Convict Histories

Jeremiah Prior (or Pryor) (c1833-1897) (Reg. No 7514)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

[Note: Convicted as ‘Pryor’, but often recorded as Prior.]

The Lord Dalhousie left Portland on 19 September 1863 and arrived at Fremantle on 28 December. Of the 270 convicts onboard, 41 of them had been convicted at Courts Martial at various British Empire military bases.[1]

One of them was Jeremiah Prior, aged 28 years, a soldier and tailor in the 21st Regiment, based in Barbados at the time of his conviction in 1861. He was charged with resisting arrest after ‘offering violence to his Superior Officer then and there in the execution of his office’. He was found guilty of the offence at a Court Martial on 30 April 1861, and with two previous Courts Martial for drunkenness, he was sentenced to 20 years’ transportation. A letter attached to his sentence stated that he was ‘to be sent back to his regiment should he be released at any time’. Confirmation that this order was later cancelled appears in a letter dated 25 July 1863, written by the Governor of Chatham Prison.[2]

Prior’s prison record was as follows:

Barbados – 18 weeks.

Onboard Sylph – 37 weeks.

Millbank – Received 25 June 1861 – 14 weeks. Conduct Good.

Pentonville – Received 9 July 1861 – 7 months & 23 weeks. Conduct Exemplary.

Chatham – Received on 5 March 1862 – 14 months. Conduct Exemplary.

Portsmouth – Received on 23 July 1863 – Separate Confinement.

Total period spent in Separate Confinement – 2 years, 4 months and 15 days. Visited by his friends prior to embarkation to Western Australia.[3]

His Record in Western Australia

Prior was described as a former factory hand, single, aged 31, 5’8” tall, with black hair, light blue eyes, an oval face, a ruddy complexion and middling stout in build. He had a scar on his upper lip.[4] His property consisted of a hymn book and tract, two pairs of scissors, five thimbles and a certificate.[5]

He earned remission for good behaviour on the voyage, and more points as a constable in charge of work gangs. After his release on Ticket of Leave he spent most of his life in Bunbury, working as a tailor, starting out as an employee of a former convict John Buchanan (alias Mainwaring)[6]. Unfortunately Prior’s record shows him to be an alcoholic, frequently in trouble with the Bunbury police. The Resident Magistrate for that district kept a strict eye on former convicts such as Prior –

8/12/66 – Employed as a tailor by John Buchanan for 60/- per month at Bunbury. [Quite a good rate of pay. Prior’s training while in military service served him in good stead.]

2/12/66 – Drunk and using obscene language – fined 5/-.

12/12/66 – His Ticket of Leave was sent to Bunbury.

13/12/66 – His police record was sent to Bunbury.

31/12/66 – In Bunbury Depot.

31/12/ 66 – Employed by John Buchanan at same rate.

30/6/67 – Ditto.

16/12/67 – Ditto.

30/12/67 – Ditto, 20/- per week.

30/6/68 – Ditto, 30/- per week.

31/12/68 – Ditto, 20/- per month.[7]

The following advertisement indicates that John Buchanan and Jeremiah Prior were in partnership in the Bunbury tailoring business up until the end of 1868. It was probably Prior’s excessive drinking that led to the break-up –

Dissolution of Partnership. J. Buchanan & Co., Tailors, &c., Bunbury. THE partnership hitherto existing between the undersigned, trading under the above title, is at this date by mutual consent, dissolved. Witness our hands this 18th day of August, 1868. JOHN BUCHANAN, JEREMIAH PRYOR. Signed and delivered in my presence this 18th day of August, R. Teede. 1868.

N.B.— All persons indebted to the late firm are requested to settle their accounts before the 1st January, 1869, and all counter claims must be sent in before that date.[8]

From that time Prior’s drinking problem became worse –

16/2/70 – RM Bunbury – Drunk and frequenting Public Houses, leading a dissolute life – Seven days’ Hard Labour.

