Darlinghurst Gaol Photographic Prisoner Records Featuring Australian Bushranger, Frank Gardiner Plus Other Convicted Felons, Ca 1873-1874

Bound book, 9 x 14 in., containing approx. 310+ pages featuring 295 portraits and criminal records of the inmates at Darlinghurst Gaol (jail) from June 1873-December 1874, including the famous bushranger, Frank Gardner near the time of his release. Research suggests that the book is an incredibly early example of photographic prison records in Australia, and possibly the first of its kind to appear at auction.

Overcrowding in prisons throughout Great Britain forced the government to find alternative methods to the problem. Rather than build new prisons, the government decided to ship many felons across the ocean to establish a penal colony in Australia. Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip, a fleet of eleven ships with over 1,000 criminals arrived at Sydney Cove on January 23, 1788. The crew and its passengers established the first colony in New South Wales, which became the city of Sydney. The discovery of gold in Bathurst in 1851 greatly contributed to growth in the country and brought more settlers from Europe, China, the United States, and many other countries. Similar to the American West, however, the gold rush brought more citizens of ill repute and increased crime rates. To accommodate its robbers, thieves, vagabonds, and murderers, Australians built more prisons like the Darlinghurst Gaol, the principal prison in the area.

Prison laborers began constructing Darlinghurst Gaol in 1822, but insufficient funds stalled the prison’s progress. It remained empty for twelve years until construction resumed in 1836.

Even though it was not finished, it housed its first residents in 1840 due to increased demand caused by a new breed of outlaws unique to Australia called bushrangers. Early in British settlement, bushrangers were escaped convicts equipped with the necessary skills to survive in the bush. By the 1820s, the term included those who made "robbery under arms" a way of life and used the bush as their base. Bushranging thrived during the gold rush, creating an era of legendary criminal giants. To keep up with rising crime rates, prisons in Australia kept records of its inhabitants. Darlinghurst Gaol began including photographs in its record of its prisoners in 1871. In addition to a photograph of the felon, Darlinghurst's records include pertinent personal information such as: place and year of birth; when the subject arrived in Australia and by what ship; religion; physical attributes; identifying marks; previous occupation; known aliases; when and where the subject was tried; the sentence; and prior criminal record. According to the State Records Authority of New South Wales, Darlinghurst appears to have been one of the only prisons in Australia to photograph its inmates until the mid-1870s. As a result, the 1873 photographic album offered in the lot is one of the earliest examples of prison photography in Australia.

The 1873 record includes the information of one particularly famous prisoner, Frank Gardiner (also spelled Gardner). Francis “Frank” Gardiner was born in Scotland as Francis Christie. Darlinghurst lists his birthplace as New South Wales, but his family emigrated to Australia in 1834. Gardiner began a life of crime in the 1850s as a horse thief. He was arrested twice and served time at Pentridge Gaol and Cockatoo Island. After being discharged for his second offense, he opened a butcher shop that purportedly sold stolen meat. He fled to the bush and assembled a gang of bushrangers. In 1862, he and his posse held up the gold escort at the Coonbong Rock near Eugowra and escaped with £14,000. It was the largest heist in the history of Australia at the time, and made Gardiner the most wanted man in the country. He managed to avoid capture for two years. After New South Wales police captured him, a judge sentenced him to thirty years in prison. However, ten years into his sentence, he was exiled. Hong Kong was supposed to be his destination, but the slippery crook managed to board a ship to the United States. He settled in San Francisco and ran the Twilight Star Saloon on the Barbary Coast. Till this day, he is the only man ever to be exiled from Australia. Ten years of hard labor degraded his devilish good looks and reduced him to a particularly scrawny fellow, which is visible in the photograph included in the Darlinghurt record.

Other Darlinghurst prisoner records of note include: Thomas Jones, alias Norris, a New South Wales man convicted of manslaughter; Aborigine man Billy Leisler, also known as "Billy Gar," charged with assault with intent to rape; Ah Chow, a pagan Chinese immigrant guilty of burglary and larceny; John Henry Joseph Morton, a Londoner and surgeon convicted of bigamy; Australian native and butcher William Holland charged with assault. Prison guards noted he was such a notorious character that it was thought advisable to take his portrait; murderer William Watson was allowed to exile but decided not to leave the country; Matthew Cahill, a crazed-looking plasterer whose crimes of bestiality earned him a death sentence; Mary A. Smith, also known as the “woman in black,” a professional thief sentenced to two years hard labor; a middle-aged or elderly woman named Mary Thomas charged with unlawfully wounding, who had 77 summary convictions; and Irishman and miner Michael O’Hara, who maliciously injured a cow.

Australia’s criminal background is an important element of the country’s history and a large part of its heritage. Approximately one in four people in New South Wales has a criminal in their family. Previously, having a family member with an early criminal was frowned upon. Today, it is now widely accepted. Historic institutions in Australia are attempting to recover its criminal history and place it back in the forefront of public consciousness.

Information obtained from the Sydney Living Museums, Australian Convict Sites: World Heritage website and State Records Authority of New South Wales website, December 2016.


Provenance: Property of N. Flayderman & Co.


There are five inmates that appear to be missing from the document. The book is in very poor condition with loose binding and a very weak spine. The book may need rebinding. The table of contents section is incomplete and loose but contains the names and the numbers of each prisoner in alphabetical order. Although the binding is in poor condition, the pages and photographs remain in very good condition with all the original photographs and dark inscriptions from the prison. Information obtained from: https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/series/2138; http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/australian-convict-sites-world-heritage. 

Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


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