Inside the Collection

Convict jacket

Photograph of Convict jacket 1855-1880
A9762, jacket, mens, convict period, felted wool, maker unknown (war department, made in Great Britain, worn in Australia, 1855-1880

This coarse wool jacket is a reminder of the harsh life experienced by convicts in colonial times. Conspicuous, two- coloured uniforms were made to differentiate troublesome convicts and humiliate them, and ensured it was difficult to escape undetected.

For convicts transported to the colonies of Australia, inadequate clothing was one of the many hardships to be endured. Although many thousands of convicts were transported to New South Wales between 1788 and 1840, few articles of convict clothing have survived. They were not considered prized items to be preserved. The Australian Dress Register documents a few convict items.

Leg irons, convict, maker / place / date unknown
H5458 Leg irons, convict, maker / place / date unknown

‘the sound of their irons clanking in unison rang through the streets’  Some convict wore leg irons like these all the time. each step was restrained by two feet of chain that linked to fetters on their legs. Other methods of controlling and punishing convicts included cat o’ nine tails and working on a chain gang with ten pounds or more attached the leg irons.

Convicts were transported to New South Wales for a wide variety of offences. Most commonly it was theft which included pick-pocketing, sheep and horse stealing, highway robbery, burglary, housebreaking and receiving stolen goods.

Copy of conditional pardon, 1847
A7823, Copy of conditional pardon, 1847

We don’t know what John Slades crime was. We do know that he received a conditional pardon in 1847. Slade was as an errand boy in 1825 sentenced to be transported to the Colony of New South Wales for the period of his natural life. After serving twenty two years he was granted this conditional pardon for good behaviour. This kind of pardon meant individuals were not allowed to leave the penal colony to which they had been transported until the term of their original sentence had expired, from 7 or 14 years to life.

Written by Anni Turnbull, Curator

1. p 11, Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish Closing Hell’s Gates, the death of a convict station. Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2008

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