Overview

Most of our early records refer to prisons or jails as gaols. There was also the Dry Creek Stockade.

We hold correspondence of the Sheriff's Office which later became the Gaols and Prisons Department, and eventually the Department for Correctional Services.

We hold records for:

  • Adelaide Gaol
  • Yatala Labour Prison (formerly Dry Creek Labour Prison)
  • Gladstone Gaol
  • Mount Gambier Gaol
  • Port Augusta Gaol
  • Port Lincoln Gaol
  • Redruth Gaol
  • Wallaroo Gaol
  • Kyeema Prison Camp and
  • Robe Gaol.

We also hold records on various other secure facilities including:

  • James Nash House
  • Northfield Security Hospital and
  • Cavan Training Centre.

Access conditions

Records relating to gaols are typically restricted from general public access for up to 100 years.

Mug shot of prisoner - GRG54/41 Vol 2 No 1690 John Bruce McNamaraRecords about prisoners as created by local police stations are typically restricted for up to 60 years.

For access to restricted records apply directly to the the Department for Correctional Services or South Australian Police, depending on the series.

In many cases the public reporting of criminal actions, trials and convictions is thoroughly described in South Australian newspapers.
Digital copies of these papers are available via Trove (up to c.1954) or the State Library of South Australia.

Researching the records

Gaol and prisoner records in State Records’ collection can be found by searching our catalogue ArchivesSearch, for the Department for Correctional Services (GRG54 and GA355) or for the name of the gaol.

Names of prisoners who were in Yatala over 100 years ago are usually able to be found by doing a Keyword Search on our catalogue ArchivesSearch.

Other information about prisoners, including some photographs, might also be found through Police records and through Court records.

Indexes and special lists

Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, 1857-1889 (GRS 2414)

This series contains registers of all persons brought to Adelaide Gaol between 1857 - 1955. The special lists cover 1857-1889 and are arranged alphabetically by the prisoner's surname.

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) A - B

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) C - F

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) G - K

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) L - M

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) N - R

Special list to GRS 2414 Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol (1857 - 1889) S - Z

Register of prisoners in the gaol for assaults, fines, debt etc - Adelaide Gaol, 1838 - 1844 (GRG 54/23)

This is a register of prisoners brought to Adelaide Gaol for assaults, fines and debt, and for other non-felonious offences. Offences may include assaults, drunk and disorderly conduct, selling spirits without a license and desertion from ships.

Note: The back of the volume records names of prisoners tried at General Quarter Sessions, 11 April 1838 and records names, sentence, and remarks.

This list is arranged alphabetically by the prisoner's surname and also includes the date and a page reference within the volume.

Special list to GRG54/23 Register of Prisoners in the gaol for assaults fines etc - Adelaide Gaol, 1838 - 1843 A - Z

Registers of prisoners committed and tried, Adelaide Gaol, 1839 - 1849 (GRG 54/24)

This series consists of registers recording prisoners awaiting trial in the Adelaide Gaol, as well as those who were committed for trial in and subsequently tried in the gaol. 
The series is arranged chronologically and relates to felonious offences such as theft and murder.

Note: The second volume records prisoners committed for trial from March 1839 to January 1849 and includes name, age, when committed, whether in gaol or bailed and for what committed.
Researchers should refer to both volumes for prisoners that were committed for trial in the gaol and then subsequently tried in the gaol.  Prisoners who were committed for trial in the gaol but then bailed appear in Volume 2 only.

This list is arranged alphabetically by the prisoner's surname and includes a page reference within the volumes.

Special list to GRG54/24 Register of prisoners committed and tried 1839 - 1849 A - Z

Description book, Convict Department - Dry Creek Labour Prison, 1851 - 1860 (GRG 54/39 part)

This volume appears to have been compiled in 1854 from existing cases.
The volume was used in a number of ways, including to record descriptions and registers of prisoners, and summary admission details.

