Convict Histories

Three Convict Escapees to India – George Sparrow, Thomas Greenwood & Alexander Menzies

By Irma Walter, 2021.

In September 1865 three ticket-of-leave men George Sparrow, Alexander Menzies and Thomas Greenwood made headlines in Western Australia when they were arrested at Bombay after escaping from the Quindalup Timber Station near the Vasse six months previously. It is likely that they were hoping to make their way home to England.


The following report in connexion with the escape and capture at Bombay of three Convicts, who got away from the Saw-mill Station at the Vasse in March last, is a clear proof, in addition to many others already recorded, of the utter uselessness of any of this class to attempt a clear escape, even if they have succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the authorities within the limits of this colony. It appears that, in the month of March last, three convicts, named Greenwood, Sparrow and Menzies, managed to secrete themselves in the Vortigern, then lying at the Quindalup Timber Station, and to get away in that vessel which sailed for Bombay on the 25th of that month. It was supposed at the time that they had effected their escape in this manner, but this has been ascertained beyond doubt by the recent receipt by the Government of information from Bombay that they had actually arrived in the Vortigern in that Presidency, and were now in confinement awaiting further instructions as to their disposal, from this Government. The facts are simply these! The Vortigern arrived at Bombay on the 22nd June last with these three men on board. Although the fact of their secretion and escape must have been perfectly well known to the captain and crew of that vessel, none of them mentioned their knowledge of these circumstances on arrival at Bombay, and the men appear to have landed in the same manner as any other of the crew and passengers would have done. Shortly after the Vortigern’s arrival at Bombay, notification of their escape was received there from the convict authorities in this colony, and the men were immediately apprehended, lodged in custody, and information of their capture sent to this Government: they are by this time in all probability on their way back to Western Australia. The promptitude with which the authorities in Bombay have acted in this matter is deserving of the highest praise. These convicts, under their judicious management, will soon again be inmates of the Fremantle Convict Establishment, there to repent their insane efforts to escape from the hands of justice.[1]

The return of the re-captured convicts did not go as smoothly as expected. It was revealed that at some stage, while being escorted from Bombay to Point de Galle in Ceylon for transport back to Western Australia onboard the steamer Ellora, one of the three, George Sparrow, had outwitted his captors and managed to escape once again –

…By this steamer [‘Ellora’] were returned to the Convict Establishment two out of three convicts, who, while holding ticket-of-leave at the Vasse, escaped in March last in the Vortigern to Bombay. The third, though captured on landing from the ship, managed (while en route to Point de Galle,[2] I think,) to escape a second time, but will no doubt not long evade the exertions of the police. The convicts were returned in charge of an Inspector of the Indian Police Department, who, after handing them over to the Convict authorities here, proceeded on by the Ellora.[3]

It is obvious that the Captain and crew of the Vortigern had colluded in the attempted escape of these men. Alexander Menzies (7503) and Thomas Greenwood (6302) were returned to Western Australia and on 10 November 1865 they were back in Fremantle Gaol, listed as Recaptured Offenders and given extended sentences.[4]

It has been difficult to find out what happened to George Sparrow after their re-capture in Bombay. Perhaps prison authorities in Western Australia were not so forthcoming in providing details to the press. An 1866 article on escapees from the colony gives a brief clue to what happened to Sparrow –

…The total number of convicts escaped from the colony up to the end of 1865 was but 47; three others were set down as “missing”. Three ticket-of-leave men escaped from the colony in 1865. They got away in a timber-laden vessel from the Vasse, but were re-captured at Bombay; one, however, after re-capture made his escape again at Point de Galle.[5]

However there was more to the George Sparrow story, as revealed in the following article published in England in September 1865 –

Homeward Mail From India, China and the East, 27 September 1865.

George Sparrow must have recovered from the injuries he suffered when attempting the break-out from Bombay Prison and was able to make another escape while en route to Point de Galle in Ceylon. No more is known of his whereabouts from that time. It seems likely that he underwent a change of identity and made his way back to England.

