Find out what types of prison records are available and how to access them


ABTS - Blenheim convict indent

This is the Irish indent for the Blenheim, a ship which arrived in Australia carrying around 200 convicts in 1834. An Irish indent was basically the handing over to the authorities, from the Lieutenant-Governor of Ireland, of the custody of those convicts. It's a wonderful document that...

In this episode we show you the very popular Gaol Photo Description Books. The photos (or mugshots) of prisoners are from gaols right across NSW and date from 1870-1930.



George Scott alias Captain Moonlight: Outlaw & Bushranger


For over 100 years bushrangers roamed throughout the state of NSW. Their exploits entranced the public and names such as Ben Hall, Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly became both heroes and villains for many. 

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Cecil Pierpont

Cecil Pierpont, a 37 year old musician from England, was photographed at Parramatta Gaol on 20 October 1903 while serving a twelve month sentence for false pretences.

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, James Dwyer

James Dwyer, a 25 year old postal official born at Camden Park, the ‘great feudal estate’ of the Macarthur-Onslows, was photographed at Darlinghurst Gaol on 17 June 1899 the day after he  had been convicted of forgery and uttering.

"Examples of Dwyer’s handwriting were...

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Jim Skidmore

Jim Skidmore, a 34 year old station hand from Sydney, was photographed at Broken Hill Gaol on 31 May 1927 while serving a sentence of six months hard labour for the illegal use of a motor car.

Skidmore and his co-accused, Roy Davidson, aged 39—also a station hand—...

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Margaret Higgins

Margaret Higgins, a 45 year old servant from Maitland, was photographed at Dubbo Gaol on 17 October 1905 while serving a life sentence for murder.

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Pier McDhoon

Pier McDhoon, born in New Caledonia or India c. 1872, was convicted of multiple horse stealing offences between 1887 and 1913, and was photographed on at least six occasions at Darlinghurst and Parramatta gaols.

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Sarah Clifford

Sarah Clifford, born in Jamaica c.1833, was a former convict and known pickpocket in both Tasmania and NSW. She was photographed numerous times at Darlinghurst and Biloela gaols between 1872 and 1910. Clifford was convicted and gaoled for scores of stealing and petty offences over a four decade...

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, William Plummer

William Plummer, a 66 year old whitesmith (metal worker) originally from England, was photographed at Parramatta Gaol on 26 March 1884 while serving a sentence of four years hard labour for burglary.

The half blind, elderly man with flagellation scars and arms tattooed with...

Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930, Willie and Jacky

Willie Kenambury, a 24 year old tracker, was photographed at Albury Gaol on 10 January 1894 while on remand for murder. His co-accused, Jacky Bullyell, 25 years old, was also a tracker. Both men were from Fraser Island, Queensland.


Arthur Astill, a 16 year old labourer from Orange in central west NSW, was photographed at Dubbo Gaol on 24 January 1893 while awaiting trial for murder.

Have you fallen victim to a card sharper, or card shark as they are more commonly known as today? A card sharp was a person who cheated at cards to win money.


Before the internet... this confidence trick - dating back to 1897 - is an early version of the Nigerian email scam.

James Pearce - gaol photo

In the digitised NSW Gaol Photos (1870-1930) we found a James Pearce in three separate photos that show him grow from boy to man.


Supreme Court - Bank exchange from Sir Edward Knatchbull to John Knatchbull for the sum of £50

This case study has been developed to show what types of records can be found in our collection. References to John Knatchbull, alias John Fitch, turn up in a number of convict records, such as the convict indents, Tickets of Leave and Ticket of Leave Passports. What makes...

The Letters Patent (or Charter of Justice) provided that the Court should be a Court of Record presided over by the Judge Advocate of the Colony, together with six naval or military officers appointed by the Governor, with the authority to try all criminal causes which were offences under the...

Colonial pardon for James Freeman. NRS 5601 5-1151 Reel 772

The convict James Freeman was found guilty in the Criminal Court on 29 February 1788 of stealing flour. The fledgling Colony was barely a month old, and supplies of food were limited. Theft of such items was therefore viewed with the utmost seriousness, hence the draconian death sentence that...

Fully digitised
Broken Hill Gaol - gaol photograph of Jim Skidmore, 1927. Digital ID  2057_a006_a00603_6018000139r

The Gaol Photographic Description Books contain a photograph of each prisoner and personal and criminal history. 

We have indexed and digitised this collection of photographs c.1870-c.1930 .

The Quarter Sessions court was an intermediate court with greater powers than the local court or bench but not as great as the Supreme Court. It could hear all crimes and misdemeanours where the crime was not punishable by death.  It met three times a year at various locations...

As a result of the criticisms of the existing judicial arrangements in NSW by Commissioner Bigge, the existing Court of Criminal Jurisdiction and the Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction were abolished. The Supreme Court was established under the Third Charter of Justice (1823), operating with a...

Sources and techniques to find all the details of your gaolbird ancestor.

Trial Bay Gaol Photo - John Donohoe pre-1910. Digital ID 2549_a006_a00603_601900000183

These photos of prisoners were accompanied by the following details: name, aliases, date when portrait was taken, native place, year of birth, arrived in colony - ship and year, trade or occupation, religion, degree of education, height, weight (on committal, on discharge), colour of...

The criminal underworld of Sydney in the 1840s

Featuring extracts from the Registry of Flash Men narrated by 'William Augustus Miles' (aka Fabian LoSchiavo)

This is a unique insight into the criminal underworld in Sydney during the 1840s. The volume was kept as an official surveillance record by William Augustus Miles who was...


A secure gaol was required for those who committed criminal offences within the colony and who were sentenced to imprisonment. Gaols were also used to house prisoners awaiting trial or transportation to another penal settlement.