Convict Tickets of Leave in NSW 1788 to 1850


The primary objective of the ticket of leave system was as an incentive to good conduct of a convict population not enclosed within prison walls. As a reward for good conduct or desired behaviour, such as catching bushrangers, or accepting the role as a policeman, it controlled the behaviour of those who sought it. The desire to retain a ticket operated to control the behaviour of its holder, for fear of forfeiture. A ticket was not the only incentive of course, but it played a crucial role in the convict system in NSW. It began in an ad-hoc way, but developed into a key step in the graduated path to emancipation. It became more important to the system over time.

The control of convict behaviour was clearly advantageous to the government, as did the use of ticket-holders in administering the system. So too were the financial savings it brought, especially when the demand for assigned servants was low, before the 1820s. Later, when the demand for labour was high, especially in the bush, ticket-holders could be kept in the local district by the magistrates recommending the tickets for their area. This retained skill and experience which otherwise might be lost.

But there were other less tangible advantages. The patronage wielded by those upon whose recommendation tickets depended ought not be overlooked. Ideologically, acceptance of by participation in the ticket system reinforced the authority of those in power.

From the convict's point of view, tickets represented a real improvement in his or her lot. Opportunities were available, particularly in the early years, to acquire property and carry on business or a trade. However, the ability to defend one's new found wealth dissipated over the period. Ticket-holders were denied the civil rights established by NSW practice, by Imperial enactment. This was part of an overall hardening of the convict system from the 1820s onwards, attempting without success to increase deterrence. Waiting periods for tickets were lengthened, and tighter control was exercised over the process.

Tickets of leave were also important to the dismemberment of the convict system in the 1840s and early 1850s. An easing of the rules for granting of tickets brought the ticket system back to where it started, but the associated legal rights which were whittled away did not return completely. A ticket-holder still could not own land, although the right to protect personal property was placed on a firmer footing.

The next part is Appendix 1: Statistical sampling of convict records
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    ©   Copyright Sid Hammell 1992: last updated 27 June 2005
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