Convict Tickets of Leave in NSW 1788 to 1850


Before Governor Macquarie

The earliest Order I have been able to find was issued by Acting Governor King (see Note 1) on 10 February 1801. It called for all convicts off the stores to attend and receive their tickets of leave. King ordered that those failing to attend would be immediately called in to government labour. Those holding tickets already were to attend and have them renewed (see Note 2). This indicates that tickets had originated earlier, although King is credited with introducing the ticket of leave in the sense used in the period after 1800.

There is evidence showing that some tickets were issued by Governor Hunter, and that formal application was required by him (see Note 3). However, it seems that the original ticket of leave was a certificate issued by the Commissary to persons allowed to be off the stores. Its main purpose seems to have been as a control over the movement of convicts. Those on the stores would be known to the local officials because of their regular appearance at the store to collect their rations. A person not known to officials and not carrying a pass or a ticket of leave was presumed to be a runaway and was to be apprehended. Time expired convicts without the Commissary's certificate were not to be employed by the settlers (see Note 4).

A pass issued in 1819 (Note 28).

Tickets of leave were issued originally to both free and freed who were off the stores (see Note 5). They were also issued to convicts who claimed their time had expired, pending proper indents arriving from home. There was a perceived danger of losing control over these men if not liberated when their time expired (see Note 6). The certificate system was extended to time-expired female convicts in 1797 (see Note 7).

Governor Hunter later denied ever having issued tickets to convicts whose times had not expired (see Note 8). However, there was at least one instance of wealthy and educated convicts being on their own hands and off the stores prior to King's time (see Note 9). A number of convicts were also placed in positions of trust, such as constables. Although working for the government, the nature of the jobs meant that they had a greater degree of freedom than other convicts (see Note 10).

King gave separate certificates of freedom to time expired convicts, who were also required to attend musters.

King brought some system to tickets "to prevent irregularities and the loss of labour". Tickets would only go to the industrious and well behaved (see Note 11), and only to those who had been in the colony for two to three years, by reference to the arrival of specified ships (see Note 12) i.e. at this time there was no fixed minimum waiting period. Prisoners were also required to find sufficient security for their good behaviour (see Note 13). This was usually given by the master of an assigned servant, who was also required to give testimony to the convict's good conduct (see Note 14). Ticket holders were to attend regular musters, although this may initially have been difficult to enforce, requiring as it did the threat of the gaol gang for twelve months as sanction (see Note 15).

From the first it was recognised that having well behaved convicts off the stores resulted in a significant financial saving to the government, while representing a minimal security risk (see Note 16). Tickets were liable to be revoked for any insolence to an officer, soldier or constable (who might himself be a convict), imposition in demands for labour, neglect of work, and idleness. The convict would be recalled to government labour and might also be punished in other ways (see Note 17).

Governor Bligh does not seem to have held much hope for reformation of his charges (see Note 18) and does not appear to have issued any ticket of leave regulations. Indeed, he later stated that he did not approve of the system (see Note 19).

No regulations for tickets seem to have been made during the interregnum. The Military Administration was accused of evading the necessity of drawing Bills on the British Treasury by adopting every artificial means possible to make rigid economies, particularly by dispensing with the labour of many of the convicts and striking them off the stores (see Note 20). The custom said to prevail was that almost every convict who behaved well during the voyage, and could exercise any trade or profession for his own support, was allowed to be at large in the colony without any special control or obligation (see Note 21).

A sample taken from the indents indicates that these accusations may be unfounded, perhaps based on a few noticeable instances, or designed to attack political enemies (see Figures 13 to 15)(see Note 22).

It was also alleged that female convicts were on arrival selected by the inhabitants "not only as servants but as avowed objects of intercourse" (see Note 23). It is not clear whether these convicts were actually given tickets, but presumably the females were assigned as servants.

The ticket of leave system did not operate equally on female convicts. Most of the females were sentenced to seven years, and were therefore less likely to get a ticket than men with longer sentences (see Note 24). They were being sent as wives to be (see Note 25).

The ticket of leave regulations and practice mirrored this expectation. Because their sentences were shorter, it might be expected that a smaller proportion of females received tickets. In practice, females were at first assigned to men and regarded as concubines. In this position there was little need to obtain a ticket of leave. They were already off stores, and unlikely to be able to support themselves legally if released from their master.

When such practices were regulated against, more females found their way to the factory (see Note 26). Many sought escape by accepting marriage offers when lined up for inspection by prospective husbands (see Note 27). In these cases it is not clear whether the new wives were given tickets of leave or assigned to their husbands.

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 2: During Governor Macquarie's time


Note 1 Although King took over from Hunter on the latter's departure in September 1800, he did not receive a full commission until February 1802: Historical Records of Australia , Series IV, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1922 (hereafter HRA, IV), Vol.1, xix.

Note 2 Historical Records of Australia , Series I, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1922 (hereafter HRA, I) HRA, I, 3, 48.

Note 3 Hunter issued tickets of leave to 5 convicts who arrived on the Marquis Cornwallis in 1796 and claimed their sentences had expired. Their seven year sentences would have expired in May 1800, but their names had been omitted from the indents, so tickets were issued while awaiting details from home. A sixth convict did not receive his ticket because he failed to make application when the others did, and remained in government employ: Archives Authority of New South Wales (hereafter AANSW), COD 9, p.278. No other references to tickets of leave appear on COD 9, which covers indents for arrivals from 1788 to 1800.

Note 4 See e.g. "Instructions for the Constables of the Country Districts", a notice of 16 Nov 1796, reproduced in Geoffrey Ingleton, True Patriots All: or News from early Australia as told in a Collection of Broadsides , Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1952, 16.

Note 5 See Musters and Lists New South Wales and Norfolk Island 1800-1802 (hereafter 1800 Muster), Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, North Sydney, 1988, 24 & 33.

Note 6 See Gov. Hunter example above. See also Hunter to Portland, 25 June 1797: Historical Records of New South Wales (hereafter HRNSW ), Lansdown Slattery & Co, Mona Vale, 1978, Vol. III, 235. The earlier practice of detaining time expired convicts because of inadequate records was criticised by Jeremy Bentham in his "Plea for a Constitution": HRA , IV, 1, 893.

Note 7 Government and General Order of 29 August 1797: HRNSW , III, 291.

Note 8 Hunter, Evidence to 1812 Select Committee: BPP 6, 47-8. But cf. an statement made by Hunter to the Duke of Portland, 20 June 1797, complaining of costs, and which referred to his having "many [convicts] whose time being nearly expired will be discharged [from the store] if they desire it": HRNSW , III, 226.

Note 9 George Crossley is shown in the 1800 Muster (taken before King took office in September) as a landowner off the stores, supporting his wife and some of his assigned servants: see 1800 Muster, records AC154, AC247, AA032, AD029, AH149, BD053 & BG193. Crossley later received his conditional pardon from King.

Note 10 E.g. Kable in 1789: Don Chapman, 1788 The People of the First Fleet , Doubleday, Sydney, 1981, 56; David Neal, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony , Cambridge University Press, Oakleigh, Vic, 1991, 143; see also Alex Castles, An Australian Legal History , Law Book Co, North Ryde, 1982, 86-7. Barrington was appointed High Constable at Rose Hill in 1791: Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney's First Four Years , Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1979, 257-8.

Note 11 King to Portland, 1 March 1802: HRA , I, 3, 424.

Note 12 By Order dated 12 January 1802 prisoners were not to make application to go off the stores if they arrived after the Hillsborough : HRA, I, 3, 470. The Hillsborough arrived 26 July 1799, which works out at about two and a half years: see Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868 , 2nd ed, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1983, 157. By Order dated 12 January 1803 prisoners were not to make requests for indulgences if they arrived after the Friendship: HRA, I, 4, 331. The Friendship arrived 16 February 1800 (Bateson, 157) which works out at just under three years.

Note 13 See e.g. HRA, I, 2, 625 (Order of 3 Oct 1800), HRA, I, 3, 470 (Order of 12 Jan 1802). Where ticket of leave holders leased land, their lessor was required to give security for good conduct during the term of the agreement: HRA, I, 5, 89-90 (Order of 28 July 1804).

Note 14 The master might also recommend a pardon: Order of 6 Feb 1802, in HRA, I, 3, 472.

Note 15 See e.g. HRA, I, 5, 70 & 89-90.

Note 16 See King to Portland, 1 March 1802: HRA , I, 3, 424.

Note 17 Order dated 6 Feb 1802: HRA, I, 3, 472-3.

Note 18 See e.g. Bligh to Windham (Sec of State for Colonies Feb 1806 to March 1807), 31 Oct 1807: HRA, I, 6, 148.

Note 19 Bligh, "Minutes of Evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transportation for 1812" (hereafter 1812 Select Committee), British Parliamentary Papers, Colonies, Australia, Vol.I, 1822-1835 (hereafter BPP 6), Irish University Press, Shannon, Ireland, 1970, 47.

Note 20 HRA, I, 7, 534-5.

Note 21 T.W. Plummer to Colonel Macquarie, 4 May 1809: HRA , I, 7, 197, at 204.

Note 22 See also Appendix 3, Tables 301 to 309, Appendix 6, Table 611, and Appendix 9, Table 91. The number of tickets issued in this decade is not certain (see Appendix 1), although comparing 7 & 14 year ticket rates in Tables 301 and 304 suggests if anything a reduced rate of ticket issue. The rate for lifers went up, but they may have received tickets in Macquarie's administration, as hinted at by the average waiting time for lifers in 1810-1815 of 8 years (Table 611), suggesting that most of these convicts would have arrived prior to 1810.

Note 23 Ibid , 205.

Note 24 Compare male and female sentences in Appendix 3 for arrivals between 1796 and 1823. Less than 50% of males had 7 year sentences, whereas over 75% of females had 7 years. Figures 13, 14 and 15 show that a short term prisoner was less likely to get a ticket, and probably more likely to serve out his or her time.

Note 25 See Figure 5 for disparity between the sexes of the convicts.

Note 26 In response to the Bigge Report: see HRA , I, 11, 76.

Note 27 See e.g. Rev. James Hassall, In Old Australia , Brisbane, 1902 (Library of Australian History, North Sydney, 1977), 12.

Note 28 From Donald Horne, The Story of the Australian People , Sydney, 1985 (Readers Digest).

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 2: During Governor Macquarie's time

©   Copyright Sid Hammell 1992: last updated 25 April 2005
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