Convict Histories

William Graham (c1830-1891) (Reg. No. 5244)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

1861 Letter from a Penrith Man, a convict in Australia.

The following letter has been received at Penrith, from William Graham, who was transported in 1857 for the murder of Thomas Simpson, gamekeeper for C. Featherstonhaugh, Esq., of Staffield Hall:

February 10th, 1861.

“My dear bosom friend, – I now take my pen to write to you, hoping these few lines will find you and your family enjoying good health, as this leaves me at present, thank God for it. Dear Jonathon, you were a stranger to me when I was laid on my sick bed, and I do not forget you in my prayers, it is all I can do, but God will reward you for your works. I have many thoughts about you, you came every night to see me and pray with me, after your hard day’s labour. I have many times thought that you would think I had forgotten you, but my dear friend, I can see you more fresh in my mind than I could with my eyes at that time. I was that weak that I could scarcely see you by my bed side, and often did not know whether it was night or day. I remember it well, as if only a week ago, but that is four long years since, and I am sixteen thousand miles from you, but my good love towards you can come upon paper ; I may not see you any more upon earth, but I hope we will meet in Heaven to part no more.

Dear Jonathon, I have met one unfortunate man like myself, in this country from Penrith, and he is a very religious man I think in his heart, he puts me in mind of you very much, and always when I see him he reminds me of you. He has got the same sentence as myself, and he wishes me to ask a favour of you to find out any of his friends. He doesn’t know where they are, and if you can find any of them, if you will be so kind, send their directions when you write to me. His mother’s name was Nanny Simpson before she married to Thomas Robinson, at Bongate, near Appleby, and if you cannot find them see if you can find out any of old Joseph Veach’s daughters, of Penrith Townhead, if you please. I have nothing more to ask of you at present, but if you see any of my friends give my kind love to them and all inquirers. I am in good health, thank God for it, and in ten months more, if good luck, I will get my liberty once more to work for myself. I have never had a wrong word spoken to me by any of my superiors from my conviction.

“My dear friend, as you never was much abroad, you would like to hear a little of the Western Australia : – The climate is very warm in winter, but in summer it is hot ; it is as warm in winter as it is in summer – frost or snow here is not any. The natives are black, and wear no clothes of any kind, only a kangaroo skin over their shoulders, and do not work at all ; they live by fishing and hunting ; they kill all their prey with spears and dogs ; and away back in the interior they are cannibals – they eat one another – but they are very quiet about here ; they will not harm a white man.

“Here is no game like in England ; here is turkeys, emus, kangaroos, oppossims, bandcutts, walebous, cockatoos, and many different tribes I do not know yet. There are parrots of all kinds. I think no animals of prey, only the native dog, and it is something like our fox at home. I can’t give you any account now about Perth, have not been in it ; I have seen it at a distance of seven or eight miles, but from what I hear, it is something like Appleby, and Fremantle about like Kirkoswald. I am in every week. I am burning lime very near half-way twixt them, up the river side, and have been turned two years. I have nothing more to say at present, my dear Jonathon, so good bye. God bless you and your dear wife and family for ever,

“I remain you ever well-wishing friend, “WILLIAM GRAHAM.”[1]

A Violent Crime

William Graham was born at Langdale, a small village in Cumberland near Carlisle, one of eight children. Following the failure of his marriage, William went back to his parents’ house, where he shared a bed with his brothers Henry and Joseph.

One night in November 1856 William decided to go out alone for the purpose of poaching some wildlife, at a property called Eden Banks. He had not been there long when a game-keeper named Thomas Simpson, newly employed by landowner Mr Charles Featherstonehaugh, suddenly appeared from behind a wall and tried to take possession of the gun which William was carrying. A violent struggle took place, with William taking back the gun and striking Simpson over the head with it. It was later said that he landed three more blows to the man’s head as he lay on the ground, resulting in his death. Panicking, William raced back home and aroused his brothers, begging for their assistance in disposing of the body.[2]

Next morning Simpson’s wife reported that her husband had not returned home. William and his brother joined others in the search for the missing man, whose body was eventually found in the River Eden. The Graham family members were well-known locally as poachers. The brothers were suspected of the crime and were taken to Penrith Gaol for questioning. William confessed that he alone was the one responsible for the death of Thomas Simpson, and was taken to Carlisle to face trial. A reward of £100 had been offered for information about the crime. The case was complicated when a neighbour later gave evidence that William told him in no uncertain terms that he intended going poaching that night, and was prepared to kill any keeper who stood in his way. This was seen by many of the locals to be a concocted story, made up by the man in order to lay claim to the reward.

