are as follows:

    The men would play at cards in the gallery during the service; and the women wore iron collar; with sharp prongs or spikes to prevent them from reclining their heads for indulgence in sleep. Such treatment, as may be supposed, did not produce love or reverence for Sabbath worship; and in too many instances the clergyman officiating contented himself by formally doing duty.[11]


    Goodridge, the runaway sailor, in his amusing autobiography, has something to say on the women prisoners. “Previous to Governor Arthur's time,” says he, a frequent punishment inflicted on females was the placing of an iron collar round their neck, on each side of which was a long prong which gave them the appearance of horned cattle, and with this head-dress they were exposed in church during service. - Certainly this was one mode of gathering a congregation.[12]


    In February, 1812, Colonel Geils became acting Lieutenant-Governor, and remained until the arrival of Colonel Davey in 1813[13]  He was reported in the Launceston Examiner in 1858 as having used the iron spiked collar on the neck of a free woman.[14]  However, it was Governor Ralph Darling, appointed governor of New South Wales in 1824, who has been attributed with introducing the spiked iron collar to the colony, which was given the pejorative name of “Darling’s Necklace” or the Darling’ Collar”.[15] Darling had, in all likelihood, seen it used illegally in the slave trade in Mauritius, where he had been Acting Governor between 1819 and 1823.[16],[17],[‡] [§]



    [*] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868: Sarah Wilson, while in a state of pregnancy at George Town in 1820, was fitted with the iron collar which she wore for approximately 15 days. She was able to take it off for 4 or 5 nights.  ‘Mr. Boothman and Doctor McCabe came to me; the next night a Constable came, I was in bed with the Collar on, the rivet was loose; the next morning Mr. Leith sent the Constable to order me down to the Black-smith's Shop to have the Collar on again.

    [†] HRA III, Vol.3 pp.853-868:  In 1820, Alice Robson was the subject of a Magistrate's Inquiry. On orders of Lieutenant Colonel Cimitiere, Commandant of the Port Dalrymple settlement, around 8am on 19 September 1819 Alice set off to walk thirty-five miles from George Town to Launceston with an 'iron collar' (weighing six-and-a-quarter pounds) round her neck.

    [‡]  The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial... (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1834 - 1844) Friday 23 October 1835 p 3


    Late Attorney General of New South Wales.

    " The said Saxe Bannister by his affidavit sworn at Paris the 26th January, 1835.

    ‘And deponent believes that spiked iron collars were not the usual irons of the said Colony, and that they are unlawful : and deponent hath read in a recent Parliamentary document an account of such spiked iron collars being discovered by the Commissioners of Inquiry in use in the Colony of Mauritius, about the year 1827, and before that year. And deponent believes that said Governor Darling held some office in the said Colony of Mauritius before coming to New South Wales, and that the said collars were introduced into New South Wales by, or under the sanction of, the said Governor Darling.’

    [§] A version was made and used as  military discipline in a famous case in NSW in 1826, attributing the death of Joseph Sudds to Darling’s spiked iron collar. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Thursday 4 July 1839 p 3. Also mentioned in Governor Ralph Darling’s Iron Collar  by Marcus Clark ( accessed 29/02/2020):

    Mr. Mackaness, the sheriff, stated also that, calling at Government House with Colonel Mills a few days prior to the punishment of Sudds and Thompson, he saw on the right hand of the hall after entering the door “either one or two sets of irons, having collars and iron spikes projecting from them,” which now he has no doubt were the same he afterwards saw upon the men in gaol. Mackaness “took them to be newly-invented man-traps.” 



    [1] HRA III, Vol.3 p.868.

    [2] Carters,

    [3]HRA III, Vol.3 pp.863.

    [4] Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter 27 September 1817 p.2.

    [5] The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 - 1848) Friday 13 July 1827 p 3

    [6] The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, Chapter 5, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [7]The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [8] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Thursday 11 January 1827 p 3

    [9] BACKWARD GLANCES. No. 3. Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) Saturday 19 November 1892 p 2

    [10]  Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tas. : 1825 - 1827) Friday 11 August 1826 p 2

    [11] The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Wednesday 22 December 1869 p 3

    [12] Notes by the Way,  Critic (Hobart, Tas. : 1907 - 1924) Friday 28 September 1917 p 4

    [13] West, J. (1852) History of Tasmania- Volume 1

    [14] SELECTIONS FROM WEST'S "HISTORY OF TASMANIA." THE FIRST SETTLEMENT. Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) Thursday 8 July 1858 p 4

    [15] The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 - 1939) Saturday 20 February 1904 p 6

    [16] Darling, Sir Ralph (1772–1858), Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed 29/04/2020

    [17] The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial... (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1834 - 1844) Friday 23 October 1835 p 3

  • Lashing or Flogging Open or Close


    Lashing was a common form of punishment in British gaols, until it was outlawed for women in 1817.[1][2] Recognised as a convenient physical punishment for male convicts that could be carried out anywhere and anytime, it was also a brutal and degrading punishment which was inflicted on early female convicts in New South Wales and in one recorded case in Van Diemen's Land (VDL).