[Note: One of his co-conspirators in Bombay Gaol mentioned in the above article, William Wood, a deserter from the 72nd Royal Highland Regiment at Dagshai in India, was returned to England and placed in Chatham Prison before being transported as a convict to Western Australia in 1867 onboard the Norwood (Journey 2), as Convict No. 9628.]


(1) George Sparrow (c1826 – ?) (Reg. No. 6974)

Background Information

George Sparrow was born around 1826, possibly at Tetbury in Gloucestershire and was known to the local police from an early age. On 1 July 1845, George Sparrow, aged 19, able to read and write imperfectly, was found guilty of larceny as a servant and was gaoled for nine months.[6] Then in 1850 he and a group of five others were convicted of drunken and disorderly behaviour in a public street and were each fined 3/6d.[7]

On 5 August 1857 George Sparrow (alias Wilkins or Williams) of Cheltenham was convicted of a more serious crime, that of burglary accompanied with violence at a farm at Leighterton in Gloucestershire. During the robbery he and three others wore masks to conceal their identities. After threats of murder they used chloroform to render the farmer inert while they ransacked his house, taking away £100 and various items. Sparrow’s three companions were not identified or captured. A death sentence was recorded against him, commuted to 20 years’ transportation.[8] At the time Sparrow was described in a newspaper report as about 25 years of age and five feet seven or eight inches in height, rather slender build with a cut on the right side of his upper lip, possibly a hare-lip. Two respectably dressed women who sat in the court were said to have been Sparrow’s mother and sister.[9]

George Sparrow was first transported to Bermuda. While there he would have been housed in appalling conditions on one of the prison hulks anchored in the bay near Hamilton port and taken daily to be used as slave labour in cutting the large limestone blocks used in constructing the massive naval dockyard walls which are still visible today. While in Bermuda George Sparrow faced a Court Martial which resulted in another sentence –

George Sparrow (otherwise George Williams, otherwise George Wilkins), was convicted at the Bermuda Courts Martial held at the Assizes at Hamilton on 11 November 1859, and sentenced to a term of four years’ imprisonment, to be served at the expiration of his 20-year sentence of 5 August 1857. His crime at Bermuda was shop-breaking and larceny.[10]

With the system of sending convicts to Bermuda coming to an end, the ship Merchantman (Journey1) was sent from England to Bermuda to transport convicts to Western Australia to serve out the remainder of their terms. The Medical Journal of Surgeon Superintendent William Smith summarised the journey of the Merchantman (1) as follows –

Folios 12-13: Surgeon’s general remarks, the Merchant Man left Gravesend on 12 October 1862 with a convict guard consisted of 50 Pensioners accompanied by 35 of their wives and 55 children, the ship’s company amounted to 41 souls. The ship arrived at Bermuda on 18 November, and on 2 December embarked 191 male convicts, 8 Warders with 3 wives and 6 children, and sailed on the same day to Freemantle, Western Australia where the ship arrived on 14 February 1863. Between 16 and 17 February, convicts, the guard, warders with wives & families were all landed. According to the Surgeon, 98 cases were entered on the sick list – convicts 48, guards & family 43, ship’s company 7, and only 3 deaths occurred during the voyage which were details in Case nos. 6, 10, and 15. Three of the pensioner’s wives were confined and all did well, as a resulted 1 male and 2 females were added in the number on board. The Surgeon got further supplied at Bermuda of stimulants such as port, ale, brandy and sherry which was approved of and ordered by the Senior Officer Admiral Milne. The Surgeon considered the treatment of the convicts as luxurious and in some respects better than the soldiers and the sailors. The Surgeon also complained on the issue of grog and tobacco to convicts at Bermuda.[11]

