Freshwater Bay Convict Depot

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Information about Freshwater Bay Depot is in short supply compared to the other locations; perhaps because it was operating as a ‘convict work place’ some time before any kind of ‘structures’ were contemplated.

Investigations of the Freshwater Bay station have shown that nothing remains standing above ground, although archaeological excavations at the site, now behind the Claremont Police Station, indicate that some traces survive below the surface of the car park which now covers it (Gibbs 2001:65).

Point Resolution Memorial

Freshwater Bay Convict Depot Well [courtesy Claremont Museum]
The Point Resolution Quarry was certainly a ‘convict place’ since a camp for the convict quarriers would have been established there. However, this was not the location of a convict depot as suggested by this Plaque (left). For men working on the Fremantle to Perth Road, these depots were located at Freshwater Bay, North Fremantle and Mt Eliza.  Another memorial plaque is at the site of the Freshwater Bay Convict Depot Well. It was unveiled by the Governor of Western Australia, Professor Gordon Reid on 12th September 1984.  The Plaque (in part) reads ‘This monument, placed on the site of Prisoners Well, commemorates the activities carried on here by the pioneers of Claremont in road building, water supply, religious worship, education and local government.’


Perth Gazette 11 July 1851

Convict Work Parties
In July 1851 the Perth Gazette newspaper indicated that work stations would be established to facilitate work parties on the building of the road between Fremantle and Perth. At that time accommodation would have been canvas tents.

Charles Frederick Gregory, was Assistant Superintendent with responsibility of the work parties on the Fremantle-Perth Road. David J Barker’s Warders and Gaolers Dictionary references all those associated with the oversight of the Freshwater Bay road parties.

By December 1851, ‘Conditions of the Contract’ for the supply of fresh meat [and other goods] to her Majesty’s troops, pensioners on duty, convict establishment, and hiring depots at Fremantle, North Fremantle, Freshwater Bay, Mount Eliza and Perth for the following fiscal year April 1852 to March 1853 were appearing in all the Colony’s newspapers.

In the Comptroller General’s Report to the Governor dated 1st March 1852 he advised:
The party at North Fremantle were employed in preparation of the huts for the pensioners, and in clearing their land; after which they made a causeway on either side of the river, across the shoal flats, previous to which no boat could get within 100 yards of the shore; and they were also employed in clearing a line of road towards Perth. A party was also sent into Freshwater Bay, half way between, for the same purpose.

Freshwater Bay ‘Branch Prison’
From the moment Captain Edmund Y W Henderson stepped onto the Colony’s soil in June 1850, he was faced with too many convicts and too few places to accommodate them. The permanent prison in Fremantle was still two years from completion when the arrival of two ships in the second half of 1853 led to the formation of ‘branch prisons’ as an overflow solution. Freshwater Bay received 80 Irish convicts from Phoebe Dunbar. These men were accommodated in  a Henderson brainchild – ‘wooden depots’. These structures were framed and trialled in Fremantle: ‘A wooden building, 110 feet long, 20 feet wide, on plates, weather-boarded on sides, shingled on battens, and floored, with ship’s fittings.’ It is not clear if the dimensions were changed for those being sent to the depots, but Freshwater Bay received a wooden building, covered with painted canvas, large enough to accommodate 80 hammocks (for the men from Phoebe Dunbar). Four small wooden houses, again covered with painted canvas, were also sent to Freshwater Bay to accommodate warders and stores.

Henderson’s half-yearly report of 31 December 1853 to Governor Fitzgerald includes the comment:
A large number of wooden depots were constructed to give accommodation for the additional prisoners received, as well as wooden houses for the officers in charge at the newly-formed stations; these are strong and portable, and being made of the invaluable jarrah wood of the colony, which is very durable and resists the white ant, will last a long time. These buildings are much cheaper and more useful than canvass tents, which are unfit for winter use, and soon get destroyed.

The Enrolled Pensioners
It was men from the Enrolled Pensioner Force who, other than the civilian settlers, first took up residence in Freshwater Bay. All these men had come to the Colony as Guards on the first convict ship, Scindian, except Thomas Bandy who had arrived on Hashemy. These ships arrived in June and October 1850 respectively. Land had been surveyed for a ‘pensioner village’ and although there is a scarcity of maps of this era available from the WA State Archives, this sketch which accompanied a Topograhpical Return of 30th June 1851, shows 9.5 acre allotments set aside for 18 pensioners. As can be seen the area was also known as Butler’s Swamp. Half-acre grants were also available for pensioners on the river front.

