An afternoon spent wandering in Fremantle admiring the historical buildings has inspired me to look into the earliest history of Western Australia’s port town.
Though all the buildings provide fascinating glimpses of history, I once again found myself eagerly climbing the steps to take a closer look at the Roundhouse. While standing in front of it (trying to take the perfect photo) I reminded myself that I was looking at a building that was associated with the very earliest years of the Swan River Colony. What stories these walls could tell if they could talk.
Built of locally sourced limestone, it was the Colony’s first permanent structure and was completed in January 1831. It’s main purpose was to hold prisoners. Two years after its completion the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal reported that two men had escaped.
William Booker was a 32 year old labourer who resided in Fremantle and though it’s unknown when he arrived in the Colony, it’s logical to assume that it was sometime between 1829 and 1832. In April 1832 at 1am in the morning, William used “force and arms” to enter the Habgood residence to steal numerous goods belonging to them including a Watchmakers Turn Bench and several watches. The Habgoods weren’t home at the time and the crime went unpunished for six months until Booker sold some of the stolen property and started to tell people about the goods he had hidden under a tree. Despite pleading ‘not guilty’, Booker was found guilty and was sentenced to 14 years transportation.
Benjamin Hinks was also around 32 years old and was a labourer living in Fremantle when he was brought before the Courts in July 1832. He was indicted for breaking and entering a building (separate from the dwelling house) on the property belonging to Philip Heymen Dod with the intent to steal goods. Hinks pleaded guilty, was found guilty and was sentenced to five calendar months in Fremantle Jail (the Roundhouse) as well as five dozen lashes out the front of the jail in full public view.
By January of 1833 Booker had been incarcerated for about three months while Hinks was fast approaching the end of his sentence. It wasn’t until this time however that Hinks began thinking about his escape. On 4 January 1833, using a large spike nail to scratch the wall, Booker and Hinks created a hole which allowed them to break free.
The New South Wales papers, in reporting the escape, weren’t quite as kind and referred to the Roundhouse as “that flimsy concern called the jail”.
The limestone wall was quite a soft material which meant they were able to scratch away at it without making too much noise. Once free, Booker made it all the way to Bull Creek before he was apprehended while Hinks only made it as far as a pub in Fremantle where he promptly became intoxicated.
After William Booker was recaptured he didn’t remain in the Swan River Colony for much longer. He had been sentenced to 14 years transportation and as his offence took place before the time the Colony itself became a convict establishment, Booker was soon transported from Western Australia to New South Wales. He left on the ship ‘Governor Bourke’ and arrived on 21 February 1833. The New South Wales Convict Indents provide a detailed description of Booker’s physical appearance.
There are also additional clues; his father was called William Booker and had been transported to New South Wales in 1818. The Certificate of Freedom records show however that William Booker Senior was born in the same year as William Booker Junior and scrawled on the side of the entry is…
Cancelled Booker having been transported to the Colony again for fourteen years on the Governor Bourke from Swan River Settlement 1 Oct 1832.
William Booker’s claim that his “father” was in New South Wales was essentially a cover-up for his previous conviction.
What Booker was up to in Western Australia is a mystery. Perhaps he was checking out the new Colony to see whether it was a viable place to live and couldn’t resist returning to his old ways in a place where no one knew him. Whatever the case, he ended up back in New South Wales and, this time, made a better go of it. He eventually became a land owner north of Sydney and the area itself was named Booker Bay after him. William Booker died in 1850 at the age of 50.
Benjamin Hinks remained in Western Australia for a little while longer but soon turned to his old tricks again. By April of 1833 he’d broken into the Harbour Masters Office where he was found by Frances Hagan removing the books. Unperturbed at being caught in the act, Hinks simply stated:
You see Hagan I’m reading a bit.
This time it was the last straw. Benjamin Hinks was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years transportation. He left Western Australia on the ship ‘Jolly Rambler’ and arrived in New South Wales on 19 May 1833. Again, the New South Wales Convict Indent provides a detailed description of his appearance.
Hinks was given his Certificate of Freedom on 10 August 1843 but unlike Booker, no additional information is scrawled on the side which gives us an indication as to what happened to him. I have also not found any records relating to a marriage or his death and he does not feature in the newspapers at the time. For now, the rest of his story remains unknown.
The Roundhouse is open daily from 10:30am until 3:30pm and entry is by gold coin donation. For more information please visit: http://www.fremantleroundhouse.com.au/
Photo of the Roundhouse courtesy of Wikipedia (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Round_House_Fremantle.jpg)
1833 ‘THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL.’, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 5 January, p. 2, viewed 4 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article642279
1833 ‘ARRIVALS.’, The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842), 25 February, p. 2, viewed 4 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12846297
1833 ‘THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL.’, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 12 January, p. 6, viewed 4 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article642266
Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc; WAGS Transcriptions; WA Quarter Sessions Indictment Files; Cons 3472; Case 43; October Session 1832; R v William Booker
Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc; WAGS Transcriptions; WA Quarter Sessions Indictment Files; Cons 3472; Case 33; July Session 1832; R v Benjn Hinks
State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X635]; Microfiche: 703
1833 ‘QUARTER SESSION, Fremantle, 1st April, 1833.’, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 6 April, p. 53, viewed 4 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article642132
State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X635]; Microfiche: 704
Information about Booker Bay courtesy of: http://www.peninsulanews.info/2013/0204/default.aspx?item=Booker
Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867 [database on-line].
3 thoughts on “Escape from the Roundhouse”
It’s interesting to learn a little about what a prison was like in the early 1800s–and to see how the newspapers back then wrote about a prison escape.
It certainly is Sheryl! The news was pretty slow in Western Australia around this time – just about everything made the news (including giant sized vegetables!). 🙂
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