2nd June 2022

Convict Clothing: part 2

Parti-coloured clothing

The description of this item follows: “Consists of coat and sleeveless jacket of ‘Parramatta cloth’, black and yellow trousers, a grey knitted cap and a brown leather cap. A secondary punishment uniform from the transportation era, (coloured to distinguish continuing offenders). Hand-stitched. Dates from the period 1822-1855, probably 1830s-1840s. From Van Diemens Land.”

Object # 2398685 from the National Library of Australia collection. The jacket has 6 buttons down the front, and one at each cuff. The trousers have 6 on the waist band (that can be seen in this photo) and possibly 7 down each leg. See the close-up below.

This type of clothing was called parti (or party) coloured. They clearly identified the wearer as a re-offending convict, and could not be passed off as civilian clothing if the person escaped. This had not been the case in the early convict era, when a lack of convict uniforms made differentiation between prisoners and free settlers difficult. The arrow head (stamped upon the trousers) was used to mark items (not just clothing) as of  British government ownership. The buttoning down the trouser legs was to allow for dressing around the shackles and chains worn by those working in chain-gangs.

This article describes how such clothing was a ‘mark of disgrace’, the appearance (and discomfort of the course fabric) were part of the punishment. The button on these kind of clothing were often made of bone or metal.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 10th September 1803.

A visitor to the Penitentiary in Hobart in 1855 described how prisioners were bathed and given fresh clothes upon admission:

The Tasmanian Daily News (Hobart Town), 21st May 1855 page 3.



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