Convict Ships, Entitlements and a little bit of trivia 1790
A typical layout for a convict ship did not exist. On the Neptune which was 200 tons heavier than most of the other ships, the cabins were 6 foot square and mean't to hold 6 prisoners on 18" wide beds. However often more were crammed into the cabin.
There was no ventilation and it was either hot and suffocating or cold and wet depending on the weather.
The rations issued to each mess of 6 convicts per week were as follows:-
1.16 lb. of bread
2.12 lb. of flour
3.14 lb. of salt beef
4. 8 lb. of salt pork
5.12 pints of pease
6. 2 lb. of rice
7.1 1/2 lb. of butter
Female prisoners also received a ration of tea and sugar. All prisoners received a ration, for the voyage, of 2 gallons of good Spanish red wine and 140 gallons of water.
The rations were good to adequate and the same for all onboard. However the ships masters were unscrupulous and cheated the prisoners out of their rations and sold them elsewhere for a profit. Starving them on the way out.
Upon arrival in the Colony female prisioners were issued with:-
1.1 brown serge jacket
2.2 linen shifts
4.1 linen bonnet
5.1 pair of worsted stockings
6.1 pair of shoes
7.1 neck handkerchief
Until 1810 convicts were permitted to wear ordinary civilian clothes in Australia. The new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, wanted to set the convicts apart from the increasing numbers of free settlers who were flocking to Australia.
The distinctive new uniform marked out the convicts very clearly. The trousers were marked with the letters PB, for Prison Barracks. They were buttoned down the sides of the legs, which meant they could be removed over a pair of leg irons.
A convict's daily rations after arriving were by no means substantial. Typically, they would consist of:
Breakfast: One roll and a bowl of skilly, a porridge-like dish made from oatmeal, water, and if they were lucky, scrapings meat.
Lunch: A large bread roll and a pound of dried, salted meat.
Dinner: One bread roll and, if they were lucky, a cup of tea.
When convicts arrived in Australia, detailed reports were compiled of their physical appearance, including distinguishing marks. At the beginning of the 19th century one in four convicts was tattooed, and although it's hard for us to fully understand what these may have meant to the individual, some are interesting, even witty comments on convict life.
Some tattoos appear to be poignant love tokens and permanent reminders of the life and loved ones they left behind.
Some are cheeky remonstrations with the officials, such as the words 'Strike me fair, stand firm and do your duty'.
Similarly, a crucifix tattooed on a convict's back would give that impression that Christ himself was being flogged, and angels were standing by with a cup to catch the blood. This implies that it is the authorities that are sinful.
Male convicts were brought ashore a day or so after their convoy landed arrival. They were marched up to the Government Lumber Yard, where they were stripped, washed, inspected and had their vital statistics recorded.
If convicts were skilled, for example carpenters, blacksmiths or stonemasons, they may have been retained and employed on the government works programme. Otherwise they were assigned to labouring work or given over to property owners, merchant or farmers who may once have been convicts themselves
Women made up 15% of the convict population. They are reported to have been low-class women, foul mouthed and with loose morals. Nevertheless they were told to dress in clothes from London and lined up for inspection so that the officers could take their pick of the prettiest.
Until they were assigned work, women were taken to the Female Factories, where they performed menial tasks like making clothes or toiling over wash-tubs. It was also the place where women were sent as a punishment for misbehaving, if they were pregnant or had illegitimate children.
Other punishments for women include an iron collar fastened round the neck, or having her head shaved as a mark of disgrace. Often these punishments were for moral misdemeanours, such as being 'found in the yard of an inn in an indecent posture for an immoral purpose', or 'misconduct in being in a brothel with her mistress' child'.
As women were a scarcity in the colony, if they married they could be assigned to free settlers. Often, desperate men would go looking for a wife at the Female Factories.
The officials had an unpleasant cure for hangovers and drunkeness, which they imposed on convicts who were overly fond of rum. The 'patient' was forced to drink a quart of warm water containing a wine-glass full of spirits and five grains of tartar emetic. He was then carried to a darkened room, in the centre of which was a large drum onto which he was fastened. The drum was revolved rapidly, which made the patient violently sick. He was then put to bed, supposedly disgusted by the smell of spirits.
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