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Convict Leg Irons, 1803 Sorrento Settlement

Convict Leg Irons - - Old Treasury Building, Melbourne

These Convict Leg Irons were found at the site of the 1803 Sorrento Settlement. Thirty years before the founding of Melbourne, Sullivan Bay in Sorrento became the site of Victoria’s first mainland European settlement. Although there was no direct transportation of convicts to Port Phillip, a settlement at Sorrento in 1803, included some 300 male convicts. During the brief occupation, 21 convicts escaped. Little evidence of the short-lived convict settlement in 1803 remains. Four graves, parts of barrels, leg irons, bottles and other pieces are all that exist.

The site was chosen because of its strategic location near the entrance of Port Phillip Bay. The settlement is significant because it was the first attempt to settle Europeans permanently in what is now Victoria and was a crucial link in the expansion of the colony of New South Wales into Tasmania and Victoria, and the control of Bass Strait as a trade route.


Convicts were also assigned to the early surveyors to assist them in their work. Convict William Buckley escaped from the Sorrento settlement in 1803 and lived with the indigenous people for the next 32 years until he met with John Batman’s party in 1835. These Convict Leg Irons would have been used to control convict movement, in a settlement with no secure prison facilities.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:             Convict Leg Irons
  • Date:             1800
  • Findsite:       Sorrento, Victoria
  • Museum:       Old Treasury Building, Melbourne


“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” – Australian Aboriginal saying



Photo Credit: By Joyofmuseums (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons