Convicts

The State Records Office holds comprehensive sets of records relating to convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868.

The Swan River Settlement had been in existence for twenty years when it took the unusual step of electing to become a British penal settlement in 1849.

Home authorities eagerly accepted the offer and quickly dispatched the vessel Scindian, which arrived in Gage Roads on the 1st June 1850 with a cargo of 75 male convicts aboard. This was to be the first of 43 transportation of convicts to the colony over an 18 year period.

Although a total of 9,925 convicts were officially registered during this period, it is estimated that some 500 of these were local prisoners intermixed with the transported convicts.

Transportation of convicts to Western Australia ceased in 1868 as a result of a reassessment of British home policy. The last convict ship to Australia, the Hougoumont, arrived in the Swan River Colony on 10 January 1868 with 229 convicts aboard. Convict labour continued to be used for sometime following the end of transportation, relying on local prisoners and those convicts yet to serve the remainder of their sentences. At the time of the Hougoumont's arrival, some 3,158 convicts remained under government control in Western Australia.

Convict Establishment Records

Show more

Fremantle Prison was built as a convict establishment by the British government in the 1850's with the Comptroller General of Convicts being appointed to govern the facility.

The convict workforce was spread throughout the State through the use of depots and a ticket-of-leave system for convicts who exhibited good behaviour. The main depots of the Convict Establishment were in North Fremantle, Freshwater Bay, Clarence, Guildford, and Greenmount. There were also hiring stations located further afield in Toodyay, York, Bunbury, King George's Sound, Mount Eliza and Port Gregory.

Core sets of the Convict Establishment records are available for viewing on microfilm on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives.

The following are examples of some of the many series of records created by the Convict Establishment that are available through the State Records Office:

Transportation Records

Forty three convict ships arrived in Western Australia between 1850 and 1868. Thirty seven of the voyages carried prisoners from the United Kingdom, one voyage collected her load in Bermuda, and the remaining six ships brought smaller cargoes of military prisoners from amongst the ranks of British troops serving in India. Shipping lists may sometimes give information that is not available in the Convict Registers.

Convict Lists and Registers, 1850-1868, Acc 128, AN 358

This collection contains the majority of convict passenger lists held by the State Records Office and is indexed alphabetically by surname through both the Fremantle Passenger Index and the West Australian Genealogical Society (WAGS) Inc Convict Lists (Acc 128) Index. Both of these indexes are available on microfiche on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. Convict lists contain considerable information on the physical descriptions and background of convicts. Other information available includes returns of prisoners on board the Minden and Mermaid and the Prisons and Hulks from which they were transferred, as well as a crew list for the Minden.

Lists - Convicts, 1850-1853, Series 691

Lists of male convicts transported to Western Australia aboard the Hashemy and Sea Park.

List - Convicts of Good Conduct, 1856, Series 1138

Hand-written record prepared by the Surgeon-Superintendent H. Edmonds of the convict ship Runnymeade in 1856. Lists the names of 28 convicts who distinguished themselves by good conduct during the voyage.

Additionally, convict passenger lists for some ships can be located among the Colonial Office despatches received by the Governor (Acc 41). These lists give the convicts name, borough and date of conviction.

Convict Registers, Acc 1156, R1-R33, AN 358

There are two primary sets of convict registers contained within the records of the Convict Establishment: the General Registers and the Character Books. Both of these series list convicts according to their assigned Convict Number and give details of the individual's sentence, crime, physical description and other characteristics. Some of these records also include information on next of kin.

Other registers contained within the R series include Distribution Books, Ticket of Leave Registers, Probation Prison registers and Registers of Reconvicted Prisoners.

Correspondence

The State Records Office holds a great deal of correspondence relating to the Convict Establishment, most of which consists of correspondence forwarded or received by the Comptroller General.

