Convict Histories

George Dunne (1829 -?) (Reg. No. 4173)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

On 7 September 1856 George Dunn(e) arrived in Western Australia onboard the Runnymede. This contingent of 248 convicts had more than the usual number of serious offenders in its ranks. Among them also were 54 convicts whose licences for early release back into their community had been revoked, and they were sent to WA to serve out their full term. This system of releasing convicts early from their sentence on licence, as a reward for exemplary behaviour whilst in a British prison, had been introduced under an Act of Parliament in 1853 known as 17th & 18th Vic., whereby a convict sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude could earn a remission (or ‘Ticket of Leave’) after three years, and one whose sentence was ten years could be released on licence after four years.

This system had been introduced due to the realisation that avenues for transporting thousands of offenders out of the country each year was coming to an end, with the last shipload of convicts to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) transported in December 1852, leaving Western Australia as the only place willing to accept a limited number. It was hoped that instead of being a burden on the public purse, this new system would allow the licensee to return to his community and earn an honest living.

In 1856 Colonel Jebb, Inspector-General of Prisons, sought to allay community fears of increasing crime, describing the new system a success. Figures were quoted in Parliament which showed that in 1852 there had been 3059 persons sentenced to transportation, while in 1854 there were only 399. However, it was argued that the proportion of recommitments in England was as high as 40%, while in Scotland it was close to 100%. Police were not being informed about people being released into their districts, thus making it difficult to keep an eye on the activities of these ticket-of-leave men.[1]

George Dunn was one of these individuals onboard the Runnymede who had their licence for an early release revoked.


George Dunn was born in 1829 in Dorset to parents David and Ann. At the time of the 1841 census the family was living at Little Cheney in Dorset, where David was listed as a 40-year-old dairyman, and his children were named as Henry, (aged 13), George (12), Arabella (10), and Mary (5). All were born in Dorset County.

In 1848 George Dunn served time with hard labour for a number of petty crimes, including stealing five sheep. It was noted that he already had a previous conviction on 4 January 1848.[2] At the Easter Sessions of the Dorset County Court on 28 March 1850 Dunn was acquitted of stealing money.[3] Then on 14 October 1851 he was convicted at the Michaelmas Sessions in Dorchester of stealing money as a servant and was sentenced to seven years.[4]

On 18 March 1852 he was removed to Millbank Prison.[5] On his arrival he was described as a dairyman, married, aged 27 (?), 5’5½”, with light brown hair, blue eyes, a round face, fresh complexion, stout. He had a cross on his right arm, a cross and a wreath on the left arm, and a scar on his forehead.[6] He spent 26 days there in Separate Confinement and was described as a quiet man, able to read but not write. His intelligence was rated as ‘very little’.

He was then transferred to Pentonville Prison on 15 April 1852, where he spent a further nine months and seven days in Separate Confinement. [Its purpose was to allow prisoners time to contemplate the consequences of their sinful behaviour.] On 22 January 1853 he was taken to Portsmouth Prison, where he spent two years and 17 days on Public Works and one year three months and eight days in Separate Confinement, etc.[7] His behaviour in prison must have been satisfactory, because on 2 February 1855 he was discharged on licence.[8] [It is possible that he got married during this period.]

However, his freedom on licence only lasted 11 months and two days.[9] On 5 January 1856, George Dunn, (Ticket of Leave), was charged with stealing potatoes, for which he was sentenced to one month’s gaol.[10] His licence was revoked by the Metropolitan Police and he was taken to Portsmouth Prison to await transportation.[11] He was allowed a visit on 21 May 1856. His next-of-kin were listed as his parents David and Ann Dunn of Longport, Somerset, and his brother Henry Dunn, of Bridport in Dorset.[12]

Transportation to Western Australia

On 11 June 1856 the Runnymede set sail from Portsmouth, arriving at Fremantle on 7 September that year.  On arrival convict George Dunne was listed as a labourer, Protestant, aged 22, single (?), able to read but could not write. His behaviour while in Solitary Confinement had been Good, on Public Works, Very Good, and during the voyage, Good.

His Record in WA

George’s record is sparse, probably indicating that he avoided trouble –

14 October 1856 – On Bread & Water seven days.

20 Nov 1856 – George Dunne quarry worker, sought treatment for a bowel complaint.[13]

10 December 1856 – One of thirteen Pro. Prisoners discharged to Mt Eliza.[14]

16 March 1857 – Released on Ticket of Leave.[15]

December 1858 – Expiration of sentence.[16]

In 1858 it is said that George applied for his wife to follow him to Western Australia as an assisted migrant.[17] Whether this eventuated is not known.

