A Commonwealth Festival Perth 2011 Event
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Please, sir. I want some more.

“Please, Sir, I want some more” – the famous request by Oliver Twist to the master of the poorhouse, is dramatically depicted in the many film and television adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novel, including this scene from David Lean’s 1948 film version of the book which is offered on YouTube.

It colours our understanding of the operations of the poorhouse, much as it did when Dickens’ book was first published in 1838. It has influenced how we perceive the treatment of prisoners and the disadvantaged in the 19th century, and most certainly how they were fed.

In WA many would understand that the convicts received food and shelter from the State, but few people know that in the 19th century, WA also had State run poorhouses (also known as workhouses) and old people’s homes. Penelope Hetherington in her award winning book ‘Paupers, Poor Relief and Poor Houses in Western Australia 1829–1910’ documents, through a thorough investigation of the WA’s Colonial archives, how the poor and destitute were handled by the State.

The Poor:

From the earliest days of British settlement the Government was forced to provide poor relief in the form of food to some destitute settlers, 1 and by the 1860s a Poor House had been established in Goderich and later Murray Street Perth – many of the inmates comprising newly arrived immigrants. 2 The rations in the poor house included meat, bread, potatoes and milk every day.

By the 1880s, State supported ‘Poor Houses’ were an established feature of WA’s colonial society, as in the UK. An ‘Invalid Depot’, situated at the base of Mount Eliza was deemed necessary by the authorities because of the large numbers of former Convicts, often unmarried, who were unable to work. In June 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a celebratory dinner for Poor Houses and Invalid Depots was proposed by the Governor – and a Colonial Secretary’s Office  file reveals the following menu was provided to the Invalid Depot inmates.

  1. “1 lb of good roast beef
  2. 1 lb of Potatoes
  3. 1lb of Good Plum Pudding
  4. The ordinary allowance of Bread
  5. 1 bottle of Colonial beer each
  6. 1 (portion) of Tobacco
  7. 1 pipe clay
  8. 4 oz of cheese for each with extra Milk, Tea and Sugar”

William Dale, the Superintendent of Poor Houses, expressed, on behalf of the inmates, “gratitude to His Excellency for the Kindness in Thinking of them”. 3


The provisioning and feeding of WA’s Convicts was, in the main, carried out by the military authorities. The Convicts were provided for by the Commissariat.  Records detail the amounts of provisions sourced and distributed - such as flour, potatoes, mutton and tea - but they do not give information about what was done with these provisions. We can surmise flour made bread and mutton was cooked and eaten, but menus or recipes are not forthcoming in these records.

But we do know a little about the diet of Convicts. The records show that they received rations of bread, tea, potatoes, meat and oatmeal. What is not confirmed in the records is if these rations were accompanied by other food such as vegetables and fruit. Peculiarly, the archives do reveal that in a Christmas pudding to be presented to Convicts for 25 Dec 1869, the amount of raisins per convict was fixed at 4 ounces (124.4 grams). 4 For the 50th Anniversary of the founding of WA in 1879 another pudding was made for the Convicts costing £2, though what the ingredients were and the number of Convicts partaking of it is unknown. 5

1. Hetherington, Penelope. Paupers, Poor Relief & Poor Houses in Western Australia 1829-1910. Crawley, W.A., UWA Publishing, 2009. p. 1-20.

2.  Ibid. p. 21-65.

3. Colonial Secretary’s Office, file 1887/2225, His Excellency the Governor - Jubilee Day, Dinner etc., to inmates of Poor House, Gaols, Hospital. SROWA, Cons 527.



Image Courtesy of State Library of Western Australia (599B)

The State Records Office invites you to pick up your fork and join us in Eating the Archives - an online exhibition and event that forms part of the Commonwealth Festival Perth 2011.

Witness history come alive on Friday 28 October at 12.00pm in the Perth Cultural Centre as celebrated WA chef Hadleigh Troy of Restaurant Amus√© interprets and reinvents menus from the State archives collection using fresh, local produce with a modern twist. 

Twenty lucky West Australians will join State Archivist Cathrin Cassarchis and some well-known guests to experience Hadleigh Troy’s take on these historic menus.

Eating the Archives is a partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Food; and the dishes presented will reflect a Buy West Eat Best ethos, showcasing premium West Australian produce.

The online exhibition will take you on a culinary journey to experience food fashions of the past and gain an insight into how these events have shaped today’s food culture and informed WA’s identity. This exhibition will be served up in three courses; Appetiser, Banquet and Dessert. Come back and sample more food related offerings from the State archives collection and follow us on our journey.

Eating the Archives is an event for all to celebrate as chef Hadleigh Troy pays tribute to a bygone culinary era, bringing a small part of WA’s history alive through food.

See and hear Hadleigh begin his journey...

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