Rare photographs of 74 of Australia's Last Convicts

Gerard Foley Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 18:09

Are these prison photographs the final images of Australia’s last convicts?

Western Australia was the last of the Australian colonies to receive transported convicts, the final cohort arriving in Fremantle on the Hougoumont on 9 January 1868. In recent times there has been considerable research about the lives and fate of many of the Convicts transported to WA.

Photographs of the Convicts are rare, but recently long time genealogical researchers Lorraine Clarke and Cherie Strickland explored the State Archives Collection, WA’s largest archival collection which is preserved and made accessible by the State Records Office of Western Australia. There are thousands of prisoner photographs in the collection, but what was not known was how many of these photographs depicted those Convicts who were transported to WA between 1850 and 1868. In particular they examined a 19th century Convict Register (Cons1156/R23), Fremantle Prison Registers (Cons4173), and surviving Fremantle Prisoner photographs (Cons4286) for relevant photographs of the Convicts who came to WA. Their research has been very fruitful and 74 heretofore unidentified photographs of WA Convicts have been located. Lorraine and Cherie have produced a book called Australia's Last Convicts which contains these photographs along with short biographies of each of the Convicts depicted.

Portraying inmates in Fremantle Prison, these photographs are essentially late 19th and early 20th century equivalents of ‘mugshots’. They depict those men – only men were transported to WA – who returned to the penal system after they had served their original sentences. Age has faded some of the photographs and other original images are quite small. A few are blurry revealing that the standard of photography was not always high. Some photographs are of men standing next to a mirror, so that one image provides both a ‘front on’ and ‘side on’ mugshot. The men are quite elderly and some photographs reveal difficult, hard lives.

Dating from the late 1880s until around 1912 the images are brought together and presented in this book revealing the final collection of images of the last transported Convicts in Australia. Citing where the original photographs can be located in the State Archives Collection, there is a page entry for each man photographed, the entries also summarises the information in the registers about the crimes committed, using original terminology. Quite a few of the men are recidivists who spent much of their lives in the prison system for mainly petty crimes. Others were gaoled for more serious offences. Several of the photographed men spent a considerable amount of time in the community as reformed individuals, but returned to prison for a criminal act that occurred many years later, a crime that was very different in nature to that which originally saw them transported to Australia.

Australia's Last Convicts is available for purchase through the Friends of Battye Library  (Inc.). To purchase download and complete an order form. The cost is $20 and there is an extra charge of $15 postage and handling. All profits go to the Friends of Battye Library (Inc.), which supports the J.S Battye Library of West Australian History and the State Archives (now known as the State Records Office of Western Australia) through its aims and activities in assisting with the acquisition, preservation and use of archival and documentary materials.