While awaiting trial for the murder of Thomas Simpson, William Graham’s health deteriorated rapidly. It was thought that he had decided to starve himself to death rather than face the gallows for murder.

At the end of a lengthy trial, His Lordship instructed the jury that they would have to decide whether William Graham had made an unprovoked attack on Simpson, thus committing murder, or whether he had acted in self-defence, which should result in a verdict of manslaughter.

It took only a few minutes for the jury to return to the court, pronouncing the prisoner to be guilty of manslaughter only, resulting in a hearty cheer from the large crowd assembled there.

William’s brother Joseph was acquitted of involvement, and Henry denied playing a part in the killing, confessing only to hiding his brother’s gun in the rafters. He too was discharged.[3]

Life in WA

William Graham arrived in Western Australia onboard the Edwin Fox, on 23 November 1858. He was described as a farm labourer, married, with one child. He was aged 28, 5’10½” tall, with black hair, dark hazel eyes, a long face, a fresh complexion, and middling stout in build. He had ‘William Graham’ and ‘Isabella’ tattooed on his left arm, and a diamond and a heart on his right arm.[4]

William’s letter to his mentor Jonathon, written in 1861, gives an impression of a man with a positive view of his future, repentant of his crime and determined to make a fresh start in the colony. One would hope that following his reprieve from the gallows, William might have turned his life around. However, after a positive start, he served lengthy periods in Fremantle Prison on additional charges. His convict record was quite comprehensive –

23/11/58 – Received at Fremantle from Portland Prison. Described as able to read and write

imperfectly, his religion Protestant. Convicted on 23 February 1857 at Carlisle, of manslaughter, sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.[5]

2/2/59 – One of 12 prisoners transferred to lime burning party, Perth.[6]

2/3/59 – To R. (Rocky) Bay.

23/1/60 – Ditto.

15/1/60 – Back at Convict Establishment.

1/12/60 – Made a Constable.

4/3/61 – At Rocky Bay.

12/7/61 – At Convict Establishment.

12/7/61 – Released on Ticket of Leave. Conduct Good – Very Good while in Prison.[7]

22/7/61 – Discharged.[8]

18/4/64 – Charged by PM at Perth – Illegally with fire-arms – 12 months at Convict Establishment.

25/4/64 – RM at York – Stealing a gun – 12 months at Convict  Establishment.

25/4/64 – Robbing Mr Quartermaine’s Station – Three years’ hard labour.

25/4/64 – Shooting Mr Quartermaine with intent to kill – Acquitted on the Capital Charge.

18/5/64 – Convicted in the Supreme Court – Wounding Mr Quartermaine with intent to do bodily harm – Penal Servitude for Life.[9]

20/5/64 – Received at Fremantle from Perth.[10]

23/10/65 – To Rottnest Island.[11]

8/4/67 – Dirty cell – Three days’ Bread & Water.

11/9/67 – RM Fremantle – Absconding from Fremantle Prison – Two years in irons.

21/8/77 – ‘If he continues to behave well until he completes 22 years from 23/2/57 (i.e. 23/2/79), his Colonial Sentence will be remitted and a Conditional Pardon from his English Sentence.’ (Vide 10769/13)

6/3/79 – Remiss (Remission?) made 21/8/77. (Confirmed, Vide 10769/15)

27/5/79 – Conditional Pardon sent to RM at Newcastle – Received 31/5/79.[12]

Medical Treatment

Like many convicts, William was a regular visitor at the Convict Establishment Hospital, either as a day patient, or admitted to hospital. They noted there that he had previously spent nine months in Carlisle Prison, eight months at Millbank and six months at Portland Prison before coming to Western Australia. Some treatments he received were as follows –

8/12/58 – Admitted to the Convict Hospital from 1st Division with an abscess in axilla.

