Convict Tickets of Leave in NSW 1788 to 1850


Aftermath of the Bigge Report: Governors Brisbane and Darling

In 1822 Earl Bathurst directed Governor Brisbane to adopt Bigge's recommendations concerning tickets of leave (Note 1). These seem to form part of an unsuccessful attempt to deal with the deterrence-cost dichotomy. The benefits previously enjoyed by convicts and ex-convicts would be curtailed, and bad conduct would be dealt with in places of secondary punishment, destined to become places of horror (Note 2).

Land grants in excess of ten acres would no longer be available to emancipists without capital (Note 3). Good behaviour was to be the sole claim for a ticket of leave (Note 4). Female convicts were not to be given tickets of leave on arrival (Note 5).

In 1823 Brisbane rescinded Macquarie's Order of 9 January 1813. Tickets would henceforth be issued every Friday, on presentation of a certificate as to conduct. A scale of minimum periods of service was set, varying according to the length of sentence, and behaviour measured by the number of different masters served (Table 1 and Note 6).

TABLE 1: Minimum waiting periods for ticket of leave - 1823

Period of transportation Period of service Serving faithfully
7 years 4 years 1 master
14 years 6 years 2 masters
life 8 years 3 masters

This clearly represents a hardening in approach, and attempts to match punishment with the crime (as measured by the length of sentence). It was probably not coincidental that as a consequence, masters retained the labour of trained and experienced convicts for a longer period than before (Note 7). The change in approach is apparent from Figures 10 to 12 and Figure 16.

An even harder line was adopted by Governor Darling. Shortly after his arrival in November 1825 Darling ordered that in future no ticket of leave holder would be licensed as publicans, nor allowed to have convict servants assigned to them (Note 8). Longer waiting periods were set by Governor Darling in 1827 (see Table 2 and Note 9).

TABLE 2: Minimum periods for issue of ticket of leave - 1827

Period of transportation Years service with 1 master Years service with 2 masters Years service with 3 masters
7 years 4 5
14 years 6 8 10
life 8 10 12

Transferring from one master to another was regarded as a sign of misbehaviour (Note 10) and extended the waiting period. Where a convict transferred to a new master for reasons other than misconduct the minimum period was reduced accordingly. A master's certificate of good conduct was no longer regarded as essential (Note 11). However, where a convict was convicted of some offence while in service (usually on complaint by his or her master), a ticket was deferred or denied altogether, depending on the seriousness of the offence (Note 12).

The Ticket of Leave Committee in Sydney, set up by Darling to examine all applications, frequently remanded a prisoner for 6-18 months for venial offences, at the end of which the convict needed to show evidence of a reformed character (Note 13), provided presumably by the master. The master clearly retained a powerful influence over the process (Note 14).

Convicts in government service were liable to be retained beyond the period expected, even though of good behaviour. In those cases, wages were to be allowed according to qualifications. However, at this time the demand for labour was high and so too were wages, so these convicts were disadvantaged (Note 15).

Tickets were to be allowed for one district only, except where extended under the reward system, or in other special circumstances (Note 16) (not specified). Benches were authorised to issue passes, not exceeding one month, permitting ticket holders to proceed from one district to another for an expressed purpose (Note 17).

A systematic approach was adopted for rewards (Table 3 and Note 18):

TABLE 3: Governor Darling's reward system for convicts - 1827

Behaviour bringing reward Waiting period for ticket of leave reduced by
Apprehending 2 runaways 6 months
Apprehending 1 bushranger 6 months
Apprehending 1 person guilty of a felony 6 months
Bringing to justice a fellow servant robbing his or her master 6 months
Bringing to conviction a receiver of stolen property 12 months
Ditto - 2 receivers 2 years
Ditto - 3 receivers ticket of leave received immediately

Ticket of leave holders performing the above meritorious services were to be rewarded with greater freedom, by having their tickets extended to two or more districts (Note 19). The holding of a ticket of leave for six years was sufficient recommendation for obtaining a conditional pardon, good conduct being implicit in the retention of a ticket (Note 20).

As part of the system, a new Ticket of Exemption from Government Labour was introduced. It conferred on the holder the privilege of residing in a specified district with a named person until the following 31 December. Unlike a ticket of leave it did not confer permission for the holder to obtain employment for his or her own benefit or to acquire property (Note 21). Its purpose is evident from the printed form used. It was designed to permit convicts to live with their wives (Note 22), without having to grant a ticket of leave or to assign a male convict to his free wife (Note 23). In practice the ticket of exemption was almost always used for this purpose (Note 24). The Principal Superintendent of Convicts regarded the records for these tickets as confidential (Note 25), perhaps because the tickets provided an opportunity for granting privileges to those with patronage.

For ticket of exemption butts sampled for 1827 to 1832 the average waiting time from arrival was about the same as for tickets of leave for convicts serving seven and fourteen year sentences. However for those serving life, tickets of exemption from government labour were granted on average about three years earlier than tickets of leave. About three-quarters of tickets of exemption were to convicts with life sentences (Note 26).

Darling's new regulations met with the approval of the Colonial Secretary (Note 27). Locally the Monitor was critical of such "severe measures" which would drive prisoners to despair and encourage crime (Note 28).

