Convict Tickets of Leave in NSW 1788 to 1850


In Governor Macquarie's Time

Soon after his arrival Governor Macquarie issued a proclamation revoking a number of decisions taken during the interregnum, including land grants and appointments to offices of public trust, but was silent on the question of pardons and tickets of leave (Note 1). A general muster of all inhabitants of the colony (civil and military excluded) was called in January 1811 (Note 2), and tickets may well have been addressed at that time.

The home government apparently acquiesced in the practice of issuing tickets of leave. The 1812 Select Committee on Transportation thought that the power of granting tickets of leave ought to remain with the governor, although to be used sparingly (Note 3). This seems to have been the official position in the UK for the next decade (Note 4).

In 1813 the minimum period of service required before application was made for a ticket of leave was formally set at three years. Applications for indulgences were now to be presented only once a year Note 5), and were to be accompanied by certificates from clergymen and magistrates of the district wherein the applicant resides. They were not to sign the certificates unless well informed of the circumstances, and satisfied that the applicant was sober, industrious and honest, and deserving of the indulgence Note 6). The main source for information about assigned convicts was their masters, who on occasion abused the power this gave (Note 7). The Principal Superintendent of Convicts also wielded a great deal of power by virtue of the position he held (Note 8).

Macquarie permitted a number of exceptions to his rules. He regarded having a wife and family to support as a strong claim to the indulgence, and for gentlemen who brought very high recommendations from Home he was induced to grant tickets immediately on their arrival (Note 9). Sampling of the convict records indicates that Macquarie granted a significant proportion of tickets before the minimum of three years, although he was a little harder on the longer term prisoners (see Figures 10 to 12).

Under the 1813 rules tickets continued to be liable to forfeiture for misconduct. Gross misconduct would carry the additional punishment of work in the coal mines at Newcastle. Very few convicts were called in because their labour was required by the government (Note 10). This is consistent with reports of labour surpluses in Macquarie's time (Note 11).

In 1814 Macquarie issued orders rebuking the magistrates for not complying with his Order of 9 January 1813 in generally failing to subscribe memorials as to good conduct, and in recommending tickets in many instances to those not entitled to them. Macquarie rejected the latter (Note 12). This does not suggest undue leniency, although later in the decade Macquarie was accused of granting the indulgence much too readily, and in circumstances other than of good conduct (Note 13). Figure 16 tends to support the accusations.

Accusations of bartering indulgences in exchange for work done or equipment lent or provided were also made to Bigge, not without justification (Note 14).

Reverend Marsden thought the regulation period of three years too short, but felt the governor ought to retain a discretion the grant earlier tickets (Note 15).

The tide was turning. The authorities in the UK were concerned that transportation had ceased to be an effective deterrent to crime, notwithstanding the obvious increase caused by the depression at the end of the Napoleonic wars and the massive unemployment resulting (Note 16). Commissioner Bigge was sent by Bathurst with a brief to find ways of increasing deterrence (Note 17) and implicitly to find fault with Macquarie's administration. There was a real conflict here between increasing severity, and thereby deterrence, and minimising expenditure. Reduction of expenditures was the regular and frequent order to the governors of NSW throughout the period (Note 18) even after land revenue in the 1830s began to be used to meet some of the costs associated with transportation (e.g. police and gaols)(Note 19).

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 3: During the 1820s under Governors Brisbane and Darling


Note 1 Sydney Gazette, 7 Jan 1810, repeated 14 January.

Note 2 Government and General Order: Sydney Gazette 19 Jan 1811. A reminder appeared in the Gazette on 23 Feb 1811. See General Musters of New South Wales Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land 1811 (hereafter the 1811 Muster), Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, North Sydney, 1987, pp.xii-xiii.

Note 3 House of Commons Select Committee on Transportation, 1812 (hereafter 1812 Select Committee), Report, in M. Clark (ed), Sources of Australian History, Oxford, University Press, London, 1957, p.121. An annual report of numbers, with reasons for granting, was recommended: ibid.

Note 4 Cited with approval by Earl Bathurst to Brisbane, 18 March 1825: HRA , I, 11, 545-6.

Note 5 The first Monday in December.

