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. Eager Home authorities accepted the offer and quickly dispatched the barque 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 shipments of convicts to the colony over an 18 year period.
Although a total of 9,925 convicts were officially transported 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, with the last convict ship to Australia, the Hougoumont, arriving 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 reminder of their sentences. At the time of the Hougoumont's arrival some 3,158 convicts remained under government control in Western Australia.
There are a considerable number of records relating to the convict system held by the State Records Office including those created by the Convict Establishment and the Colonial Secretary's Office, as well as the records of various local Courthouses and Police Stations.
Convict Establishment Records
Fremantle Prison was built as a convict establishment by the British government in the 1850's, following the decision to transport convicts to WA, 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.
The bulk of records relating to convicts and the operations of the Convict Establishment are listed online. There are a number of finding aids in the Search Room, some of which are also available as downloads at the bottom of this page.
The majority of the Convict Establishment records are available for viewing on microfilm at the State Records Office.
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:
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 from the Search Room Microform Area. 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, Consignment 4285
Lists of male convicts transported to Western Australia aboard the Hashemy and Sea Park.
- List - Convicts of Good Conduct, 1856, Series 1138, Consignment 929
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 main series of convict registers contained within the records of the Convict Establishment are 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 this series include Distribution Books, Ticket of Leave Registers, Probation Prison registers, and Registers of reconvicted Prisoners among others.
A microfiche index to the registers has been compiled by the WA Genealogical Society (WAGS) Inc. This index lists convicts alphabetically by surname and provides convict number, name of ship arrived upon and volume and page where convict entry can be found.
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 primarily of 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
The State Records Office holds numerous 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
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
See also further information on Enrolled Pensioner Guards below.
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 has been compiled by the WAGS Inc and is available for use in the Search Room Microform Area.
- Certificates - Ticket of Leave, Series 2334, Consignment 1519
Only six original ticket of leave certificates are held by the State Records Office.
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 the colony's population had risen nearly four-fold from 5,886 to 22,738.
- Register - Expirees and Conditional Pardons, 1863-1894, Series 1135, Consignment 318, Item 1
Nominal register of expirees and those holding conditional pardons who left the Colony by ship from Albany between 1863-1894. The register shows name, number, date of departure, name and destination of vessel, ship in which arrived in colony and remarks.
In some instances convicts deported to the Colony were later charged and convicted of subsequent crimes. The following records relate 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 (see below), in particular through the Criminal Case Files.
Other Miscellaneous Convict Establishment Records
- Returns - Mt Eliza Depot, Series 851, Consignment 1156, Items OCC 8-9
Statistical returns showing work done at various depots (eg. Mt Eliza) and public works (eg. Perth Bridge and Guildford Road). Shows number of men engaged on various jobs each day and amounts of stone etc quarried, carted etc.
- 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, expenditure and so on.
- 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.
Other Convict Records
In addition to the significant records on convicts created by the convict Establishment there are also many other areas where convict related information can be uncovered. The following categories of records all contain significant amounts of information relevant to researchers investigating convict history.
Police records can be a good source of information when tracing the movements of particular convicts. Police general correspondence files occasionally include returns on convicts at particular stations and can include reports on matters relating to convicts such as escapes.
Records of individual Police Stations often include records relating to convicts residing within their districts. Specific Police Station records can be located in AN 5/Stations or by searching online under the name of the individual Police Station.
Examples of Police Station records held include:
- Perth Police Court, District Transfers, 1865 & 1882-1885, Acc 3301, Item 5, AN 17
- Pinjarra Police Station, Register of Ticket of Leave Holders in the Murray District, 1852-1900, Acc 367, Item 17, AN 5
- Vasse Police Station, Convict Register - Convicts Transferred From Sussex District, 1862, Acc 3313, Item 44, AN 5
- Williams Police Station, Occurrence Book, 1881, Acc 1008, Item 2, AN 5
Includes names of Ticket of Leave Holders.
- York Police Station, Alphabetical List of Ticket of Leave Holders, 1878-1885, Acc 1141, Item 84, AN 5
- Police Department, Correspondence File - Report by York Police on Escaped Convicts, 23/3/1864, Series 2126, Consignment 129, Item 6/24
Many of the files in Series 2126 contain police reports on convict escapees and other matters dealing with convicts.