19/1/60 – Slipped and fell – Strained his back.

25/1/60 – Discharged from Hospital.

23/2/61 – Abscess on left knee.

2/3/61 – Discharged from Hospital.[13]

19/9/67 – Received two gunshot wounds, one in right arm, the other in right leg. The projectiles (bulletts or slugs) are in the limbs above mentioned.

1/10/67 – Discharged.[14]

17/9/69 – Complains of deep-seated pain in left ischio rectal fossa.[15]

27/9/69 – Discharged from Hospital.[16]

6/11/70 – Shivering in night, pains, no diarrhoea.[17]

28/11/70 – Aged 41, admitted with symptoms of diarrhoea, giddiness, weakness and purging.

21/1/71 – Still quite weak – purging and sweating.[18]

A Second Charge of Manslaughter

The shooting incident involving Elijah Quartermaine appears to have resulted from an affair between William Graham and Mrs Quartermaine. Mr Quartermaine made a trip to Perth and had shared his suspicions with a friend that he expected to find Graham in his house when he returned there. Graham had previously been in his employ, but he had been dismissed six months earlier. Graham was living in a nearby hut, and was earning a living by shooting birds for stuffing. On arriving home on the night of 3 March 1864, Quartermaine found a strange cart in his yard and a horse in his stable. He tapped on the window of his wife’s bedroom and whistled a couple of times, then realised that he had been shot in the chest, and a man had jumped out past him and ran off. Quartermaine was able to walk around the side of the house and called for Edward Aughty, the family’s schoolmaster, who assisted the wounded man. A doctor arrived the next morning and found shot-gun pellets and dust in the wound. It took Quartermaine several days to recover from his injury.

Graham in the meantime had made his escape, picking up his horse from a man called Randell in York. He told him that he had got into a mess at Beverley and had fired some shots at Quartermaine, but wasn’t sure whether he had hit the old man or not.[19]

Graham was on the run for a while, heading south. Hot on his trail was the dogged Sergeant Finlay, who followed his tracks as far as the Fitzgerald River. His Aboriginal tracker was said to have approached Graham alone, and while in friendly conversation with him, offered to shoot an emu with Graham’s pistol. This he did, then turned on Graham with the gun and threatened to shoot him if he did not surrender. Graham was then taken into custody by Sergeant Finlay.[20]

William Graham faced trial in the Supreme Court in Perth on 18 May 1864, charged with shooting at and wounding Elijah Quartermaine. A number of witnesses were called to give evidence on what had occurred that night. Mrs Elizabeth Quartermaine was called but did not appear.

Mr Landor, for the defence, restricted his argument to whether or not Graham had intended to kill Quartermaine. He pleaded that Graham was not a person who would deliberately take another person’s life, and had only intended to frighten Quartermaine away. He said that Graham’s record showed that he was a humane man, who had on two occasions risked his own life to rescue others. He told the Court that Graham had once rescued the two little children of a pensioner guard named Corporal Avery, by plunging into water 50 feet deep. In another instance he had rescued Lieutenant Sim, who almost drowned in a violent gale in North Fremantle.[21]

Once again, as in Carlisle, the jury had to decide whether William Graham had intended to murder his victim, or to do grievous bodily harm. The trial concluded as follows –

His Honor in summing up directed the consideration of the Jury to consider the important point, as to the intent of the prisoner in firing the shot, and to discard from their minds any feelings to the prejudice of the prisoner. His Honor pointed out the position of the prosecutor and prisoner at the moment the shot was fired, and the situation of the wound, as points from which to judge the intent.

The Jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty on the first and second counts, which charged the prisoner with wounding with intent to murder, but returned a verdict of guilty on the third count, which charged him with shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

He was then sentenced to penal servitude for life.[22]

Back in Fremantle Prison

William Graham faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in gaol. A few months later, in August 1864, he was part of a failed escape attempt. Word had got to the guards that Graham’s friends on the outside were planning to help an escape, so a careful watch was being kept on his movements. An armed pensioner guard was standing on a rock, overlooking a chain gang employed in quarrying stone within the prison walls. One prisoner seized the guard from behind, resulting in him dropping his weapon, which was picked up by one of the gang. Graham held the guard while another prisoner ran to get a ladder, which was placed against the wall. Despite being fired upon, Graham and several others successfully scrambled over the wall and dropped down on the other side. One man fell and was badly injured. Graham found himself in a garden being tended by an elderly pensioner guard, who wrestled him to the ground and held him until help arrived. In less than half an hour all of the escapees had been re-captured.[23]

