World Heritage Significance

Woolmers, together with the neighbouring Archer property, Brickendon, is one of eleven historic sites that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Woolmers & Brickendon were recognised jointly for their ability to convey the story of the convict Assignment System, which operated in Van Diemen’s Land until 1840.

The Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property is a series of eleven outstanding heritage places across Australia. Collectively they are representative of the global phenomenon of the forced migration of convicts.

The Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on 31 July 2010. The sites included in the serial listing are:

  • Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area, Norfolk Island (1788-1814 and 1824–55)
  • Old Government House and Domain, Parramatta Park NSW (1788–1856)
  • Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney NSW (1819–48)
  • Brickendon-Woolmers Estates, Longford Tas (1820–50s)
  • Darlington Probation Station, Maria Island National Park Tas (1825-32 and 1842–50)
  • Old Great North Road, Wiseman’s Ferry NSW (1828–35)
  • Cascades Female Factory, Mount Wellington Tas (1828-56)
  • Port Arthur Historic Site, Port Arthur Tas (1830-77)
  • Coal Mines Historic Site, Norfolk Bay Tas (1833-48)
  • Cockatoo Island Convict Site, Sydney NSW (1839-69)
  • Fremantle Prison, Fremantle WA (1852-86)

Each site represents key elements of the story of forced migration of convicts and is associated with global ideas and practices relating to punishment and reform of criminal elements of society during the modern era. The eleven sites that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property are outstanding examples of this story in Australia’s rich convict history, however, more than 3,000 other convict sites still remain around Australia. This is unique in the world today.

All of the eleven sites included in this World Heritage inscription are also listed on the Australian National Heritage List and are protected by Commonwealth, state and territory legislation and site management plans.

Under the Assignment System, transported convicts were assigned to free settlers, who were then responsible for adequately feeding, clothing and housing them, in return for their labour. Masters were also responsible for ensuring that their workers received religious instruction, and were not required to work on Sundays. The system was founded on the premise that convicts could be reformed through meaningful employment, under the moral guidance of their masters, while masters could access cheap labour, and the Government was relieved of almost all expense!

Skilled workers were of course in great demand. However, one of the great strengths of the system was its capacity to rehabilitate convicts, by giving them employable skills through on-the-job training. These could then be put these to good account when convicts received a Ticket-of Leave, which permitted them to engage in paid work on their own account. Most convicts received a Ticket-of-Leave well before the expiration of their original sentence.

Convicts who began their lives on the Archer properties as “assigned servants” (the term “convicts” was seldom used) often chose to remain there for years, and in some cases decades, after they were free to leave and seek employment elsewhere. At Woolmers & Brickendon, there are numerous buildings where convicts and ex-convicts once laboured and lived. Over the years, they were joined by free workers, some of whom were assisted migrants from Britain, seeking to make a new life in the colonies. All of this occurred under the leadership of the Archers.