What did convicts wear?

Find out about convict clothing in the early days of the colony.

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Convict uniform

Convicts were issued clothes from the government’s Commissariat Store. Each man and woman got a basic set of garments, known as ‘slops’, and was supposed to change to clean clothes once or twice a week.

Governor Macquarie also ordered spare trousers to be given out to allow convict men to ‘appear clean at church on Sundays.’

An identifiable convict 'uniform' was desirable, but due to shortages a hodgepodge of colours and types of clothes was issued, of varying quality and fit.

Supplies from England had to be supplemented with garments made in the colony.

The number and names of barracks convicts were written on their clothes, because theft of portable personal items was rife. Newly washed men’s shirts were often ‘dried on the shoulders of the owners’ to ensure they couldn’t be stolen.

The parti-coloured punishment suit shown was worn by recalcitrant men and repeat offenders, nicknamed 'canary men'. It was a public humiliation to have to wear the ridiculous suit made of yellow and black or grey and white wool.

The trousers had side buttons to allow them to be put on and taken off while leg-irons remained fixed to ankles.

convict in jacket and trousers

'When each convict lands from the Ship, he receives a suit consisting of a coarse woollen jacket and waistcoat of Yellow or grey cloth, a pair of Duck or cloth trousers, a pair of worsted Stockings, a pair of shoes, two cotton or linen shirts, a neck handkerchief and a woollen cap…'

Major George Druitt’s evidence to Commissioner Bigge, 1819

The picture shows a pair of 'punishment trousers', which were easily removed over leg irons.

broad arrow symbol

Every item made or used by government convicts had to be marked or stamped with this arrow, known as the broad arrow.

The main purpose was to prevent theft and the selling-on of clothing, goods or tools.

Felt convict hat

This type of woollen hat was issued to convicts from the government stores. Its scratchy, hot felt and lack of sun protection were not suited to Sydney’s climate.

They were impractical and often discarded or never worn in Sydney.

Brimmed hat made from cabbage tree palms

This cabbage tree hat was cooler on the head and offered the best protection from sunburn or sunstroke.

This was important because many convicts working outdoors came from pale-skinned British or Irish stock.

Convicts were allowed to spend their free time of an evening making these hats out of leaves they had gathered.

Click 'Next' to see how they were made.

Shredding tool and cabbage tree palms

To shred the leaves of cabbage tree palms into long, thin strips.

The strips could then be plaited to make hats.

Convicts made the hats from leaves they found.

Convicts would sell these hats in town and they would spend their earnings on ‘indulgences’ – small luxuries such as tobacco, sugar and rum.

cap made of leather

This leather cap was another type of hat given to convicts from the governement stores as part of their 'uniform'.

Its flaps could be pulled down to provide some sun protection, but its dark colour absorbed the sun’s heat, so it still was not ideal for Sydney’s climate.

Shoes worn by convicts

Convicts sent to Hyde Park Barracks weren’t always lucky enough to be issued with socks.

To make matters worse, their shoes (often made of kangaroo leather) weren’t even specifically made for the right or left foot.

Click 'Next' to see the tools used to make shoes.

Convict shoe and cobbler's tools

Many convict shoemakers (or cobblers) brought their tools with them to the colony.

Rags used to wrap around the toes to protect the feet.

To make wearing the shoes more comfortable convicts would wrap long strips of material – called ‘toe rags’ – around their feet.