As a result William Graham was sent to the Rottnest Island prison, one of three or four white prisoners ‘of a most desperate kind’ imprisoned there. There were also 50 or 60 Aboriginal prisoners being held there at the time. During his time there, Graham was called upon to give evidence at the trial of a guard, William Vincent, for an aggravated assault on an elderly Aboriginal named Deehan, which led to his death. Graham stated that he saw the sick man being kicked once and hit on the head with a bunch of keys by Vincent, because he was making a lot of noise in his cell. His version was backed up by another white prisoner, Charles Love, but was denied by the other guards who witnessed the event. Vincent was found guilty of assault, with a sentence of three months.[24]


Graham was back in Fremantle Prison in June 1867, when he and two others decided to make another break for freedom. This time the escape was better planned –

On Friday morning last, between 12 and 3 a.m., three prisoners — William Graham, Thomas Scott and George Morris — made their escape from the Convict Prison. It appears that they opened their cells by the aid of skeleton keys, and then went to the carpenter’s shop, where they obtained a ladder, and also a large leather band from a lathe, the latter of which they cut into strips and making a rope of them, they then gained the top of the wall by the aid of the ladder, and fastened the rope to it, and by this means lowered themselves on the other side and made their escape. Graham was one of the chain gang, and was under a sentence of penal servitude for life, for attempting the life of Mr. Quartermaine.[25]

Surrender near Albany

Advices have been received from Albany of the surrender of the convict Graham. It appears that for some time past Graham, in company with Scott, with whom he absconded, had carefully secluded himself in an almost unpenetrable thicket near Mr. Quartermaine’s sheep station in the Albany district. Supposing that they were concealed there, four police constables, with two native guides, surrounded the thicket, and on advancing, discovered the runaways, upon whom they fired, but it is not stated whether any shots were returned. They, however, succeeded in making off; but shortly afterwards Graham surrendered himself to a shepherd, being overcome with weakness from a gun-shot wound in his arm, and desired him to inform the police of his whereabouts. We have elsewhere stated that the prisoner has been conveyed to Perth. Intelligence has also reached Perth of the capture, on the Blackwood, of the convict Scott, who escaped with Graham. The body of Williams, the escaped convict, has been discovered in the Murray River. It was observed floating in the stream by a native, and afterwards identified by a gold ring on the small finger of the left hand. Williams is said to have been a good swimmer, and, no doubt, would have succeeded in crossing the river but for the encumbrance of his clothes, which were found strapped on his head.[26]

In punishment for this second outbreak, William Graham was sentenced to serve two years’ in irons.

His Employment Record

William Graham must have been released on Ticket of Leave again by 1874. On 30 June that year he was employed by W. Padbury of Watheroo in the Toodyay District, as a general servant for £3 per month

On 16 December 1874 he was employed as a shepherd for £3/10/- per month, for R. Williams at Dandaragan.

Between 18 October 1875 and 31 December 1878 he was employed again by W Padbury at Victoria Plains.[27]

Freedom in 1879

After receiving his Conditional Pardon on 31 May 1879, William Graham was finally released from prison. He is said to have earned four months’ remission for having rescued Lieutenant Sim from drowning.[28] He returned to the Dandaragan area, where he earned a living by kangaroo shooting. He leased some land where he raised sheep. Several times he posted notices in the newspapers, warning people to keep their stock off his property. In 1882 he was advertising as follows –

Wanted to purchase, 700 or 800 mixed sheep, to be delivered to Dundarragan or Cockleshell Gully, for cash. Apply to William Graham, Dundarragan.[29]

The name of W. Graham was listed in the Herald and WA Almanacks as a farmer and grazier at Hill River, Dandaragan, between 1879 and 1887.

