BUSWELL, Joseph ( 1819 -1891 )- Convict No. 3223.


‘ Family man, community servant, small business man, energetic, diligent, self-respecting and generally regarded as a man of substance and integrity ‘.

Joseph BUSWELL ( hereinafter referred to as JB ), was born in Brackley, Northamptonshire,  England on 29 September, 1819. Little is known of his early life in England, prior to his employment as a Chimney Sweep.  He was married and had four ( 4 ) children, before unfortunately having time on his hands to engage with questionable company. This action resulted in him being charged with burglary and theft.  He was found guilty at Oxfordshire Lent Assizes in 1849 and sentenced to twenty ( 20 ) years incarceration.

JB was sent to Portland prison, where he worked on the construction of a gigantic breakwater being erected around the harbour. He was primarily charged with quarrying and transporting stone. During his first twelve ( 12 ) months in prison, he was forced to spend his after work hours in separate confinement. He was to complete the first four ( 4 ) years of his incarceration working under hard labour conditions on the breakwater construction. During this extended period of demanding, heavy physical work, his character was summarized with the notation ‘ excellent conduct ‘.

On 7 February, 1855 he was taken to board the vessel ‘ Stag ‘ for convict transportation to Western Australia. The voyage took three ( 3 )  and a half months before berthing in Fremantle on 25 May, 1855.  During the voyage he was regarded as being a model prisoner and was awarded a ‘ very good ‘ character rating. Upon landing at Fremantle JB spent almost a week at the North Fremantle depot.  He then transferred to the main Fremantle Gaol, where he spent a further ten ( 10 ) days.  During his brief stay at Fremantle it is believed that he may have worked on the completion of the Fremantle Gaol , quarried stone for the jetty, cultivating the Government farm and dredging the Swan River. He was issued with his Ticket of Leave in June 1855 whilst at Fremantle. Although he was now technically a free man, he chose to be sent to the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot. The Fremantle Gaol Superintendent directed JB to be taken by Police guard to the outskirts of Fremantle to ensure his departure towards Bunbury.

On arrival in Bunbury he presented himself to the Resident Magistrate ( Mr. ELIOT ) to record his arrival as a Ticket of Leave man ( he was instructed to report in this manner each January and June, until further notice ). This additional reporting enabled authorities to confirm the whereabouts of each man. Bunbury town had little more  than a handful of colonists, served by  a small hospital, courthouse, police quarters , pensioner guard cottages, several churches, a few stores and a jetty. He was now free , without overt supervision and could retain and control any wages he earnt. On 10 September, 1855, JB presented at the Bunbury Convict Hiring Depot to complete an application to bring his wife and children to Western Australia.  He personally signed this form, putting the accuracy of his original convict record at doubt , where it listed him as being illiterate.

There was no response to the request for his wife and children to join him in W.A.  JB was to learn later that the 1851 English census showed his three ( 3 ) remaining children as residents in a workhouse. ( This record almost certainly means that his wife had died earlier ).


On 3 August, 1857, JB was included on a list of eight ( 8 ) Ticket of Leave holders presently in Bunbury and reporting to Resident Magistrate ELIOT.  Around this time , ELIOT  made representation to the Governor for JB’s eight ( 8 ) English Pounds debt  for transportation to Australia, be waived. This request was approved, proving the strong bond that had developed between JB and ELIOT. This mutual element of trust was surprising , when you consider JB’s strong will  and determination in standing up for his own and others rights  when dealing with those in authority.


 On 14 October, 1858, he married Eliza CROSS in an Anglican ceremony conducted by Rev. H.W. BROWN.  The newly married couple built a shack at SCOTT’s LANDING, a few hundred metres East of the present day Parade Hotel. ( In 1908, their son Walter Jack BUSWELL , a builder , constructed an impressive federation style home on this site for his widowed mother. The home still stands at 7 Austral Parade, having been subjected to a number of renovations, additions and improvements over the past century ).

