Cockatoo Island page 1

Convicts and transportation




Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser Jan. 19, 1839

Convicts to Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island.- It is stated that it is the intention of the Government to station a large gang of men on Cockatoo Island for the purpose of quarrying stone, which there abounds, of an excellent quality. The stone, it is said, will be sold to defray the expenses of the Establishment.

Sydney Gazette 19 Feb 1839

First shipment of convicts
Cockatoo Island.-The seventy prisoners brought up last week in the Governor Phillip, from Norfolk Island, will be removed to Cockatoo Island, at the entrance of the Parramatta River, this day for the purpose of quarrying stone for the new Circular Wharf.

Sydney Gazette 23 Feb 1839

Description of Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island.-The island known by this name is situated at the entrance of the Parramatta River, and is of the form of a triangle. It contains about four acres of land. It is without water, and is said to abound with snakes. On this island it is known by all persons acquainted with it, that there are places where a man might effectually conceal himself for days together, not withstanding the strictest search.
It is very rocky, and the stone is said to be of an excellent description.

Arrival of convicts
The sixty commuted prisoners from Norfolk Island, were forwarded to the island on Thursday morning under a military escort. The men were removed there chained together. They are placed under the charge of Lieutenant Bentley, of the 50th regt, the officer commanding on Goat Island. This gentleman will not reside on the island, but in his absence the men will be in the custody of a sergeant’s guard.

There are two working overseers stationed on the island. The works are to be carried on under the superintendence of the person who now holds, or lately held, the office of Ranger of the Government Domain at Parramatta.

The men on their arrival were placed in tents, huts being erected for the overseers. The first employment that will be furnished the men will be the construction of a wharf on the southern side of the island, after which they will proceed with the quarrying. The stone is not intended for sale as formerly stated, but is intended to be applied for the erection of the New Circular Wharf. To remedy the want of water, a party is now employed in boring a well. The view from the island is one of the finest near Sydney

Governor Sir George Gipps, 8 July 1839

Governor Gipps statement
I have caused an Establishment to be formed here for the reception of Prisoners withdrawn from Norfolk Island….. for Norfolk Island was so full that we could not in March last, send another man there, so crowded was every building…. No place in New South Wales would be so well calculated for it as Cockatoo Island, surrounded as it is by deep water, and yet under the very eye of authority.

Need for grain silos
The quantity of wheat now stored in the underground granaries or silos, which were constructed last year at Cockatoo Island, is 20,000 bushels; but additional silos are in progress, and, if the price of wheat continues as low as it now is in Sydney, I propose to increase the Government Store to any amount not exceeding 100,000 bushels.

Sydney Gazette. 23 May 1839

Treatment of convicts
Secondary Punishments. -Our readers are aware that the prisoners
brought up from Norfolk Island under the Act of Council, empowering the Governor and Executive Council to commute the sentences of well-behaved prisoners at the penal settlements to such terms of hard labour in irons on the public works of the Colony as may seem appropriate.

Convicts are now employed on Cockatoo Island in quarrying stone, and in the construction of pits for the preservation of grain. These men, we understand, complain that the commutation of their sentences instead of proving a reward operates rather as a punishment, the weight of their sentences never having been felt till now. At Norfolk Island, they say, a well behaved man was sure to be taken into the service of the Commandant or of some of the officers belonging to the establishment, or employed in some way under Government, which relieved him of the hardest portion of his punishment – the wearing of irons.

Vegetables, milk, and various other comforts were there easily obtained and in ample abundance. At Cockatoo Island all are worked in irons, and no one can obtain an indulgence beyond the strict Government ration. The worst punishment of all, however, is that at Cockatoo Island they are constantly in view of civilized life and tantalized with the sight of the blessings of freedom, yet find themselves shut out from the one and denied the other.

