Woolmers, together with the neighbouring Archer property, Brickendon, is one of eleven Australian convict sites awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2010. Woolmers & Brickendon were recognised jointly for their ability to convey the story of the convict Assignment System, which operated in Van Diemen’s Land until 1840.
Under the Assignment System, transported convicts were assigned to free settlers, who were then responsible for adequately feeding, clothing and housing them, in return for their labour. Masters were also responsible for ensuring that their workers received religious instruction, and were not required to work on Sundays. The system was founded on the premise that convicts could be reformed through meaningful employment, under the moral guidance of their masters, while masters could access cheap labour, and the Government was relieved of almost all expense!
Skilled workers were of course in great demand. However, one of the great strengths of the system was its capacity to rehabilitate convicts, by giving them employable skills through on-the-job training. These could then be put these to good account when convicts received a Ticket-of Leave, which permitted them to engage in paid work on their own account. Most convicts received a Ticket-of-Leave well before the expiration of their original sentence.
Convicts who began their lives on the Archer properties as “assigned servants” (the term “convicts” was seldom used) often chose to remain there for years, and in some cases decades, after they were free to leave and seek employment elsewhere. At Woolmers & Brickendon, there are numerous buildings where convicts and ex-convicts once laboured and lived. Over the years, they were joined by free workers, some of whom were assisted migrants from Britain, seeking to make a new life in the colonies. All of this occurred under the leadership of the Archers.