Hiring Depots

During the years from 1850-1868, convicts were sent to Western Australia. When they first arrived, the prisoners were first kept in Daniel Scott’s warehouse, on the shore of South Bay. It was fitted with hammocks, 9 punishment cells, guard rooms, outbuildings and a high wall enclosing the six town lots the area included. This provided a temporary prison for several years while the convict inhabitants constructed a permanent establishment on a hill overlooking Fremantle.

To fulfil the original promise of making convict labour available to the free settlers, a hiring depot was established in the major town of each of the colonised districts. Each of these depots included similar components: offices and quarters for the administrative staff, a store, cookhouse, hospital and sleeping barracks as well as a small range of cells for minor offenders.

A convict who, with continued good conduct after a specified period, a ticket-of-leave would be granted, allowing a man to be hired by the settlers, or in special cases, to start his own business. However, to ensure a distribution of convicts throughout the colony, the ticket would be issued for employment within a certain district. If not hired immediately, the convict would be assigned to further public works in that district, joining a road or works party, sometimes with probationers. If good behaviour continued a conditional pardon would be issued, effectively making him a free man, allowed to leave the colony but not to return to England. At the completion of the sentence, a certificate of freedom would be granted.

When he first arrived, Samuel spent nearly two years at the Fremantle Prison, before being relocated to the Lynton Hiring Depot. [2] The convicts were sent there to assist with building up the mining industry at the Geraldine Mine and worked on building the road between Lynton and the mine some 50km away across harsh sandy plain. The depot was closed in 1856 when a number of the men developed scurvy owing to a lack of fresh vegetable in their diet. After the closure, a hiring depot was built at Champion Bay (Geraldton) which continued until 1864 when it became the Geraldton Gaol. [21]

This building is still standing today (2016) and is situated on a 3-hectare site on the corner of Bayly and Chapman Road, Geraldton. The original boundary fence, built by the convicts is also standing. The Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides conduct tours of the Old Gaol and Victoria District Hospital twice weekly.

References to Samuel Mansell’s Convict Story