Convict Connections has put together an index of names which appear in Letters sent to the Sheriff between the years 1828 – 1850 by the Colonial Secretary’s Office.
Following are a few random letters to show that these letters contain not only names of convicts but also free settlers, judges, jurors, doctors, soldiers, etc. Some do not contain names but are nevertheless interesting to read if you are interested in learning more about the state of the colony during that era. Even if your ancestor does not appear in the completed index, you may want to find out a bit of related background information, so I am sure the information contained in this resource will be of great benefit to researchers.
The sample letters were chosen completely at random from one of the microfilms. Some of the writing is very difficult to decipher, but it is well worth the effort.
12 January 1833 , Sydney
With reference to your letter of the 17 November respecting the three prisoners named in the margin now in Parramatta Gaol as unfit for labor in Ironed Gangs to which they have been sentenced, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to acquaint you that the Sergeant at Parramatta having examined these men, has reported that in his opinion they are fit for labor in Irons, and to request therefore that they may be placed on board the Hulk to work on Goat Island. They will not require a Military Escort from Parramatta to Sydney, one or two constables being considered sufficient.
Michael McDonogh – having an iron leg
William Powell – sub ject to epilepsy
William Leversuch – weak in leg and hands
19 December 1832
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 17 th ultimo stating that the wife of the Gaoler at Newcastle is both competent and willing to undertake the duty of Matron at that Establishment where there are occasionally a number of females confined, but that if any ob jection be entertained on account of the Gaoler’s wife only holding a Ticket-of-Leave, the Turnkey’s wife who came free to the Colony is well fitted for the duty.
In reply, I am directed by the Governor to inform you that His Excellency would prefer, in this case, employing the Gaoler’s wife, as she will be enabled to act with the authority of her husband, and the jealousy and discord which might be occasioned by employing the wife of his inferior in the Gaol will be avoided. His Excellency would not, however, propose to allow her more than five pounds a year for the trifling duty which she will have to perform.
22 Feb 1833 , Sydney
In reply to your letter of the 9 th inst. reporting that the two prisoners named in the margin (John Jones, “Royal Admiral”; Job Jones, “John”) in the Ironed Gang on Goat Island have been guilty of gross violence and refused to work and that the men generally are becoming insubordinate.
I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to acquaint you that the assistant Police Magistrate has been requested to proceed on board the Hulk occasionally in compliance with your suggestion, and held a court under the Act 3 Gal IV Cap 3 Dec 28.
25 May 1833, Sydney
With reference to your letter of the 20 th Ultimo enclosing copy of one from the Gaoler at Newcastle reporting that Captain Westmacott had given orders to cut off the hair of female prisoners received into that Gaol.
I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to acquaint you that he has requested Captain Westmacott not to interfere in such matters.
Signed Alex McLeay.
25 June 1835
I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to acquaint you that the Deputy Commissary General has been instructed to provide passages to Port Macquarie for the sixteen prisoners named in the annexed list, Specials and Invalids now on board the Hulk under orders for the above settlement, and to request that you will ensure these men to be embarked on Mr Laidley’s appraising you that conveyance is ready. You will also have the goodness to inform the Ma jor of Brigade when the prisoners are about being shipped.
I have the great honour to be
List referred to in annexed letter –
Peter Fredk Rosult Lady Margaret
John Card Lady Margaret
Edward James Surry
Cornelius Cronan Surry
John Foss Lady Nugent
Joseph Bradley America
Wm Geary Recovery
Edward Cullimore York
John Cotty Forth
Joseph Buckler Portland
Wm Vandy Mellish
John Walker Lady Nugent
Cornelius Leyne Blenheim
Francis Fuller Champion
James Peters B. Merchant
Joseph Thorpe Mangles
25 June 1835
In compliance to the recommendation contained in your letter of the 8 th instant I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you he approves of the appointment of John Hammell to be Constable of the Gaol at Newcastle in the room of Greenfield dismissed with the same rate of pay as received by the latter from the 5 June 1835.
26 June 1835
I do myself the honour to inform you that the Deputy Commissary General has been requested to provide passages to Port Macquarie in addition to those ordered by my letter of yesterday’s date for the eight prisoners named in the annexed list Specials and Invalids under orders for that settlement. Mr Laidley has been requested to appraise you when that vessel is about to sail.
