The State Records Office holds many relevant series of records relating to State prisoners, some of which date back to 1830 and document the establishment of Perth's first gaol. These 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 Convict Records.
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 up to 70 years. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
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 several name changes including: Department of Corrections (1972-1982), Prisons Department (1982-1987), and Department of Corrective Services (1987-1993), the Offender Management Division of the Ministry of Justice (1993-2001) and the Department of Justice (2001-2006). In February 2006, a newly formed department - the Department of Corrective Services - took over the function of the prison system when the Department of Justice was abolished.
General information on prisons and gaols from throughout the State can be located through the records of these departments.
Selected examples of the types of departmental records held include:
- Prisons Department - Functional Files, 1889-1972, Acc 968 & 1350, AN 123
Contain correspondence between the Department and the Gaols on a range of matters including recommendations for remission of sentence for individual prisoners, transfers, staff salaries and expenses, prisoner rations, and day-to-day matters of prison management.
- Gaols Department, Register - Prisoners, 1902-1932, Series 1727, Consignment 1325
The first few pages contain lists of prisoners under the name of the prison for 1902. The remainder of the volume lists prisoners at the Northam Gaol between 1907 and 1932.
- Gaols Department, Records of Rations and Luxury Issues, 1879-1936, Series 1821, Consignment 1156, Items F 7-10
Records of rations and luxuries for Perth Gaol, work parties, Fremantle Prison, Pardalup Prison Farm, Rottenest Gaol.
- Comptroller-General of Prisons, Letter and Memorandum Books, 1905-1916, Series 1818, Consignment 1156, Items F 20-24 & F26
Correspondence of the Comptroller-General of Prisons.
The State Records Office holds several collections of files that relate specifically to 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.
NOTE: Prison records may have a restricted access period of up to 70 years. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
There are a great deal of records available for Fremantle Prison covering most aspects of life within the prison. Records include prison menus, handover and debrief reports, medical journals, accounts books, dispatch books, workshop records, cell inspection registers, chief officers journals and so on.
The following records provide examples of some of 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 through using the nominal card index of prisoners.
- Registers - Corporal Punishment, 1878-1964, Series 682, Consignment 4202
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, Consignment 1156, Items FP 20-29
- 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:
- Albany Prison, Occurrence Books, 1930-1938, Series 452, Consignment 3788
- Albany Prison, Warrants of Commitment, 1903-1932, Series 1219, Consignment 696, Items 3-15
Warrants of Commitment for prisoners held in Albany Goal following sentencing by legal authorities in various districts including: Albany, Broomehill, Esperance, Katanning, Kojonup, Mt Barker, Ravensthorpe and Wagin. The Warrant of Commitment details name and address of the prisoner, the charge laid and the sentence received. Some warrants also include other documentation eg. inventories of property.
Gaols were used for holding criminals awaiting trial or those convicted of relatively minor crimes serving short term sentences.
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.
- Perth Gaol, Register of Local Prisoners, 1876-1888, Cons 1156, Items F 3-4, AN 358
- Perth Gaol, Reports and Occurrences Books, 1875-1882 & 1886-1888, Series 690, Consignment 1156, Items OCC16, 18 & 26, and Consignment 4189, Item 1
Occurrence books recording daily events including new prisoners received, prisoners discharged, awaiting trial etc.
In 1838 Rottnest Island was established as a native prison and continued as such for most of the 19th century. In 1903 Rottnest closed as a native prison and was proclaimed a gaol on 8 January 1904 - operating as an outstation of Fremantle until its closure in 1932.
- 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, Consignment 1156, Items OCC 15 & 22-24
Daily record of incidents, occurrences and distribution of prisoners at Rottnest Island prison.
Additional listings may also be held in hardcopy.
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, Consignments 1441 & 4312
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, Consignment 4198
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, Consignment 1442
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 the prisoner including nature of offence, sentence, committing magistrate, trade, religion, marital status, literacy and so forth.
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 at the State Records Office Search Room. 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, Consignment 786, Item 42
- 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
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).
Can provide background information in relation to some 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.
State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of prison 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.