By October 1859 George was at Australind, employed as a shepherd by Marshall Waller Clifton, who kept detailed records of the activities of his employees –

10 October 1859 – Counted the Sheep 854 and 1 small Lamb & received them from Staines & gave them into the charge of George Dunn whom I hired as My Shepherd at £2 per Month & Igglesdon & sent them to Mount Elinor.

29 October 1859 – Sent the sheep on with Lyons & Shepherd Dunn.

7 November 1859 – Dunn Shepherd came in at night & I gave him an Order for things at Allnutts & to send in a Wedder (wether) tomorrow.

13 November 1859 – Sheep shearing finished & flock came in. Put the 3 Rams with the Old Ones & kept Wedders for killing & killed one, leaving the flock which went out with Dunn & Igglesdon.

11 January 1860 – Rode back to Sheep Station. Examined them & found 16 had been killed or died since last return. Thos. Dornan joined last night. Settled with George Dunn that He is to leave me on Saturday next.

13 January 1860 – George Dunn came in from the Station having given up the Charge to Thos. Dornan.

14 January 1860 – Balanced Accounts with Dunn on his return from Bunbury & paid him the Balance, see Ledger.

15 January 1860 – Gave Dunn letter to George [Eliot?][18]

The loss of a large number of sheep at the Clifton property was reported in a Perth

newspaper –

We regret to hear of a heavy loss sustained by M. W. Clifton, Esq., the week before last, by the poisoning of between two and three hundred sheep, out of a flock of six hundred, a mishap which rarely occurs at this season of the year.[19]

Clifton appears to have been in denial over the cause of death among his flock. His response to the article was as follows –

To the Editor of the “Perth Gazette.”

DEAR SIR – As the notice you made in your last paper respecting the loss in my flock of sheep was incorrect in some respects, I beg to trouble you with a correct statement, although the subject can be of little interest to anyone but myself.

You attribute the loss of the sheep to poison; but there is no known poisonous plant for sheep in this district. My flock at the end of July were in the most perfect health and condition, and consisted of about 850 sheep and 340 lambs. It was then moved to a station where it usually runs for some months every year; but whether from the incessant wet, or from having been driven into grass too rank for young sheep and lambs, they soon fell off and several died. The flock was then moved to another of my stations, but the change seemed rather to aggravate than arrest the malady whatever it was, and the result has been to me a loss of upwards of 160 young sheep, and about the same number of this year’s lambs, reducing my flock from nearly 1,200 to between 8 and 900.

Yours sincerely,

M. WALLER CLIFTON, Australind, October 10, 1859.[20]

From that time no more is known of George Dunn’s movements or places of employment. He may have left the Colony at some stage. It is possible the following newspaper extract refers to him —


1892 PERTH CITY. — At this court to-day, before Mr. A. F. Thomson, J.P., an inmate of the Invalid Depot named George Dunn was again cautioned for having been drunk and Donald Stewart, an elderly man, was fined 5s, for having got drunk and lost his way, ‘a little drop’ making him dizzy sometimes.[21]

[A George Dunn was registered as a pauper on 13 November 1895.[22] The death of a George Dunn, aged 70, was recorded that year.[23] However, this is likely to have been an elderly Pensioner Guard of that name, mentioned in the Inquirer newspaper in 1894 as a 69-year-old inmate of the Mt Eliza Invalid Depot.[24] This man was buried in the East Perth Cemetery in 1895.[25]]


[1] Morning Post, 4 April 1856.

[2] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[3] Dorset County Gaol, Dorchester Prisoner Register, 1847-1850.

[4] Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 18 October 1851, and England & Wales Criminal Records, Dorset, 14 Oct. 1851.

[5] Dorset County Gaol, Dorchester Prisoner Register, 1850-1854.

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

[7] National Archives, Portsmouth Prison Registers of Prisoners, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 107.

[8] Convict Establishment Registers, Character Book (R19)

[9] UK Prison Commission Records, Portsmouth Prison Records of Prisoners, 1855-1858.

[10] Dorset, Dorchester Prison Register, 1854-1858.

[11] Ibid.

[12] National Archives, Portsmouth Prison Registers of Prisoners, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 107.

[13] Convict Registers, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers (CS1-CS3)

[14] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1_RD2)

[15] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R19)

[16] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[17] R. Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, at, p.916.

[18] P. Barnes et al, Eds, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park WA, 2010, pp.601 – 612.

[19] Perth Gazette, 7 October 1859.

[20] Perth Gazette, October 1859.

[21] Daily News, 31 May 1892.

[22] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous (V24)

[23] WA Department of Justice Death Index, Reg. No. 1381.

[24] Inquirer, 19 January 1894.

[25] East Perth Cemeteries Database,