    The earliest recorded lashing of a female convict was that of Nance Ferrel, who was lashed on the Lady Juliana in 1789, according to the journal of John Nicol, mariner:

    We were forced to tie her up like a man, and give her one dozen with the cat-o'-nine-tails, and assure her of a clawing every offence. This alone reduced her to any kind of order.[3]


    One of the earliest punishments of a female convict recorded in Van Diemen’s Land was the lashing of Elizabeth Murphy.  Elizabeth was 19 years old when tried at Middlesex on 28 October 1801 for stealing a straw bonnet.  She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years, arriving in NSW on the Glatton on 11 March 1803.  She was transferred to Van Diemen’s Land on the Sophia in early February 1805, becoming one of the first female convicts to arrive in the state; only 12 female convicts were recorded as having previously arrived before this date. On 15 March 1806, Elizabeth was accused of ‘writing or causing to be wrote a letter directed to Francis Dring* containing the most infamous language & accusing him of a most heinous Crime’. She was sentenced by His Honor the Lieut. Governor to be tied by her hands to the cart drawn by the gaol gang, to be stripped and receive 25 lashes before being sent to the settlement at Risdon.  The punishment of 25 lashes was equivalent to the minimum given to male convicts, who would normally receive sentences of between 25 and 300 lashes.


    Elizabeth Murphy’s punishment fits the description given in the article ANCIENT PUNISHMENTS IN THE BAD OLD TIMES’ in the Examiner on 19 January 1907:


    Whipping posts were sometimes attached to the stocks for convenience in thrashing beggars and petty thieves whose delinquencies were thought to merit the double punishment. These poor wretches were generally stripped from the waist upwards, and the lash laid on with such unsparing hand that often enough their backs were covered with blood long before the chastisement was concluded. Some offenders were whipped at the cart's tail, i.e., they were tied to the end of a cart after being stripped partially or wholly naked, and 'then dragged through the public streets, and thashed unmercifully throughout the whole of the journey.[4]


    The lashing of Elizabeth Murphy may have been the only recorded sentence of lashing (or flogging) of a female convict in Van Diemen’s Land, however Mary Higgins, who arrived in VDL in 1808 on the City of Edinburgh (and had arrived in NSW on the Lady Juliana in 1790) also experienced a lashing.  She was previously sentenced on Norfolk Island in 1791 to 50 lashes, receiving 26 lashes. Her offence was stealing corn from the public fields (with Catherine White) - caught by John Thomas Dodge, Superintendent of Convicts.


    The flogging of Mary Higgins was not an isolated incident in New South Wales as evidenced by a letter addressed to Earl Bathurst, per Favour of the Sydney Gazette on October 12th 1825:  ‘The history of Castle Hill, and Toongabbee;- of the system of stripping females and flogging them in the common gaol-yard of Sydney...’[5]


    Although the type of lash used on Elizabeth Murphy is not recorded, the lash used at Port Arthur was the infamous ‘Cat-o’-nine-tails’. It was a wooden-handled whip with nine knotted whip cords, noted for its use on mariners, the Royal Navy and British Army long after its use at Port Arthur was discontinued.  Its construction meant that for every lash there would be 9 ‘stripes’ with the three knots along each cord adding extra weight to the punishment, and responsible for the clawing, as attributed to a cat, noted in the lashing of Nance Ferrel.


    Unfortunately, male and female convicts were not the only people to experience the sting of the lash in VDL.  In 1839 the editor of the Hobart Town Courier newspaper raised the alarm that the cat-o’-nine-tails was being used by the Orphan School’s headmaster as an instrument of punishment on the boys[7]:

    One of the charges preferred against Mr. Offer, was the extreme severity of treatment which he adopted towards the children. Mr. McKay, who was in the 21st regiment for twenty years, a testimonial of whose services and character is to be found in the handsome letter addressed to him on the part of the regiment by Major Deare, gave evidence to the effect, that during the whole period of his service, he had never witnessed flogging in the army more severe in proportion, than that which it was the constant habit of Mr. Offor to administer with a cat-o'-nine-tails, on the bare backs of lads under and about twelve years of age. By the written regulations of the School, the punishment allowed to be administered shall not exceed twelve lashes. Notwithstanding the constant remonstrances of Mr. Naylor, Mr. Offor boasted that he should do as he chose ; and in illustration of his position, frequently doubled the amount of punishment, and in one instance actually inflicted thirty-one lashes!

