Convict Histories

An Old Reprobate – John Stubbs, (c1840 – 1918) (Reg. No. 8993)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

John Stubbs (alias William Compton & William Brown)[1], was one of almost 10 000 men who were sent to Western Australia as convicts between 1850 and 1868.

The following extract from a Western Australian newspaper gives a fair indication of the trajectory of the life of John Stubbs, from a fourteen-year-old petty criminal in Salford, Manchester in 1854, to destitution in WA:


MONDAY, MARCH 26, 1900.

(Before Messrs. J. Lilly and F. McDonald, J’s.P.)

INCORRIGIBLE.— A little grey-haired old man named John Stubbs made his 40th appearance for having been drunk, and was sent to the Old Men’s Depot at Mount Eliza.[2]

His Early Life

John Stubbs, aged 24, was convicted at the County of Lancaster General Session of the Peace on 24 August 1864, of breaking and entering premises and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation, due to previous convictions.[3] His crime was described as house-breaking at Salford with two others while the owner was absent. A neighbour reported seeing them, but only Stubbs was arrested.[4] He was convicted of stealing three books from the premises.[5]

Stubbs’s long list of previous convictions from an early age convinced the trial judge that it was time to send him out of the country:

April 1854 – Stealing wearing apparel at Salford – one month.

October 1854 – Home breaking in Manchester and stealing apparel – six months.

June 1855 – Ditto – Four (indecipherable).

12 January 1854 – Manchester Juvenile Offenders’ Act – 14 days.

March 1854 – Liverpool – acquitted.

October 1862 – Assault – six months.

October 1863 – A rogue and vagabond – three months.

22 June 1864 – Manchester, assault – 14 days.

John Stubbs was received from Portland Prison and taken onboard the convict ship Belgravia, leaving London on 4 April 1866 and arriving at Fremantle Western Australia on 4 July 1866. His description was – height 5’6½”, with brown hair, grey eyes, a long face, sallow complexion, and middling stout. His distinguishing marks were two anchors & eight dots on his left arm, and rose hearts & six dots on his right arm. His next-of-kin was listed as his sister Jane Compton, of Butler Street, Holland Street, Manchester.[6]

His Convict Record in WA

31/7/66 – Idleness – three days’ bread & water.

20/9/66 – Burglary and robbery – three years’ hard labour at Convict Establishment.

30/10/66 – Insubordination – seven days’ bread & water.

20/2/67 – Fremantle, absconding – two years’ hard labour in irons.

20/5/67 – Special remission eleven days for working in the Bar party.

18/10/67 – Insubordination – cautioned.

7/11/67 – Sentenced to two years in irons – to be treated as one year from 20 February, dependent on good conduct.

27/12/67 – Conversing with a woman on Public Works and going into the privy with her two days’ bread & water.

3/2/68 – Fighting on Public Works – two days’ bread & water.

27/7/68 – Having a pudding concealed in his cell – two days’ bread & water.

8/10/68 – Drunk and threatening his officer – 14 days’ bread & water.

9/10/68 – Absenting himself from his Party – two days’ bread & water.

11/12/68 – Gross idleness on Public Works – three days’ bread & water.

15/12/68 – Making away with a blanket, and wilfully destroying another – three days’ bread & water – to pay for two blankets.

31/12/68 – Fifteen minutes late going to Chapel – two days’ bread & water.

21/8/69 – Remission for Bar Work – 17 days.

16/11/69 – Perth – absent form camp three hours – beating the Night Constable and assaulting two others, then absconding – 12 months’ hard labour in irons.

29/11/69 – To Fremantle Prison.

15/12/69 – To pass three months of sentence in strict Separate Confinement.

20/12/69 – Talking to another prisoner and insolence – one day bread & water.

23/12/69 – Insubordinate conduct – one day bread & water.

12/1/70 – Insolence – one day bread & water.

6/7/70 – Creating a disturbance – one day bread & water.

9/7/70 – Admitted to Lunatic Asylum.

3/7/73 – Provided conduct continues good until 1/9/73, then to be released to Ticket of Leave.[7]

1/9/73 – Discharged to Ticket of Leave.

4/12/73 – Ticket of Leave to R.M., Bunbury.

2/1/74 – R.M., Bunbury – housebreaking and stealing – 18 months’ hard labour at Fremantle Prison.

