Convict Histories

Two Absconders Caught at Australind – William Knight & George Bird

By Irma Walter, 2021.

William Knight (c1832 – 1865) (Reg. No. 1265)

On 11 October 1850 William Knight, single, a blacksmith and soldier, faced a General Court Martial at Malta. His crime was throwing his cap at his Superior Officer.[1] He was convicted of insubordination on 10 October 1850 and was sentenced to 21 years’ penal servitude. He was taken to England where he served time at Millbank and Pentonville Prisons before being received onboard the convict ship William Jardine.[2] The ship arrived at Fremantle on 1 August 1852. His description – a blacksmith, aged 28, single, 5’7½”, dark brown hair, grey eyes, oval face, sallow complexion, stout build, with cut on left cheek, a bracelet, anchor and ship on right hand, letter ‘D’ on left.[3] [The letter ‘D’ was stamped on the side of re-captured escapees from the military. See “‘D’ for Deserters” article on this website.]

William’s record as a convict in Western Australia shows a man deeply resentful of his treatment by the military hierarchy and determined to escape from the Colony at his first opportunity. In 1857 he and another convict George Bird attempted an escape. Which district they were in at the time is not known. Word spread for settlers to be on the lookout for the two absconders, probably on their way to the South-west coast, seeking passage on a whaler.

George Eliot, Resident Magistrate in the Wellington District, would have been alerted to the escape. On 16 May 1857, his father-in-law, Marshall Waller Clifton, settler at Australind, recorded in his journal that –

Jem came in with News from Gervase that the Bushrangers were near his place; I sent to Harris to go with the Natives out. On reaching Cokup they fell in with their Tracks & followed them in here. I had sent to Eliot who sent up Bashford & at ½ p’ 7 I dispatched him and Harris, Townsend & Crowde & Jem on Horseback & late at Night they caught the two men asleep near the point of the Collie.

A few days later on 22 May Clifton wrote – Most splendid Day. Ellen & I rode down to Bunbury. Sat on the Bench to try Bushrangers, Knight & Bird & sentenced them to 8 years.[4]

Knight’s Convict Record in WA

24/7/1854 – Provisional Prisoner discharged.[5] Ticket of Leave granted.

22/5/1857 – Received from Resident Magistrate George Eliot at Bunbury following a conviction of breaking into and stealing – six years’ penal servitude.

30 May 1857 – One of two Reconvicted Prisoners received at prison.[6] (Also George Bird, Reg. No. 3828.)[7]

16/7/58 – Absconded.

24/7/1858 – William Knight absconder – brought back.[8] Placed in Absconders’ Class.

24/7/1858 – Removed to H/L party on 10/8/59.

26/7/1858 – Sent to Bread & Water alternate days for three weeks and placed in Separate Confinement.[9]

16/8/1859 – Absconded again, this time along with John Docherty (2555)[10] and Thomas Maughan (2354)[11], [12]

14/2/1860 – One day in Dark Cells.[13]

18/8/1859 – Three Reconvicted Prisoners received from Police – (John Docherty, Thomas Maughan and William Knight.[14]) Knight sentenced to 21 days on Bread & Water and 100 lashes.[15]

3/9/1859 – Conduct – recommended for removal to Refractory Cell by Surgeon. Placed on Separate Confinement. Removed on 7/6/1860 – offence, insubordination. [16]

19/6/1861 – Reconvicted Prisoner to Ticket of Leave.[17]

7/3/64 – Conditional Pardon on receipt of Certificate.[18]

Nothing is known of William Knight’s work history, apart from his death recorded as taking place at M Hassell’s Station at Kendenup, on 23 Apr 1865.[19] His age at death was officially recorded as 40 years.[20] Burial place unknown.


George Bird (c1832 – ?) (Reg. No. 3828)

The other man arrested at Australind already had a history of absconding back in England.

