Australia in the 1800s


Convict children


Orphaned and convict children as young as ten years of age could be sent to work as a servant for a settler or an emancipist. The majority of convict or orphaned boys aged between 9 and 18 worked as labourers and herdsmen assigned to settlers, as they were usually too small for the rough work of clearing the land, quarrying stone and building roads. Many were trained in skills at nominated establishments such as Point Puer in Tasmania, where they could be self-sufficient and equipped with skills to use in their life of freedom.

Girls, in the majority, were domestic servants undertaking housework by hand in the kitchen, laundry or garden. Clothes were washed by hand in a local stream and hung out to dry on bushes and rocks. Washing dishes would be undertaken in a cooper or large barrel, and large tins. Floors of the wattle-and-daub houses were earthen and needed to be dampened to prevent dust and swept to remove crumbs and food particles.

Girls were also responsible for tasks outside the house such as feeding and looking after domestic animals including chickens, goats, horses, rabbits and ducks, preparing a vegetable patch or market garden and planting and harvesting vegetables and other small-scale crops. Their tasks inside the house might include serving food for lunch and dinner, general cleaning, fetching and carrying for other children in the house, sewing and mending, and looking after babies.

Servants were expected to behave in a subservient and respectful manner to the family who employed them. They could not speak until they were spoken to and were expected to follow the orders of the master and mistress of the house. For their work, they received food, clothing and lodgings but few were ever compensated for their work until they were emancipated or pardoned.


A snapshot of 1808

  • January
    • The governor, Captain William Bligh, was deposed and placed under house arrest.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became surveyor-general following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • The first medical diploma in the colony was issued to William Redfern.

  • October
    • The colonial office in London announced the recall of the New South Wales Corps to England.

  • November
    • Lieutenant George Arthur declared martial law against Aboriginal peoples in settled areas of Van Diemen's Land.
    • The Cascades Female Factory for women convicts opened in Hobart Town.

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