10/1/74 – Ticket of Leave Revoked.[8]

2/2/74 – To Fremantle Prison.

13/3/76 – Unexpired portion of cumulative sentences remitted and granted a Certificate of Freedom. (Vide 7938/15). 14/3/76 – Certificate of Freedom sent to P.M., Perth. Colonial (indecipherable) Imperial for ‘Lunacy’.[9]

5/12/81 – Larceny of a Post Letter – acquitted.[10]

30/10/86 – John Stubbs, baker, age 40 – assault on JW Milligan – two months’ hard labour plus sureties, self, of £5 plus £5, otherwise a term of six months.[11]

Employment in WA

John Stubbs’s work placements were mostly of short duration, probably due to unreliability, and occasionally interrupted by terms in prison:

1/9/73 – General Servant, at £2 per month, HM Lefroy, at Fremantle.

4/11/73 – Mason, at £5 per month, J Kierle(?), at Fremantle.

18/11/73 – General servant, 35/- per month, Thomas Thompkinson, York.

20/11/73 – Teamster, 7/6 per week, Wm Kett (?), York.

25/11/73 – General Servant, 8/- per week, H Stevens, York.

8/12/73 – General Servant, £1 per month, JG Thomson, Brookhampton, Wellington District.

22/12/73 – Cook, 30/- per week, MB Smith, Uduc, Wellington District.

31/12/73 – Ditto.

12/1/76 – Cutting wood, piece work, Chas Allen, Fremantle.

13/9/76 – Baker, 35/- per month, AD Letch, Perth.[12]

The following notices were published in the WA Police Gazettes:

1882 – JOHN STUBBS, exp., late 8993, at Bunbury, on the 13th inst., by W.P.C. Sinclair; remanded. Property recovered with exception of 5 razors – 6 months’ hard labour.[13]

1884 – JOHN STUBBS, exp., (late 8993); charged at Pinjarrah, on the 28th ult., by Corpl. Osborne, with selling liquor, (to wit) Colonial wine, without a license. Fined £30, and one month h.l.; in default of fine 2 months’ h.l., cumulative.[14]

1884 – Pinjarrah.— On the 26th ult., from the premises of J. McLarty,—one single barrel gun, the stock a little burnt, the property of Billy Dower. John Stubbs, exp., late 8993, strongly suspected.[15]

1884 – Warrant Issued. JOHN STUBBS, exp., late 8993, middling stout, age 46 years, 5ft. 6 | inches high, brown hair, grey eyes, long visage, sallow complexion, 2 anchors and 6 dots left arm, rose, heart, and 6 dots right arm; larceny of single barrel gun, property of Billy Dower, ab. nat. Dated Pinjarrah, 18th February, 1884.[16]

1884 – JOHN STUBBS, exp., late 8993, apprehended at Cocalup Swamp, Bunbury District, on the 18th ult., by P.C. Gee, 3 months h.l.[17]

1884 – JOHN STUBBS, exp., late 8993 — Discharged from Perth Gaol during week ending 20 September. Crime of supplying liquor to an Ab. Native, feloniously stealing a gun, illegal disposal of liquor (2 charges). Fines — £5 9s 6d or 1 month; 1 month; £30 8s., or 2  months.[18]

Over the years John Stubbs’s name was regularly featured in WA newspapers, at times providing some entertainment for readers:

FRIDAY, April 17 (1885)

Absenting from employment. Richard Kennedy v. John Stubbs.

Mr. Hare appeared for the prosecutor and Mr. Dymes for defendant. Mr. Dymes said that the summons was incomplete, and it was amended by the Bench. The agreement dated March 12th 1885 in which defendant agreed to work as baker for Kennedy at £2 per month, with board and 4d. in the 1s. on the sale of pies was produced. B. Kennedy deposed that Stubbs did not conduct himself according to the terms of the agreement as he was constantly drinking. On Sunday Easter Day asked him to bake for Monday and he would not do it. It is usual to bake on Sunday for the next day. He could have sold 30/- of bread on Monday. Stubbs had absented himself several times previously. Cross-examined by Mr. Dymes, Witness brought Stubbs from Perth. He did not absent himself on Sunday or Monday. Paid him 5s. in cash only. He commenced to work on March 14. Stubbs left his work on Tuesday the 7th, when he was locked up and fined 10/- for being drunk. Witness had an application from the gaoler to pay the fine. He would not pay it. He was in prison till Friday. Told the gaoler to tell Stubbs he was discharged from the 7th, the day he was asked to pay the fine. Defendant worked on Tuesday afternoon, and carried out buns or something to sell. He accounted for the buns. After being released from gaol he offered to return. By the Bench. There is 18s. due Stubbs for pies. It was due at the time he was in prison, and 15s. was due for clothes, 2 shirts and a guernsey. He did not ask for them. Complainant was ordered to pay £1 5s. 5d. to Stubbs, and the agreement was cancelled for all claims, each party to pay his own costs.[19]



