slaves in the American South, 21 as well as the role of cheap labor in subsidizing the

surge in pastoral settlement. 22

The term “retained” earnings refers to the subsistence portion of the market

wage: the masters were required to support their convict servants with food (rations),

lodging, clothing and incidentals. In addition, the convict could earn additional

income by hiring out for wages after his or her assignment hours (after 3pm), either in

the labor market (competing with free labor) or for his or her master (who had first

claim). The after-3pm financial payments ranged from 10 to 15£ per annum (Coghlan,

1918 vol. 1: p. 60). It seems that most masters fulfilled their obligations and that the

life of an assigned convict was fairly comfortable, but:

“it is impossible from the evidence now available to conclude that

domestic assigned servants were well fed and clothed. Since the system

smacked too much of slavery, especially when anti-slavery was dominant

in the UK, the system was discontinued in 1838, implemented in 1839 and

21 Lindert and Williamson (2016a) calculated slaves’ retained income in the American South between

1774 and 1860 and they reached two conclusions: first, slaves retained in “rations”, clothing’ and

lodging about 50 percent of what a free farm laborer got; and second, that their living standards were a

bit higher than England’s bottom 20 percent.

22 The assignment system ended in 1838-1839, and it hurt the owners of those huge sheep walks,

especially the squatters who were the main source of the post-1815 boom: “One of the primary factors

in explaining the vulnerability of the squatters … was the demise of the assignment system, and the

consequent end of cheap labor after 1838.” (Thomas 1991, p. 160).

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