Crime and Punishment

Many Western Australians have a convict or pensioner guard in their ancestral family. The State Library has digitised some items from our heritage collections relating to convicts, the police and the early criminal justice system.

Convicts slwa_b2462917_1

Convicts Tom the dealer, Davey Evans and Paddy Paternoster b2462917

Police Gazette of Western Australia, 1876-1900
The Police Gazettes include information under various headings including apprehensions (name of person arrested, arresting constable, charge and sentence), police appointments, tickets of leave, certificates of freedom, and conditional pardons issued to convicts. You may find physical descriptions of prisoners. Deserters from military service and escaped prisoners are sought. Mention is also made of expirees leaving the colony; inquests (where held, date, name and date of death of person, verdict); licences (publican, gallon, eating, boarding and lodging houses, railway refreshment rooms, wine and beer and spirit merchants, etc. giving name of licensee, name of hotel and town or district). There are listings for missing friends; prisoners discharged; people tried at Quarter Sessions (name, offence, district, verdict); and warrants issued. There are many reasons for a name to appear in the gazettes.

We thank the Friends of Battye Library and the Sholl Bequest, for supporting the digitising of the Police Gazettes.

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A great resource for researching the broader experience of WA convicts is The convict system in Western Australia, 1850-1870 by Cherry Gertzel. This thesis explains the workings of the convict system, and explores the conditions under which the convicts lived and worked, their effect on the colony and, to some extent, the attitudes of colonists to the prisoners.

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Another valuable publication is Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. This comprises official documents relating to the transportation of convicts to Australia, covering the period 1810-1865, and is bound in 8 volumes.
This set from our rare book collection gives an excellent background to the subject for anyone researching convicts or convict guards, with individuals (very) occasionally being named.
The easiest way to access this wonderful resource is to type convict system under Title in our catalogue and select State Library Online from the drop-down box. Once you’ve selected a volume, you can browse through the pages by placing your cursor on the edge of a page and clicking. If you have the volume turned on, this makes a very satisfying page-turning noise! If you want to search for names, scroll down and select the Download button. You can then save a searchable PDF version to your PC. The files are fairly large so you may need to be patient.

Return of the number of wives and families of ticket-of-leave holders to be sent out to Western Australia 1859

Return of the number of wives and families of ticket-of-leave holders to be sent out to Western Australia 1859 From: Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, 1859-1865 p.65. [vol.8]

 There are several online diaries relating to convict voyages. The diary, including copies of letters home, of convict John Acton Wroth was kept during his transportation to Western Australia on the Mermaid in 1851 and for a while after his arrival. Wroth was only 17 years old at the time of his conviction. Apparently he was enamoured of a young woman and resorted to fraud in order to find the means to impress her. The diary spans 1851-1853 and it reveals one young man’s difficulty in finding himself far from the love and support of his family while accepting of the circumstance he has brought upon himself. Wroth subsequently settled in Toodyay and became a respected resident, raising a large family and running several businesses as well as acting for some time as local school master.

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Another interesting read is the transcript of the diary of John Gregg, carpenter on the convict ship York. This 1862 diary gives details of work each day, which was often difficult when the weather was foul and the carpenter sea-sick, and uncommon events such as attempts by convicts to escape –

“…the affair altogether must be admitted to reflect little credit on the military portion of the convict guard, for although the officer of the watch called loud and long for the guard, none were forthcoming until the prisoners were actually in custody.”

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Diary of John Gregg, carpenter on the convict ship ‘York’, with definitions of nautical terms, compiled by Juliet Ludbrook.





A letter from a convict in Australia to a brother in England, originally published in the Cornhill Magazine, April 1866 contains insights into the experience of a more educated felon and some sharp observations on convict life as lived by him upon his arrival in Western Australia-

“…you can walk about and talk with your friends as you please. So long as there is no disturbance, there is no interference”


“…the bond class stand in the proportion of fully five-sevenths of the entire population, and are fully conscious of their power…”

Other miscellaneous convict -related items include:

Two posters listing convict runaways with details of their convictions and descriptions:
Return of convicts who have escaped from the colony, and whose absconding has been notified to this office between the 1st June, 1850, and the 31st of March, 1859
List of convicts who are supposed to have escaped the Colony (a broadsheet giving the name, number and description of 83 escaped convicts).

Parade state of the Enrolled Guard, 30 March 1887, on the occasion of the inspection of the guard by Sir Frederick Napier Broome, prior to disbandment.


Parade state of the Enrolled Guard… b1936163


British Army pensioners came out to Western Australia as convict guards. This document gives the following details for those still serving in 1887:- rank, name, regiment, age, rate of pension, length of Army service, rank when pensioned, date of joining the Enrolled Guard, medals and clasps.







Scale of remission for English convicts sentenced to penal servitude subsequent to 1 July 1857  is a table showing how much time in good behaviour convicts needed to accrue in order to qualify for privileges.

Certificate of freedom, 1869 [Certificates of freedom of convict William Dore]

This is just a small sample of convict-related material in the State Library collections that you can explore online. You can also visit the Battye Library of West Australian History to research individual convicts, policemen, pensioner guards or others involved in the criminal justice system.


Family Stories – Family Histories

 Presented as part of National Family History Week 1 – 3 August

Charles Brown and familyHow much do we really know abut our family’s background?  Are those family stories really true?  Partly true? Wishful thinking? Here is some background to the three family stories I am going to talk about during my seminar.  Two are about my family and one is about the family of a lady who has given me permission to use the story of her grandmother.  I hope you will enjoy the unravelling of these stories, and find inspiration to start or continue your own family history journey.

FAMILY STORY   1:  My mother’s maiden name is Eyre.   My great-aunt maintained that, while staying with the Eyre family, Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre.  She also told me that we were related to Edward John Eyre, who crossed Australia.  She told us that before she died she would fill in all the details of our family history, and true to her word, she wrote to my mother, setting out what she knew and what she surmised about the family history.  Her brother, my great-uncle, also wrote down his version of the family history.

FAMILY STORY   2:  A lady approached me wanting to enrol for a beginner’s seminar I conduct regularly at the City of Vincent Library and Local History Centre because, in her words, she wanted ‘to find out who my Nanna really was.’  When her grandmother died here in Perth in 1991, she and her mother were asked to provide details of the deceased’s birth, parentage, marriage, offspring etc.  It was in trying to find this information by going through the documents she had left that they realised a number of details just did not add up.  Intrigued,  I said I would do a bit of looking up for her.  And the more I looked the more curious the story got…

FAMILY STORY   3:  My father’s family knew very little about my grandfather, Charles Brown.  He was orphaned at a very early age and grew up in a workhouse.  His memories were few and the details were sketchy.  My uncle had tried to find out more in the early 1980’s, checking up on what little his father had revealed of his life, and personally searching the records.   I took up the challenge some twenty years later, and my book Who are you Charlie Brown?  is the story of the unearthing of his life and family. 

Presented by Wendy Brown, historian.  Date: Wednesday – August 1 2012 Time:  11:00 AM – 12:00 PM   For details of all seminars and tours visit the State Library website:

WAGS Open Day

As part of W.A. Week 2008 The Western Australian Genealogical Society is holding an open day. If you are thinking of starting to research your family history, or are interested in the social history of  Western Australia you will find much of interest.

Special interest groups that will be represented include the Swan River Pioneers 1829-1838,  the Convict Group, The Enrolled Pensioner Guards, and the Computer Group.

WAGS members will be available to provide free advice to both new and experienced researchers.

When:    Tuesday 21st October  10.00am – 4.00pm

Where:   Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc.

Units 4-6/ 48 May Street, Bayswater