    The Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser took up the story in 1841, confirming that the cat-of-nine-tails had been previously used for floggings at the Orphan School but reassuring readers that the practice had since ceased:

    In regard to the last, the application of the infernal " cat-of-nine-tails" to those poor children, we are enabled to state in the most positive terms, that no such hateful instrument has been in the Institution, since the appointment of the Rev. Mr. Ewing, and the other changes in the direction, which some time since took place. It is quite true, that an individual formerly employed there, being charged with using such an abominable method of punishment, was removed from his employment, on that very ground (although the charge was by no means ascertained, at least to the extent apprehended), but we repeat, we are enabled to assert positively that from that period to this day, not only has no such hateful torture been known, but no such instrument for the inflicting it, been permitted in the Institution.[8]


    Lashing or flogging continued as a punishment frequently imposed on male convicts up until 1840, when it was increasingly replaced with solitary confinement before being phased out for convicts by 1850.[6] 



    *Francis Dring, a convict tried at Middlesex and sentenced to transportation for seven years, arrived on the Coromandel and Experiment 1804 to NSW.


    [1] accessed 2/03/2020

    [2] Damousi, Joy, (1997) Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, Cambridge University Press.

    [3] The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, accessed 29/02/2020.

    [4] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954) Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [5] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 20 October 1825 p 4

    [6] James Parker, accessed 1/03/2020

    [7] The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen's Land Gazette, Friday 9 August 1839 p 2

    [8]The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser (Hobart Town, Tuesday 8 June 1841 p 2.



  • Returned to the Government Open or Close


    Being ‘Returned to the Government’ would involve a female convict leaving her place of employment and being readmitted to a House of Correction, with all the attendant strict disciple, rules and regulations. This punishment was usually in response to a crime or complaint, and required a written authority or warrant from a Magistrate, stating the offence for which she had been found guilty and her sentence. There were regular occasions where no offence had been committed; this did not prevent the convict, while awaiting reassignment, from being subjected to the same strict rules and regulations as someone who had committed a crime.[1]


    There were several reasons for female convicts being returned to the Government or Crown:


    Imposition of a magistrate-ordered punishment.

    A convict who was guilty of a range of offences including absconding, absent without leave, out after hours, insolence or neglect of duties would serve out her sentence at a House of Correction. In some cases, their assigned master/mistress would refuse to take them back which meant they would undergo their punishment then await re-assignment, often to another location. At other times the convict would undergo a term of punishment, such as solitary confinement on bread and water, then return to their previous service. A recommendation to be removed to a country district was often made, to extract them from bad influences. Cases were often discharged where the prosecutor did not appear in court.  


    Margaret Shaw of the Westmoreland (1836) was, in 1843, at the age of 27, found in a disorderly house after hours and was returned to the government to serve out three months of hard labour with a recommendation that she never be permitted to go out to private Service again.


    Susan Featherstone (per Platina 1837) in 1839, for ‘Gross Misconduct and general Irregular conduct’ and sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour at the wash tub and returned to Government. A year earlier Susan, having been absent all night, was sentenced to hard labour at the wash tub for one month then assigned in the interior. 


    An article in Launceston Advertiser on Thursday 12 February 1846 mentioned ‘If a convict woman is hired for country service, and on proceeding to her destination, observes that her employer resides in a remote and consequently retired part of the country, she declares that punishment is better than such solitude, as it brings her to town, and she requests to be returned to government.’ Susan Featherstone, at 19 years of age and single may have wanted to return to town life.



    GREEN PONDS March 8 [1849]

    Clementina Wharnick, the wife of James Peters, better known in this place by the cognomen of Sheepy, was charged by her husband with being drunk and disorderly, and leaving her residence. It appeared that on his return home, expecting to find it in order, he was compelled to make a forcible entry into his own mansion, which led to high words between him and his spouse, and after disturbing the whole neighbourhood they attracted the constables' notice, and on Mr. Peters' charge she was conveyed to the watch house-her old place of retreat. Mr. Peters addressed a letter to the magistrate, stating his determination never to take her to his bosom again, but return her to the place from whence she came-Government. The fair one with a large bunch of black bushy hair in her hand, which she said Sheepy had torn from her head, implored pity and forgiveness. Sheepy was obdurate ; he was resolved to part for ever. The magistrates threatened, as they had so very frequently appeared on the police-office boards, to sentence her to condign punishment forthwith,when Mr. Peters craved a hearing, and acknowledged himself in fault. _ Here a series of riotous crimination ensued, which to end, and for the peace of the neighbours who had repeatedly complained of riotous conduct of the pair, their Worships sentenced the fair one to 6 months' hard labor, and at the end of that period to be disposed of by the Government. This was a death-blow to poor Sheepy who cried out, " must I lose her ; I'll take her back, your worships,"and a most affecting scene ensued, to end which the fair one was banded to durance vile, to prepare for her journey to the Cascade Convent. Peters begged that his wife might be indulged with a ride to town, to which their Worships paid no attention.  Colonial Times, Friday 6 April 1849 - Page 3






    Returned for re-assignment.

    This would occur if the convict was unsuitable or unqualified for the tasks required of them, ill, aged, unfit for service or the Master/Mistress no longer required the services of a servant. Under the Assignment system, if a Master/Mistress was dissatisfied with the assigned convict servant, he /she could apply to the Police Magistrate for the convict to be returned to the Government – it was then up to the magistrate to determine the particulars of the case and make a judgement.