This list is arranged alphabetically by the name of the prisoner and also includes a page number within the volume.
This list does not contains details of mariner deserters.

Special list to GRG54/39 Description book - Dry Creek Labour Prison, 1851 - 1860 A - Z

Mariner Deserters, Convict Department - Dry Creek Labour Prison, 1856 - 1860 (GRG 54/39 part)

This listing is taken from a description book of the Convict Department, Dry Creek Labour Prison.
The list records offences by mariners, usually desertion or refusal of duty, for the period 1856 - 1860.

This list is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the deserter, and also contains a page number reference within the original volume.

Special list to GRG 54/39 Marine Deserter's Index - Dry Creek Labour Prison, 1856 - 1860 A - Z

Digitised records

FamilySearch - Register of prisoners - Yatala Labour Prison, from 1866 (GRG 54/41, Units 1-4 up to 15 Dec 1904)

Types of records

Photographic 'Mug shots'

Still photography was invented in the 1860s. The idea of capturing the image of a person was rapidly taken up by law enforcement authorities.
By the 1870s, photographs became standard as a method of recording the identity of convicted criminals, gaol prisoners and others known to the police in South Australia.

The photographs in the series listed under Records Held may be the only photographs that were ever taken of the individuals concerned.

Registers of prisoners

Prisoner registers may contain:

  • name
  • age
  • date committed
  • date of trial
  • details of the court in which the person was tried
  • offence details
  • whether found guilty or not
  • sentence details
  • the prisoner's literacy
  • marital status
  • religion
  • trade or occupation
  • date of arrival in South Australia
  • country of birth
  • place of residence prior to arrival in South Australia
  • date of discharge and
  • details of  physical appearance.

Registers of prisoners’ property document the property a prisoner had with them upon their admission to prison. They can also include the:

  • date
  • prisoner name
  • age
  • the prisoner's literacy
  • marital status
  • religion
  • trade
  • year of arrival in the State and where from and name of ship.

Staff journals

Keeper’s journals, Matron’s journals (for female inmates) and Chief Warder’s journals were daily journals and recorded:

  • how many prisoners were in the gaol
  • how they were occupied
  • which wardens were on duty
  • visits from officials
  • prisoners' medical treatments
  • and any issues at the gaol.

Records held

Photographic Records

Most records relating to this subject were created by the:

  • South Australian Police Department (GRG5
  • Department for Correctional Services (GRG54)
  • South Australia Police (GA364)
  • Department for Correctional Services (GA355).

Mug shot of prisoner - GRG5/58 Vol. 8 no. 8/75  Lena Stevens  Convicted - 17/1/1929 Offence - Fortune Telling Sentence - Released with good behavior bondThere may be some other series not listed below as the records are not yet open for general public access.

These series include photographs of Aboriginal people who may be deceased.

  • South Australian Police Gazettes, 1861-1973 (GRG5/50)
  • Descriptions and photographs of convicted persons, 1919-1965 (GRG5/58 - indexed by GRG5/59)
  • Mannum Police Station Records, Discharged Prisoners book, 1922-1946 (GRG5/173/12)
  • Mallala Police Station Records, Photographs of discharged prisoners, 1922-1946 (GRG5/210/4)
  • Fowlers Bay Police Station Records, Photographs of prisoners, 1921-1946 (GRG5/324/9)
  • Register of prisoners – Yatala Labour prison, 1866-1931 (GRG54/41)
  • Criminal history cards, 1870 - 1999 (GRS 1050)

Key Facts

South Australia's first prisoners were gaoled aboard the ship Buffalo, and later onshore in a canvas tent.

In 1837 responsibility for gaols in South Australia was assigned to the Sheriff. He was also responsible for the custody of all imprisoned criminals and debtors.

Construction of the Adelaide Gaol began in 1840 followed by the Yatala Labour Prison, also known as the Dry Creek Stockade, in 1854.