See also further information on Police records.
The early records of local courthouses often contain information relating to convicts, particularly in relation to records of reconvictions and information pertaining to the movements of ticket of leave men. The types of records available vary between courthouses and in some districts the monitoring of convict activities are dealt with by the local Police Station.
Examples of the types of records available include:
- Busselton Courthouse, Register - Convicts Employed in the Busselton District, 1873-1881, Acc 252, Item 6, AN 17
- Geraldton Courthouse, Register - Tickets of Leave, 1872-1886, Acc 1914, AN 17
- Clerk of Courts York, Ticket of Leave Butts, 1853-1857, Series 1661, Consignment 5226
- Toodyay Courthouse, Ticket of Leave Register, 1862-1870, Acc 721, Items 30 & 31, AN 17
Courthouse records can be located by searching online under the name of the relevant district.
Fremantle Passenger Lists
In addition to the transportation records listed above it is also possible in some instances to identify information pertaining to the families of convicts arriving in the Colony. Some passenger lists (such as those on microfilm at the State Records Office at Accession 115) indicate convict families, which in most cases can be found at the end of the normal passenger lists.
See also further information on passenger lists.
Criminal case files for local prisoners convicted in the Colony and sentenced to penal servitude, and for transportees reconvicted after arrival within the Colony, can be located by searching the Supreme Court Criminal Registers which are available on microfilm. Register entries provide the case numbers which can then be used to locate specific case files for convicts.
In addition to case files the following information on convicts can also be obtained from the Supreme Court records:
- Correspondence, 1861-1891, Series 252, Consignments 3637 & 3638
Includes forms detailing previous convictions of convicts as well as letters on behalf of convicts pleading their cases for forthcoming trials.
See also further information on the records of the Supreme Court.
The records of the Governor's Establishment include despatches received by the Governor of Western Australia from the various Home Office authorities responsible for the control of convicts. Include information such as consignment lists of convicts, half-yearly returns from the Convict Establishment, and financial matters concerning the Convict Establishment.
The following series are among the more significant convict related despatches:
- Colonial Office Despatches - Inward, 1834-1870, Series 1178, Consignment 41
Duplicates of despatches sent from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor of Western Australia. Although mainly letters and circulars some have attachments such as consignment lists of convicts aboard the convict ships, lists of warders, pensioner guards etc.
- Governor's Despatches Relating To Convicts, 1855-1865, Series 1169, Consignment 390, Item 41
- Despatches From The Secretary Of State, Relating To Convicts, 1855-1864, Series 1185, Consignment 134
Despatches received by the Governor dealing with the finance and administration of the Convict Establishment, public works carried out with convict labour, also numbers of convicts available for transportation, warders' employment matters, dates names of convict ships, assents and refusals to granting of conditional pardons, free pardons etc.
Colonial Secretary's Office
References to convicts can be found within the Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence. Records can be located through the Subject Indexes located in the Search Room. As well as dealing with matters concerning the Convict Establishment letters can also be traced through correspondence with Resident Magistrates and other Departments tracing various aspects of convict's lives. Headings to check for relevant correspondence include Comptroller General, Convicts, Poor Relief, Paupers, Rottnest, and correspondence from Resident Magistrates. Information revealed in correspondence with the Colonial Secretary can often prove useful for filling in the gaps of a convict's personal history.
See also further information on Colonial Secretary's Office records.
Public Works Department Plans
Plans of many of the convict establishment, prisons and gaols, as well as of structures created by convicts can be located in the records of the Public Works Department (PWD). The card index to the PWD plan series is available for use in the State Records Office Search Room, with many of the plans being made available on microfiche.
Examples of some of the plans held include:
- Roundhouse, Old Prison, Arthur's Point, Fremantle, 1838-1856, Series 399, Consignment 1647, PWD 104
- Convict Grant, Fremantle, c1850, Series 399, Consignment 1647, PWD 105
Plans showing buildings erected and in progress, including pensioner guard barracks, prisoner cells, the Comptroller General's quarters etc.