  • Letter and Memoranda Books, 1850-1920, Series 1818, Consignment 1156, Items C01-C66 & F20-F24: This series comprises mainly the letterbooks of the Comptroller General, with correspondence between the Comptroller General and various officials including the Colonial Secretary and Resident Magistrates. The series also contains the letterbooks of the Sheriff, the Superintendent of Fremantle Prison and various other officials of the Convict Establishment.
  • Correspondence - Comptroller General to the Perth Police Magistrate, 1855-1877, Acc 3290, AN 17: Correspondence contains references to granting of individual tickets of leave.

Medical Registers and Journals

The following are examples of some of the convict medical records that are available through the State Records Office:

  • Registers of Casual Sick, 1850-1905, Acc 1156, Items CS 1-25, AN 358
  • Hospital Occurrence Books, 1855-1885, Acc 1156, Items M 1-2, AN 358
  • Letterbook, 1864-1876, Acc 1156, Items M 12, AN 358: Copies of returns sent by the Surgeon to the Comptroller-General and other officers of the Convict Department.
  • Medical Registers, 1855-1885, Acc 1156, Items M 3-9A, AN 358: Registers of convicts admitted to hospital. Records the name of patient, date of admission, nature of ailment, symptoms, diet and treatment ordered.
  • Medical Journals, 1853-1910, Acc 1156, Items M 13-28A, AN 358

Occurrence Books

The State Records Office holds many occurrence books providing details on the daily operation of the Convict Establishment.

  • Occurrence Books and Warder's Journals, c.1852-1946, Acc 1156, Items Occ 1-27, AN 358:  Each volume relates to a specific locality. Localities covered include Fremantle Prison, Mt Eliza Depot, Convict Establishment Hospital, Toodyay Depot, Warren Bridge Road Party, Rottnest Island Prison, Perth Gaol and Coolgardie Gaol.
  • Occurrence Books and Prison Earnings - Perth District, 1862-1887, Acc 1386, Items 7-14, AN 17

Staff Records

Records available relating to staff of the Convict Establishment include the following:

  • Salaries Books, c1869-1916, Acc 1156, Items V5 & V37-V41, AN 358: These volumes detail salaries paid to Convict Establishment staff based at the Comptroller-General's Office, Fremantle Prison, Fremantle Gaol and for various depots throughout the State.
  • Register - Misconduct of Convict Establishment Officers, 1850-1853, Acc 1156, Item V 6, AN 358: Includes details on nature of misconduct and penalty inflicted.
  • Convict Establishment Officer's Appointment Book, 1850-1870, Acc 1156, Item V 7, AN 358

Ticket of Leave

Ticket of leave was granted before the expiration of a prisoner's sentence. Ticket of leave men were freed to seek employment under a master or to seek their own work. They were not allowed to leave the district to which they had been assigned and were required to report to the local resident magistrate once per month.

There are a wide variety of ticket of leave related records held by the State Records Office that can be used to trace the work history and travels of individual convicts. Many local police and courthouses throughout the State maintained Ticket of Leave Registers which kept track of ticket of leave men employed within a given district. Generally, the Ticket of Leave Registers contained information such as the prisoner's name, the date the ticket was granted, name of employer and in some instances rate of pay.

  • Ticket of Leave Registers - Perth District, 1850-1875, Acc 1386, AN 17
  • Ticket of Leave Register - Swan District, 1859-1866, Acc 1171, AN 24: Notes districts convicts are assigned to and the rate of pay. 
  • Ticket of Leave Registers and Occurrence Books - Perth District, 1850-1887, Acc 1386, AN 17: This collection contains ticket of leave registers covering between 1850 and 1887, and Occurrence and Prisoner earnings Books for 1862 - 1887. A chronological index to these volumes is available on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives.
  • Certificates - Ticket of Leave, Series 2334, Consignment 1519: Limited samples of original ticket of leave certificates.

Expirees

Convicts who had served the full length of their sentence were known as expirees. About a third of the convicts left the Swan River Colony after serving their time but many settled down to make a life for themselves in the Colony. By the end of the transportation era in 1868 the colony's population had risen nearly four-fold from 5,886 to 22,738.

