R3466 Convict uniform, 1830-49



This is a black-and-yellow hand-stitched convict uniform from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), consisting of particoloured long trousers stamped with a 'broad arrow' design, and a short jacket with front buttoning, a high stand-up collar and long sleeves with buttoned cuffs. The torso, sleeves and collar of the jacket are also particoloured. The uniform is made of woollen 'Parramatta cloth'.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Educational value
This asset is an example of the so-called 'magpie' convict suit used in Van Diemen's Land during the 1830s and 1840s - 'magpie' suits originated in 1814 when Governor Macquarie directed that male convicts who committed further crimes and were consequently assigned to chain gangs should be clothed in 'party coloured dress half black and half white' to distinguish them from other convicts; his intention was to make the wearer stand out and thus prevent escape attempts; later, in Van Diemen's Land, convicts working on chain gangs were ordered to wear a yellow-and-black (or brown) version of the conspicuous and humiliating 'magpie' outfit.
It reveals that the trousers of this type of convict suit were not joined at the outer base of the legs - in fact, the outside seams of the trousers were not sewn at all, but were instead fastened with buttons spaced 15 centimetres apart all the way down the trouser leg; this enabled convicts to get dressed without their leg irons having to be removed.
It shows a suit of clothing hand-sewn from 'Parramatta cloth' - although most convict uniforms were made in Britain and shipped to the colony, the supply of the uniforms was erratic, causing problems with convict identification and discipline; the problem was partially resolved by having coarse woollen clothing made at the Female Factory in Parramatta, Sydney, where female convicts were sent if they misbehaved or if there was no position available for them as a servant to a family.
It depicts the broad arrow mark ('pheon') used to identify any British Government property, but which is probably best known for its use on convicts' and prisoners' uniforms - the symbol was chosen by Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney, during the reign of William and Mary, and was based on his family emblem.
It shows the type of clothing issued to convicts who had been convicted of a subsequent offence and were working on the chain gangs - in addition to a suit of this type, each convict also had two shirts, a sleeveless vest, and two caps, one woollen and one leather.
It is an example of one of the few surviving articles of Australian convict clothing - it was presented to the National Library of Australia by Senator H J M Payne in 1933.
Australian history
Chain gangs
© Curriculum Corporation and National Library of Australia, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements