1st June 2022

Convict Clothing: part 1

Slop Clothing

“Slop” was originally a naval slang term, in use from the 16th to 19th centuries. It referred to cheap, ready-to-wear clothing (of “sloppy fit”) of the type non-officers had to provide for themselves pre-1857. The term spread from referring only to ready-made uniforms to ready-made clothing  for the general public. These were sourced from England, and once established, from colonial factories. (The first slop was made in the colony around 1790.)  These were made of calico, canvas, wool, cotton and canvas.

In the convict era it also referred to the basic type of clothing issued to each convict, clearly marked with arrow heads and other labeling so as to try to prevent reuse of the clothing. Such was the inadequacy of government supply, even convict uniforms had black-market value.

In 1803 (the earliest date of newspapers in Australia) slop clothing was not to be issued to those with convict worker assigned to them until they were paid for in wheat. What happened if the wheat was not paid? Did the convicts go naked? Probably.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1st May 1803 page 1.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 11th November 1804 page 2.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 19th February 1809 page 1.

With little of value to trade or barter, even slop clothing had value.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 11th August 1810 page 1.The above article explains that “in future” slop clothing was to be issued twice a year, leaving me to wonder how infrequently it was issued prior to this! Some of the clothing was not suitable to the climate (e.g. leather caps; not providing sun protection in summer nor warmth in winter) and much was not durable enough to withstand 6 months of hard labouring, as described in a letter in 1836:

In Van Diemen’s Land the government published the requirements for people obtaining assigned servants (convict labour):

The Hobart Town Almanack for the Year 1829, page 125.

The Sydney Monitor, 26th March 1836 page 2.The writer was pleading for an extra pair of “trowsers” to be issued in February, for the health, comfort and decency of the convicts.


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