Sparrow’s Record in WA

Convict George Sparrow arrived in Western Australia onboard the Merchantman (Journey 1), on 16 February 1863. On arrival he was described as a labourer, single, aged 27, height 5’7¼”, with light brown hair, blue eyes, a long face, sallow complexion and slim build. He had a tattoo of a man on his left arm and a cut on his right lip.[12] On 9 March 1863 he signed to have his possessions, five books, sent from Fremantle Prison to York.[13] He was put to work on the York and Guildford Roads on 10 March.[14] He received his Ticket of Leave on 16 November 1863.[15]

As mentioned in the introduction, in September 1865 George Sparrow and two others, Alexander Menzies (No.7503) and Thomas Greenwood (No. 6302), were arrested at Bombay after escaping from the Quindalup Timber Station near the Vasse six months previously.[16] While in prison at Bombay, Sparrow made an attempt to escape by lowering himself over a steep wall on blankets and injured himself in a fall. He was taken to the prison hospital for treatment before being escorted onto the steamer Ellora for transport to WA via Point de Galle in Ceylon, along with Greenwood and Menzies.[17] Sparrow then managed a successful escape at Point de Galle and was not heard of again.

Menzies and Greenwood arrived back in Fremantle Gaol on 10 November 1865 and were listed as Recaptured Offenders and received extended sentences.[18]

It appears doubtful that George Sparrow was ever brought back to WA to serve out his extended sentence. There is no record of his death in WA.


(2) Alexander Menzies (c1831-1905?) (Reg. No. 7503)

Convict Alexander Menzies led a colourful life, beginning with his birth (possibly in Forfarshire in Scotland around 1831), followed by a brief career as a tailor at the St Helena Regiment Depot from 1851, before being arrested for the crime of rape on that island at the age of 24.[19] From there he was taken to England to serve time in Chatham and Portland Prisons before being sent in 1863 to Western Australia onboard the convict ship Lord Dalhousie.[20]

In 1865 in the company of convicts George Sparrow (Reg. No. 6974) and Thomas Greenwood (Reg. No. 6302), Alexander Menzies escaped from Western Australia on a ship carrying a load of timber from the Vasse, getting as far as Bombay before being arrested soon after landing. Alexander Menzies and Thomas Greenwood were sent back to WA to face a further term in prison. George Sparrow, however, managed to escape during the return journey.

Alexander Menzies’ Early Life

Records show that Alexander Menzies was the son of Robert Menzies, weaver, of 21 King Street, Montrose (Forfarshire, Scotland).[21] Alexander was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment in the Supreme Court at St Helena [22] for the crime of rape on 10 January 1855.[23] He was recorded as ‘a tailor, late a soldier of the St Helena Regiment.’[24] The British Army World Wide Index of 1851 has him listed as a Private at the St Helena Regiment Depot.[25] Following his conviction he was held at the St Helena Barracks before being sent to Bermuda, then on to England onboard the Sir GF Seymour.[26] On 14 April 1856 he was taken to Chatham Prison, then on 1 August that year he was sent to Portland Prison.[27]

Alexander Menzies left England onboard the Lord Dalhousie on 19 September 1863 and arrived at Fremantle WA on 28 December. He was described as aged 31, single, a Protestant (Presbyterian), 5’10½’, with brown hair, light hazel eyes, a long face, dark complexion and middling stout. He could read and write imperfectly and had tattoos – a tree and a man on his left arm and an anchor and two flags on his right arm.[28] His personal belongings were three books and a belt.[29]

Alexander’s extensive convict records in WA paint a picture of disreputable behaviour over many years, although his work record was relatively steady.

Convict Record in WA

7/1/1864 – Discharged to Bunbury.[30]

16/3/1864 – Ticket of Leave.

12/4/1864 – RM Wellington District – Drunk & out after hours at Bunbury – seven days.