In 1829 shorter waiting periods were established for female convicts at two, three and four years for sentences of seven and fourteen years and for life, primarily as a means of encouraging marriage or settling in business (Note 29).

Darling asserted in 1830 that the rules laid down had been strictly adhered to (Note 30), but relaxed them somewhat in that year. After continued good conduct for two, three or four years (for sentences of seven years, fourteen years, or life) a convict was entitled to apply to have his family assisted to emigrate. On arrival, such convicts might expect to receive a ticket of leave or exemption from labour. A ticket could even be granted sooner, if the family were to come out at their own expense. In 1831 an order provided that convicts serving as constables for three years would be entitled to a ticket of leave (Note 31).

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 4: From Governor Bourke until 1850


Note 1 Bathurst to Brisbane, 9 September 1822: HRA, I, 10, 789-90.

Note 2 Port Macquarie (1821)and Moreton Bay (1826) were established in the 1820s, and Norfolk Island re-established in 1826, as a place of secondary punishment. In Van Diemen's Land, Macquarie Harbour (1822) and Port Arthur (1830) were established.

Note 3 HRA , I, 10, 790.

Note 4 C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia , I, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1962, 372; HRA, I, 10. 784-90.

Note 5 HRA , I, 10, 789.

Note 6 HRA, I, 11, 82.

Note 7 The selective evidence collected by Bigge supported extending the minimum period of service before indulgence: see e.g. William Lowe, JP, Minto, to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , II, 59-60.

Note 8 Darling to Bathurst, 1 May 1826, and Government Notice, dated 13 March 1826: HRA , I, 12, 248-9. Approval by Bathurst, to Darling, 27 Sept 1826: HRA , I, 12, 587-8. Until the practice was prohibited later, licences could be held by a ticket of leave holder's wife: see D'Arcy Wentworth to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , I, 49.

Note 9 HRA , I, 13, 3.

Note 10 If dissatisfied with their situation, some convicts intentionally misbehaved in order to be sent back to government, and assigned to another master. The scale was intended to deter this practice.

Note 11 Ibid .

Note 12 In 1827 Cunningham recommended that a convict should be sent to a penal gang for misconduct, to prevent masters from making frivolous complaints against their good servants in order to keep them longer: Peter Cunningham, Two Years in New South Wales (David Macmillan, ed), Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1966, 330. Darling was aware of this abuse by some masters: Darling to Bathurst, 2 Jan 1827, HRA , I, 13, 2-3.

Note 13 HRA , I, 14, 315-16. A flogging brought delay, but if for theft every indulgence was forfeited: see "State of Convicts in New South Wales, 1835", a broadsheet reproduced in Ingleton, op cit , 160.

Note 14 For accusations of abuse by masters and magistrates see evidence of Hitchcock at his trial in Geoffrey Ingleton, True Patriots All, or News from Early Australia as told in a Collection of Broadsides , Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1952, 150, extracting from the Sydney Gazette , 9 & 10 Dec 1833; for the background to the trial see B.T. Dowd & Averil Fink, "Harlequin of the Hunter: Major James Mudie of Castle Forbes" Parts I & II, (1968) 54 JRAHS 368 & (1969) 55 JRAHS 83.

Note 15 This was practiced to a very limited extent in Macquarie's time, when the convicts were rewarded with extra grants of land and cattle at the end of their time: Druitt to Bigge, in Ritchie, Evidence , I, 25.

Note 16 HRA , I, 13, 3-5.

Note 17 Ibid.

Note 18 Ibid .

Note 19 HRA , I, 13, 3-5.

Note 20 HRA , I, 13, 3-5 & 182.

Note 21 J.H. Plunkett, The Australian Magistrate , 1835, 405, quoted in AANSW, Guide to the Convict Records in the Archives Office of New South Wales , Sydney, 1981 (hereafter Guide 14 ), 113.

Note 22 Blank forms may be seen on AANSW Reel 589. They state that "The permitted..during good behaviour, to be exempt from Government labor, and to reside with his wife, the district of...provided [he] ...regularly attend Muster and Divine Worship...".

Note 23 In 1817 Macquarie reported that convicts were always assigned to their free wives when they arrived, with the purpose of the convict providing for his family: Macquarie to Bathurst, 1 April 1817: HRA , I, 9, 241.

Note 24 On some occasions convict women were also given these tickets to live with their convict husbands, who also had such tickets. See Appendix 5, Table 51.

Note 25 HRA , I, 14, 66-7.

Note 26 See Appendix 5, Tables 51 & 52. Note that the number of tickets of exemption to convicts with 7 & 14 year sentences in the random sample was too small to give much weight for the purposes of this comparison, although the life sentence figures are more reliable.

Note 27 Viscount Goderich to Darling, 5 Aug 1827: HRA , I, 13, 494.

Note 28 The Monitor , 16 March 1827, per Darling to Under Secretary Hay, 23 March 1827: HRA , I, 13, 181-2.

Note 29 HRA , I, 14, 653-7.

Note 30 Darling to Sir George Murray, 22 December 1830: HRA , I, 15, 861. See also Figures 10 to 12.

Note 31 Referred to in Bourke to Goderich, 20 Nov 1832: HRA , I, 16, 803.

The next part is Ticket of Leave Regulations, Part 4: From Governor Bourke until 1850
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    ©   Copyright Sid Hammell 1992: last updated August 2008
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