Guildford Convict Depot

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It was the fertile soil of the Swan Valley that led to the first European settlement at Guildford soon after the Swan River Colony was established by Captain James Stirling in 1829. Blocks of land on both sides of the river were quickly assigned to eager settlers. When Guildford was surveyed at the end of 1829, 94 blocks were made available to soldiers, agriculturists, yeomen and servants released from their indentures . [Excerpt from Historic Guildford, Swan Valley Visitor Centre 2018]. See sidebar Map 1.

Contract for Guildford Supplies 1851

Twenty years on, the Guildford settlers must have been delighted about the prospect of having ticket-of-leave convicts to assist them; labour was in short supply and they were doing it tough. In late 1850 when Captain Henderson, Comptroller of Convicts, and Governor Fitzgerald hatched their plan to provide convict hiring depots in townships east of Perth, around 175 convicts were already in the Colony – arrivals from Scindian and Hashemy, together with Henderson and his five Sappers and 87 men from the Enrolled Pensioner Force. Depots closer to Perth were populated with convicts and their names advertised. The needs of the future depots were outlined and tenders advertised.

It is clear that convicts and their warder overseers had formed road parties in the Guildford district by 1851. They would have been housed in tents or bush huts and moved camp as they progressed their work.

In December 1851, the ship Anna Robertson arrived with 65 men in the second wave of Sappers and Miners accompanied by Royal Engineers Lieutenant Edmund Frederick Du Cane and Captain Henry Wray. There were now 70 Sappers and three RE officers in the Colony along with convicts, prison warders and pensioner guards from three more convict ship arrivals during 1851.

Lieutenant Edmund Frederick Du Cane [Hasluck 1973]
Du Cane spent the Christmas/New Year festivities in Perth and in January 1852 accompanied a lieutenant of the 99th Regiment and Assistant Surveyor A C Gregory from Fremantle, heading North. This expedition lasted until early 1852 and when Du Cane arrived back in Perth, he found confirmation that he was to be stationed in Guildford in charge of the ‘Eastern Districts’ of Toodyay and York, with his HQ and residence there. He had a choice of districts and was pleased with the place he had chosen. He wrote home, “At Guildford I am within 9 miles of Perth, the chief town & the place is more populated about here – bridges – depots – gaols &c is what we are building just now – I have been looking out for a nice place for my ‘District Office’ for the last few days – and have got a pretty good place with a view up a valley – The Darling Range in the distance.” [Hasluck:28].

Du Cane’s arrival heralded the start of work on wooden buildings for a barracks and warders cottage; they were the equivalent of today’s ‘kit homes’, the timber frames being sent up river from Fremantle. The original barracks were later replaced with brick. This work was started with 10-15 ticket-of-leave men supervised by three sappers: George Barrie, William Weeks and Dennis Hutton. The allocation of land and plan of the depot was not officially approved nor signed off by Governor Charles Fitzgerald until April 1853. At this time the only building in evidence on the plan was the gaol, upgraded by John Welbourne in 1851. See sidebar Map 2.

In 1853 the official capacity of 65 was exceeded and over 130 men had passed through the depot. Not all were ticket-of-leave men and it was thought expedient to build a security wall around the depot, while those deemed trustworthy made up the road-making parties for Toodyay and York. The Convict Depot was stretched along Meadow Street between Swan Street and Helena Street, with Mangles Street intersecting at the centre point as shown in sidebar Map 3.

Du Cane was in Guildford for three years and while there, had a home built on Lot 45 (the largest area in the entire complex), having first found lodging in a cottage owned by William Devenish on Lot 33 Swan Street. Du Cane left the Colony in February 1855 and never returned. He and his Sappers and Miners were responsible for instructing the convicts in the development of the Depot which by 1856 comprised the grand array of buildings and facilities sketched in Map 4.

Auctioneer James Morrison operated his business on the depot site from 1875, prior to its ‘official closure’

Guildford Convict Depot was not downgraded within five years of its existence as so many of the other early depots had been; in fact between 1857 and 1862 it was the only hiring depot in the Eastern District. In 1878 the depot was officially closed but the buildings remained in use for a time. Today (2018) Du Cane’s house is still standing, now a private residence; the commissariat is now the Garrick Theatre; the courthouse and gaol extension built 1866/67 are now part of the Swan Guildford Historical Society Museum complex. The convict barracks were demolished in 1881 and the remainder of the depot in 1897 to make way for the railway; the hospital was replaced by the 1898 post office; the Sappers quarters were demolished by 1900 to make way for the town hall.