Lot#Lot# (Official)NameRegimentNotes
1P221Andrew Gordon40th Regiment of FootLeft for Sydney 1855.
2P222Michael StokesHEIC (Artillery)Title application Feb 1858.
3P223Robert Lindsay2nd Regiment of FootTitle application Feb 1858.
4P224Moses O’Keefe44th Regiment of FootTitle application Feb 1858.
5P225Henry HerbertRoyal African CorpsTitle application Feb 1858.
6P226Thomas Bandy98th Regiment of FootGranted Perth Lot V155 in 1884.
7P227John Kingdon43rd Regiment of FootDied October 1851.
8P228Michael Reddin61st Regiment of FootLot purchased by ‘Thomas McMullin’ Sep 1859.
9P229James (Thomas) McMullenRoyal ArtilleryTitle application Feb 1858.
10P230John Barrett61st Regiment of FootLot purchased by ‘Thomas McMullin’ Sep 1859.
11P231Peter Murphy31st Regiment of FootTitle application Dec 1858.
12P232Samuel SuttonRoyal MarinesTitle application Feb 1858 & purchase of three half-acre Lots 253, 254, 255.
13P233Samuel ButterworthRoyal ArtilleryTitle application Jul 1860 for Lot 227 (Kingdon’s).
14P234Joseph Foot76th Regiment of FootDied November 1852.
15P235John Kirwin30th Regiment of FootLeft for South Australia 1857.
16P236John Atkinson2nd Dragoon GuardsTitle application Feb 1858.
17P237James Murphy19th Regiment of FootTitle application Feb 1858.
18P238William Finley97th Regiment of FootTitle application Feb 1858.

Although applications for titles by ten of the original assignees were made by 1858, there is no indication that any grant, or purchase, took place in this area, except in the case of Samuel Sutton who purchased half-acre blocks 253, 254 and 255 combined as one Title Deed. And Thomas McMullen purchased the 9.5 acre blocks initially assigned to Michael Reddin and John Barrett.

Captain John Bruce, EPF Staff Officer in his Report dated 14th June 1852 writes:
… I regret my inability to present a bright picture of the condition and prospects of the pensioners settled there [Freshwater Bay]. Each man was allotted ten acres of land, for the most part of good quality, but very heavily timbered, and the sum of ten pounds was allowed to each in aid of settlement. The result was that the greater portion of this money was expended upon provisions, and consequently the parties were compelled to shelter themselves in a very indifferent manner.

By the end of May 1860, all the Pensioner settlers had withdrawn from Freshwater Bay, and from that time onward this locality ceased to figure in the Pensioner records [Broomhall:100].

The 20th Company of Royal Sappers and Miners
1853 seems to have been the year Freshwater Bay emerged as an entity with its own convict depot. This was also the year that Westminster’s Penal Servitude Act changed some aspects of the transportation system to Western Australia; that convict transportation to Tasmania ceased; that the role of the Sappers and Miners in the Swan River Colony was debated* at great length in correspondence between Comptroller General Henderson, Governor Fitzgerald and the Duke of Newcastle, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

The first Sapper to be stationed at Freshwater Bay was Private John Kenny, a carpenter who had arrived on Anna Robertson in December 1851. Kenny manned the Freshwater Bay station from February to the end of April 1852 when he transferred to North Fremantle, leaving Freshwater Bay without a Sapper on duty for 17 months.

In October 1853 Private John Fasham, a blacksmith and another Anna Robertson arrival, took up his post at Freshwater Bay Convict Depot . Fasham left in February 1855 and transferred to Mt Eliza. Freshwater Bay was without a Sapper on duty for three months until Private Alexander Callender took over in July 1855. Callender, a shipwright/carpenter by trade, remained at the Freshwater Bay Depot as the lone Sapper until June 1856. At that time he failed to substantiate claims he made against Assistant Superintendent Henry Tinson and was removed from the Depot back to HQ in Fremantle. Private William Spry, a painter, took over at the Depot at the end of June 1856.

Depot Closure and Further Use
In 1862 two stone buildings were added which may have replaced some of the earlier wooden structures. In 1875 the area stopped functioning as a convict depot and in 1879 was transferred to the Colony by the Imperial Government. Thereafter the stone buildings were used as a Church of England chapel and Sunday school; a government school; a meeting place for the Congregational Church; and even the first municipal election’s polling booth.

* This debate is long and complex, steeped as it is in the Colony’s ‘politics’. The debate began as soon as the first Sappers and Miners arrived in 1850 and continued throughout their tenure here. When time permits I will endeavour to summarise the finer points.


The Archaeology of the Convict System in Western Australia, Martin Gibbs, Australasian Historical Archaelology 2001.
Waymarking website for Point Resolution.
Warders and Gaolers: A Dictionary of Western Australian Prison Officers, David J. Barker 2003.
Perth Gazette 11 Jul 1851.
The Veterans: a history of the Enrolled Pensioner Force, F H Broomhall 1989.
Topographical Return 30 June 1851: CO18-60-450, The National Archives, Kew [AJCP Microfilm, Battye Library].
Pensioner Land Records Cons. 5000 and Cons. 4892, WA State Record Office.
Muster Books & Pay Lists, Royal Engineers, Class WO11, Piece Numbers 126, 134, 138, 142, 146, The National Archives, Kew.
Further correspondence on the subject of Convict Discipline and Transportation, 1852-1855, Volume 6.
Heritage Council website:
The Curator, Town of Claremont’s Freshwater Bay Museum.


© Diane Oldman 2019