Convict Histories

Richard Fraser (c1832 – 1886) (Reg. No. 4827)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

Richard Fraser, born in Scotland c1832, was convicted at a General Court Martial at St George’s, Bermuda, of feloniously wounding his Superior Officer, Sergeant Robert Waugh. He was sentenced to transportation for life.[1] It was a vicious and probably premeditated attack, with two severe wounds to the throat, inflicted with a razor. Fraser was a Scotsman, formerly a silversmith and latterly a soldier. He was a single man, the son of Richard Fraser of 37 Frederick Street, Edinburgh. He had one previous conviction at a Court Martial for drunkenness, which earned him a sentence of 21 days imprisonment.[2]

Richard Fraser was not the only former soldier to be sent as a convict to Western Australia. Others were found guilty of attacking their superior officers, a sign of desperation and rebellion against the harsh discipline administered to those who broke the rules. Deserters were tracked down rigorously and penalties at Courts Martial were harsh. Many soldiers regretted their decision to join the military, and took desperate measures to escape the conditions which were frequently said to be worse than those experienced in prison. Recruitment into the military meant signing up for many years of service. Resignation was not an option. Troops could be sent to any part of the Empire and frequently faced crowded and unsanitary conditions. Two meals a day of dry bread and boiled salted meat, were the standard. Unlike officers, wives of soldiers were generally not permitted to accompany their husbands to outposts. The term ‘shilling a day’ referred to the low rate of pay for troops in the mid-19th century.

Fraser was placed in Separate Confinement at St George’s in Bermuda for 21 days, before being sent on 15 September 1856 to Millbank Prison in Westminster, London, now the site of the Tate Gallery. This prison, built in an unhealthy, low-lying position on the bank of the Thames, was of a panopticon design, which allowed constant oversight by prison guards. The prison was used for prisoners awaiting transportation. They were subjected to Separate Confinement within their cells, based on the theory that they needed to contemplate their misdeeds. Fraser endured 12 months and 17 days isolated in his cell at Millbank. No wonder his conduct there was recorded as ‘Bad’!

Millbank Prison in London, by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, published 1829.[3]

On 2 October 1857 Fraser was taken from there to Portsmouth Prison in Hampshire, where he spent a total of one year, seven months and 28 days, mostly at Public Works, awaiting transportation.[4] His character was described as ‘Bad’ in Separate Confinement and at Public Works.[5]

On 1 June 1858 he arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia, onboard the Lord Raglan, his conduct recorded as ‘Bad’ during the voyage. It was recorded that he could read and write, having previously attended Sunday School, but had made no progress at classes during the voyage, indicating an uncooperative attitude.[6]

His physical description was 26 years of age, height 5’5”, with brown hair, light hazel eyes, a long face, sallow complexion, and middling stout. His markings were the initials ‘R.F.’ and an indistinct anchor on his left arm, and a ring on the second finger of his left hand. He was a single man, a silversmith by trade, of Protestant religion.[7]

His Record in WA

With his record of past bad behaviour, Richard Fraser would have been carefully watched. He obviously had a severe drinking problem –

22/2/59 – On Bread & Water for one day.

10/3/59 – No dinner.

25/2/60 – To CE (Convict Establishment)

13/3/60 – To Perth.

22/9/60 – Back to CE.

16/1/61 – Taken to hospital suffering from Orchitis. Discharged on 30/1/61 to Invalid Department, North Fremantle.[8]

1/6/61 – Made a Constable.

13/7/61 – To Guildford.

29/4/62 – On Ticket of Leave at Guildford.

30/11/62 – Resident Magistrate Toodyay – Drunk, fined 10/-

24/12/62 – Ditto – Drunk & Disorderly – Fourteen days.

12/1/63 – Ditto – three months.

10/2/64 – RM Swan District – Drunk – Fined 5/-

24/3/1864 – Transferred from Guildford to Bunbury.

2/4/1864 – Employed at Alverstoke, Australind, by R Hooper, and again on 30/6/1864.

20/6/64 – RM Bunbury – Drunk.

26/6/64 – In Bunbury Hospital.

9/7/64 – RM Bunbury – Refusing to go into Depot – Seven days.

9/9/64 – Drunk in Bunbury – Seven days in Depot – Hospital Fees 15/-.

19/10/64 – RM Bunbury – Drunk – Seven days in Depot. Hospital Fees remitted.

19/10/64 – Resisting police – One month in Convict Establishment. Discharged on 23/1/65.

23/1/65 – From CE to Mt Eliza Depot.

3/3/65 – PM Perth – Drunk & Disorderly and using threatening language – Six months. To be detained at least six months in consequence of threatening revenge on the police.  (Vide 4939/2)

18/8/65 – Discharged to Point Resolution.[9]

2/3/66 – Discharged to York.

5/3/66 – PM Perth – Drunk & Disorderly – Three months.

11/8/66 – To Toodyay Depot.

24/8/66 – Toodyay Depot Hospital.

31/8 66 – Toodyay Depot.

27/12/66 – RM Newcastle – Leaving Public Works and going into Public House – One month.

5/11/68 – RM Newcastle – Drunk & Disorderly – One month at Depot.

1/12/69 – Sick at Toodyay Depot.