Overall there were more Sappers and Miners engaged at Guildford Depot than any other, and in September 1853 nine men were on station. Others, as yet to be identified, would have been present up to 1862 and extracting names from the musters from 1856 to the time the 20th Company returned to England is a work in progress.

We may never know the names of those convicts who passed through the depot, nor those who formed the first road parties. Two possible men who worked on building the depot were John Pawley #551 and Simon Gulliver #553 (Pyrenees 1851) – their names gleaned from a newspaper report. Follow­-up on these two seems unlikely as their records are missing from the Convict General Registers of State Record Office Acc No. 1156, series R1B, their records falling within a series of blank pages. It is equally unlikely that I will be able to identify the prison warders who resided at the Guildford Depot.

Guildford TOL Men 1852

We can more successfully identify the Enrolled Pensioners who occupied land set aside for their grants and/or purchase. Although no ‘pensioner village’ as such eventuated at Guildford, land was set aside for grants/purchase for pensioners or their widows. Four homes were built on these two acre lots by convicts labour, initially under the supervision of Du Cane and the Sappers and Miners.

Private John Davis (known in WA as John Law Davis) served in the 2nd Madras European Light Infantry in the East India Company. Discharged to pension in 1850, he came to WA as an Enrolled Pensioner Guard on Dudbrook in 1853. He built a cottage on Lot P114, West Guildford (now 1 Surrey Street) which remains today, the oldest building in Bassendean. Not all pensioners occupied land in the allocated Lots 114-125. Corporal John Reilly of 57th Foot, arrived as an Enrolled Pensioner on Sultana in 1859. He was granted Lot 83 in Guildford in 1872. This property, now No 53 Helena Street, Guildford was added to the Register of Heritage Places in October 2007.

Finally, Map 5 in the sidebar identifies all the land uses in Guildford discussed above by individuals and groups of people during the convict era. This 1902 map was used as it is the easiest to read.

Maps, Plans, Illustrations
Map 1 Guildford Town Site Cons 3868-169 [H C Sutherland 1829], WA State Records Office.
Map 2 Convict Reserve Cons 3850-25c [H S King 1891], WA State Records Office.
Map 3 Guildford Convict Site Cons 3850-25a [H S King 1891] WA State Records Office.
Map 4 Site Layout of the Convict Depot c. 1856 [Manning] Sean Winter PhD Thesis, p.307.
Map 5 Guildford Town Cons 3868-177 [Owtram & Purkiss 1902] WA State Records Office.
Enrolled Pensioners Land Allocation, Guildford Cons 4892, WA State Records Office.
Du Cane in uniform and cottage, Alexandra Hasluck, Royal Engineer: A Life of Sir Edmund Du Cane, 1973.
Diane Oldman outside Bassendean Pensioner’s Cottage, photograph Marjorie Burton.

Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News 26 Sep 1851.
Inquirer 15 Feb 1852.
Inquirer & Commercial News 28 Sep 1875.

Diane Oldman outside John Law Davis’ Cottage, 1 Surrey Street, Bassendean in 2018

Campbell, Robin McKellar, Henderson & Coy. Uniprint, 2017.
Winter, Sean, Global, Regional and Local Networks: Archaeological Investigation of the Western Australian Penal Colony 1850 – 1875, PhD Thesis, UWA, 2013.
Hasluck, Alexandra, Royal Engineer: A Life of Sir Edmund Du Cane, Angus and Robertson, 1973.
Cradle of the Colony: A Story of Guildford and the Swan Valley, City of Swan and the Swan Guildford Historical Society, 2018.
Register of Heritage Places Assessment Documentation, 5 October 2007, Heritage Council of WA.

I would like to thank Shirley Babis (Bassendean Historical Society), Paul Bridges and Celia Miller (Swan Guildford Historical Society) and Janet Megarrity (Town of Bassendean) for their interest and assistance when I visited Guildford and Bassendean in September 2018.  May our association and sharing of information continue.


© Diane Oldman 2018