After the colony of New South Wales became well established and permanent buildings had been
erected, a routine for handling new arrivals was set in place.
Martin Cash described his arrival in 1828:
"On the 10th February, 1828, we arrived at Sydney, and on landing we were drafted to Hyde Park
Barracks, which formed the general depot at that time for receiving prisoners. The assignment
or hiring-out system had then come into operation, and myself, together with eighteen or
nineteen of my companions in misery, were forwarded to different masters in Richmond."
Female convicts were sent directly to the Female Factory although some did not actually live in
the factory, but nearby and came in every day to work. Many also remained only for a day or so
as they were sent to work for free settlers, or even convict settlers, and many also married
very quickly. The idea was that any man wanting to marry one of the girls would apply. The girls
were lined up at the Factory and the man would drop a scarf or handkerchief at the feet of the
woman of his choice. If she picked it up, the marriage was virtually immediate.
Children of convict women either stayed with their mothers or were moved to an orphanage. Young
convict girls were also employed in the Femal Factory and young convict boys were housed in the
Carter's Barracks in Sydney.
Well behaved convicts could apply to have their families brought out from England and in some
cases they could be assigned to work for their free settler families. In 1836 Nancy Ryan was
brought to New South Wales to be reunited with her convict husband. Together with many other
women and children, she arrived on the Thomas Harrison and waited on board for three weeks while
the ship lay at anchor in the harbour. She was then moved to Hyde Park Barracks with her three
young daughters to await further arrangements for meeting with her convict husband.
Most convicts were assigned to settlers and emancipated convicts after an application for a
convict servant or worker was lodged with the Governor. Some married convicts were even assigned
to their free spouses. Very few assignment registers have survived but the Assignment Registers
of 1821 to 1824 do exist. They are indexed and record names, ships, assignment dates, masters,
residences and dates and reasons for return. Occasionally they give occupations and other
details as well.
The 1828 census provides a column for "employer". Convicts were often listed as "Government
Servants" (GS) while serving time. The Mitchell Library in Sydney holds some of the Tasmanian
Assignment papers but in the Tasmanian Archives there are a further eleven volumes of Assignment
Lists and Associated papers covering the periods 1810 to 1826, 1830 to 1836 and 1845 to 1852.
The worst type of convicts were assigned to hard labour in iron-gangs and set to work on roads.
Road gang reports (1827-1830) supplied convict number, name, ship, job, casualties, discharge
details, the place stationed and the overseer. There is also a list of men in irons on Norfolk
Island and Moreton Bay (1839-1840). State Archives hold other records for Iron Gangs and Road
There are 48 volumes of conduct registers in Tasmania covering male convicts from 1803 to 1843.
They give information about the convicts' history before arrival and details of their working
career in the colony. The early history includes offence, date and place of trial, sentence, and
from 1816 onwards, a gaol report, hulk report and marital status. By 1821 relatives and religion
were also included. Convict confessions or statements of their crimes were also recorded and
they often give clues to previous offences, connections and lifestyle.
Ten volumes of conduct registers are also devoted to female convicts in Tasmania between 1803
and 1843 and they record similar details to the mens' registers. Most women were assigned to
work, even after a new assignment system was implemented in 1844.
Musters & Censuses
Musters (head counts) of prisoners were needed to keep a check on supply and demand on the
Government Stores. Usually they recorded the name, ship, sentence and residence of the convicts.
Some also included children of convicts and free persons. The 1828 Census of New South Wales is
the most detailed and best surviving record of its type and is kept in most major libraries.
Musters and censuses are available for the years:
1788; 1803; 1806 (3 versions); 1808; 1810-1820; 1811; 1814; 1819;
A comprehensive list of the surviving census records has been presented elsewhere on this site
together with a list of the 3217 convicts and free settlers who received Government rations in
Sydney on September 8, 1821.
1823; 1825 (2 versions); 1826-1828; 1828; 1829; 1830;
1832 (2 versions); 1833; 1835;
1836 (2 versions); 1837 (2 versions); 1841; 1842; 1843; 1846; 1849 and 1851.
Marriage & Divorce
Divorce was not available to the common person until the late 1800s and was expensive and
scandalous. Previously married convicts were permitted to remarry after seven years' separation
as long as their spouse was abroad, even if they were still living. The Government encouraged
marriage between convicts as it was seen as a means of rehabilitation and more desirable than
de facto relationships.
Quite a few married women were transported with their children and some shipping entries record
their husbands' names as well. Convicts could also petition the Government to allow their
families to come to the colony but they had to be eligible through good behaviour for this
privilege. Most of these records are held on films covering applications from convicts for free
passages for wives and children between 1824 to 1842 and 1847 to 1850, although a number of
muster papers also survive from ships which detailed the names of convicts' families.
Applications to Marry can also provide information that is not recorded on marriage records and
they are available on microfilm. Some of the applications were refused, especially when false
names were given in an attempt to negate previous marriage information which had been recorded
on original conviction records.
Tasmanian records cover Applications for Family Migration from 1834 to 1843 and 1859 to 1864 and
Applications to Marry from 1834 to 1857. There are also some women's marriage applications from
March 1853 to December 1854. In Western Australia, four volumes of Applications to Marry, as
well as details of deaths and Conditional Pardon Applications, are held in the Battye Library.
Women convicts were usually assigned to domestic service. Instead of Iron Gangs, troublesome and
hardened prisoners were sent to the Female Factory. Although some convict women were classed as
depraved and prostitutes, others had been in domestic service in England and had stolen from
their employers or shops and were transported for petty crimes. On arrival many had to take up
prostitution to survive and the system of selection of servants often meant that the gentry and
officers could choose the pretty young convicts.
The first female factory was built at Parramatta in 1804 and initially consisted of a single
long room with a fireplace at one end for the women to cook on. Women and girls made rope and
span and carded wool. Their accomodation was very basic and they slept on the piles of wool. A
three-storey barracks and female factory was built in 1821 and was mainly used to house women
convicts who had committed local offences, convict women with children and convict girls who
were unsuitable for work with the settlers. In time, the work done in the female factory became
less difficult with needlework and laundry becoming the main duties.
Convict Children and Children of Convicts
Male and female orphanages housed the children of women in the Female Factory and records of
admissions, returns for work done, returns of punishment, and medical reports of Factory inmates
are held in the SAONSW.
Juvenile male offenders transported to New South Wales were housed at a place called Carter's
Barracks. They were taught a trade and released on a tied apprenticeship system with the promise
of a gaol sentence if their masters lodged any complaints against them. Carter's Barracks
records are also held in the SAONSW.
Girl convicts were assigned as servants to settlers or employed in the female factories at
Parramatta in New South Wales and later in Hobart, Tasmania.
Large numbers of boy convicts aged between 9 and 18 were sent to Tasmania in the early 1830s,
and although a few were assigned to settlers, on the whole, they were too small for the rough
work of clearing the land, quarrying stone and building roads. As their number grew and concern
for their future rose, a separate Boys' Establishment was established for them at Point Puer.
After building the establishment, the boys were trained in many skills so Point Puer could be
self sufficient and so they could be equipped with skills to use in their life of freedom.
Although not officially classed as convicts, another group of boys called the Parkhurst Boys
were sent to Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and New Zealand. They had been rehabilitated at
Parkhurst Prison and were transported under a similar arrangement to the exiles who began to
arrive a few years later. The aim was to apprentice them to local settlers.
Records of convicts who died while still under sentence are available in the SAONSW. The
registers cover the period of 1828 to 1879 and an appendix to the 1828 Census records people who
died within a few years of 1828. The records also give such causes of death as shooting,
drowning and native attack.