20/10/71 – Drunk – fined 5/-.

It appears from convict records that despite the break-up of their partnership, Prior remained in the employ of Bunbury businessman John Buchanan until 1872.[9] On 5 September that year Prior appeared in the Perth Supreme Court, along with another former convict, George Benbow.[10] Both men were found guilty of larceny from a wreck and were severely punished. A cutter belonging to George Johnson had come ashore about three quarters of a mile from the Bunbury jetty on 21 July during a violent storm, resulting in some of the cargo being washed ashore. Details of the theft were as follows –

George Benbow and Jeremiah Prior were indicted for having, on the 24th July, feloniously

stolen and carried away 20 lbs. tobacco, 911 lbs. soap, 20 lbs. maizena, a pair of trowsers and a sock, from the ship Twilight, when stranded at Bunbury….

… Sentence; Benbow, (against whom there was a previous conviction for larceny), 6 years, penal servitude; Prior 3 years’ penal servitude.[11]

24/8/74 – Prior earned one month remission and was working as a gang labourer.[12]

8/12/74 – Released to Perth.[13]

8/7/75 – RM Bunbury – Charged with being drunk and incapable.

31/12/75 – RM Bunbury – Charged with being drunk and neglecting his master’s work.

11/8/76 – RM Bunbury – Being afloat without permission. Cautioned.

29/11/76 – Received his Conditional Pardon at Bunbury.[14]

From 1869 to 1872 and then from 1881 to 1889 Jeremiah Prior was listed in the WA Almanacks as a tailor at Bunbury.[15] An article entitled ‘Memories of the Past – Bunbury Fifty Years Ago, published in the Bunbury Herald in 1925, reminisces about the various stores situated along Victoria Street in Bunbury –

…The only tailoring depot of the period was owned by Mr. Jerry Prior, who was next door to Ned Connor and was followed by a general store belonging to Mr. John Mainwaring.

[Note: Former convict John Buchanan had changed his name to Thomas Mainwaring, and owned quite a large store on the corner of Victoria and Stirling Streets.]

In 1888 Prior was back in the Bunbury Police Court, facing Resident Magistrate WD Cowan on a charge of being drunk, and was fined 5s. or 7 days’ imprisonment.[16] In 1891 he was again charged by PO Casserly with being drunk and incapable in town on the previous day.[17]

Later that year, Jeremiah Prior was found wandering around Perth and, like many elderly former convicts, was taken into care at the Mt Eliza Old Men’s Home –


Jeremiah Prior, a destitute man, 67 years of age, appeared to answer the charge of being a vagrant. He was sent to the depot.[18]

Jeremiah did not last long, dying of dysentery on 22 May 1897, aged 68 years.

Later that year a Bunbury newspaper announced the following –

A commencement has been made with the erection of a new building for Mr. Jas. Moore at the corner of Victoria and Prinsep Streets on which the premises lately occupied by ‘Jerry’ Pryor stood for years. The building, which according to plans, will be a handsome one, will materially improve that locality.[19]


[1] Convicts to Australia,

[2] UK National Archives, Quarterly Returns of Hulks, Series HOB, Piece No. 157.

[3] Ibid.

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

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

[6] See details of John Buchanan, alias Mainwaring (Reg. No. 6513) on this website.

[7] Convict Department General Register (R31).

[8] Inquirer, 26 August 1868.

[9] Convict Department General Register (R31).

[10] George Benbow, (Reg. No.7625), arrived on the Clara in 1864. (See details on this website.)

[11] Inquirer, 11 September 1872.

[12] Convict Department, General Register (R31).

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

[14] Convict Department, General Register (R31).

[15] Carnamah Historical Society & Museum,

[16] Southern Times, 18 Dec 1888.

[17] Ibid, 13 July, 1891.

[18] Daily News, 30 April 1897.

[19] Bunbury Herald, 16 July 1897.