George Bird was convicted at Wells in Somerset on 4 August 1852 of burglary and due to previous convictions was sentenced to ten years’ transportation.[21]

A few days later on 10 August 1852 he broke out of the Somerset County Gaol at Wells with the notorious William Sparrow. Officials had been complaining about the run-down state of the Wells prison for some time and were not surprised that the two ‘gaol birds’ were able to break a hole through a stone wall with a piece of iron. They were re-captured the same day after being recognised by a local farmer as they walked along a country road.[22]

[Note: George Bird’s companion, William Sparrow, along with William Maggs and Robert Hurd, had recently been acquitted of raping and killing a girl at Frome in Somerset, instead receiving two convictions for larceny, totalling 25 years.[23] Where Sparrow spent his prison terms is not known – no record has been found of him being sent to Tasmania or Western Australia. Not to be confused with another WA escapee, George Sparrow (Reg. No. 6974).]

George Bird arrived at Fremantle WA on 29 March 1856 onboard the William Hammond, received from Portland Prison. His description was – a farm labourer, Protestant, aged 24, black hair, dark brown eyes, round face, dark complexion, middling stout, with ‘GB’ and anchor on his right arm and ‘G’ on his left.[24] He was able to read and write imperfectly. George’s conduct during the voyage to Western Australia was described as ‘Indifferent’, although his conduct for that year was recorded as ‘Good, Very Good and Excellent’.

Like most convicts of that period, Bird was discharged on Ticket of Leave soon after arrival, on 27 May 1856 [25] His record following his release shows a rebellious attitude towards authority. As a consequence he received some harsh punishment –

Bird’s Convict Record in WA

22 May 1857 – Convicted at Bunbury by George Eliot (RM) of breaking into and stealing –

sentence six years’ Penal Servitude. (After absconding. Victim unknown.)

30 May 1857 – Received at Fremantle Prison from Bunbury.[26]

18 July 1857 – Imp. – 12 months – One month Bread & Water alternate days.[27]

30 May 1857 – One of two Reconvicted Prisoners received at prison for absconding.[28]

(Along with William Knight, Reg. No. 1265)

17 August 1857 – Sent for 100 lashes.[29]

22 March 1859 – Forfeited dinner.[30]

26 April 1859 – Removed from Separate Confinement.[31]

21 October 1859 – Transferred to Probation Ward.

24 January 1861 – Cautioned.

21 May 1861 – Provisional Prisoner, aged 24, labourer, treated for cough.[32]

26 July 1861 – Employed as washer while treated for cough.[33]

19 August 1861 – If the Petitioner’s conduct continues exemplary he may be discharged on

22 November 1861.

22 November 1861 – Discharged.[34]

26 May 1864 – Conditional Pardon date.

June 1864 – Aged 27, in hospital with Ophthalmia.

10 December 1867 – Committed by Magistrate George Eliot (Bunbury) – aggravated assault – six months and bound over to keep the peace on £50. (Victim unknown.)

13 December 1867 – Received G. Bird, Local prisoner – six months.[35] Commuted by

Magistrate George Eliot.[36]

No more is known about George Bird. Knowing his past history, he may have left the Colony.


[1] England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 Image,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Convict Department Registers (128/40-43)

[4] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Carlyle, WA, 2010, pp. 536, 537.

[5] Convict Department Receipts and Discharges (RD1-RD3)

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

[7] Note: See George Bird details on this website.

[8] Convict Department Receipts and Discharges (RD1 – RD2)

[9] Convict Department Registers, Reconvicted Prisoners’ Register (R10)

[10] Note: See details of John Docherty on Toodyay Convict Database.

[11] Convict Department, Receipts and Discharges (RD3-RD4)

[12] Note: See details of Thomas Maughan on Midwest Convict Register

[13] Ibid.

[14] Convict Department Receipts and Discharges (RD3-RD4)

[15] Convict Department Registers, Reconvicted Prisoners’ Register (R10)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Convict Establishment Stamp Books (S1-S3)

[19] Fremantle Prison Convict Database,

[20] Registration No. 2830, WA Department of Justice

[21] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Somerset, 1852.

[22] Salisbury & Winchester Journal, 14 August 1852.

[23] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Somerset, 1852.

[24] Convict Department Estimates & Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[25] Convict Department Character Book (R19)

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

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

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

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid.

[32] Convict Establishment, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers (CS6 – CS8)

[33] Ibid.

[34] Convict Department Registers, Reconvicted Prisoners Register (R10)

[35] Convict Department, Receipts & Discharges (RD5 – RD7)

[36] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners Register (V16)