Reconvictions

In some instances, convicts transported to the Colony were later charged and convicted of subsequent crimes. The following record relates to the monitoring of reconvicted convicts:

  • Reconviction Register, 1856-1859, Acc 1156, Item R 10, AN 358: Some entries contain photographs of the convict concerned. Also provides next of kin, spouse and children's names, and occasionally names of previous marriages and children in England.

Reconviction records can also be located through the records of the Supreme Court held by the State Records Office, in particular through the Criminal Case files.

Further Convict Establishment Records

  • Returns - Mt Eliza Depot, Series 851, Consignment 1156, Items Occ 8-9: Statistical returns showing work done at various depots (e.g. Mt Eliza) and public works (e.g. Perth Bridge and Guildford Road). Shows number of men engaged on various jobs each day and amounts of stone (etc.) quarried and carted.
  • Convict Finance Board, 1851-1872, Acc 1156, FB 1-4, AN 358: Three volumes of minute books documenting the meetings of the Convict Finance Board as well as a letterbook containing copies of letters to the Board from the Comptroller-General.
  • General Duties, 1853-1877, Acc 1156, Items GD 1-7, AN 358: These volumes record the general administrative functions of the Convict Establishment and contain such things as memos recording the Governor's approval of new appointments, transfers of staff and expenditure.
  • Superintendent's Order Books, 1850-1874, Series 693, Consignment 1156, Items SO1-14: Records kept by the Superintendent of the Convict Establishment at Fremantle. Some volumes contain an alphabetical index in which the names of officers, prisoners, depots and other institutions concerned in the orders are listed.
  • Receipts and Discharges of Prisoners, 1850-1888, Acc 1156, Items R&D 1A-9B, AN 358: Volumes containing lists of receipts and discharges of prisoners from the main Convict Establishment at Fremantle, from the hospital and from Depots at Freshwater Bay, Mt Eliza, and North Fremantle among others.

Parkhurst Boys

Show more

Between 1842 and 1861, 1,499 juvenile offenders aged between 10 to 20 and from the Isle of Wight's Parkhurst Prison were transported to the Australian and New Zealand colonies. The Swan River Colony received 234 male juvenile convicts between 1842 and 1849. Once in the Colony, the boys were pardoned on two conditions: that they were apprenticed to local employers and that they did not return to the country in which they were convicted during the term of their sentence. The scheme is viewed by many historians as a form of de facto convictism.

  • Colonial Secretary's Office, Home Office Parkhurst Prison Register, 1838-1863, Acc 1829: This register provides details such as prisoner name, date received and from what gaol, age, crime, place and date of conviction, sentence, marital status, literacy, trade and date and manner of discharge.

Other records relating to Parkhurst Boys can be located in the Governor's Despatches received from the Secretary of State. Records of the Guardian of Government Juvenile Immigrants and other associated Parkhurst Boys records may also be found in the Colonial Secretary's Office records, particularly amongst the inward correspondence. See also further information on Colonial Secretary's Office records.

Information on Parkhurst Boys may also be located in the State Library's Private Archives Collection (MN 1214).

Enrolled Pensioner Guards

Show more

Those soldiers who came to Western Australia as guards aboard the convict transports were known as the Pensioner Guards (also known as the Enrolled Pensioner Force or Enrolled Guards). The Enrolled Pensioner Guards comprised of aged or invalid military personnel who were unfit for active duty but capable of fulfilling a role as garrison troops or convict guards.

Between 1850 and 1868, approximately 1,100 pensioner guards and their families arrived in Western Australia, many of whom remained on as settlers. Upon completion of 7 years of service, the Pensioner Guards were eligible for a free land grant.

Some of the records available relating to the Pensioner Guards include:

Published References and Guides

Show more

There are a number of published references, guides and indexes that can be of great assistance when researching Western Australian convicts. These publications include:

Page reviewed 3 February 2021