    The following examples would not be considered a crime unless the Master/Mistress instigated criminal proceedings in order to have the convict removed:


    In 1835, Ellen Smith (per Hope) for being absent without leave was admonished and returned to the Factory being much too young for this Service and Mr. Newman having been authorised to receive an elderly woman only.


    Lydia Hines (per Providence 1821) had a long history or being returned to the factory, nine times as a punishment and on two occasions for re-assignment. On 9 February 1833 she was returned to the factory without punishment, her Master having beaten and ill-treated her; the alleged crime was disobedience of orders and using abusive language. Only three months earlier she was charged by a previous master for stealing a pat of butter worth 10 pence resulting in her being acquitted and ordered to Hobart Town for assignment.  



    Before the Police Magistrate, and B. Berthon, Esq.. J. P.-Sarah Nicholls, a servant of Mr. Ellis's was charged with misconduct of a trifling nature Returned to the Government, her master declining her further service. Domestic Intelligence.  Colonial Times Tuesday 5 June 1849 p 2.


    In 1850 Charlotte Ferreman per Emma Eugenia 1847, was charged for stealing soap but had her case discharged, there being no evidence against her, and was returned to the Government.


    As experienced by Charlotte Ferreman, often the charges were of a minor and unsubstantiated nature.  The magistrates would have been aware that pressing charges was a means of dismissing an assigned servant.  This was the case with Mary Williams (Emma Eugenia 1847) in 1849.  The charge was ‘not proceeding to the Depot according to her pass &c.’  It was determined that her master had connived at her absence.  Her case was discharged and she was returned to the Government with a recommendation that she be sent to the Interior.  In the 1831 case of Priscilla Smith, (per Sir Charles Forbes 1827), the magistrate determined that she was unfit for her assignment and that she be returned to the government;  the charges of disobedience of orders by Mrs. Aitcheson against Priscilla were dismissed.  Magistrate Anstey determined Mrs Aitcheson, was under the influence of liquor at the time, but the prisoner being very deaf and thereby unfit for the duties of a public House was to be returned to the Female Factory.


    Returned for medical examination, treatment or infirmity.

    Under the regulations governing the probation system:  “ 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.”[2]  (Regulation 13)


    The following cases are returns to the Government for medical treatment or inspection; these were accompanied by a crime:

    In 1837, Mary Ann Foster (per America 1831), was Absent without Leave but returned to Government for medical treatment.


    Elizabeth Elphinstone (per Garland Grove 1841) was returned to the factory for medical inspection, her crime was being absent without leave.


    The case of Eliza Davidson (per Atwick 1837) in 1847 at the age of 50, was one of infirmity – a condition affecting many of the older convicts.  Her record states that she was unable, from bodily infirmity, to obtain livelihood.  She was subsequently temporarily deprived of her Ticket of Leave and returned to the Crown.  Eliza died three years later aged 53, sixteen months after her conditional pardon was approved.


    Punishment for Pregnancy

    Becoming pregnant was considered immoral conduct.  A pregnant woman was returned to the Government/Crown for confinement, as she would be considered unfit or incapable of performing her duties.  Besides being returned to the House of Correction there were other punishments, determined by the Magistrate, for the crime of having an illegitimate child; these included relegation to Crime Class, a period of hard labour or having her Ticket-of-Leave revoked. At the expiration of the period of her confinement and/or punishment, she would be re-assigned, often to a different location. For more information on pregnancy and children:


    The first reported instance of being returned to the female factory for a pregnancy was in August 1824: Lucy Hodges (per Lord Sidmouth 1823), was returned to the factory at Hobart and delegated to crime class, it appearing that with her master's knowledge she was pregnant and he permitted her to go and lay in at Mrs Bellinger's.[3]


    Other examples:

    In 1837 Ann Moore of the Westmoreland (1836) was returned. to the Crown in consequence of her advanced state of pregnancy.


    In 1833 Elizabeth Banks of the Princess Charlotte was charged with being pregnant and was returned to Crime Class.


    In 1841 Ann Smith of the Edward was charged with Misconduct in being pregnant. Her punishment was 6 months hard labuor in the Female House of Correction; it was also recommended that she be deprived of her Ticket-of-Leave.


    In 1851 Catherine Kennedy of the Kinnear, whose crime was being ‘illegitimately with child’ was given 9 months’ hard labour at the Ross Female Factory. Catherine had her Ticket-of-Leave revoked.


    Mary Porter (per Mellish) in 1832, was discharged. from her Service to be sent to the Female Factory at George Town for being in an advanced state of pregnancy.


    Terms of assignment or probation no longer existed.

    Often changes occurred in the life of the people involved in the assignment of the convict which made continuation of the original agreement impossible. If a convict woman were assigned to her husband and the husband subsequently deserted his wife, was under sentence, left the state or died, the female convict would be returned to the Female Factory for re-assignment. These circumstances would be described as being ‘illegally at large‘ or ‘not being under proper control’. The absence of a husband was often not picked up until the female convict was charged with a secondary crime.