29 June 1835
With reference to my letter of the 15 instant I am now directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that the Deputy Commissary General has been instructed to provide a new boat for the Hulk Phoenix to replace the one alluded to in your letter of the 20 Ultimo which is reported to be unworthy of repairs and is therefore to be delivered to the Commissariat to be sold. Until the new boat is ready the Master Attendant will lend you one for the use of the Hulk.
29 June 1835
I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you with reference to your letter of 10 December that His Excellency has no ob jection to the salary of Mrs Hewson being raised to 12 pounds per annum from the first of the present year, as Matron of the Female Prisoners in the Gaol at Newcastle. But I am to request that you will point out to her that it is her duty to attend visitors to the Female Ward and that no male should ever enter it without the presence of the Matron.
I have the honour to be
Alexander Mc Leay.
Microfilm 1065 Page 395/6
Sydney 17 Dec 1849
I am directed by the Governor to inform you that the following Establishment has been provided for the Gaol at Moreton Bay for the ensuing year viz
Gaoler £100 a year
Visiting Justice £50
Two Chaplains £25 each
Five Turnkeys one at 3/6; and four at 3/3 each
One Clerk 3/3 per day
2. I am further to appraise you that Captain Wickham is appointed visiting Magistrate and Dr Ballow Surgeon of the Gaol, and that Chaplains will be appointed.
3. In making the present communication, His Excellency deems me to request that you will have the goodness propose a person or Gaoler and that you will also have the goodness to appoint the inferior officers, or as many of whom as may be considered necessary at present.
4. I am to add that the appointments will all take effect from the 1 st January next.
In compliance with the recommendation contained in your letter of the 18 th instant I do myself the honour to inform you that His Excellency the Governor approves of the appointment of Mr Martin Feeney to be Gaoler at Brisbane, and of Mrs Maria Feeney to be Matron of the same Establishment. Mr Feeney will receive the salary noted for the office of £100 per annum and Mrs Feeney of £25 a year from the date of their commencing duty.
2. His Excellency advises me to say that, as proposed by you, he approves of three turnkeys only being appointed at first and until you have ascertained that the services of the others provided for are required. The appointment of the Clerk is also approved.
I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that in the case of Jacob Wagner and Patrick Fitzgerald capitally convicted at the Brisbane Circuit Court, of the murder of James Marston, and sentenced to suffer death, the sentence of the Law is to be carried into execution at Brisbane in the usual manner on Monday, the 8 th day of July next, and to request that you will cause the unhappy men to be apprised accordingly.
2. I am further directed to request that you will communicate with the Visiting Justice of the Gaol at Brisbane, in order that the necessary arrangements may be made for the execution, the erection of Gallows, etc, the particulars of which you will be pleased to communicate to me with as little delay as possible.
3. It is understood that the “Eagle” Steamer proceeds to Moreton Bay this evening, by which opportunity it is desirable that you should write to the Visiting Justice.
4. You will be pleased to acknowledge the receipt of this letter.
With reference to your letter of the 23 rd July last in which you forward an estimate of new work and improvements for the Brisbane Gaol, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that the work cannot be undertaken, as there will be no funds available to meet the proposed expense.
In 1840 an Act of Government was passed in New South Wales. It was for the Regulation of Gaols, Prisons and Houses of Correction in the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependencies and for other purposes relating thereto. This gave the Sheriff control of all such places of detention, except for the Hulks and some penal establishments which were managed by Superintendents who were directly responsible to the Colonial Secretary. (Here in Queensland, such places were St Helena and Stewart’s Creek.)
The Sheriff’s position did come under the control of the Colonial Secretary, but confusingly he was not actually attached to the Colonial Secretary’s Office. He was in fact an officer of the Supreme Court and the Department of the Attorney General.
Police gaols were attached to a police station and were not controlled by the Sheriff. The gaoler in such cases was a police officer as the gaols were part of the Police Department. So the Sheriff had overall responsibility, but not control over the administration of the police gaols.
The system was made even more confusing by the fact that the police lock-ups often became temporary public prisons when Circuit or District Courts were sitting. By doing this, unconvicted prisoners in remote districts did not have to be moved to the larger gaols and then transported back to the district when the trial was heard.
Thus you can see that the prison system was quite a complex affair.