What can these records tell me?

Each record includes a transcript and image. The amount of information listed varies, but New South Wales Gaol Photographic Description Books 1871-1969 usually include the following information about your ancestor:
  • Name
  • Year of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Country of birth
  • Ship and year of arrival in New South Wales, where relevant
  • Occupation
  • Religion
  • Degree of education
  • Prisoner’s aliases, where relevant
  • Prisoner’s height
  • Prisoner’s weight
  • Prisoner’s hair colour
  • Prisoner’s eye colour
  • Prisoner’s physical distinguishing features or marks, where relevant
  • Details of their offence
  • Details of their sentence
  • The gaol in which they were detained
  • Mug shot or ‘portrait’ of prisoner
  • Date when the photograph was taken
  • Date and location of trial
  • Remarks

Discover more about New South Wales Gaol Photographic Description Books 1871-1969

The New South Wales Gaol Photographic Description Books 1871-1969 contain approximately 30,000 records. These were compiled from the photographic description books listing entries of prisoners from 14 different gaols around the state.

They contain not only transcripts and scans of the original prisoner entry listings themselves, but also the mug shot photographs of individuals are included.

Note that while overall the records roughly span the period between 1871 and 1930, the time period covered by different gaols’ photographic description books varied, and some date to as late as 1969.

As you might expect, crime and punishment operated differently in the colony of New South Wales in the 19th and even 20th centuries, and some behaviours were considered criminal for our ancestors then that may no longer be viewed as such now.

These photographic description books contain fascinating details about not only the prisoners’ offences, sentences and incarceration, but also biographical information such as their name, date of birth, country of origin and occupation. The records may also include the name of the ship on which the prisoner arrived if they were not born in Australia.

Note that standard abbreviations are used in some sections of the gaol photographic description book records. When noting the prisoner’s degree of education, ‘R’ indicates that they had the ability to read and ‘W’ indicates that they had the ability to write. Similarly, common abbreviations of religious affiliation include ‘RC’ for Roman Catholicism, while ‘C of E’ stood for the Church of England.

Perhaps most excitingly for family history researchers, these records include mug shot photographs, referred to as ‘portraits’, of the prisoner and, usefully, a note of the date when the photograph was taken. The New South Wales Gaol Photographic Description Books 1871-1969 also contain more colourful details such as information about the prisoner’s physical appearance, including a comparison of their weight both at the time they were committed to gaol and at the time of their discharge, along with hair colour, eye colour and any distinguishing marks or features they may have had.

The original series, held by the State Records Authority of New South Wales, was created as per the ‘Gaol Regulation’ which was proclaimed in the New South Wales Government Gazette on 19 February 1867. This required that description books be maintained to keep track of incoming and outgoing prisoners.

Copyright BSORI. Data provided by State Records Authority of New South Wales. Images reproduced by courtesy of the State Records Authority of New South Wales: http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/