In every way we can contemplate it, the removal of these men from Norfolk Island is likely to prove a judicious measure. At Norfolk Island an establishment had to be kept up at a great expense, which was productive of no earthly benefit either to the mother country or to this Colony, and the good effect of which, as a means of punishment, was at least very questionable. On Cockatoo Island the expense is incomparably less: the prisoners are equally shut out from Society; their labour is infinitely more productive, -and the prospect of restoration to their forfeited rights, held out a reward of a few years’ good conduct, and scarcely fail to have a beneficial effect on their moral character. Even in hardships of which they at present complain will have a tendency to produce this effect, for who would not prefer encountering a few years’ severe punishment, to a hopeless imprisonment on Norfolk Island

Sydney Gazette. 27 June 1839

Governor visits Island
COCKATOO ISLAND.-On Monday last His Excellency the Governor visited Cockatoo Island and inspected the works going on there. He remitted the colonial sentences of several men, and ordered the irons to be struck off others of whom a good account was given. His Excellency then ordered all the prisoners who inhabited the hut from which Wheland escaped last week to be brought before him. He then addressed them, telling them he was convinced they must have been aware of the escape, and in order to show them that their connivance should not go unpunished, he said he would see that none of those who inhabited the hut with Wheland should be assigned to private service during the remainder of their sentences.

Sydney Gazette 14 Jan 1841

Convict escape
ESCAPE.-There are very few days pass over in which we do not hear of the escape of some prisoners from the stockades and other places On the night of Tuesday last, a party of prisoners effected their escape from Cockatoo Island. We have not as yet ascertained their number or their names. ‘ We have no doubt that under proper management such occurrences would seldom if ever take place. We think it hard that the public money should be paid to persons totally incapable of filling the situations they hold. If competent persons were paid an adequate salary not only would it benefit the community, but we are certain of saving of the public funds. We are surprised that matters of this description have not been long ago more strictly looked into. If there was a direct taxation in this Colony for the several institutions, we are certain that Government would be forced-in self-defense to pay more attention to regulations of this kind.

Sydney Gazette 23 Jan 1841

Convict bushrangers captured
Bushrangers. We are happy to have it in our power to state that the whole of the Cockatoo Island bushrangers have been taken by the Police, and safely lodged in custody. One of the number was taken on Thursday last while in the net of purloining sundry articles from a vessel at present lying in the Cove. The other two were seized the same morning by the Liverpool Police. They were armed at the time.

Sydney Gazette 1841 March

Civilian caught aiding convict escapees
Water Police Court
William Munks, free by servitude, was charged before Captain Brown withstanding on Cockatoo Island with the intention of aiding the escape of some of the prisoners.

Patrick Hunt, private in the 28th Regt. deposed that while stationed on duty on Cockatoo Island on the 17.h inst., he saw a boat under sail approach the Island, which he frequently hailed, and warned to steer off, but which nevertheless approached the Island. On the boat grounding he secured the prisoner, the only person in the boat, and gave him into custody.

Another soldier of the 28th Reg. gave into Court a list of the different articles found in the boat, which consisted of tea, sugar, and flour, which he had locked in a box; there was also an old sword and a rusty file in the boat. The prisoner stated in his defense that he was going up the Parramatta River to meet his son and some friends who were at the Homebush Races, and for that use he had the provisions in the boat; that the wind being fair, he had hoisted a sail, but had fallen asleep, which was the cause of the boat’s approaching the Island. He was remanded for further evidence.

Sydney Gazette 17 March 1841

Shark kills convict
Mechanics School of Arts News
An inquest was held on Sunday last, at Hyde Park Barracks, by Captain Innes, Acting Coroner, on the body of a prisoner of the Crown, who, while bathing on Saturday off Cockatoo Island was bit by a shark in the thigh, through the legs of which he died an hour afterwards – a verdict; to the same effect was returned by the jury.

Sydney Gazette 28 Sept 1841

Bushranger Jacky-Jacky (William Westwood)
Jackey Jackey is shortly to he removed from the Jail, at Darlinghurst, to Cockatoo Island… .Bushranging is again becoming fashionable on the Hunter River region.

Sydney Gazette 9 Nov 1841

Convict escape
Two CONVICTS ESCAPED.-Yesterday evening, about seven o’clock, two of the convicts attached to the Cockatoo Island gang escaped by jumping into the water. As soon as they were missed, a cannon was fired and blue lights burned, to alarm the various posts on the shore. Captain M’ Lean, who resides in the neighbourhood, no sooner heard the report than he got his boat launched and manned, and proceeded in pursuit of the fugitives, but after having rowed round about the island for a considerable time, and using every effort to secure the runaways, he and his party were forced to return without success. Information of the circumstance was immediately forwarded by Captain M’Lean to the proper authorities.