Convict Histories

George Butler (c1827 – ? ) (Reg. Nos. 90 and 4612)

By Irma Walter, 2019.

George Butler’s story is unusual due to the fact that he was twice transported to Western Australia, firstly in 1851 on the Hashemy, and the second time in 1858 on the Nile, after being convicted of having returned to England before completing his full term of punishment. His court case was reported as follows:

George Butler, charged with returning from transportation before the expiration of his term, pleaded guilty. His Lordship said he was before transported for 15 years. In the note he had handed in he stated that he had served a proper and reasonable time, had a ticket-of-leave, and bought off the remainder of the servitude. But he had violated the law, and must be punished accordingly. Prisoner was a young man, and he hoped he might still have a mitigation of the punishment he must pass on him, and return to honest ways. The sentence was that he be transported for 20 years.[1]

George Butler already had a previous conviction when in 1848 he and two companions faced court at the Chelmsford Assizes in Essex, charged with larceny.[2] They were described as miserable-looking lads, two of them being shoeless. Details were given of how George Butler (aged 20), John Roberts (21) and Thomas Folkes (17) broke into the house of a widow named Lucy Marshall at Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex in the early hours of one morning demanding money, food and drink. They were arrested the next day and all three were found guilty after witnesses gave evidence against them. Roberts and Butler, with previous convictions, were sentenced to 15 years’ transportation, while the youngest member of the gang, Thomas Folkes, received a lesser term of 18 months’ hard labour.[3]

1st term of imprisonment in Western Australia

George Butler (Reg. No. 90) and John Roberts (Reg. No. 153) were taken from Portland Prison to the convict ship Hashemy, leaving Portsmouth on 22 July 1850 as members of the second contingent of prisoners transported to the colony of Western Australia. They arrived in Fremantle on 25 October 1850.

At that time George’s records claim a private school education, with his intellect described as ‘sound’, his reading level adequate and his writing skills ‘fair’.[4] He described himself as a servant and put the reason for his crimes down to ‘Bad Company’. The name given for his next-of-kin, a brother ‘George William(s?), shopkeeper of York Terrace’, and his nominated referee as ‘Lord Jersey at Middleton Stoney’ leave unanswered questions about the information he provided to the authorities.[5]

In Western Australia George was to receive his ticket-of-leave on 10 September 1851[6], but this appears to have been delayed until 16 September 1854.[7] On 12 June 1852 he was received back at Fremantle Prison from Rottnest.[8] He was on ticket-of-leave when referred to hospital on 6 October 1854.[9] His medical report states that he was brought back from his employment on the pilot boat at Rottnest due to an incapacity to work, from neuralgia of his limbs.[10]

It must have been soon afterwards that he escaped from the colony, arriving back in England prior to being arrested and taken back into custody in 1856. It is possible that skills gained on board the pilot boat earned him a berth on an out-going ship.

2nd term of imprisonment in Western Australia

Following his conviction on 24 March 1856 at Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk of absconding from transportation before his term of 15 years was finished, George Butler was sentenced to a further 20 years’ transportation. One can only imagine his feelings about the severity of the sentence and the prospect of returning to WA. His prison record while in custody awaiting transport records his character in Separate Confinement as ‘Good’, and in Public Works as ‘Very Good’.[11] George Butler, sailmaker, by this time aged 29, was transported on the Nile, arriving at Fremantle on 1 January 1858.

A petition that he submitted in March 1858 was probably the reason for his original sentence of 20 years being commuted by the Comptroller-General to 10 years, on 18 October 1858. [See below.] George was discharged on ticket-of-leave on 4 March 1859.[12]

Convict Records 1858 – 1866

22/3/58 – Submitted a petition – Correspondence In (C2/1115), & Out (C3/1990).[13]

24/6/59 – One of two ticket-of-leave men discharged at FW Bay (Freshwater Bay).[14]

20/8/1859 – Received at Fremantle Prison.[15] Convicted on 20 August 1859 by Thomas Brown of absconding from his service on the Pilot Boat –– 3 months’ hard labour.

10/12/1859 – Discharged.

21/1/1860 – Burglary at the Vasse – Re-convicted, received back in Fremantle Prison, along with Jevan and Dowden.[16] Sentence – three years. All three also convicted of attempting to escape from the Vasse – a further three years.[17] [See details below.]

5/9/ 62 – On T/L at Toodyay.

12/4/64 – To Swan from Guildford. Employed by James Baker as Cook, 30/- per month. Left.

20/7/64 – In service of Lowie at Guildford. Discharged 10/5/65 and sent into Depot.

10/6/ 65 – Transferred to York & ….. (indecipherable)

1/11/65 – Transferred back to Main Depot.

5/1/66 – In service of R. De Burgh, Mid. Swan, at £1 per month.

9 March 1866 – Discharged from service of W. Harris, Mid Swan.

10 March 1866 – W. Hammersley (sic), Swan. Discharged 21 March 1866 and returned to Depot.

16/4/66 – Entered Toodyay Depot.[18]

1860 – Crime Committed at the Vasse.

A correspondent under date 9th instant writes as follows: —’ The notorious Jevan and another man (Frederick Dowden, t./l.) have been found guilty of having entered the dwelling of a man named Symmons and stealing therefrom two guns, two pounds of powder, some shot, and a box of gun caps, rather dangerous articles in the hands of a man like Jevan.

Another person, George Butler, t.l., was also found guilty of giving false evidence before the Court in order to clear the accused. The three men were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in the Convict Establishment. Subsequently they were brought before the Magistrates and sentenced to an additional term of three years for breaking down the lining of the cells in the lock-up, and also with doing other damage to the wall in an attempt to escape. The police caught them at this work at 2 a.m. on Sunday.[19]

No more details have been found regarding George Butler after 1866. It is likely that his determination to quit the colony was finally successful.


[1]Bury and Norwich Post, 2 April 1856.

[2] Sun, London, 11 March 1848.

[3] Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 March 1848.

[4] Convict Department Register, General Register for Numbers 1-299 (R21A).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Convict Department Registers, Character Book 1850 – 1857 (R17)

[7] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R21B)

[8] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges, (RD1 – RD2)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Convict Establishment, Medical Register by Patient, 1854 (M13)

[11] Convict Department Registers, Convicts Transported Per Nile (R32)

[12] Convict Department Registers, Re-convicted Prisoners Register (R10)

[13] Convict Department Registers, (128/38-39)

[14] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges, (RD1 – RD2)

[15] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges, (RD3 – RD4)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Convict Department Registers (128/31-39)

[18] Convict Records, Miscellaneous, Tickets of Leave, Swan District, (1859 – 1866)

[19] Inquirer, 18 January 1860.