Prison and Gaol Records

The State Records Office holds historical sets of records relating to prisoners, some of which date back to 1830, as well as records about the prison system.

Early records relating to prisoners and prisons in WA can be traced through the records of the Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO). See also further information on how to access CSO records.

Prison records during the convict period are also available although in many cases they are inextricably linked with the records of the Convict Establishment - as local prisoners during the convict period were classed as convicts. Records relating to prisons for this period can be located through the guide to Convicts.

The majority of records listed below span the post convict period and relate to prisoners held in Western Australian prisons, gaols and police lockups.

NOTE: Prison records have a restricted access period of 70 years.

Further information on prison guards and gaolers can be found in the following publications:

  • Policing Our State: A History of Police Stations and Police Officers in Western Australia, 1829-1945 / by A.R. Don Pashley, (2000): Provides background historical information in relation to many police lockups.
  • Warders and Gaolers: A Dictionary of Western Australian Prison Officers, 1829-1879 / compiled by David J. Barker (2000): Provides a comprehensive listing of WA prison officers including detailed biographies drawing on information from diverse sources, including many references to records contained in the State Records Office's collection.

Departmental Records

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The Gaols Department was first listed as a sub-department of the Colonial Secretary's Department in 1917, following the appointment of the Comptroller-General of Prisons under the Prisons Act 1903. The Department was responsible for the functioning of all prisons and gaols within the State.

In 1947, the Gaols Department was renamed the Prisons Department and since then the responsible agency has undergone a number of name changes including:

  • Department of Corrections (1972-1982);
  • Prisons Department (1982-1987);
  • Department of Corrective Services (1987-1993);
  • Offender Management Division of the Ministry of Justice (1993-2001);
  • Department of Justice (2001-2006);
  • Department of Corrective Services (2006-2017);
  • Department of Justice (current).

General information on prisons and gaols throughout the State can be located through the records of these departments.

Selected examples of the types of departmental records held include:

Prison Records

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The State Records Office holds several collections of records from individual prisons - the largest collection being that of Fremantle Prison. Many early prison records are intertwined with the records of the Convict Establishment. See also further information on prison records relating to convicts.

Fremantle Prison

The following records comprise the more frequently used Fremantle Prison records:

  • Registers - Local Prisoners, Series 672 (Male - 1888-1960) and Series 678 (Female - 1897-1961): Registers of prisoners at Fremantle Prison, arranged by prisoner number. The registers show name, nationality, place of birth, physical details, marital status, trade, personal description and particulars of convictions. Prisoner numbers can be determined using the card index of prisoners (Male and Female).
  • Registers - Corporal Punishment, 1878-1964, Series 682: Registers of corporal punishment inflicted showing name, registration number, offence, number of lashes, date received, and sentencing officer. There is also a record of birchings from 1888-1962 and a list of executions, showing name, date of execution, place and remarks. Places of execution include Fremantle Prison, Perth, Rottnest, Geraldton, Roebourne, and Derby Gaols.
  • Registers of Receipts and Discharges of Prisoners, 1915-1956, Series 697
  • Register of Salaries - Male and Female Staff, 1916-1925, Acc 1156, Item FP 122, AN 358
  • Admission Registers, 1932-1967, Acc 1156, Items FP 1-14, AN 358/2: Arranged alphabetically by surname these registers provide the name, prison number, date of admission, place of origin, sentence, religion and date of discharge.

Other Prison Records

In addition to the records of Fremantle Prison, the State Records Office also holds the records for other major State prisons, such as:

Gaols were used for holding criminals awaiting trial or those convicted of relatively minor crimes serving short term sentences.

Perth Gaol

Built circa 1830, the first Perth Gaol operated until 1855 when it was moved from opposite Government House to a newly built facility on Beaufort Street. The Gaol operated as a branch of the Convict Establishment between 1858-1888, at which time it was closed and the remaining prisoners transferred to Fremantle Prison.

Records held for the Perth Gaol:

Rottnest Gaol

In 1838, Rottnest Island was established as an Aboriginal prison and continued as such for most of the 19th century. In 1903, Rottnest closed as an Aboriginal prison and was proclaimed a gaol on 8 January 1904 - operating as an outstation of Fremantle until its closure in 1932.

Records included for Rottnest Gaol:

  • Commitment Books, 1863-1881 & 1886-1900, Acc 130 & 1156, AN 372 & Series 844: Provides the names of Aboriginal prisoners and reformatory boys sent to Rottnest Gaol.
  • Reports and Occurrences, 1870-1872 & 1877-1882, Acc 130, AN 372
  • Returns - Prisoners Rations, 1928-1931, Series 454
  • Occurrence Books, 1915-1918, Series 843: Daily record of incidents, occurrences and distribution of prisoners at Rottnest Island prison.

Other Gaols

Records are also held for other gaols from throughout the State including Geraldton, Newcastle, York, and Coolgardie. The following are selected examples of the records held for these gaols:

  • Geraldton Gaol, Day Books, 1887-1899, Series 751: Daily record of events occurring in gaol. Shows total number of prisoners, officer in charge, new arrivals, discharges and occupations of prisoners.
  • Geraldton Gaol, Registers - Prisoners Confined in Geraldton Gaol, 1901-1931, Series 677: Shows prisoner's number, description, name, offence, sentence, committing magistrate, district from, date of admission, committal and discharge, how disposed of, marital status, ability to read and write, age, nationality, birthplace, religion, trade, remission.
  • Geraldton Gaol, Magistrate's Visits, 1886-1913, Acc 1441, AN 123: Remarks of the Resident Magistrate after visiting the gaol. Sometimes notes are included on punishments awarded to prisoners for misbehaviour.
  • Newcastle Gaol, Nominal Returns of Prisoners Discharged, 1903-1911, Acc 319, Item 4, AN 123
  • Newcastle Gaol, Occurrence Books, 1886-1899, Acc 319, AN 123
  • York Gaol, Register of Prisoners, 1901-1948, Series 1664

Police Lockups

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There are numerous records created by local police stations and courthouses which provide the names of prisoners, criminals and people on trial in specific towns and districts. Some of these records relate to prisoners held in local gaols, while others are detained in police station lockups awaiting trial. These records can contain considerable information about prisoners including nature of offence, sentence, committing magistrate, trade, religion, marital status, literacy, etc.

Police lockup records can be identified by checking the relevant location in the hardcopy AN 5 (Police Stations) and AN 17 (Courthouses) finding aids available on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. Entries can also be found by searching the catalogue under the name of the relevant police station or courthouse.

The following are selected examples of police lockup records:

  • Cue Courthouse, Criminal Record Book, 1894-1922, Series 1571
  • Mt Wittenoom Police Station, Returns of Prisoners - Mt Wittenoom Lockup, 1880-1910, Acc 754, Item 14, AN 5/MT
  • Busselton Police Station, Register of Inmates, 1893-1914 & 1923-1939, Acc 410, Item 47, AN 5/BUS
  • Collie Police Station, Register of Prisoners, 1903-1929, Acc 1244, Item 3, AN 5/COL
Page reviewed 5 February 2021