Convict Assignment SYSTEM

Van Diemen's Land was established as a penal colony in 1803. By 1853, some 75,000 convicts were transported to the colony, about 45% of all convicts transported to Australia. In Van Diemen's Land, convicts were managed under the assignment system until 1840, under which free settlers could be assigned convict labourers in return for feeding, clothing, and housing them. The assignment system was founded on the premise that convicts would be reformed under the proper moral guidance of their masters, while the masters would be able to take advantage of the labour source. The government also benefited by relieving itself of the costs associated with the welfare of the transportees. While the government service took priority in selecting skilled labourers for various public works, convicts with particular skills, e.g., sawyers or bricklayers, were loaned to free settlers from time to time, and were highly sought after in requests for assignment.

Convict Built Woolshed and Cider Press

The majority of assigned convicts worked on farming properties. Larger farming properties were not only in greater need of the convict labour force than smaller operations, they were in a better position to provide the requisite provisions for their assignees. Thus, large landed estates such as those of the Archer family received the greater portion of assigned convicts. It appears that the Archer brothers worked in concert, sharing convict labour forces during intensive periods such as harvest seasons.

As well, female convicts would have been working in the domestic quarters. The size of the work force and range of skills represented, together with the workshops, accommodation, and goods produced on the property allowed Woolmers virtually to operate as a self-sufficient village under Thomas Archer.