Note 6 Sydney Gazette, 9 January 1813; HRA, I, 7, 783-4.

Note 7 Masters were accused of frequently making bargains with their assigned convict servants for extra work in exchange for recommendations for tickets of leave or emancipations, irrespective of their character or behaviour: see e.g. Robert Cartwright to Bigge, in John Ritchie, The Evidence to the Bigge Reports (hereafter Ritchie, Evidence ), 2 vols, William Heinemann, Melbourne, 1971, Vol. I, 158; William Howe to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , II, 57. At the other end of the scale we have John Macarthur, who stated that he never recommended any of his men to Macquarie for tickets of leave, as none were deserving: John Macarthur to Bigge, ibid , 80.

Note 8 Bigge was suspicious of his power of recommendation: J.T. Bigge, "Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the state of the Colony of New South Wales" (hereafter First Report ), British Parliamentary Papers, Colonies, Australia, Vol.I-1822-1835 (hereafter BPP 1), 128.

Note 9 Macquarie to Bathurst, 28 June 1813: HRA , I, 7, 779-80.

Note 10 Ibid . See also below.

Note 11 See e.g. W.C. Wentworth, Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales, Whitaker, London, 1819 (Doubleday Australia, Lane Cove, 1978), 104; Macquarie to Bathurst, 12 Dec 1817 and 16 May 1818: HRA , I, 9, 711 & 794; Macquarie to Bathurst, 20 July 1819 and 28 Feb 1820: HRA , I, 10, 191 & 279.

Note 12 Government and General Order, 10 December 1814: HRA , IV, 1, 143.

Note 13 See e.g. Robert Lowe J.P.(a landowner at Bringelly), to Bigge, 1820, in Ritchie, Evidence , II, 52; Rev. Cartwright to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , I, 158. But cf. evidence of the Chief Engineer (NSW), who referred to "several whose characters and crimes are too notorious to suffer them to be at large": Druitt to Bigge, ibid , 25.

Note 14 See e.g. Rev. Cartwright to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , I, 158; James Blake to Bigge, ibid , 179. Blake was an ex-convict who worked on the Bathurst Road and minded Cox's sheep at Bathurst while employed as a government servant. His promised emancipation didn't come.

Note 15 Rev. Samuel Marsden to Bigge, 1820, in Ritchie, Evidence , II, 115.

Note 16 See e.g. E.J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire : The Pelican Economic History of Britain , III , Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1968, 93; W.H.B. Court, A Concise Economic History of Britain: From 1750 to Recent Times , Cambridge University Press, London, 1967, 150-1. See also Figure 5 for increase in convict arrivals.

Note 17 Bathurst's Instructions to Commissioner Bigge, 6 Jan 1819: HRA , I, 10, 4; Bathurst to Macquarie, 30 Jan 1819: ibid , 2-3.

Note 18 There are many references to required retrenchments in the correspondence. See e.g. Hunter to to Portland, 27 June 1797: HRA , I, 2, 31; Macquarie to Liverpool, 9 Nov 1812: HRA , I, 7, 534; Macquarie to Bathurst, 19 Jan 1814, and Bathurst to Macquarie, 3 Feb 1814: HRA , I, 8, 120 & 132; Bathurst to Macquarie, 24 July 1816: HRA , I, 9, 150-1; Macquarie to Bathurst (Report), 27 July 1822: HRA , I, 10, 680; Bathurst to Darling, 31 March 1827 & 2 April 1827: HRA , I, 13, 215 & 221; Goderich (per Under Sec Hay) to Darling, 14 Dec 1830: HRA , I, 15, 829-30; Goderich to Bourke, 28 March 1833: HRA , I, 17, 61.

Note 19 Bourke reported a revenue surplus in 1837, but complained that the actual cost of police and gaols was higher than estimated when those were placed as charges against colonial revenue in 1834: Bourke to Glenelg, 1 Jan 1837, Bourke to Glenelg, 8 Sept 1837 HRA , I, 18, 634 & vol.19, 81.

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 3: During the 1820s under Governors Brisbane and Darling

©   Copyright Sid Hammell 1992: last updated August 2008
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