The Society acknowledges the traditional owners of the Irwin Districts, their continuing connection to land, sea and community and pays its respects to elders and their cultures, past and present.

Convict Stories

Convict Tracks of the Victoria District

.…a community driven project

We know that over 750 convicts were assigned to work in the Irwin Districts. Here are three of those men’s stories

Joseph Walton 1593

Joseph Walton, a carpenter, born 1832, was convicted of Burglary in Cambridge, England and sent to Western Australia to serve his 10 year sentence as convict number 1593; he arrived on 7th February 1853 aboard the ’Dunbrook’.

Joseph was issued with his Ticket of Leave on 6th June 1854 and Conditional Pardon on 12th July 1856.  He married Frances Kenney 18th August 1856; the daughter of Tom and Mary Kenney who arrived on the ‘Victory’, this marriage was not to last as Joseph was known to have had two de facto relationships and later had a bigamous marriage.1

The Herald,   Saturday 22 February 1868 p 2

After gaining his Ticket of Leave he moved first to Avon Valley where 1860 he put in a tender to build a bridge over the Wariloo Brook for £103.10s, this was accepted.2  Joseph then put in a tender to build a bridge over the Avon river at Toodjay Depot and this was accepted for £1100.2  In 1862 several applications were put in by him for land  around the Toodjay area but none of what he wanted was open for sale.

The Inquirer and Commercial News Wednesday 30 December 1868 p 2

By 1865 Joseph Walton was farming in Dongarra and requested a map of the Dongarra Flat so that he, Russ and Massingham could erect fences around their tillage leases. 

A petition was signed by him on 27th October 1866 requesting a jetty, roads, mail delivery, a church, cemetery, town site at the Port and police to be provided for Dongarra.

Dongara Hotel fmr. Irwin Arms c1930,

Towards the end of 1867 Joseph Walton built and opened the first public house, the Irwin Arms, on 100 acres in the Dongara townsite that had been sublet to him by the cattle company ‘Hamersley & Co.’  It was built of limestone from the river quarry on Port Road and shingles, the original structure forms the core of the present building. 

On 15th August 1870 a tender was accepted from Joseph Walton for the construction of the Dongarra Police Station, Courthouse and Goal for £1200.  The building also served as a post office.3

Dongara Police Station, Courthouse & Gaol, 1980

The buildings are of limestone rubble construction with the walls being 600mm thick and the court room has 5500mm high corrugated iron ceilings. Using ticket of Leave labour the main building was used as a courthouse, police station, goal, Ticket of Leave hiring depot and police quarters. By 1874 the building had a lean-to addition which served as a post office and telegraph office.  The building served as a police station, court house and quarters until 1983, and then served as the local Tourist Centre.4

The first school was built in 1869 with the contractor being Joseph Walton, it was one room and built facing the river and the surrounding land was thickly covered with wattle.  An area around the school was cleared away for a small playground; this area remained a sand bowl for the next 30 years. 3  It was used as a school until 1906 then became the manual arts centre, then demolished in c1938, The site that it was built on is now the new Dongara Police Station.    

First Dongara School

Joseph Walton had the occasional run in with the local police, but most of his problems were with his personal life, his wife was suing him for support and he had refused to supply the police horses with hay, his Inn was broken into and was charges by the local police of neglecting to keep a light burning outside his public house.

The Irwin Hotel was sold in 1872-73. In 1873 he bigamously married Georgina Alice Roe, herself the daughter of a Geraldton convict.

Joseph Walton purchased the wreck of ‘Alexander’ and after having it repaired, Joseph and Georgina departed Fremantle on 21st February 1874 on it for Adelaide. They left for Singapore on 10th August 1874. In 1876 Georgina was deserted by Walton in Singapore, going to Hong Kong leaving her a hastily written note on a page torn from a diary that £1707 would be paid to her if he did not return. Georgina was later appointed matron of the Singapore General Hospital.

Sources:  1 Bruce Baskerville  2 Wed. 8th Aug. 1860 Inquirer and Commercial News 3 Bain, M.A,  Ancient Landmarks UWA Press,1975 4 IDHS Records

Robert Cousins 270

Robert was born on 13th June 1823 in Melton, Suffolk the illegitimate son of Mary Couzins and Robert Fairweather and was raised in a Parish of the Poor Workhouse. He was convicted on 22nd March 1849 of shooting and wounding to resist apprehension and Night Poaching: he was given 15years Transportation in 1850, he had fallen foul of the law on several occasions before this.

