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Archives In Brief 124 - Gaol staff

This Archives in Brief provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to gaol staff employed by the NSW Department of Corrective Services and its predecessors. Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator and Short Guide 10: Professions and Occupations. For information on gaol inmates see AIB 82.

Historical background

NRS 4481, GPO Glass negatives, Darlinghurst Gaol, Sh 895.Log gaols with separate cells for prisoners were built at Sydney and Parramatta in 1797[1]. From 1797 to 1874 the Sherriff was responsible for the management of gaols. In this period more permanent gaols, built of stone and brick, were established at Parramatta, Windsor, Bathurst, Liverpool, Campbell Town, Berrima, Newcastle, Melbourne and the House of Correction at Sydney.  Regulations in 1867 outlined in some detail the duties and conduct of the various employees of the gaols and official visitors such as justices, surgeons and chaplains. They also listed the records which were required to be maintained by each gaol.

From 1874 until 1970 the Department of Prisons was responsible for the management of gaols.  The Department was renamed as the Department of Corrective Services following the Prisons Act 1970 in order to better describe its modern role.  Further reform followed with the Nagle Commission of 1976 examining the effectiveness of the Department of Corrective Services in the light of modern penal practice. The relationship between staff and prisoners and the appointment and training of staff were priorities for the Commission.

Today the Department's mission statement is to provide “custodial and community-based services as an important element of the criminal justice system”.  Offenders in custody are assessed and managed in order to “reduce their risks of re-offending.” The Department works with government and non-government groups in order to manage offenders both in custody and in the community.[2]

Since 1993 some NSW prisons have been privately managed.  This AIB concerns only those gaol staff employed by the NSW State government.

Select list of sources

Note: Department of Corrective Setrvices staff records are open to public access after 70 years.

Department of Prisons/ Department of Corrective Services

NRS 1837, Registers of prison staff, 1867-1947, [3/14134-35], [19/10554–10555]
The following details are shown: position, name, dates of appointment and remarks.
Kaye Vernon and Billie Jacobsen's Index to Registers of Prison Staff 1860-1923 is compiled from [19/10554-55] and is available in the reading room.

NRS 19785, Register of staff movements, 1936-47, [19/9839]
The register records the appointment, transfer and resignation of prison staff for each gaol during a particular pay period. The volume is arranged by gaol and contains the following information: name and particulars of appointments, transfers and resignations. Not all staff are recorded.

NRS 1838, Record of officers' services, 1869-1901, [5/1780]
For each officer the following details are given: nature and dates of various promotions, date of appointment to Public Service, date of appointment to Prisons Department, date of birth, colour of hair and eyes, complexion, height, birth place, married or single, calling, religion, date of contribution to superannuation fund, breaks in service, and remarks.

NRS 1842, Salary register, 1896-1907, [3/14138]
For each gaol, as well as the Comptroller General's Office, all staff are listed, with a monthly record of salary paid. The final column notes salary increases, transfers, resignations, dismissals etc.

NRS 1843, Leave register, 1899-1930, [3/14137]
For each officer, the following information is given: name, position, date, number of registered paper, and full details of leave granted. The volume is indexed.

NRS 1839, Record of warders' offences, 1880-1948, [3/14129], [5/1824], [19/9837]
These volumes record brief details of misconduct and neglect of duty on the part of warders employed in New South Wales gaols. The following information is given: name, date of appointment, classification (3rd Class, 2nd Class etc.), date, offence, by whom reported, by whom evidence given, decision, by whom, remarks. Notes on transfers to other gaols, promotion, demotions, resignations etc. are also given.

NRS 1840, Record of warders' offences and leave of absence, 1883-1935, [5/1834-36]
These volumes give similar information to that found in Record of warders' offences (see above), but also include (for each officer) a detailed physical description and a list of leave taken (noting date and type of leave).

NRS 1841, Warders' defaults and transfer book, 1884-1917, [5/1833]
This volume shows, under each name: date; nature of default; decision; remarks. The volume also lists transfers, promotions and salary variations, with the relevant date.

Records from individual gaols

Records of individual prisons can be identifed by using Archives Investigator. Select Advanced Search — Agency and enter the name of the gaol.  Note: records from individual gaols may be incomplete.

Other sources

NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony (Blue books), 1822-57, Fiche 438-613 *ARK
Returns of the Colony (Blue books) provide an annual list of permanent government employees, including senior prison staff. The Blue books show name, position, date of appointment, and salary. See Short Guide 3 for further information.

Public Service Lists, 1858-1960, Fiche 807-819 (1958-70), Reels 3609-3620 (1871-1960)
An annual list of permanent government employees including senior prison staff. Numbers of warders, no names are shown.

NRS 1845, Comptroller-General's Office: General rules and lists of duties of clerical staff, 1910, [19/9842]

NRS 1846, Corrective Services: Staff instruction manual, 1956, [3/14133]
This volume covers all aspects of routine prison administration.

Search for photographs

Photo Investigator has a variety of gaol photos; try searching with the keywords 'gaol' or 'prison'.

Further reading

John Ramsland, With just but relentless discipline: a social history of corrective services in NSW; Kangaroo Press 1996


1  Return of Public Buildings erected in New South Wales since October, 1796 in HRA Series I, Volume II, p.21

Department of Corrective Services