JB developed a sound reputation from the moment he arrived in Bunbury, being initially gainfully employed as a fisherman.  He was granted his Conditional Pardon on 13 August, 1859.  In the Government Gazette of 19 August, 1862, he was issued with approval to conduct a whale fishery at Bunbury and Minninup during the whaling season. ( This document is one of the longest surviving  convict records for 1862 ).  He registered fifteen ( 15 ) employees, nine ( 9 ) of whom were Ticket of Leave men:-

  • Patrick BURNS ( 2016 )
  • Thomas BENTLY ( 2839 )
  • James HISLOP ( 530 )
  • John JOYCE ( 3849 )
  • William PAUL ( 3311 )
  • Theodore PENNINGTON ( 4864 )
  • Richard PRICE ( 3969 )
  • Charles SHELMARDINE ( 4982 )
  • William SMITH ( 305 ).

In 1869 JB risked everything he had worked so hard for, when he chose to assist in the escape of convict John Boyle O’REILLY ( Irish Fenian ).  He supplied his boat to transport the escapee to board the American Whaler ‘ Gazelle ‘ ,  to achieve the well-documented , successful escape to freedom in the U.S.A.  It is conceivable that JB’s heart went out to the brash young Irishman, who had suffered separation, solitude and exile.  He had suffered identical trauma some twenty ( 20 ) years earlier. Local Police had suspected his involvement in the escape, however, there was no confirmation until brief details were published in a newspaper report, some seventy ( 70 ) years after the event.

There were a few occasions over time when local Police had attempted to convict JB for misdemeanours, however, all charges were proven to be unfounded. It would appear that the Police were wanting to discredit the ex-convict.  JB’s proven and accepted good character was well known to all key decision makers in Bunbury, so references were readily available in his support.


Eliza BUSWELL was proving to be a very enterprising business woman who complimented her husband’s hard physical work ethic.  In 1877, they were listed as one of only four ( 4 ) eating, boarding and lodging house Licensees.  JB was also one of the few ex-convicts to have been issued with a cart licence and be a licensed holder of a registered brand for horses.

JB and Eliza produced ten ( 10 ) children. Those who survived to adulthood were of modest means, displayed strong character and proved to be very productive members of the small community in which they lived. The children were acknowledged as JB’s greatest achievement.  Tragically, in 1886, JB and Eliza lost their twenty-four ( 24 )  year old son Harry ( baptized as Henry ) in a horse riding accident at Karridale. He had been working in the locality as a Teamster.  This accident hit JB very hard and led to him tapering off his business involvement , almost immediately following the death.

In the 1877-1887 local Herald’s Western Australian Almanac and Commercial Directory, they were listed as boarding house keepers.  Throughout this period, the BUSWELL family were highly regarded  for their business activity, sport and municipal life.

JB died on 27 December, 1891, at seventy-two ( 72 ) years of age and was buried in the Bunbury Pioneer Cemetery.  He has subsequently been honoured with placement of a black stone monument along the Bunbury foreshore lawn beside Austral Parade, on the city side of the intersection with King Road. There is a comprehensive inscription on the memorial plaque, unveiled by Bunbury Mayor, Dr. Ern MANEA on 29 December, 1991 ( 100th Anniversary of JB’s death ). This dedication stone , was erected as a tribute to JB from all members of the BUSWELL family, organized by Peter BUSWELL, Phillip PENDAL, Michael BUSWELL and Geoff PROSSER, who are each direct descendants of JB.

Following his death, JB was recognized as being part of the positive immigration stream that built Bunbury. He brought badly needed skills, married and raised children and always remained in gainful work. He left his entire estate to his wife Eliza. There has been a shared opinion amongst family and researchers alike, that Joseph BUSWELL was a hard working and colourful character, generally termed as an ‘ all round good bloke ‘.


Written by JEFF PEIRCE

23 February, 2021.


REFERENCE:-  PENDAL, Phillip – Leave Granted – ‘ The Story of Joseph Buswell’s Tribulations and Triumphs ‘ – 1997 – ISBN- 0959310010.