Posted by Jason Reeve on July 17, 2023 in Events

Ironclad Sisterhood – Telling the Stories of Convict Women

Date: Monday 24th July 2023
Time: 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Location: Zoom (Virtual)
Limited Spaces (register now)

From 1788 to 1868, approximately 25,000 women were transported from Britain and Ireland to the Australian colonies. These females, often young and impoverished, were found guilty of crimes ranging from petty theft and prostitution to forgery and more serious offenses. The harsh social and economic conditions of the time often drove them into desperate circumstances, leading to criminal activities.

Life for female convicts in NSW was arduous and filled with challenges. Upon arrival, they were subjected to grueling physical labor, often in the convict settlements or assigned to work in households. They would engage in tasks such as cooking, cleaning, laundering, or working in factories. Many females faced abuse and exploitation, both from male convicts and the assigned authorities. However, amidst these hardships, female convicts formed strong bonds of solidarity, supporting and protecting each other in their shared struggle for survival.

Female convicts went through a series of stages during their period of servitude, aiming for eventual release and freedom. The first stage was probation, where they were assigned to a master or mistress and required to work diligently for a set period. During this time, they could face strict discipline and surveillance. After successfully completing probation, they would enter the second stage, known as the ‘ticket of leave.’ This provided a measure of freedom, allowing them to live independently while still under strict supervision.

The next stage was the ‘conditional pardon,’ which allowed the convicts to gain more independence, with the condition that they would not leave the colony. For those who exhibited good behavior and met certain criteria, the ultimate goal was the ‘absolute pardon.’ This granted complete freedom and released them from the bonds of their convict status.

The arrival of female convicts in NSW marked a tumultuous period in history. From their means of arrival and common causes for incarceration, to their daily lives and systematic stages to freedom, these females faced immense challenges but also showcased remarkable resilience.

Despite the harsh conditions and societal prejudices they encountered, many female convicts managed to rebuild their lives and contribute to the development of the colony. Their stories are a testament to the strength of the human spirit and serve as a reminder of the ongoing fight for justice and equality.

As we reflect on this chapter of history, it is crucial to honor the experiences of female convicts and recognize the role they played in shaping the society we live in today. By understanding their journey, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles they faced and foster a more inclusive and empathetic society for all.


The Society of Australian Genealogists is very pleased to be able to launch “Ironclad Sisterhood: Telling the Stories of Convict Women”. Based on the original research of Jess Hill from the 1970s, which forms a small part of the society’s vast archive collection. Jess, referring to the women as her “girls”, collected biographies of more than 4500 women convicts transported to NSW from 1788 to 1818.

For the past 12 months, a team of 5 people have been working to bring this amazing body of work out of the archives and into the public, resulting in the creation of a website, a searchable database and a soon to be launched podcast.


Join SAG for the launch of Ironclad Sisterhood where you will:
  Meet the members of the team responsible for this project
  Discover how Jess Hill’s biographies were transcribed and digitised
  Hear sneak previews of upcoming podcast episodes
  Get first access to the site
  Learn about future planned developments of the project and how you can become involved

“Ironclad Sisterhood” opens a window into a pivotal chapter of history, showcasing the strength, resilience, and determination of convict women in shaping the nation.

View the event and register here:


*This session is not organised or run by, opinions and content provided within the session belong wholly to the organising body or speaker at the event. 

Jason Reeve
Head of Content & Community

Jason Reeve

As the 'Head of Content & Community' for in Australia and New Zealand, Jason is a passionate advocate for discovering, sharing, and preserving the history of land, people and families.

This blog is protected by Dave\'s Spam Karma 2: 582 Spams eaten and counting...