Convict Tickets of Leave

Convict discipline depended not only on punishment but also on incentives and rewards. Governor King introduced the ticket of leave system in 1801. It helped reduce costs by allowing those who could support themselves honestly to do so and was also a reward for good behaviour. A ticket of leave allowed convicts to work for themselves on condition that they remained in a specified area, reported regularly to local authorities and if at all possible, attend divine worship every Sunday.


Incentive for good behaviour

Convict discipline depended not only on punishment but also on incentives and rewards. The best inducement to 'good behaviour was the prospect of a shortening of the convict's period of servitude'. (Hirst, Convict Society, p.33). There were a number of incentives and rewards for good behaviour including tickets of leave, ticket of leave passports, tickets of exemptions from government labour and pardons.

Introduction of the system

Governor King introduced the ticket of leave system in 1801. It helped reduce costs by allowing those who could support themselves honestly to do so. But it was also a reward for good behaviour and in time would become 'the most common form of remission of sentence'. (Hirst, Convict Society, p.53).

Conditions for eligibility

Governor Macquarie specified that at least three years be served before a convict became eligible for any concession, though he was known to break this rule. (Hirst, Convict Society, p.53). Bigge criticised him for behaving too generously and following the appearance of the Commissioner’s reports, the minimum requirements for time served were extended and additional checks were introduced to ensure that only the well behaved received tickets.

Changes to eligibility

By a Government Order, dated 1 January 1827, convicts were eligible to be considered for a ticket of leave under the following criteria:

  • Convicts for 7 years having served 4 years with 1, or 5 years with 2 masters
  • Convicts for 14 years having served 6 years with 1, and 8 years with 2, or 10 years with 3 masters
  • Convicts for life having served 8 years with 1, 10 years with 2, or 12 years with 3 masters.

A convict could still be considered eligible, even though the number of masters whom they had served exceeded the number specified above, provided it could clearly be shown that their removal from their place of residence was not occasioned by misconduct. (Plunkett, Australian Magistrate, pp.404-6).

Benefits to convicts

Ticket of leave men, were seen as the elite of the workforce, and before 1821 were often employed as constables and overseers and on becoming free were frequently 'preferred to the man who had served his full term as a convict'. (Hirst, Convict Society, p.102).

Cancellation of tickets

A ticket of leave could be cancelled at any time for a misdemeanour and those who held them did not become free until pardoned or the sentence had expired. A ticket of leave was issued for a specific district in which the holder was to remain. In order to travel outside the district a ticket of leave passport was required.

Ticket of Leave Passports

A prisoner holding a ticket of leave needed to have official permission to move outside the district for which his ticket was issued. A ticket of leave passport is often indicated with the annotation PP. The passport was usually issued for a 12 month period after which time it could be renewed and another passport issued for a further period. A ticket of leave passport specifies that the convict be allowed to travel between two localities usually for work purposes and may mention the employer's name.

Exemptions from Government Labour

As stated in a Circular to Magistrates from the Colonial Secretary dated 1st January 1830 the Exemption Ticket allowed:

"simply the privilege of residing until the next 31st December with the person therein named, generally a relation, in some specific district and no other".

A Ticket of Exemption did not allow a convict to be self-employed or to own property (as a Ticket of Leave allowed). It appears that the Tickets of Exemption were used as a form of assignment to relatives. The detail provided can help to easily trace the life or details of an individual convict.

Restrictions to holders

The British government in 1832 tightened the conditions for tickets of leave still further. It removed early grants for special cases such as for capturing runaways and took away the right of ticket holders to sue or be sued, thus removing 'all legal protection for their property', this latter right was not reinstated until 1843. (Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, p.231). Under the new law the minimum periods to be served before becoming eligible for tickets of leave and pardons were the same and provision was made for more conditional pardons. (Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, p.231).

Approving an application

In January 1843 Governor Gipps, writing about the duties of the Principal Superintendent of Convicts stated that, 'the investigation of claims to indulgences and especially to tickets of leave is the most labourious'. (HRA, vol. 22, p.456). The convicts' records were checked and the application after being annotated by the local magistrate(s) was forwarded to the Principal Superintendent of Convicts who sent them to the Governor. The process was very thorough and there are instances in which local bench recommendations were returned or rejected due to inadequate information being supplied. (Golder, High and Responsible Office, p.34). When the application had been approved it went back through the system and the local bench would issue the ticket.

Surviving records

The earliest surviving tickets of leave records from July 1810-October 1814 are to be found in NRS-1166. There is a gap in the records of tickets of leave issued from November 1814-July 1824 when Registers of tickets of leave, NRS-12200 begin. The Principal Superintendent of Convicts' records have been listed first, as they contain the main series Ticket of leave butts, 1827-1875, NRS-12202. Then the other records where information may be found have been listed alphabetically by agency.

The Convicts Index should be consulted in the first instance.

Note: Many applications for tickets of leave are located in the series Colonial Secretary: Letters received, NRS-897 and NRS-905 and Special bundles NRS-898 and NRS-906.

Indexes to the records

Search across the following indexes in the Convicts Index

  • Index to tickets of exemption from government labour, 1827-1832
  • Index to tickets of leave, certificates of emancipation and pardons, 1810-1819
  • Index to tickets of leave, 1810-1875 (compiled by Dr Perry McIntyre)
  • Index to ticket of leave passports, 1835-1869
  • Index to certificates of freedom, 1823-1869
  • Index to conditional pardons, 1826-1870

Other indexes to check:

Record series

Principal Superintendent of Convicts

NRS-12202[4/4063-4226, 4/4419-4420, 4/4234], Reels 909-965, 893
Ticket of leave butts
Each butt provides the following information: prisoner's number, name, ship and year of arrival, master of ship, native place, trade or calling, offence, place and date of trial, sentence, year of birth, physical description, the district prisoner is allocated to, the Bench which recommended him, and the date of issue of Ticket. There are also notes of change of district, conditional pardons etc. on many of the butts.
31 Mar 1827-31 Dec 1875
Butts of ticket of leave passports
The following information is given: registered number, name of holder, ship and year of arrival, place and date of trial, sentence, ticket of leave number, what the holder is allowed to do such as to travel between certain points or to visit a certain place or to attend the city markets for a certain period of time. The Bench and date of recommendation are also recorded. There are indexes in front of each volume.
NRS-12200[4/4060-4062], Reel 890
Registers of tickets of leave
This is a record of tickets of leave which provides roughly the same information about ticket-holders as the butts. On 1 October 1828 the register changes to a less detailed record, giving only the following information: number, date, progressive number, name, ship, year of arrival, bench by which convict was recommended, and the district he has been assigned to. On 1 July 1833 a new change occurs; instead of listing each ticket individually as before they are grouped together.
NRS-12207[4/4227-4234], Reels 891-893
Principal Superintendent of Convicts: Butts of Colonial tickets of leave
Tickets of leave granted to a convict serving colonial sentence. The following details are stated: number, date, name, ship and master and year of arrival, native place, calling, offence, place and date of trial, sentence, year of birth, physical description and in which district the prisoner is allowed to remain.
Index to Ticket of leave registersBoard showing number of register and the inclusive numbers of the tickets contained. Individual names are not recorded. 
NRS-12203[4/4060-4062], Reel 890
Registers of fees received on tickets of leave
These volumes record number, name, by whom and when paid, and amount.
Original tickets of leave and conditional pardons
This series was compiled some time after the creation of the records by bringing together original convict records found loose in registers and the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence. The series consists of the following types of record: Ticket of Leave, Conditional Pardons, Replies to Petition for a Conditional Pardon, Ticket of Leave Passport, and lists of convicts.
NRS-12206[4/4557], Reel 893
Ticket of leave muster rolls
These are incomplete rolls M-Z 1838-40, and A-L, M-Z 1841, possibly for Yass or Murrumbidgee district.They note name, ship and year of arrival, sentence and master's name for the various years. The musters were held quarterly in January, April, July and October.
NRS-12196[4/4282-4286], Reel 589
Butts of tickets of exemption from government labour
Each butt gives the following information: number; date; prisoner's name; number; ship (with master's name) and year of arrival; religion; native place; trade or calling; offence; place and date of trial; sentence; year of birth; physical description; with whom and where prisoner was to reside. Notes of alterations or cancellations of tickets are on all the butts.
21 Jun 1827-24 Sep 1832
NRS-12197[4/4061-4062], Reels 590 & 890, Fiche 1006
Registers of exemption from government labourThe registers show date of issue, name of holder, ship and year of arrival, with whom and in what district the prisoner will reside.The registers are indexed by the indexes in front of the volumes of butts of tickets of exemption, 1828–32 [4/4283-85], above.

Colonial Secretary

Special bundles Certificates of conducts and petitions from applicants for tickets of leave, and affidavits of the loss of tickets, 1822–25[4/1715-1717], Reels 620-622, 6026-6027Copies of affidavits notifying loss of tickets of leave, etc., 1822–25[4/1690], Reels 603, 6028
Special bundles Hawkesbury - Muster of ticket of leave holders in the district taken at Windsor in May 1827[4/2009.3], Reel 8961828 Muster of ticket of leave men at Parramatta, 15 Jan[4/2009.4], Reel 896Printed regulations respecting tickets of leave, 1827-1831[SZ78], COD 181Petitions, 1838–39These are petitions mostly from convicts seeking tickets of leave, conditional pardons, re-assignment or mitigation of sentences. Index available (see also item list). [X645-646], Reel 591Ticket of leave regulations, 1840[4/1128.2], Reel 894
NRS-1166[4/4427], Reel 601
List of tickets of leave issued
2 Jul 1810-3 Oct 1814

Convict Classification Board

The board was set up in January 1849 to classify convicts according to their character and conduct rather than their sentence. The board was chiefly concerned with considering the cases of individual convicts with the view to promoting them, remitting sentences, and indulgences such as tickets of leave. It divided the convicts into three divisions and then into classes within the divisions. Various incentives and rewards were available to each division.

