Bunbury Convict Depot

In March 1836, a certain Lieutenant Henry William St Pierre Bunbury arrived in Western Australia from Tasmania to join a detachment of his regiment – the 21st Regiment (Royal North British Fuzileers) – which had been in the Colony since 1833. The then 23 year-old Lieutenant is known for the establishment of a military post at Williams and Busselton. Bunbury’s time in WA was a brief 20 months, but Sir James Stirling was sufficiently impressed by the young man (or perhaps his family’s connections) to name the town of Bunbury for him.

A military post was not established in Bunbury until 1843 and by the following year the military presence was one sergeant and 14 men from the 51st Regiment . That number was never exceeded and by 1851 only nine men on detachment from the 99th Regiment remained on station.

Enter nine men of the Enrolled Pensioner Force (EPF). To a man they had served in the British Army infantry regiments or the Honourable East India Company (HEIC); all had been discharged to pension; all but one had arrived on the convict ship Hashemy in October 1850 as convict guards; their initial engagement was for six months on military pay and free rations. Furthermore, they had free passage to Western Australia for their families and were entitled to land grants after seven years service in the EPF.

Imminent departure for Bunbury of prisoners and pensioners [Perth Gazette 11 July 1851]
The pensioners’ arrival in Bunbury in mid-1851, escorting 40 ticket-of-leave (TOL) men looking for work from the settlers, coincided with the imminent departure of the nine men of the 99th Regiment of Foot. As one of the EPF conditions of engagement included “liability to serve in defence of the Colony …” [Broomhall:2], the offer of these men to relieve the 99th garrisoned at Bunbury, was too good to refuse. Although the men were officially off the EPF pay list, the ‘home’ government via Captain Bruce, agreed that they could receive free rations and be housed in ‘the barracks’ until their own cottages had been built. It seems that despite the nature of the relationship between the convicts and their guards on board the ships, the two groups were getting along comfortably.

Pensioner Lands Bunbury [WASRO Cons 4892].
Lots were surveyed for the pensioners along the banks of the Leschenault Estuary from Meredith Creek; the lots faced Stirling Street , backed by marshy land. P1 – 5 of the surveyed lots were considered too low to build on, and others, including P9 were allocated on Sir James Stirling Street between Arthur and Victoria Streets. The eventual granting of land to the pensioners was as diagram (right).

Captain E Y W Henderson, Comptroller General of Convicts summarised the situation in a report to Governor Charles Fitzgerald dated 31 Dec 1851: At Bunbury also, a military village has been formed under your Excellency’s sanction. At the station, nine allotments have been marked off for a small pensioner village. These have been cleared by the ticket-of-leave men and comfortable stone cottages erected on five of them, the expense of material for which amounted to £15. The allowance to each Pensioner being £10, an arrangement has been made with Captain Bruce, the Officer commanding the Pensioners, that each man should pay stoppage of £5, if not allowed by the Home Government, as it was found impossible to bring the expense of materials within the sum allowed. The stone was quarried, the rushes cut for thatching, and all of the work performed by the ticket-of-leave men. They were also employed making a line of road into Bunbury, in consequence of the occupation of the Pensioners’ lots and those given over to the convict establishment, having shut up the only entrance into Bunbury. This road, which lay through a heavy tea-tree swamp, has been very excellently made. [Further Correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, Vol. 5, pp.169-173].

Thus the convicts, under the watchful eye of the EPF men, were based in a house purchased for them and started work on the pensioners’ cottages. It seems that despite the nature of the relationship between convicts and their guards on board ship (the same ship in many cases), the two groups were getting along comfortably.

Sketch of Bunbury Convict Depot Location
[Irma Walter, Hesperian Press 2014]
According to this undated sketch above, the convict depot was situate on townsite lots 282 to 287 and lots 291 to 293 bounded by Stephens, Sir James Stirling and Arthur Streets. There are no lots marked west of Arthur Street. The lots marked ‘Lovell’ on the boundary with Sir James Stirling Street do not appear to be part of the depot. This is confirmed by a map [Campbell:35] dated by Bunbury City Library c. 1870 (below).

