Leg irons, heavy

Early to mid nineteenth century

Known as darbies or slangs in the convict ‘flash’ slang language, leg irons came in various shapes and sizes. These heavy leg irons weigh 14 pounds (8 kilograms), and were probably used in jails to restrain men awaiting trial on serious crimes. It has also been suggested that heavy irons like these were worn by convicts as they were taken aboard the transport ships. On arrival in Sydney, convicts had their irons removed, but there were plenty of convicts who soon found themselves back in irons. By order of a magistrate, leg irons were fitted onto the ankles of convicts who committed secondary crimes, such as running away, trying to escape the colony, highway robbery or selling government property. They were then put to hard labour in iron gangs for several months or longer - one of the worst punishments that could be given to convicts. These men had to wear special trousers that buttoned up the sides, so they could be taken on and off around the leg irons. Leg-irons were made by convict blacksmiths at Sydney’s lumberyard after those sent from England proved to be inferior and easily slipped off. Irons were affixed to and struck off convicts’ ankles by the blacksmiths.

...I was taken to the Blacksmith, and had my irons, the badge of infamy and degradation rivetted upon me…

Convict Edward Lilburn, describing mid 1830s, A Complete Exposure of the Convict System... Lincoln, n.d. (c1841), 5.

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Convict Sydney, Level 1, Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Convict Sydney


These convict-era objects and archaeological artefacts found at Hyde Park Barracks and The Mint (Rum Hospital) are among the rarest and most personal artefacts to have survived from Australia’s early convict period

Close up of a ceramic bottle. This item was featured in one of our virtual excursions.

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Convict Sydney

Convict Sydney

From a struggling convict encampment to a thriving Pacific seaport, a city takes shape.