    Lillah Proctor (per Emma Eugenia, 1843) in 1848, was illegally at large, her husband having left the colony she was returned to the government for not being under any control


    In 1852 Susan Corr of Australasia was brought up on a charge of being out after hours. The punishment was 3 months’ hard labour and return to the Government, her husband having left the Colony.


    Jean Main (per Borneo 1828) in 1834 was returned to the Factory in consequence of the decease of her husband.


    Jean Main was the mother of three small children located in the Queens Orphan School from 1829 to 1832.  There is no record of what happened to her children when she was returned to Government in 1834. An article in The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser Tue 21 May 1839, raised the question of what happened to the children of mothers who were in servitude in instances where the husband died or the female convict was returned to government. ‘These circumstances are placed beyond the means of maintaining and educating their own off-spring’. 


    During the Assignment period – up until 1843 – female convicts were assigned to work for Masters or Mistresses without any wages.  They often had no experience with the tasks assigned to them and received no remuneration for their work; there was little incentive for them to be obliging.

    Further information on the Assignment system:


    The probation system came into effect in 1844. After serving their 6 months’ probation, convicts were classified as probation passholders and hired out, for an annual wage, to employers. Under the probation system, regulations were set in place for hiring probation passholders, issued on 1 July 1844 (ref: The Courier, 26 July 1844 p3).  These regulations included:

    [6]. Whenever such engagements are terminated…. Female Pass-holders are to be returned, under proper charge, to the Factory at Hobart Town or Launceston, whichever may be nearest.[4]

    Further information on the Probation system:


    Return to the House of Correction


    Once returned to the House of Correction, convicts underwent a term of punishment and/or awaited re-assignment.  During this period they would be under strict discipline and compliance determined by the administration of the House of Correction.  As mentioned in the following article published in the Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829, there were procedures for receiving the convicts back into the establishment, whether they were sent there by a magistrate under punishment, or otherwise:

    No Female Convict shall be received into the Establishment (excepting such as may be placed there on their arrival from England) without the written authority or warrant of a Magistrate, stating the offence of which she has been guilty and her sentence,—if any shall have been passed.— Every Female brought to the Establishment shall be placed in the reception-room until she shall have been examined by the Surgeon ;—she shall then be bathed, washed, and dressed in the clothing of the Establishment ; and, if incarcerated for any offence, she shall have her hair cut short. The clothes which she shall have brought with her shall be burned, if foul or unfit to be preserved; but if otherwise, they shall be washed and kept for her benefit on her discharge from the Establishment. All Articles so kept, shall, in the presence of the Female, be entered in the "Private property book," be made up into a parcel, numbered and marked with the name of the Female to whom it belongs, and shall be kept in a place appropriated for that purpose, and shall be delivered up to her on her discharge from the Establishment. The Females are to be placed in three distinct classes, which shall on no account be suffered to communicate with each other.

    The 3rd., or Crime Class, shall consist of those Females who shall have been transported a second time, or who shall have been guilty of misconduct on their passage to the colony,—of those who shall have been convicted of offences before the Supreme Court, who shall have been sent in under the sentence of a Magistrate, or who shall have been guilty of offences within the walls,—they shall never be removed from the 3rd. to the 1st. Class.[5]

    General Regulations:

    [3]. No Female who shall have been returned from service for misconduct, shall be allowed to be again assigned, until she shall have undergone a probation of not less than three months in the 2d. Class ;—in cases of frequent misconduct in previous service, not less than six months,—and, in all cases of dishonesty, not less than twelve. [Rules and Regulations 1829]


    The powers of the Superintendent of Convicts to order ‘moderate’ punishment was called into question in a Colonial Times editorial in 1831:


    There is an important act which requires the attention of our Colonial Secretary. It is an act which empowers the Superintendent of convicts to inflict punishment upon female convicts, by a summary process, without the cognizance of any justice or magistrate whatever, which had previously been required. If the convict is in the service of Government, the Superintendent may even dispense with any complaint or examination of witnesses upon oath, and he may inflict what is termed moderate punishment. This moderate punishment may extend to solitary confinement upon bread and water for 14 days, or to imprisonment and hard labour for three calendar mouths. What Colonial Secretary would dare to justify in Parliament his sanction of a law like this? We would not wish to lessen a single exertion of humanity in favour of the negro, but a little humane attention to other classes of sufferers is devoutedly to be wished.[6]



    [1] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

    [2] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3 

    [3] Con40.