 As convict number 270 he was sent to Western Australia aboard the “Mermaid” which left England on the 9th January 1851 and arriving on the 7th May 1851.  The details in the convict character book stated that Robert was by trade a farm labourer, of good character, aged 26, Protestant and single.

Robert was given his Ticket of Leave 0n 23rd October 1852 which meant he would be allowed to find paying employment or even become an employer in a specific area.  He was known to be a farm labourer, carpenter, builder, coffin maker; roads work contractor, grubber and a farmer in his life time.

Convicts had to carry their ticket with them at all times and report twice a year to the local magistrate, and obtain permission to relocate to another location, with permission they could also marry: which he did in 1853.  He married Henriette Bishop on the 5th December 1853.  He and his wife had had five children over 14 years.

On January 29th 1859 Robert received his Conditional Pardon which allowed him the freedom to move about Australia but not able to return to England.  Between 1868 and 1875 he was working between Perth and Toodjay (Gingin Brook) Robert Cousins had had 4 Ticket of Leave men working for him and under the supervision of Walter Padbury built the bridge over the Gingin Brook at Neergabby.

Robert worked as carpenter in the 1860’s and was called upon on several occasions to build and bring a coffin to where a deceased person had been found by the local police.  Samuel O’Grady reported at the station that 2 dead bodies  drifted onto the beach north of the Irwin River from the wreck of the cutter ‘Albatross’ PC Stack left the station with Robert Cousins after warning him to bring two coffins to the beach to get the bodies interred.1

On 10th January 1867 Ben Mason’s tender for building the Irwin Jetty for the amount of £1,350 was accepted and Robert Cousins was the foreman under Ben Mason for the building of the Port Denison Jetty.  The government would not allow convict labour to build the bridge but Mason could have Ticket of Leave or Conditional Pardon men working for him.2

Eight months into the building of the jetty work halted because the rock was too hard to penetrate on the sea bed.  Additions and alterations to the jetty were called for to avoid the reef, and the additions would be built to an angle the jetty towards the northwest.  The jetty carried a single 3’6” gauge railway on the first part which branched to a double line where it widened just before it turned to the north-west (Heritage Council of WA). In 1869 Robert received the contract for the fixing of extra whaling pieces to the first Port Irwin jetty.

In 1873 the Executive Council agreed to the erection of bridge at Pell Crossing and Robert was awarded the contract, he did not receive final payment until 1878 after taking legal action.  In part payment he was forwarded 4 bonds totaling £112 2s 2d that had not been met in payment of seed wheat and rations.  One man paid the money and another worked out his debt on the bridge.

Pell Bridge about 1904 IRME1120

Robert turned his hand to farming and he carried on this work in the Dongara area, at one stage living with his family at Yardarino, which was where the early settlers of the Irwin District first acquired a racecourse in 1868; they held yearly race meetings from then on.  The Cousins family continues to carry on the tradition of horse racing.

Robert passed away from cancer at Dongara on 29th November 1892 aged 69 years, he was buried the same day in the Dongara Cemetery, his wife Harriet died in Perth on 12th November1909 and is buried in the Anglican portion of Karrakatta Cemetery.

Sources:  1   Dongara Police Occurrence Book 30/07/1868.    2 Bain, M.A. Ancient Landmarks, UWA Press 1975     3 ibid

Benjamin Jones 9772

Ticket of Leave, Benjamin Jones (IROB1099)

Ben Jones arrived in Fremantle on the Hougomont on January 10 1868, the last convict transport to arrive in Western Australia. He was married to Hannah (Anna) and had one child. After conviction for stealing cabbages, he was further convicted for the wilful murder of Thomas Watkins of Aberdare, Wales in 1867, but the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The newspaper reports of the trial and campaign to have the sentence commuted can be read here.

After working in Collie, Capel and Bunbury, he worked in the Victoria District from 1877 as labourer, shepherd, cook and baker. He was reported drowned on the Geraldton Beach on October 26 1897 . The inquest was held in Geraldton on the 30 September 1897 and you can read the reports.

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