11/12/69 – Discharged.[10]

14/4/70 – Eligible for Conditional Pardon on payment of hospital fees of 15/-. (Vide 6194/4)[11]

27/2/74 – As Local Prisoner 4749, aged 44, obscene and profane, creating a disturbance – 40/- or six weeks, plus one month. Not recorded as cumulative. JW Clifton, Newcastle.

Discharged on 28/4/74.

His Employment in WA

30/6/62 – Labourer, 20/- per month at Toodyay, employer JM Dempster.

31/12/62 – Ditto, £4 per month, Toodyay, A Growse.

13/5/63 – Employed by Robert De Burgh at Moore River, as cook and general servant. Discharged 7/11/63.[12]

25/11/63 – Entered service of James Binnie at 30/- per month. Discharged on 7/12/63.[13]

31/12/63 – Labourer, £4 per month, Swan District, Brockman.

22/1/64 – General Servant, 3/- per day, L Brockman, Upper Swan.

15/2/64 – Labourer, 18/- per week J Binnie, Upper Swan.

2/4/64 – Labourer, 23/- per week, Wellington District, R Hooper, Alverstoke.

20/6/64 – Ditto, 30/- per week.

24/8/64 – Ditto, J Boyle, Blackwood.

27/2/65 – Splitting (timber) – 12/- per hundred, Perth, JS Handley.

30/10/66 – Labourer, 30/- per month, Toodyay, Lionel Lukin, Deep Dale.

4/12/66 – Labourer, 20/- per month. Toodyay, J Wallace.

4/12/66 – Ditto, John Rae, Toodyay.

4/4/67 – 30/- per month, Geo. Throssell, Northam.

5/6/67 – Labourer, John Mears, Northam.[14]

Note: In 1865 Richard Fraser was one of the prisoners in the Bunbury Lock-up who gave evidence in Perth for the defendant in the Supreme Court case of former convict William Proctor v. George Eliot, JP, James Moore, Joseph Bovell, and constable William Dale, for false imprisonment of the plaintive.[15] [See Harvey History Online website for William Proctor’s story.]

On 10 August 1870 Fraser received his Conditional Pardon at Newcastle (now known as Toodyay).[16] He seems to have remained in the Toodyay area.

His Later Years

The Police Visitors’ Book for Toodyay gives some details of Richard Fraser’s later life –

16/12/79 – Farmer at Bollamine (or Bolomine), near Toodyay.

21/2/80 – Farmer at Wongamine, 13 miles from Toodyay.

23/3/80 – Caretaker at Mumbakine (Mumberkine), 20 miles from Toodyay.

23/7/80 – Farmer at Wongamine.

13/1/81 until 23/7/83 – Listed as a farmer at Wongamine.

27/11/83 – 23 March 1886 – Listed variously as a farmer or a labourer at Wongamine. (The spelling of his name varies from Fraser to Frazer, Fraysher or Frasher.)[17]

On 15 July 1886, Richard Fraser was found dead at Newcastle. (His place of death was Wongamine.) The official cause of death was poisoning by opium.[18] The WA Police Gazette gives some details of the Coroner’s Report —

Newcastle — On the 16th inst., at the Police Court, before John Adam, Acting R.M. and Coroner, on the body of Richard Fraser, C.P., late 4827, who died on the 15th inst. Verdict—”Death by poisoning, from the quantity of opium taken by him.” [19]

A newspaper report gives more details of the tragic event –


UNDER date 19th inst, a Newcastle correspondent writes: – A man named Richard Fraser, living at Wongannie, [Wongamine] died on Thursday the 15th through taking an overdose of opium and chlorodyne. The jury returned a verdict to that effect. The Church of England minister refused to read the burial service over him. The deceased had had his coffin all ready for him during the last four years. His hut was robbed afterwards.[20]

Official records state that Richard Fraser died in 1886, aged 54, parents’ names unknown.[21]

He was buried in the Toodyay Public Cemetery.[22]

The Government Blue Book of 1888 includes Richard Fraser’s name in a list of Intestate Estates paid into the Treasury. Its value was £6/15/6d.[23]


[1] National Archives, Convict Hulks, etc, Quarterly Returns of Prisoners, Bermuda, Series HO8, Piece No. 134.

[2] National Archives, Portsmouth Prison, Hampshire, Registers of Prisoners Nos. 2901-4940, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 107.

[3] Wikipedia,

[4] National Archives, Portsmouth Prison, Hampshire, Registers of Prisoners Nos. 2901-4940, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 107.

[5] Convict Establishment Registers (R33/1-3)

[6] UK Surgeon Superintendent’s Journal, Lord Raglan, 1858.

[7] Convict Department, Convict Lists and Memoranda and Indexes (128/33-37)

[8] Convict Establishment, Medical, Register of Admissions to Hospital (M32)

[9] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD5-RD7)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R1)

[12] Convict Department, Miscellaneous, Ticket of Leave Swan District, 1859-66.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R1)

[15] Inquirer, 8 March 1865.

[16] Convict Department, General Register (R1)

[17] Visitors’ Book – Census Toodyay District, Accession No. 2000.4

[18] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[19] WA Police Gazette, July 1886, p.124.

[20] Western Mail, 24 July 1886.

[21] WA Department of Justice, Death Index, Reg. No. 14002.

[22] Toodyay Historical Society.

[23] Inquirer, 28 August 1889.