Ten allotments surveyed for pensioners in green; convict depot in purple; pensioner land grants P1-5 & 9 in yellow

In the various sources written about this period in Bunbury, the words ‘barracks’, ‘station’ and ‘military village’ appear interchangeable. It is sometimes difficult to assess whether this terminology applied to the existing military barracks or to the convict hiring depot. It is therefore unclear exactly when construction began on the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot, but it was most likely late 1851.

The WA Heritage Council states: The Bunbury Convict Depot was built in the 1850s to a design by Henry Trigg of the Royal Engineers*. It was a brick building built by private and contract labour to accommodate the Commissariat and Hiring Depot. The first group of convicts arrived in Bunbury in 1851 and they were a prominent presence in Bunbury through the 1850s and 1860s.

Henry Trigg had NOT served in the Royal Engineers*. He had been a carpenter/builder in England before arriving in WA in 1829 with a considerable land grant and capital. He became a builder in the Colony and in 1839 appointed Superintendent of Public Works. In the latter role he may well have been associated with the design of the depot in Bunbury, but its construction phase would be taken over by the Comptroller General of Convicts and his Royal Engineers; undoubtedly ‘private and contract labour’ would have included ticket-of-leave men.

Henry Trigwell’s final Muster Roll and Pay List
Oct – Dec 1861 [WO11-199]
Following the arrival of 70 men and officer Captain Henry Wray of the 20th Company Royal Sappers and Miners in December 1851, 2nd Corporal Henry Trigwell was assigned to the Bunbury Convict Depot in February 1852 until November 1861. He was a blacksmith by trade and his role would be an Instructing Warder to convicts employed on public works; he was alone in this task for eight months until joined by Private William Jose (carpenter). Both men took their Army discharges in Western Australia and with their large families became valued settlers. In 1854 Jose returned to the Fremantle Establishment and was relieved by Privates George Anderson (mason) and Charles Buchanan (carpenter).

The Bunbury Convict Depot is described in the Comptroller General’s final Memorandum of Work in 1862 as: A Depot for 120 men, cook-house, bake-house, store, ablution room, workshops, and offices, as also all necessary out–buildings, all enclosed with a boundary wall and gates; quarters for two warders, commissariat store, with quarters and office, hospital, and the required out-buildings, have been erected; also 13 cottages for pensioners, court-house, retiring room, and quarters for one policeman.

It seems unlikely that the optimum convict number was ever reached as the useful men were quickly taken into private employment and would often have lived with employers or built their own accommodation. As at other depots, the men were a mixture of prisoners and TOL men. They quarried their own stone, made bricks, burned lime and sawed timber. The work was supervised by the Sappers and Miners – those mentioned above and others that followed. Other public works included the construction of Preston Bridge and roads to Collie, Australind, and Vasse (Busselton).

In the mid 1860s, a bonded store, post office and police quarters were completed on the site [Bunbury Historical Society]. The Depot finally closed in 1872 and the buildings later used as a school, police barracks and hospital. The Bunbury Convict Outstation buildings are now all gone and part of the site is occupied by the Bunbury Museum & Heritage Centre.

The Military Establishment in Western Australia 1829-1863. E S Whitely and C G S Whiteley, ed. Keith J Bostock, 2010, Hesperian Press.
The Veterans: A History of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia, 1850-1880. F H Broomhall, 1989, Hesperian Press.
Places of Interest – Country Areas. Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc., Enrolled Pensioner Guard Special Interest Group (leaflet), 2015.
Building the Fremantle Convict Establishment. Robin McKellar Campbell, Thesis for Ph.D. 2011, University of Western Australia.
Convict System: A collection of miscellaneous official documents relating to the transportation of convicts to Australia, covering the period 1810-1865, bound in 8 volumes., State Library of WA.
Stout-hearted: the story of Stephen Montague Stout. Irma Walter, 2014, Hesperian Press.
Henderson & Coy. Robin McKellar Campbell, 2017, Uniprint W.A.
Convict Depot & Commissariat Site, Place No. 05701. City of Bunbury, 1997, Heritage Council, State Heritage Office WA.


© Diane Oldman 2018.