Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot

According to Royal Sappers and Miners records, in mid 1851, nine ( 9 ) men of the Enrolled Pensioner Force ( discharged British Army soldiers on Pensions ) arrived in Bunbury, having accepted offers of free passage with their families to Western Australia. They had escorted forty ( 40 ) Ticket of Leave Convicts who were looking to work for the local settlers. These TOL men were also to be employed on some Public Works of utility, with road construction as a priority.

The Convicts built cottages for the Enrolled Pensioner men and their families, prior to their engagement in building the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot from late 1851. The Depot occupied Townsite Lots 282-287 and 291-293, bounded by Stephen , Stirling and Arthur Streets, Bunbury.

Second Corporal Henry TRIGWELL was assigned to the Depot from February 1852 until November 1861. He was a Blacksmith by trade and occupied the role as Instructing Warder to the Convicts employed on Public Works. TRIGWELL and his large family became valued settlers in the District.

In 1862, the Comptroller General of Convicts described the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot as follows:- “ A Depot for 120 men, cookhouse, bake-house, store, ablution room, workshops, offices with all necessary outbuildings, all enclosed with a boundary wall and gates; quarters for two ( 2 ) warders, commissariat store with quarters and office, hospital and the required outbuildings “. He also noted that thirteen ( 13 ) cottages for Enrolled Pensioner Force members, Courthouse, retiring room and quarters for one ( 1 ) Policeman had been constructed.

The Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot was one of ten ( 10 ) Convict Hiring Depots built in W.A. between 1851 and 1853 ( others being at Albany, Champion Bay, Freshwater Bay, Guildford, Mount Eliza, North Fremantle, Port Gregory, Toodyay and York ). Depots were downgraded between 1855 and 1857, and subsequently closed from 1872-1878( Bunbury Depot closed in 1872 ).

Useful men were quickly taken into private employment and often lived with their employers, or built their own accommodation. Men housed at the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot became a mixture of Prisoners and Ticket of Leave men. The men quarried their own stone, made bricks, burned lime and sawed timber. All work was supervised by the Royal Sappers and Miners EPF guards. Some early Public Works included construction of Preston Bridge and roads to Collie, Australind and Vasse ( Busselton ).

In the mid 1860’s , a Bonded Store, Post Office and Police Station were completed at the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot site. Following the Depot’s closure in 1872, the buildings were utilized as a School, Police Barracks and Hospital.

Part of the original Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot site is now occupied by the Bunbury Museum and Heritage Centre.