July 1864 – Charged in the Supreme Court along with John Molloy (expiree) with having broken into the cottage of Jacob Curtain at Bunbury and setting fire to it – found Not Guilty.[31]

1865 – Escaped by ship with two others from the Quindalup Timber Station.[32]

20/11/1865 – Charged with absconding from the Colony – Two years. To Bombay in Vortigern. Returned to WA in Ellora.[33] [Note: Mail Steamer Ellora arrived in Fremantle from Point de Galle in November 1865.[34]]

20/10/1866 – Drunk in Fremantle – Three days’ Bread & Water with Hard Labour.

21/1/67 – A. Menzies sent to Bar Party.

3 May 1866 – Released from chain gang.[35]

17 May 1867 – A. Menzies discharged to North Fremantle.[36]

15 June 1867 – To Ticket of Leave.[37]

16 October 1869 – Alexander Menzies, T/L, drunk and loitering in town – Three months’ imprisonment.[38]

22/5/1867 – Special recession (indecipherable) – 38 days – due to work on the Bar Party.

9/1/1868 – RM Toodyay – idling about town – One month’s Hard Labour.

21/4/1869 – Drunk and obstructing pathway – Fine 5/- or seven days’ gaol.

2/9/1869 – Superintendent Fremantle Prison – Drunk when returning off pass – three days’ Bread & Water.

6/9/1869 – Superintendent Fremantle Prison – Refusing to open mouth during search – sentenced.

16/10/69 – PMP(?) – Drunk and exposing his person – Three months’ Hard Labour.

28/2/1870 – Released.

10/10/1870 – York Bench – Drunk – One week in Depot.

16/1/1871 – P/P sent to RM York.

7/2/1871 – York Bench – Out after hours – Fined 5/- or one week – fine paid.[39]

1872 – Receipt of Conditional Pardon, RM York.

Employment Record in WA

19/3/1864 – Labourer, 40/- per month, Wellington District, employer at Bunbury Samuel Ryland [formerly Convict No. 1333].

6/7/1864 – Labourer, £4/10/- per annum, Sussex District, H. Yelverton Timber Station.

31/12/1864 – General Servant, £5/0/0 per annum, Ditto.

26/11/1864 – Labourer, 30/-, Toodyay, Alex Fagan.

August 1866 – CP applied for.

15/1/1867 – To Mt Eliza Depot.

20/6/1867 – Ticket of Leave to Perth RM.

20/12/1867 – Toodyay Depot.

31/12/1867 – Labourer, 25/-, Ditto.

1/1/1868 – Labourer, 20/- Toodyay, Theodore Richards.

8/1/1868 –Toodyay Depot.

11/2/1868 – Labourer, 20/-, Toodyay, W. Ryan.

14/3/1868 – Labourer, 30/-, Monger, Newcastle.

30/6/1868 – Labourer, £2, Toodyay, H. Pennyfather.

25/8/1868 – Labourer, piece work, Victoria Plains, Thos. Kelly.

31/12/1868 – Ditto.

7/1/1869 – Toodyay to Swan.

23/2/1869 – Swan to Perth.

28/2/1869 – Sawyer, Perth J. Murray, (……) Station.

30/6/1869 – P/P to F/P.

6/9/1869 – To Perth Prison from Fremantle.

7/9/1869 – Sawyer, Perth.

7/3/1870 – Ticket of Leave to RM Newcastle.

1/3/1870 – Perth to Newcastle.

4/3/1870 – Newcastle Depot.

5/3/1870 – Sawyer, 40/- Toodyay District, T Pennyfather, Toodyay.

22/5/1870 – Piece Work York District, T Pennyfather, Guildford.

26/6/1870 – Toodyay to York.

30/6/1870 – Labourer, 40/-, T Pennyfather, York.

3/9/1870 – Labourer, 20/-, York, Monger.

17/10/ 1870 – York, W. Hardy.

31/12/1870 – Ditto.

16/1/1871 – P/P sent to RM York.

8/2/1871 – Labourer, 40/-, T Pennyfather, York.

20/3/1871 – Discharged.