    [4] The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Friday 26 July 1844 p 3

    [5] Hobart Town Gazette on 3 October 1829,

    [6] Colonial Times, Wednesday 9 November 1831 p 3

  • Stocks Open or Close


    Stocks and the pillory were forms of punishment first referenced around 820 AD[1]. They were used in many countries as a means of public humiliation and also, as mentioned by the Examiner in 1907, a form of restraint:


    To cast ridicule and ignominy on offenders, was evidently the chief aim of the judicial authorities in olden days (writes "An Englishman" in the "S.A.Register'), and it was for this reason, no doubt, that such instruments as the stocks, pillory, brank, etc., were the popular agents for inflicting chastisement on those guilty of crimes not considered serious enough to merit death or any of the severer forms of punishment. Every village possessed a pair of stocks - indeed all places which did not do so were not regarded as of sufficient importance to deserve a higher designation than that of hamlet. They were usually placed by the side of the highway in the case of towns, and. in the villages, on the greens. A constable, in default of a better place of security for his prisoner, had a perfect right to confine him for the time being in the stocks, just as he would handcuff him in similar circumstances at the present time.[2]


    The pillory was used in NSW in the early part of the 19th century and considered a superior form of the stocks. Prisoners would stand with their head and arms and / or feet locked into place for a defined number of hours. There is no record of Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) having a pillory.  Instead, the punishment recorded for female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land was “to sit in the stocks” wherein the prisoner would be placed on a low seat with their feet and ankles locked into place.


    A description of the stocks was published in the Examiner in 1907:

    The general form of stocks consisted of two upright posts of wood, between the lower parts of which was extended another piece of wood having two semi-circular holes, or four, if it was thought necessary to provide for the accommodation of two persons, as it usually was cut out of the top of it. These were, of course, the receptacles for the legs of the person. or persons, to be confined; and when the limbs were in position another piece of timber was lowered on to them, in which were cut convex, semi-circular holes, which fitted exactly over those in the under board. These were then clamped or otherwise fastened securely together, so that the person confined was utterly unable to draw his legs, his feet acting as a preventive.[3]


    An illustrated version of the stocks.


    The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 by an Act of Parliament. The stocks, however,  were not formally abolished and the last recorded use was in 1872 in England.[4]  For the female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land the last recorded use was in November 1841.[5] 


    An article from 1832 indicates the stocks used for male and female prisoners in Hobart Town were originally located on the footpath ‘on the highway’ [Macquarie Street], near the old gaol and the Waterloo Inn which was located in Murray Street near the corner of Davey Street. It was an inconvenient location - a ‘public nuisance - and had been the means of seriously injuring several persons, while walking along the footpath’, and especially inconvenient for tripping over in the night. [6]  At one point it was removed in the night, as mentioned in the following extract from The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural 1832:

    But Captain Forster was determined to shew his contempt of public opinion and public convenience by replacing the stocks in the very spot from whence they were moved, and where they now stand as an obstruction on a foot-path which, from it's height, is sufficiently dangerous, even without an obstruction. This is evidently done in the pure spirit of arbitrary contradiction ; for it is a most inconvenient spot, as regards the police themselves. And on a cold day, with a sharp wind, blowing from the river or from the mountain, through the confined space in Murray-street, the punishment of sitting in the stocks must be little short of torture. We know that one poor women died soon after sitting in them, and it was generally believed that her death was accelerated by the sufferings she endured in the stocks. We trust that his excellency will give orders for their removal to some more public and convenient situation. [7]

    The woman mentioned in the above article was Mary Barnett (per Kangaroo 1816, and Alexander 1815) who, on the 12th April 1827, was sentenced by magistrate A.W.H. Humphrey to sit in the stocks for 6 hours. She was free by servitude at the time she was convicted of being ‘drunk and disorderly and found in an indecent situation with a man named Peter Miller last night near the Bee Hive Public House in Murray St at half past 8 o'clock.’  Mary died on the 25th April 1827, aged 41 years. Although a record of her inquest has not been found, the Hobart Town Gazette on 28 April 1827 reported:  Inquisition 'held on the body of Mary Cam, who was found dead lying undressed on her bed on the previous day.  She had been placed in the stocks a fortnight before ...  She has left three small children.'[8]


    Public protest suggested the stocks be relocated to Market Place, as reported in the Colonial Times on 9 October 1821.  This would be in keeping with the stocks in British towns which were commonly located in the market place:

    Our recommendation as to removing the stocks to the Market-place, has not only met with consideration, but the plan suggested has been partially adopted. We had proposed that the plan at Sydney, of elevating the stocks some thirty feet above the ground, should be applied here ; by that means, the parties on whom the punishment is inflicted, would become much more conspicuous. Perhaps, however, as retrenchment is the order of the day, His Excellency will not allow such lavish expenditure on such worthless objects. Be that as it may, both the manner and situation in which the stocks are now placed, is not exactly that which ought to have been chosen; and some wag appears to have thought so, for he has written on the stocks-" For sale ; apply to Captain Forster”.[9]

    The relocation to Market Place eventually went ahead, as evidenced by the 1833 sentence of Dennis Driscoll, who was ordered to sit in the stocks in the Market-place for four hours, for drunkenness.[10]


    The stocks were used as a form of punishment in Hobart Town on 232 occasions between 1813 and 1841, with the majority occurring between 1822 and 1830. A total of 169 female convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks, some on more than one instance.


    The first recorded punishment was 23 February 1813, when Ann Thompson (of the Indispensable into Sydney 1796, and transported to VDL in 1803) was charged with defaming the character of Mr. Huxley and sentenced to sit in the stocks for one hour.  Ann was one of the first female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land but little is known about her and how she ended up being transported to the island.


