Convict Histories

William Stewart (c1818 – ?) (Reg. No. 4517)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

William Stewart, a seaman, aged 40, was convicted on 15 March 1856 at Exeter of burglary and being at large while under sentence of Penal Servitude. On the run from Dartmoor Prison for a number of weeks, he had broken into several dwelling houses, stealing clothing, money and goods. At his trial he was described as ‘a practised criminal’, leaving the judge with no alternative other than a twenty-year transportation sentence.[1]

His convictions were as follows:

1853 – Stealing a watch –12 months.

1855 – Burglary – 4 years’ Penal Servitude.

1 January 1856 – Escaped – Recaptured & received his present sentence. Very industrious.[2]

On 12 March 1857 he was received at Millbank Prison. His record there was recorded as follows: On Separate Confinement – Good; on Public Works – Very Good. Can read only.[3] Periods already spent in Separate Confinement (in months and days) – Dorchester 1-14, Millbank 1st time – 1-26, 2nd time 7-24.[4]

He was taken onboard the convict ship Nile from Portland Prison, leaving Plymouth on 23 September 1857 and arriving in Western Australia on 1 January 1858. He was entitled to his Ticket of Leave on 15 September 1861. His description on arrival: single, labourer, aged 40, able to read, 5’8½”, with dark brown hair, grey eyes, an oval face, a dark complexion, middling stout, bald with a crooked nose.[5]

Record in WA

23/1/1858 – Provisional Prisoner discharged from hospital. Re-joined Division.[6]

7/6/1858 – Provisional Prisoner – taken to Perth Jail with Philip (Phillip) Wall.[7]

20/6/1858 – Charged with Absconding.

21/6/1858 – Hard Labour, 2 years, one in irons – 100 lashes.

26/6/1858 – Two Provisional Prisoners, absconders, received (at Fremantle Prison) – Philip Wall (4548)[8] and William Stewart (4517).[9]

15/7/1858 – Admitted to LA (Lunatic Asylum) – Insane.

3/12/1858 – Provisional Prisoner – Received from Lunatic Asylum to Ordinary Labour.[10]

25/1/1859 – Bread & Water – one day.

3/2/1859 – Admonished.

8/2/1859 – Diarrhoea – diet of pudding for three days.[11]

19/8/1859 – Punishment – Bread & Water 2 days.

25/4/1859 – Remission of Sentence for absconding -14 months.

28/4/1859 – Released from (indecipherable) remainder of Sentence.

29 /5/1859 – Transferred to Freshwater Bay.[12]

26/7/1860 – Discharged as a reward for capturing an absconder. (Details unknown.)

28/7/1860 – On Ticket of Leave.[13]

March 1862 – Convicted – 3 months.[14]

27/9/1862 – Drunk & fighting- RM at York.[15]

28/2/1864 – Discharged from Lunatic Asylum – Local Prisoner No. 847 – Rogue & Vagabond, convicted 2 November 1863 at Perth.

23/11/1864 – His Conditional Pardon sent to RM Bunbury.[16]

26/4/1865 – RM at Bunbury – Was drunk.[17]

26/4/1865 – Conditional Pardon.[18]

William Stewart, despite being described as a ‘strong, robust, powerful man’, was diagnosed with severe Cephalalgia (headaches) soon after his arrival in WA. He was admitted to the prison hospital on 20 January 1858, suffering from intense pain in the head which almost took away his senses, following a paroxysm which came on the previous night His reaction to the attack was described as ‘a staring, flaring half-wild expression’. The doctor recalled having seen this patient suffering a similar incident back at Millbank Prison two years earlier, describing it as a violent paroxysm of mania or epilepsy, which passed off, leaving him in a state of exhaustion. This had been followed by a second attack which left him in hospital for a lengthy period on account of pains in his head and spine. While at Portsmouth or in Portland, he had been laid up for a month on account of the pain in his head. The doctor recommended that Stewart should be put to work out of the sun.[19]

However on 9 February 1858 Stewart, having been re-admitted from the Refractory Cells, was sent out to work at the quarries, and after going missing, was found asleep a short distance off. When awakened he was talking incoherently and appeared on the verge of another seizure and was admitted back into hospital. On 10 January the following year he had a severe epileptic fit in Church, needing to be placed in a ‘strait waistcoat’ for three hours. He was placed under observation on a half-diet, before being released on Light Labor’.[20]

Marshall Waller Clifton of Australind employed William Stewart from 17 November 1860, on a monthly basis at 30/-. Clifton recorded in his journal that Stewart had previously been living with Jas. Piggott for eight months. On 20 November 1860 Stewart approached Clifton to provide ‘a Note for his Ticket.’ On 26 December Clifton ‘set Hall and Stewart to dig Black Potatoes in Triangular piece. Most magnificent crop.’ On 15 February 1861 Clifton expressed his exasperation when several of his workers got drunk. He sent for Harris who took ‘John and Stewart’ down to the lock-up and Eliot (Bunbury Resident Magistrate) told him to bring Whitchell in as well.[21] [Marshall Waller Clifton died a couple of months after this incident, aged 73, on 10 April 1861.[22]]

No more is known about William Stewart from 1865. A William Stewart was frequently admitted to the Lunatic Asylum in Fremantle, but as there were several men with that name it cannot be confirmed that this was Convict No. 4517.


[1] Southern Times & Dorset County Herald, 22 March 1856.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Convict Department Registers, Convicts Transported per Nile (R32)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Convict Department General Register (R24-R25)

[6] Convict Establishment Medical, Hospital Occurrences (M2)

[7] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[8] Note: Philip Wall (4548) along with James Carr (4547), sailors, were sentenced to death for the murder of James House by strangulation at Liverpool on 19 February 1856. Their sentences of death were commuted to transportation for life and along with William Stewart, they arrived in WA onboard the Nile.

[9] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Convict Establishment, Casual Sick Registers (CS1 – CS3)

[12] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[13] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[14] Convict Establishment, Local Prisoners Register & List of Colonial Lunatiscm (V16)

[15] Convict Department General Register (R24-R25)

[16] Convict Department General Register (R21B)

[17] Convict Department General Register (R24-R25)

[18] Convict Database,

[19] Convict Establishment, Medical Registers (M3-M6)

[20] Ibid.

[21] Phyllis Barnes, JMR Cameron, HA Wills, et al, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, WA, 2010, pp. 641, 645 & 652.

[22] Ibid, p.658.