(Before the Police Magistrate) TUESDAY, September 8.

Patrick Bresnahan, an antique-looking individual, was charged with drunkenness. Owing to his previous fair fame and reputation he was discharged. John Stubbs was charged, with being drunk and assaulting a man at the Royal Hotel yesterday. As soon as the man was placed in the dock he became very excited and, gifted with much volubility, proceeded to relate to the Bench the many wrongs he had suffered at the hands of the Police. The constable proceeded to lay the case, when Stubbs addressed him — ‘You sweep, I’ll hammer you. You know you are telling lies.’ Then to His Worship he said that between 1 and 2 o’clock this morning the police entered his cell, caught hold of his hind legs and ill-used him. He also called upon his fellow cell mate, Mr. Bresnahan, to state that he had been ill-used, but Mr. Bresnahan’s memory had suddenly become clouded, or, ‘he did not want to remember,’ as Stubbs said. Stubbs was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment, and when being removed observed — ‘You give plenty of law, your Worship, but very little jus — .’ The Magistrate here ordered the lock-up door to be closed.[20]



JOHN STUBBS, an expiree, who is suspected by the police of having visited several houses in the vicinity of Arundel-street for the purpose of robbery, was charged with having stolen a coat and a silver bracelet, the property of George Cooper, on the 24th inst. The prisoner pleaded guilty saying that at the time he committed the robbery he was under the influence of drink.— Corporal Connor gave the prisoner a bad character, stating that he had been convicted for robbery in various parts of the colony. Only yesterday he was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for vagrancy—The magistrates said that the prisoner had a very bad character, and notwithstanding the fact that he had pleaded guilty, they would inflict the full term of imprisonment upon him and that was six months with hard labor.— The prisoner asked if the sentence of yesterday would be included but the bench informed him that he would have to undergo seven months’ incarceration. He was suspected of having committed the petty robberies at night, which had occurred recently in the town.—The prisoner protested that he was innocent of the charges and was subsequently removed to the cells.[21]



Sergeant Houlahan recounted to the magistrate a lengthy number of misdeeds committed by John Stubbs. The accused was charged with being a rogue and a vagabond. A term of six months’ imprisonment was imposed.[22]


Larceny. — John Stubbs, an expiree, was charged at the instance of Constable M’Tavish with

having stolen from Wilson Bros. second-hand shop in High-street three pairs of leggings, valued at 25s. 6d. The accused admitted the offence. On Saturday last Stubbs was noticed carrying the articles mentioned. Constable M’Tavish asked him where he obtained them. The answer given was so unsatisfactory that the accused was locked up. Subsequently inquiries showed that the articles were stolen from Messrs. Wilson Bros. store. The accused was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, with hard labor.[23]




(Before Mr. James, P.M.)


John Stubbs on Saturday last found his way into Hay-street, where he started to jostle ladies, some of whom he told to go to regions red. John, on hearing the evidence of a police constable, said he ‘must ha’ done it.’ Cautioned and dismissed.[24]


Drunkenness. — John Stubbs, an old resident, with a weakness for drink, was sent to gaol for 21 days.[25]


Fremantle – Stealing Clothes. – John Stubbs, charged with stealing a suit of clothes, the property of Esor Massel, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.[26]




(Before Mr. A. S. Roe, P.M.)

