Convict experiences

1. Ask students to look at the items that are included in the full convict uniform. Use these questions to explore the uniform: 

  • How many parts are there to this uniform?
  • What is each item made of?
  • What would it feel like to wear each item?
  • How would you feel, wearing this uniform?
  • Would the uniform be comfortable all year round in the Australian climate?

2. Build a class list of terms associated with the convict era. Ask students to research online and create a glossary of terms including ‘ticket of leave’, ‘pardon’ and ‘magpie’.

Open the online version of the Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth.

3. Look at several pages of the diary online. (Students will probably find it difficult to read Smyth’s handwriting even if they are familiar with cursive writing.)


Turn to Part 17 of the diary— a list of the names of female convicts. Use this list to introduce some background information about Arthur Bowes Smyth, including his role as surgeon on board the Lady Penrhyn—the First Fleet vessel that carried the female convicts.

Divide students into pairs. Task students with exploring the diary online, asking each pair to look at two to three pages. Ask students to find one or two sentences that they can read and understand.

Invite students to share their findings with the class (in page order) until you feel the class has gleaned a basic understanding of Smyth’s journal observations.

Provide your students with some background information about the female convicts and the reasons for their deportation to Australia.

Ask students to choose a name from Part 17 of Smyth’s journal and task them with writing a diary entry as a female convict on board the Lady Penrhyn. You might like to enhance this activity by providing students with a cursive font that they can use to write their handwritten diary entry.

4. Ask students to imagine they have just arrived from England on one of the First Fleet ships. As a class, brainstorm a list of jobs that would need to be done to establish a new settlement in the colonies. Discuss which of these jobs should be assigned to convicts and why.

5. Invite students, in groups, to research convicts such as William Redfern, John Eyre, Francis Greenway, George Hughes, Mary Reibey or James Ruse. Ask each group to make a presentation to the class about their convict. As a class, discuss who the most successful convict was (after he or she had completed his or her sentence). Think about the criteria that should be used to judge success.

Other Treasures sources that relate to the concepts explored in this source include: An Early Arts Scene, First Fleet (Year 4 resource).