27/3/1871 – General Servant, 30/- Monger, York Town.

30/6/1871 – Ditto.

1/8/1871 – Sawyer, 40/- (…….), York.

16/10/1871 – Labourer, 20/- York, W. Hardy.

31 12.1871 – Ditto.

11/3/1872 – Labourer, 12/-, York (…….)

15/3/1872 – Notification to RM York.

30/3/1872 – CP sent to RM York.

3/4/1872 – CP received at York.[40]

Alexander’s bad behaviour continued into his old age, with drunkenness being a problem as late as 1894, as a resident of the Old People’s Home at Mount Eliza in Perth. In May that year Alexander Menzies, convict number 1254 (late 7503), was charged with being disorderly at the Mt Eliza Depot and was sentenced to one month’s gaol.[41] A newspaper report of the incident reads as follows –

Alexander Menzies, charged with drunkenness, said he came out of gaol on Saturday morning, and not being admitted into the Old Men’s Home, he came to the Police Station and was locked up. It also appeared he was drunk, and that he had been imprisoned for breaking a man’s leg in the Home. The defendant was remanded for inquiry.[42]

There is a WA death record for an Alexander Menzies, died 1905, age 75, born Fettercairn, Kincardine, Scotland, father Robert Menzies, mother Margaret Dundas.[43]


(3) Thomas Greenwood (c1843 – ?) (Reg. No. 6302)

On 19 February 1861 Thomas Greenwood (aged 18), was convicted at Nether Knutsford in Chester of committing larceny, and due to two previous convictions he received a sentence of seven years’ transportation.[44] This was not the full sum of his transgressions. In spite of his youth, Thomas Greenwood had quite a lengthy criminal record. On 4 July 1855 he was sentenced to four months for larceny and was twice whipped, along with John Greenwood, probably his brother, who was sentenced in the same Court at Nether Knutsford for receiving stolen goods.)[45]

On 7 April 1856 Thomas and John Greenwood were both charged at Nether Knutsford with larceny. Each had three previous recorded convictions. John was sentenced to a further four years in gaol and it was decided that Thomas, due to his youth, should be sent to the Bradwall Reformatory School in Cheshire for five years.[46]

[On 28 June 1859 a Thomas Greenwood, (alias Thomas Percel, alias Thomas Smart), a labourer, aged 16, born 1843, height 5’2½”, 8 stone, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion, due for release on 19 December 1859, was removed to Parkhurst on 16 August 1859. The dates of his previous convictions were listed as 12 January 1854, 7 February 1856, 18 July 1856, 26 July 1856.[47] Whether this was the same Thomas Greenwood is not known.]

Thomas Greenwood, seaman, was transported to Western Australia onboard the Norwood (1), arriving at Fremantle on 9 June 1862. He was described as aged 18, a labourer, able to read and write imperfectly, Protestant. While in prison his conduct in Separate Confinement was Good, at Public Works, Good, and during voyage, Good.[48] On arrival his description was as follows – A seaman, single, age 20, height 5’0”, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, round face, middling stout. He had a boil mark on right side of neck, and a scar on first finger of his left hand.[49]

Convict Record in WA

16/5/1863 – Sent to Albany Road.[50]

17/12/1863 – Charged by RM Fremantle – Refusing to return to his district – Fined 5/-.

31/12/1863 – Employed £1 per month, J Williams, Perth.

18/1/1864 – Wood-cutting, 1/6 per cord, Hardman, Perth.

23/1/1864 – GW Leake – Idling about town & neglecting his work – Two months.

22/6/1864 – General Servant, £4/10/- per month, Yelverton, Vasse Timber Station.

30/6/1864 – Ditto.

31/12/1864 – Ditto, £5.

10/11/1865 – Returned to WA from Bombay in the Ellora.

20/11/1865 – C Symmons, JP – Charged with absconding from Colony in Vortigorn, supposedly to Bombay – Two years, first 6 months in irons.