Disorderly Conduct.— John Stubbs was charged with having fought on St. George’s Terrace. Accused seized a dog belonging to a passer-by and being remonstrated with, struck the owner of the dog. Constable Gregory saw the incident, and warned Stubbs not to make a disturbance, advice that he disregarded, so was arrested. He begged to be allowed to go, as he wished to leave the city, and get back to his occupation as a shepherd, so the Bench discharged him.[27]


John Stubbs (62) was charged with vagrancy, and given a bad character by the police as a tap-room loafer He was cautioned and allowed to go.[28]


Fremantle – Drunk.— John Stubbs (his 23rd appearance) pleaded guilty to having been drunk, and was cautioned and discharged.[29]



More ‘time’ than Stubbs anticipated!

John Stubbs was charged with stealing from David Brown a silver hunting watch.

Accused: I didn’t steal it. He gave it to me to pawn.

Mr. Fairbairn: Do you wish me to deal with this case summarily?

Accused: Yes, you can deal with it, as long as you give me fair play.

David Brown, a baker from Bendigo, Victoria, stated that he had just arrived in the Coolgardie. The watch (produced) was his property. He had it in his possession yesterday morning, but did not remember giving it to anyone to pawn. He was not in need of money, having brought £9 or £10 in his pockets. He did not remember anything that occurred. Mr. Fairbairn: You were up this morning for being drunk, were you not? Accused: Yes.

Charles Morgan, a boy, deposed that at 5.30 yesterday he was in Bay-street, and saw accused and the previous witness walking towards East Fremantle. He saw accused taking the watch off the chain which was hanging from Brown’s buttonhole. He then placed the watch in his pocket. Accused then pushed the other man against the fence and then turned back. A constable in plain-clothes then arrested accused. Accused: Did you see me take the watch out of his pocket? Morgan: No; but I saw you take it off the chain. Accused: No, you didn’t-— you lying young rascal (sotto voce).

Constable Stokes deposed to seeing accused push Brown against the fence. Stubbs then walked away in the direction of him (witness), and he arrested him. A struggle ensued, and accused was thrown to the ground. He (Stubbs) then put his hand into his pocket and pulled something out. Witness opened accused’s hand and found there the watch (produced). Accused said he had bought it for 5s. Stubbs, in explanation, said he had four or five drinks with Brown. Then the latter said he had no more money, and asked him (accused) to pawn his watch. The constable never knocked him down. He gave him the watch with the greatest of pleasure. Accused had 39 convictions against him. Mr. Fairbairn: You will receive three months’ imprisonment.[30]

Death in Perth WA

At the end of a long and colourful life, John Stubbs died on 9 March 1918, aged 81, at the Old Men’s Home in Claremont. He was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery.[31]

[Note: A copy of a photograph of John Stubbs, (Convict No. 8993) – taken as a Colonial Prisoner in WA and dating sometime between the 1880s and 1912 – has been reproduced in Australia’s Last Convicts reprobates, rogues and recidivists, by Lorraine Clarke and Sherie Strickland, Swan Genealogy, iPrintPlus, Perth, Western Australia, p.61.]


[1] Convict Department, General Register (R14)

[2] West Australian, 27 March 1900.

[3] England & Wales, Criminal Register, Lancashire, 1864.

[4] Manchester Courier, 9 August 1864.

[5] Convict Department, General Register (R14)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Comptroller General’s Office, Government Gazette, 13 January 1874, p.12.

[9] Convict Department, General Register (R14)

[10] Fremantle Prison, Register of Local Prisoners (F3-F4)

[11] Ibid.

[12] Convict Department, General Register (R14)

[13] WA Police Gazette, July 1882.

[14] WA Police Gazette, 5 March 1884, p.41.

[15] WA Police Gazette, 13 February 1884, p.25.

[16] WA Police Gazette, 27 February 1884, p.35.

[17] Ibid.

[18] WA Police Gazette, 24 September 1884.

[19] Albany Mail and King George’s Sound Advertiser, 21 April 1885.

[20] Daily News, 8 September 1885.

[21] Evening Times, Fremantle, 26 April 1888.

[22] Daily News, 1 December 1896.

[23] Inquirer, 16 July 1897.

[24] Daily News, 14 June 1897.

[25] Inquirer, 30 September 1898.

[26] West Australian, 18 October 1898.

[27] West Australian, 28 March 1898.

[28] Daily News, 16 September 1899.

[29] Daily News, 23 August 1899.

[30] Daily News, 26 September 1901.

[31] WA Metropolitan Cemeteries Board,