NRS-1755[4/4517; 4/4518], Reel 688
Copies of letters sent
The letters cover all matters dealt with by the Board, including reclassification of individual convicts and the regulations on which this was based. The majority of the letters are addressed to the Colonial Secretary.There are indexes in front of the volumes.
18 Jan 1849-15 Oct 1867
NRS-1756[4/4515-4516], Reel 688
Minutes of proceedings
The minutes record the date of the meeting, members present and the decisions in cases of convicts either groups or individuals concerning promotions, remission of sentences and indulgences such as tickets of leave.
31 Jan 1851-12 Apr 1866

Courts of Petty Sessions

These were formally known as Bench of Magistrates and were the local court to which a convict would attend for trial, punishment, muster and to apply for a ticket of leave or other indulgence.

NRS-2743[4/5501], Reel 818
ArmidaleRegister of issue of new passports to convicts, 5 Jan 1851–18 Dec 1854, and the renewal of passports, 19 Sep 1851–7 Jul 1857
NRS-2776[2/8320], Reels 599 & 895
BathurstDescriptions of ticket of leave holders in the districtThe register records ticket of leave number, name, ship, trial, sentence and description.
NRS-2775[2/8321], Reels 599 & 895
BathurstTicket of leave muster rollThe roll records name, ship, number of ticket, present residence and when mustered.
NRS-3020[4/5525 (part) pp. 154-157], Reel 895
Brisbane WaterRegister of tickets of leave granted in the district of Brisbane Water
NRS-3021[4/5525 (part) pp. 164-173], Reel 895
Brisbane WaterCopies of tickets of leave forwarded to Brisbane Water
NRS-3022[4/5525 (part) pp.12-19, 120-125, 162-163], Reel 895
Brisbane WaterQuarterly musters of ticket of leave holders
NRS-2892[9/2637], Reels 818, 2666
CarcoarButts of ticket of leave passports
21 Jul 1846-26 Jun 1852
NRS-2976[4/5554 pp.15-16, 34], Reel 2680
EdenMuster of ticket of leave holders, 1847 in Bench Book
NRS-3160[4/5588], Reel 2683
Moruya (Broulee)Muster roll and ticket of leave records
NRS-3236[4/5606], Reel 896
NewcastleTicket of leave musters
Jul 1834-Oct 1840
NRS-3239[4/5606], Reel 896
NewcastleIndex to ticket of leave muster in the district
NRS-3184[4/5590], Reel 896
MudgeeTicket of leave musters
1840-1841, 1850-1852
NRS-3186[4/590], Reel 896
MudgeeRegister of all men holding tickets of leave for the district
1 Jan 1843
NRS-3343[4/5651 part], Reel 1261
QueanbeyanRegister of ticket of leave holders
NRS-3344[4/5651], Reels 801 & 1261
QueanbeyanRecord of applications for tickets of leave, passports and conditional pardons. This volume also records lists of persons receiving certificates of freedom.


When the convict establishment was broken up at the end of 1855, the Convict Branch of the Police took over its duties until the remaining convicts were freed or died.

NRS-10978[4/4552], Reels 823 & 897
Copies of letters to officials, and returnsThe letters are of an administrative nature and only continue until 31 Jan 1889. The returns relate to such matters as absolute and conditional pardons granted, convicts who died or absconded, tickets of leave granted, and convicts confined in Lunatic and Invalid Asylums etc.The Inspector General of Police was also the custodian of convict records and many of the letters are replies to requests for information on particular individuals. The returns include persons who were granted tickets of leave 1856-1864, residing in the following districts in Aug 1864: Bathurst, Berrima, Braidwood, Cassilis, Cooma, Goulburn, Gundagai, Maitland, Mudgee, Murrurundi, Penrith, Queanbeyan, Raymond Terrace, Scone, Shoalhaven, Windsor and Yass (p.55-7)Annual returns of tickets of leave granted, 1867-91 p.155 1867, p.194 1868, p.235 1869, p.248 1870, p.270 1871 (nil), p.289 1872 (nil), p.309 1873 (nil), p.340 1874 (nil), p.366 1875, 1876–91.There is an incomplete index in the volume.
19 Dec 1862–29 Feb 1892
NRS-10987[4/4279-4280], Reel 981
Butts of ticket of leave passportsThe following information is given: registered number, name of holder, ship and year of arrival, place and date of trial, sentence, ticket of leave number, what the holder was allowed to do (ie. usually to travel between certain places), the Bench and date of recommendation.This series is continued from NRS-12204 and contains entries for imperial and colonial convicts. 

Records held elsewhere

Mitchell Library A1764 CY 789.Microfilm copy available in the Reading Room
Darling DownsReturns of ticket of leave musters 
1 Jan 1847, Apr 1848, Jan 1849, Jan 1850
Mitchell Library A1764 CY 962.Microfilm copy available in the Reading Room
Darling DownsReturns of ticket of leave passports
Mitchell Library ML Mss.2480 CY 962.Microfilm copy available in the Reading Room
YassTicket of leave muster rolls

Additional sources

NSW Government Gazettes, 1832-1850 have been indexed in the Australasian Genealogical Computer Index (AGCI) available through the Society of Australian Genealogists