Convict Assignments. Our first Public Servants
Convict Assignment was like a great big rehabilitation program. It was a sort of nineteenth century 'Outward Bound'. With abrupt change, new surroundings and personal challenge, but without the floggings
John Dunmore LANG told us in 1837,that:- "when a convict-ship arrives it is the practice of the colonial government to reserve as many of the convicts, whether labourers or mechanics, as are required for the public service; the rest are assigned to persons who have previously transmitted duly attested applications for convict-servants, agreeably to a code of regulations recently established by the present Governor, and denominated the Assignment Regulation. One pound sterling is paid to Government for each convict so assigned, as the price of his bedding and slop-clothing, which he carries along with him to his future master's. If the master resides in Sydney, he is employed in the various menial capacities in which house-servants are employed in Europe; if he resides in the country, as is much more frequently the case, he is employed in tending sheep or cattle, or as a farm-servant.
The convict-servants on the different farms of the colony are usually lodged in huts formed of a split-timber, and thatched with long grass or straw, at a little distance from the proprietor's house. Two of these huts, with a partition between them, form one erection; and each of them is inhabited by four men. A large fireplace is constructed at one end of the hut, where the men cook their provisions, and around which they assemble in the winter evenings, with a much greater appearance of comfort than the sentimentalist would imagine. Rations, consisting of ten and a half pounds of flour, seven pounds of beef or four and a half pounds of pork, with a certain proportion of tea, sugar, and tobacco, are distributed to each of them weekly; and they receive shoes and slop-clothing either twice a year, or whenever they require them. Pumpkins, potatoes, and other vegetables, they are allowed to cultivate for themselves.
On my brother's farm at Hunter's River — and I believe a similar system is pursued on most of the large agricultural farms thoughout the colony — the overseer rises at day-break, and rings a bell, which is affixed to a tree, as a signal for the men to proceed to their labour. The greater number follow the overseer to the particular agricultural operation which the season requires; the rest separate to their several employments, one to the plough, another to the garden, and a third to the dairy, while a fourth conducts the cattle to their pasture. The bell is again rung at eight o'clock, when the men assemble for breakfast, for which they are allowed one hour; they again return too their labour till one o'clock, when they have an hour for dinner, and they afterwards labour from two till sunset".
* Lang makes it sound so 'Cosy' and it was for some who were fortunate to have honest and fair masters. But for a great many others it was no more than slavery where they were bullied, flogged and had their rations taken away by their cruel masters. For the ones who ran away, the outcome was often 30 to 50 lashes, 12 months in irons or the rope.