William Graham died in 1891 alone at his property sometime around 6 October 1891. The following notice gives details of his death –

A man named Wm. Graham, who resided at Hill River, near Dandaragan, was found dead not far from his house last week. He is supposed to have been out looking after his sheep at the time, and to have died suddenly. I have not heard whether an inquest was considered necessary. Deceased owned some property in the district, besides a lot of sheep. I do not think he had any relatives in the colony.[30]

William died intestate, indicating that none of his family back in England were likely to have inherited his property –

1891 – Legal.




Whereas on the Twelfth Day of November, 1891; an Order to Administer the Estate and Effects of WILLIAM GRAHAM, late of Hill River, in the Colony of Western, Australia, Sheep Farmer, deceased, who died on or about the Sixth day of October, 1891, was granted by the Supreme Court of the said Colony, under the provisions of “The Deceased Persons Estate Act, 1883” (47 Victoria, No 320), to the undersigned, the Curator of Intestates’ Estates, Perth.

NOW NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, pursuant to the Ordinance 22nd and 23rd Victoria, No. 35 (adopted by 31st Victoria, No. 8), that all Creditors and other persons having CLAIMS or DEMANDS against the Estate of the said deceased, are hereby required to send particulars

of each claims, or demands, to the undersigned, on or before the Thirtieth day of January now next.

AND FURTHER, that the undersigned will, immediately after such date, proceed to distribute the assets of the said deceased among the Creditors, and persons entitled thereto, having regard only to those Claims of which he shall then have had notice. And the said Curator will not be liable for the state or any part thereof so distributed, or dealt with, to any person of whose claim or demand he shall not then have received notice.

Dated at Perth, the 17th day of December, 1891.


Curator of Intestates’ Estates.[31]

A sale of William Graham’s property was advertised in the West Australian on 16 April 1892 as follows –



JAMES MORRISON will SELL by PUBLIC AUCTION at the Exchange Buildings, Perth,

by order of the Curator of Intestate Estates, on WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20, 1892, at THREE p.m, the FREEHOLD and LEASEHOLD STATION and STOCK, late the property of Wm. Graham, deceased, comprising Leaseholds 66/1240/3, containing 29,000 acres, 47/361 of 118 acres, Freeholds, Vic. Loc. 1685 of 138 acres, 1686 of 77 acres, 1686 of 117 acres, 1637 of 104 acres, 55/33 of 5 acres, (Total) 441 acres, Together with— 1240, more or less Mixed Sheep, 3 Saddle Horses, 3 Cart Mares and Foals, 30 Pigs, Dray and Harness.

The whole to be sold in one lot.

For further particulars apply to Curator of Intestate Estates, Supreme Court, Perth, or

JAMES MORRISON. March 28, 1892.

[Note: Further details of William Graham’s Estate can be found at the State Records Office of Western Australia, ]


[1] Westmoreland Gazette, 4 May 1861.

[2] Witness, Edinburgh, 31 December 1856.

[3] Carlisle Journal, 27 February 1857.

[4] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[5] Convict Establishment Registers, Character Book (R8)

[6] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, (Rd1-Rd2)

[7] Convict Establishment Registers, Character Book (R8)

[8] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, (Rd3-Rd4)

[9] Convict Department General Register (R31)

[10] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, (Rd3-Rd4)

[11] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, (Rd5-Rd7)

[12] Convict Department General Register (R31)

[13] Convict Establishment Medical Registers by Patient (M17)

[14] Convict Establishment Medical Registers by Patient (M7-M8a)

[15] Ibid.

[16] Convict Establishment Medical, Daily Medical Journals (M19a – M21)

[17] Convict Establishment Medical Registers by Patient (M7-M8a)

[18] Convict Establishment Medical Registers by Patient (M9-M9a)

[19] Perth Gazette, 20 May 1864.

[20] West Australian Times, 14 April 1864.

[21] WA Times, 19 May 1864.

[22]Perth Gazette, 20 May 1864.

[23] WA Times, 4 August 1864.

[24] Perth Gazette, 5 January 1866.

[25] Inquirer, 5 June 1867.

[26] Inquirer, 25 September 1867.

[27] Convict Department, General Register (R31)

[28] Inquirer, 26 May 1864.

[29] Inquirer, 15 March 1882.

[30] West Australian, 16 October 1891.

[31] West Australian, 19 December 1891.