About this collection
In 1849, the Swan River Settlement in Western Australia took the unusual step of voting to become a British penal settlement. By 1850, the British government had eagerly begun transporting convicts to the colony, to serve out their sentences as labour for the colony. Shortly after transportation began, Fremantle Prison was built as a convict establishment to manage the arriving convicts. Over the course of eighteen years, nearly ten thousand convicts were transported in just forty-three shipments to Western Australia. The practice of convict transportation ended after a reassessment of British home policy in 1868, though the practice of convict labour continued, relying more on local prisoners as remaining transported ones finished out their sentences. The Establishment was transferred to colonial control in 1878, and later became part of the State's prison system.
The penal system in Western Australia functioned somewhat differently than in the rest of Australia. It was based on the concept of rehabilitation rather than of punishment, and the majority of convicts spent a very short time in labour groups. Instead, it was more common for them to go out into the community under a ticket of leave. Under this system, prisoners were free to seek employment before the expiration of their sentence. They were not allowed to leave the district to which they had been assigned, and were required to report to the local magistrate once per month, but they had far more freedom than prisoners in other areas of Australia. Registers of men with tickets of leave were maintained in many cases by local police and courthouses, which kept track of any convicts employed within a given district. These tickets of leave and related records can be used to track the work history and travels of individual convicts.
This collection includes a variety of records related to convicts in Western Australia, including the following:
- Convict Registers and Character Books
- Convict Store and Private Cash Account Books
- Correspondence, Letterbooks, and Stamp Books
- Finance Board Account and Minute Books
- Medical Registers and Journals
- Prisoner Personal Property Books
- Receipts and Discharges
- Records of Court Cases
- Records of Misconduct
- Staff Salaries and Appointment Books
- Superintendent Orders
- Tickets of Leave
- Transportation Records
For additional information on this collection, see the description provided by the State Records Office of Western Australia.