    In 1816 six convicts were sentenced to sit in the stocks.  One of these was Ann Darcey of the Kangaroo who, on 2 December 1816, was sentenced to sit in the stocks for three hours. In June 1817 Ann was again sentenced to sit in the stocks, this time for 3 hours on 3 successive days, followed by another sentence on 4 August 1817, when she returned to the stocks for 6 hours, this time also wearing an iron collar.  In 1821 she had two further sentences of 2 hours in the stocks.


    It appears that age was no barrier to being placed in the stocks as Mary Ann Whitfield (Lady of the Lake 1829) would have been aged around 50 when sentenced on 30 June 1841 to two hours in the stocks for misconduct arising from intoxication.  The last time the stocks were used for a female convict was in November 1841 when repeat offender Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830), was convicted of misconduct and punished with two hours in the stocks. 



    [2] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [3] ANCIENT PUNISHMENT. IN THE BAD OLD TIMES. Examiner  Saturday 19 January 1907 p 3

    [4] accessed 1/01/2020.

    [5] Four sentences of stocks in 1841 with the last being Mary Wilson (per Eliza 1830) who spent 2 hours in the stocks for misconduct.

    [6] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

    [7] The Colonist and Van Diemen's Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Friday 21 September 1832 p 2

    [8] Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday 28 April 1827 p 2

    [9]> Colonial Times, Tuesday 9 October 1832 p 2

    [10] The Tasmanian, Friday 11 January 1833 p 6




Crime Class
Existing Sentence Extended
Indulgence Revoked (eg The indulgence of being allowed to attend church to be withdrawn)
Probation/Probation Extended

Removed from the District/ Sent or hired, to the interior/assigned to country/not to be assigned to…

Separate Treatment/Separate Apartments
Solitary Confinement/Confined Cells/Solitary Working Cells
Tickets-of-Leave Revoked or Suspended
Transportation/Penal Servitude
Transportation Sentence Extended
Unusual Punishments:

a night on Sarah Island; washing 40 men’s shirts a week; wages stopped;

Wash Tub/Laundry


Punishments used by the Female House of Correction:

Besides the punishments mentioned above, the following could be ordered by the House of Correction supervisor or staff:

  • Gagging Open or Close

    On 19 July 1843, Jane Eskett, who was transported on the Garland Grove, was charged at Cascades Female Factory on the complaint of the Superintendent John Hutchinson with insubordination in openly resisting his lawfully constituted authority on the night of Monday 17 July. Jane pleaded guilty. The case of insubordination was dismissed but she was found guilty of misconduct and received 14 days in solitary confinement. Jane's case is interesting in that John Hutchinson quelled her behaviour by using a gag. At her hearing, the Superintendent stated the following (TAHO, AC480/1/1).

    I am the Superintendent of the Female House of Correction, and on Monday last at 12 o'clock in the day there was a considerable noise and uproar proceeding from the cells. I first went Mrs Stewart to beg they would desist and to inform them if they did not I should come to them, Mrs Stewart is one of the Officers of the Establishment. I was obliged to go to them with cuffs & gags the noise proceeded from Eskith no one of the number she was in one of the cells confined under a special order of the Governor. I opened the cell door in which she was confined, her conduct was so riotous I was compelled to put the gag on. I repeatedly advised her to desist, and at last she did, her behaviour was such as to cause insubordination in the Building so I was compelled to remover her. After she confessed her fault I took off the gag and she then commenced most violent language in consequence of a noise in the adjoining cell. Her language was not bad but violent. I was compelled her to removed her to one of cells. Her language was not bad to me personally. She did not continue violent in the next cell. Eskitt's general conduct up to the time of this disturbance has been very good. There about thirty or thirty five women engaged in the disturbance it did not commence with this woman and she was not worse than the rest. She was using violent language at the time I gagged her she did not fight.



  • Solitary Confinement Box Open or Close







    COPIES of the LAWS and ORDINANCES passed by the Governor and Council of the Colony of Van Diemen's Land: 1826-1830


    Anno Septimo GEORGII IV. REGIS • No. 1.


    By his Excellency Colonel George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of the Island of Van Diemen's Land and its Dependencies, with the Advice of the Legislative Council.


    AN ACT for the Summary Punishment of disorderly Conduct in Female Offenders in the Service of the Government, or of any Inhabitant of Van Diemen's Land; and for vesting in the Principal Superintendent of Convicts the like Powers and Authorities as are given to the several Justices of the Peace, by a Law or Ordinance made in the Sixth Year of His Majesty's Reign, by his Excellency Sir Thomas Brisbane, late Governor of New South. Wales, with the Advice of the Council of that Colony, intituled, "An Act for the Summary Punishment of disorderly Conduct in any Offender in the Service of Government, or of " any Inhabitant of New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land, " and by the present Act.