3/5/1866 – To be released from Chain Gang.

14/3/1867 – Police Record sent to Fremantle Prison.

7/12/1867 – Labourer, 25/- per month, employer Lockyer, Northam.

31/12/1867 – Ditto.

26/3/1868 – New Ticket of Leave sent to RM at Newcastle.

11/5/1868 – ‘Original & Cumulative sentences will not expire until 19 April 1870, when, if his conduct is free from further report, he may apply for Certificate of Freedom. Signed HW.’ – Correspondence 8374/3.

1/1/1870 – RM Toodyay – Charged with leaving Depot against orders – 12 months’ Hard Labour at Fremantle.

11/1/1870 – Superintendent Fremantle Prison – Concealing handkerchief with intent to traffic – Forfeit Sunday Dinner.

25/7/1870 – PR to Superintendent, Perth.

6/9/1870 – Apply for Certificate of Freedom in two months. Signed HW.

11/9/1870 – PM Perth – Refusing his ration of salt pork – 3 days’ Bread & Water.

On 30 November 1870 Thomas Greenwood’s Certificate of Freedom was sent to the PM Perth. Receipt of this enabled him to sail for Calcutta per Charmian on 25 April 1871, probably with the intent of getting back to England.


[1] Perth Gazette, 16 September 1865.

[2] Note: The P & O steamer Ellora had a contract to carry mail and passengers to Australia.

[3] Inquirer and Commercial News, 22 November 1865.

[4] Convict Department Receipts & Discharges (RD5-RD7)

[5] Perth Gazette, 30 November 1866.

[6] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Gloucestershire, 1845.

[7] Cheltenham Journal, 11 March 1850.

[8] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Gloucestershire, 1857.

[9] Stroud Journal, 23 May 1857.

[10] National Archives, England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 Image,

[11] National Archives Kew, ADM 101/255/1A: Medical journal of the Merchant Man, convict ship from 10 October 1862 to 17 February 1863 by William Smith, Surgeon Superintendent.

[12] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict lists, (128/1-32)

[13] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Prisoners Property Book (V14)

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

[15] Fremantle Prison Convict Database,

[16] Perth Gazette, 16 September 1865.

[17] Inquirer and Commercial News, 22 November 1865.

[18] Convict Department Receipts & Discharges (RD5-RD7)

[19] UK National Archives Ref. WO12/11046,

[20] UK National Archives, Prison Registers Series HO24, Piece No. 9,

[21] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R29)

[22] Note: The island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean was a remote British Protectorate at that time. In 1815 it was the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. A British Naval Station was based there from 1840. (Source: Wikipedia)

[23] Courts Martial, Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1870 Image,

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

[25] British National Archives No. WO 12/11046

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

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

[28] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R29)

[29] Convict Establishment, Prisoners’ Property Book (V14)

[30] Convict Establishment Receipts & Discharges, (RD3-RD4)

[31] Inquirer and Commercial News, 13 July 1864.

[32] Perth Gazette, 16 September 1865.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Perth Gazette, 17 November 1865.

[35] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R29)

[36] Ibid.

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

[38] Perth Gazette, 19 November 1869.

[39] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R29)

[40] Convict Department General Register (R29)

[41] Fremantle Prison Registers (F28)

[42] Daily News, 2 July 1894.

[43] Department of Justice, Reg. No. 1220.

[44]Crimes, Prisons & Punishments, England & Wales, 1805-1892, National Archives, Series HO27, Piece 128.

[45] General Quarter Sessions Knutsford, Criminal Registers, England & Wales, 1770 – 1935, National Archives, Series HO27, Piece 110.

[46] Crimes, Prisons & Punishments, England & Wales, 1770 – 1935, National Archives, Series HO27, Piece 113.

[47] National Archives, Wandsworth Prison Surrey, Register of Prisoners, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 231.

[48] Convict Department, General Register (R9)

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

[50] Convict Department, General Register (R9)