Captain E Y W Henderson, Comptroller General of the Convict Establishment, had been in the Colony with the first five Sappers and Miners just seven months when he wrote (in part) this report to Governor Fitzgerald:
As it will be absolutely necessary before long to send parties away from headquarters … I think the establishment of small hiring depots in two or three of the districts in which most demand for labour may exist will materially facilitate the important object of their employment … At present, if a man has not made an engagement, it is a hopeless task to set him to walk 80 or 100 miles into the interior to seek work among the widely scattered settlers and expending in the meantime his little earnings. If a small depot was established, the men would have a place of shelter to go to where applications for labour would be left, and where, if unable to obtain employment they would be rationed and employed on some Government Works. [Report to 31 Dec 1850, CO18/58/448, AJCP, Battye Library, Western Australia].
Within 12 months, a further 95 men arrived, making up the 20th Company RSM to 100 men and four officers of the Royal Engineers. Plans were in place to build and maintain substantial facilities at nine Convict Hiring Depots in order to cope with the increasing numbers of convict arrivals, including those who were due for ticket of leave status.
For the first half of the 1850s the Imperial authorities pursued a regional convict hiring system which saw ticket-of-leave men sent out to the various districts of the colony and made available for private employ. In an attempt to fulfill the original agreements which saw the colonial government accede to Transportation, the system theoretically provided the settlers in country regions the greatest opportunity to hire ticket-of-leave labour. The men assigned to the depot who had not achieved private employ would be assigned to whatever public works were being carried out, usually as part of a ticket-of-leave ‘gang’. The system also ensured that convicts were not concentrated in any one vicinity, especially Perth and Fremantle, thus reducing the potential for organised rebellion. [The Archaeology of the Convict System in Western Australia, Martin Gibbs, 2001].
Government reports on the numbers and ranks of 20th Company men stationed at these ‘outstations’ are extant, but they are not identified as individuals. I hope to identify, by name, the Sappers and Miners assigned to each of the depots. This is a time-consuming task involving examination of the Muster Books and Pay Lists. In the first instance I have identified the men stationed at the convict hiring depots of the Eastern District under the supervision of Lieutenant Edmund F Du Cane during the period January 1852 to December 1855. Du Cane left the Colony in February 1856. Similarly, Lieutenant William Crossman who supervised the King George’s Sound (Albany) Depot, left the Colony at the same time.
This topic is a work in progress and will, I hope, include background on the depots in articles contributed by guest writers whose knowledge of the sites and buildings is far greater than mine. These then are the nine depots followed by – as time allows – the names of the men who were first stationed at them with links to their profiles: North Fremantle, Freshwater Bay, Mt. Eliza, Guildford, York, Toodyay, Bunbury, Albany, Port Gregory.
King George’s Sound (Albany) Convict Hiring Depot throughout 1852 to 1855:
Booler,Thomas. Cavill, Jacob. Cole, James. Gillies, James. Herbert, Thomas.
Holton, James. Keir, James. Marlow, John. Ruse, William. Melluish, William.
Guildford Convict Hiring Depot throughout 1852 to 1855:
Barrie, George. Weeks,William. Hutton, Dennis. McNicol, James. Milsom, Charles. Skill, Robert.
Gogan, John. Scott, Amos. Weir, Alexander. Beaton, John. Mitchell, Edward. Jones, Thomas.
Thomson, John. Park, John W. Rose, John. Lidford, John. Melluish, William.
Toodyay Convict Hiring Depot throughout 1852 to 1855:
Buchanan, Charles. Henshaw, Robert. Jarvis, Henry. Lennox, Robert. Lindsay, David.
Nelson, Joseph. Pearson, William. Taylor, Edward. Unwin, Emmanuel.
York Convict Hiring Depot throughout 1852 to 1855:
Anderson, George. Munro, Archibald. Gardner, John. Mitchell, Edward. Hay, John. Fasham, John.
Scott, Amos. McNicol, James. Spry. William. Dowling, William. Jones, Thomas. Pearson, William.
Source: Muster Books & Pay Lists, Royal Engineers, Class WO11, Piece Numbers 126, 134, 138, 142, 146 [AJCP, Battye Library, Western Australia].