National Library of Australia

Teachers notes: Convict uniform

Time, Continuity and Change

A student:

  • describes important events and ways of life in some periods of Australia’s past, e.g. writes about the people, events and ways of life on the goldfields during the discovery of gold in the 1850s.


A student:

  • explains the beliefs and social structures of groups in communities other than their own, e.g. describes the roles of men and women in a particular group.
  • describes the roles, rights and responsibilities of members of cultural or social groups.

‘Convicts suffered the most from inadequate clothing and were at times disaffected by this to the point of rebellion.’ [1]


Consider the above quote and discuss the following questions.

  • What fundamental physical human needs does clothing meet?
  • What cultural practices and social signals does dress provide?
  • Does this uniform remind you of any other costumes? If this was a secondary punishment, what was the primary punishment as a convict?
  • Why is this the last surviving secondary punishment uniform? What happened to all the other uniforms worn by convicts?


  • Research other aspects of convict life.
  • Imagine you are convict. You have the opportunity to send a letter home without the authorities knowing. Describe your life working on the chain gang in mid summer in Sydney. Include how you feel being in irons and wearing the secondary punishment uniform. How do other convicts, authorities and free settlers treat you?
  • Do a role play. Have some students take on the role of convicts and some take on the role of convict overseers. Debrief each group, discuss the experience in relation to what each role felt like.



1. Fashioned from Penury Dress as Cultural Practice in Colonial Australia, Margaret Maynard, University of Cambridge, 1994, p.10