    WHEREAS; under and by virtue of the said Law or Ordinance, the several Justices Of the Peace in this Colony are authorized to take cognizance, in a summary way, of every complaint made against any such male offender as is therein described, for misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during the term of his transportation or subsisting conviction; and upon conviction of any such offender, to inflict or cause to be inflicted such moderate punishment as in and by the said Law or Ordinance is mentioned and allowed, subject nevertheless to the proviso and restriction therein in that behalf contained; But no provision is thereby made for punishing the misbehaviour and disorderly conduct of female offenders of the like description; For·remedy whereof be it Enacted, by his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land; with the advice of the Legislative Council, That it shall and may be lawful for any Justice assigned to. keep the peace within this Colony, to take cognizance, in a summary way, of any complaint made before him against any female offender convicted in Great Britain, or other parts of The King's dominions, and transported to this Colony, or convicted in this Colony and under sentence or order of transportation for misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during such her term of transportation, or during the time she shall be under such sentence or order of transportation, whether such female offender be in the service of the Government or of  any inhabitant of this Colony or its dependencies, and upon conviction to punish such female offender, either by solitary confinement on bread and water, in any place appointed for safe custody, for any term not exceeding Fourteen days, or by confinement and hard labour in such place for any term not exceeding Three calendar months, according to the nature and degree of the misbehaviour or disorderly conduct.

    Provided alway, That a quarterly return of all sentences imposed by every such Justice, under the authority of this Act, shall be made to the Governor or Acting Governor for the time being of this Colony.

    And whereas, under and by virtue of an Act of Parliament made and passed in the Fifth year of His Majesty's reign, intituled, " An Act for the Transportation of " Offenders from Great Britain," His Majesty is authorized to direct that male offenders convicted in Great Britain, and being under sentence or order of transportation, shall be removed to any part of His Majesty's dominions out of England, and there confined and kept to hard labour, under the custody and management of a Superintendent and an Overseer, to be respectively appointed as therein mentioned; and such Superintendent and Overseer are thereby respectively authorized to inflict upon any such offender who shall be guilty of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct, during such custody, such moderate punishment as shall be allowed by one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; and such Superintendent is thereby authorized, in every such place of confinement, to act in every respect as a Justice of the Peace:

    And whereas the duties of the Principal Superintendent of Convicts in this Colony are similar to those of the said Superintendent mentioned in the said Act of Parliament:

    And whereas the necessity of resorting to the police and other magistrates for the punishment of such male offenders as aforesaid, in the service of the Government, as have been guilty of misbehaviour and disorderly conduct, hath frequently occasioned great hindrance both to the magistrates in the execution of their offices, and to the carrying on of the public works and the maintenance of good order amongst such male and female offenders as aforesaid would be greatly facilitated by giving and conveying to the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts the powers, and authorities hereinafter contained in that behalf:

    Be it therefore further Enacted, by the authority and with the advice aforesaid, That it shall be lawful for the Principal Superintendent of Convicts for the time being to take cognizance, in a summary way, of every complaint made before him against any male or female offender convicted in Great Britain, or any other part of the King's dominions, and transported to this Colony, or convicted in this Colony, and being under sentence or order of transportation for any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct during his or her term of transportation, or during such time as he or she shall be under sentence or order of transportation whether such offender be in the service of the Government, or of any inhabitant of the said Colony or its dependencies; and to examine into, hear, and determine the matter of every such complaint; and upon proof by one or more credible witnesses upon oath, (which oath such Principal Superintendent of Convicts is hereby authorised to administer,) to convict or acquit the offender against whom such complaint shall be made; and also, without the complaint of any other person, and without examination of any witness or witnesses, to convict any such male or female offender, being in the service of the Government, of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct committed by him or her within the view of the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts; and upon every such conviction as aforesaid, to order and cause such moderate punishment to be inflicted upon the offender convicted, as under and by virtue of the said recited Law or Ordinance, and of the present Act, or either of them, any Justice of the Peace is authorized to inflict or cause to be inflicted in a like case.

    Provided alway, That nothing herein contained shall be deemed to authorize any Justice of the Peace, or the said Superintendent of Convicts, to take cognizance of any misbehaviour or disorderly conduct of any such offender as aforesaid, who, at the time of such misbehaviour or disorderly conduct, shall be in the-private service of such Justice, or the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts respectively.

    Provided also, That the said Principal Superintendent of Convicts shall make a weekly Return, on Monday in every week, to the Governor or Acting Governor for the time being of this Colony, of all. convictions made and all punishments ordered by him, under the authority of this Act, during the week preceding every such Report.

    Provided also, That this Act shall continue and: be in force for the term of Two-years from and after the making hereof, and no longer.


    Passed the Council this 1st day of August 1826.

    John Montagu, Clerk of the Council.


Punishment dress

Cleaning the yards

Credit stopped

Night watch

Deprived of comforts: half rations, removal of blankets or straw in bedding, not to be exercised




Further Resources:

Convict Ship Punishments

Inquiry into Female Convict Prison Discipling 1841-1843

Offence Classes

The Prosecution Project:  Tasmanian Courts, Early Justice

Punishment of Convicts in Colonial Australia








Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

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].