Western Australia began its life as a free colony in 1829 and it was not until its 21st birthday
in 1850 that the convict labour it sought to bolster its flagging economy finally arrived. The
18 year history of its convict past between 1850 and 1868 may be given most attention by
historians, but it is important to note that its first taste of convict life was really in 1827
when a small party of soldiers and convicts arrived from Sydney to establish a British presence
in the region amidst fears of French occupation. It is even possible that some of the New South
Wales convicts found themselves further north in the Swan River Settlement in the years that
As with Tasmania, New Zealand and Victoria, Western Australia also received a number of convict
boys from Parkhurst Prison during the 1840s. They had been rehabilitated in England and arrived
as free settlers destined for apprenticeships with local settlers and their convict past is
Rottnest Island to the west of Fremantle, had been used for local
colonial offenders since 1838, but 1850 marked a major change in policy when the first 75
convicts arrived from England aboard the Scindian.
In all, around 9,720 British convicts were sent directly to the colony in 43 ships between
1850-1868. Thirty seven of the voyages carried large numbers of prisoners from England,
although one voyage actually collected her load in Bermuda. The remaining six ships brought
smaller cargoes of military prisoners from amongst the ranks of British troops serving in
Modern historians are now putting forward alternative theories, but the traditional reason
why Western Australia elected to change its status from a free colony to a penal colony was
that local settlers needed a supply of cheap labour to help develop the region. The decision
also came at a time when the eastern states were shutting down their penal settlements and
once again Britain found herself without an offshore dumping ground for her convicts, just
as had happened 65 years earlier after the American War of Independence.
Interestingly though, and possibly out of necessity, Britain was also re-assessing her
criminal system and beginning to keep more of her lesser offenders at home. That being the
case, it is not surprising to find that many of Western Australia's convicts were the more
hardened criminals who were convicted for more serious crimes than stealing sheep and picking
pockets, especially as the Western Australian chapter drew to a close.
Western Australia's convicts were sentenced to terms of 6, 7, 10, 14 and 15 years and some
reports suggest that their literacy rate was around 75% as opposed to 50% for those sent to
the eastern states. About a third of the convicts left the Swan River Colony after serving
their time but many were also re-convicted locally for later offences. There are also four
instances of prisoners escaping and being sent out again after being re-captured.
The following series of pages contain passenger lists for the 43 convict transports sent to
Western Australia. They are an amalgum of information extracted from several sources and in
the process every attempt has been made to correct the various anomalies, omissions and
typographical errors which were encountered.
This presentation has been compiled in good faith, but as always, cyber-tourists are urged
to treat the information with caution and refer to primary sources for confirmation and
further research. Some readily available secondary sources are listed at the foot of each
page and they will provide much more information about individual convicts, their pensioner
guards and the ships which brought them to Western Australia.
A more recent resource which has yet to be fully transcribed is a series of lists compiled
and published by the original Convict Establishment of Western Australia. It lists convicts
in registration number order, not only as they arrived, but also as various prisoners were
re-convicted locally, or as local offenders joined their ranks.
This new resource primarily deals with the convicts' physical appearance but full trial dates
are also given on the later lists. Unfortunately the listings only exist in the form of a
photocopy of a rather tattered original document held in the Battye Library in Perth, Western
Australia, but a sample of what can be found on them can be seen on this sample page for the
first voyage of the Pyrenees in 1851. We plan to transcribe the rest as time goes on.