- Convict Establishment Hospital, Fremantle, 1888, Series 399, Consignment 1647, PWD 654
- Mount Eliza Depot, Perth, 1856, Series 399, Consignment 1647, PWD 772
See also further information on accessing PWD records.
Between 1842 and 1861, 1499 juvenile offenders, aged 10 to 20, 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. An index to these volumes has been compiled by WAGS and is available on microfiche in the Battye Library.
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 Battye Library's Private Archives Collection (MN 1214).
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:
- Lands & Surveys Department, Enrolled Pensioner Applications for Land Grants, 1851-1880, Series 1839, Consignment 5000, Item No 37/5-37/7
This Survey Office file contains applications by members of the Enrolled Pensioner Force for both town lots and crown grants. Details include the name of the Pensioner's former regiment, their rank, and the amount of the pension.
- Enrolled Guards , 1880-1887, Acc 144, AN 5
A listing of the Pensioner Guards assigned to the Fremantle and Perth Barracks between 1880-1887.
- Pensioner Guards aboard the "Minden", 1851, Series 1136, Consignment 628
Alphabetical list of pensioners and their families on board the ship "Minden" which sailed for Western Australia in October 1851. Shows name and age of each family member; pension, rank, regiment and occupation of pensioners.
- Lands and Surveys Department, Register of Pensioner Lands, 1850-1889, Series 1308, Consignment 4892
Shows location, name of holder, dates of assignation and issue of title, and title deed number.
- Pensioner Guards Land Grants - Victoria District, 1872, 1874-75, Series 1839, Consignment 1206
Photocopies of land grants made to members of the Enrolled Pensioner Guard in the Victoria District. Includes typed index.
- Treasury Department, Pensioner's Land Book, 1881-1884, Acc 743, Item 34, AN 158
Contains a roll of Pensioner Guards who did not receive land until 1881 and records pensioners' allotments in various districts with date of acquisition of fee simple. Details include pensioner's name, regiment pay rate, rank and details of land. A transcript of this volume can be found in the back of the hardcopy AN 158/5 finding aid accessible at the State Records Office.
Published References and Guides
There are a number of published references and guides that can be of considerable assistance when researching Western Australian convicts. These publications include:
- Convict Records of Western Australia: A Research Guide / published by the Friends of Battye Library (2016). An extremely useful guide to convict records that provides a comprehensive list of convict related reference material, much of which is located within the SRO's collection.
- Convicts in Western Australia: Dictionary of Western Australian's, Vol IX, 1850-1887 / Rica Erickson & Gillian O'Mara, (1994).
- A Register of Parkhurst Convicts "Apprenticed" in Western Australia, 1842-1851 / compiled and edited by Andrew Gill, (1992).
- The Veterans: A History of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia 1850-1880 / by F.H. Broomhall, (1989).
The State Records Office has also been fortunate to have two local researchers, Anne and Bruce Buchanan, compile a series of detailed indexes and finding aids to records in the State archives collection. Anne and Bruce have conducted this work in a voluntary capacity.
In 2005, Anne and Bruce commenced a project to index a series of convict related letters in the correspondence of the Governor of Western Australia for the period 1851-1868. This original correspondence is accessible at the State Records Office on microfilm (reference: SROWA, Consignment 488, items 30-34).
Anne and Bruce have comprehensively indexed this correspondence by addressee, theme, name, location, ship and renumeration. Copies of the indexes for items 30-32 are downloadable:
- Index to the Convict Related Letters of Captain Charles Fitzgerald, 2 January 1851 - 5 January 1853 (Consignment 488, item 30).
- Index to the Convict Related Letters of Captain Charles Fitzgerald, 4 January 1853 - 12 October 1854 (Consignment 488, item 31).
- Index to the Convict Related Letters of Captain Charles Fitzgerald, 12 October 1854 -c. 4 July 1855 and Arthur Edward Kennedy, c. 5 July 1855 - 30 April 1858 (Consignment 488, item 32).
State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of convict related records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, by facsimile on (08) 9427 3368, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person.