Agency Details

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Agency ID922
TitleHM Penal Establishment, St Helena
Agency TypeCorrectional facility
Start Date 18/5/1867
End Date 31/12/1932
Date NotesN/A

HM Penal Establishments, Gaols, Prisons and Correctional Centres were established to confine prisoners convicted by the Courts.

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Controlling Agencies

Agency IDTitleFromTo
107Colonial Secretary's Office 18/5/1867 6/8/1896
123Home Secretary's Office 6/8/1896 31/12/1932
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Controlled Agencies

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Previous Agencies

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Finding Aids

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Publication Notes
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Information Sources

Queensland Government Gazette, Vol. VIII, No. 38, 18 May 1867, p. 469
Queensland Government Gazette, Vol. XVII, No. 135, 16 Nov 1875, p. 2297
Queensland Government Gazette, Vol. XXV, No. 1, 5 Jul 1879, p. 1
Queensland Blue Book 1891 - Summaries and Departments
Queensland Parliamentary Papers, 1933. Annual Report of the Prisons Department for 1932. p.916 (36)
Queensland Corrective Services, "History of Corrective Services in Queensland", viewed 25 Feb 2008,

Environmental Protection Agency, “St Helena Island - Nature, culture and history”, viewed 25 Feb 2008,

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Establishing An Act for Further Improving the Administration of Criminal Justice, 1865
Abolishing N/A
Administered An Act for Further Improving the Administration of Criminal Justice, 1865
An Act for the Regulation of Gaol, Prisons and Houses of Correction in the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependencies and for Other Purposes Relating Thereto, 1865
Prisons Act 1890
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Overcrowding at Brisbane Gaol in 1863 led to the use of the hulk "Proserpine", anchored at the mouth of the Brisbane River. as a prison. Its 30 male prisoners went each day to work on St Helena Island until 18 May 1867 when the island itself was proclaimed as a Penal Establishment. On the same date the Hon. William Thornton was appointed as Visiting Justice, William Hobbs was appointed Visiting Surgeon, and John McDonald as Superintendent.

On 16 Nov 1875 St Helena was proclaimed "a gaol, prison, and house of correction", a high security prison for long-term inmates. On 5 Jul 1879 it was again proclaimed a Penal Establishment.

The main functions of the penal establishment/gaol were prison administration and punishment for prisoners. However, St Helena was soon considered a model prison of its time. Highly disciplined and isolated, it enforced self-sufficiency, resulting in economic profit. Prisoners cleared the native vegetation, planted crops and constructed buildings using the island's resources wherever possible. A lime kiln was erected in 1869 to burn coral for the making of cement. Maize, vegetables, sheep and cattle herds provided the island residents with their food requirements.The prisoners also produced highly regarded sugar cane and award-winning Ayrshire dairy cattle; its olive oil production also won prizes in Italy. As the prison became established, the range of industries continued to expand. In the 1870s, trade workshops were erected selling their products to the mainland. Some prisoners were trained as saddle makers, tinsmiths, boot makers, tailors, blacksmiths and carpenters.

The administrative staff of the St Helena penal establishment consisted of a Superintendent and a number of Warders, and a Visiting Justice and Visiting Surgeon.

In 1895, Comptroller-General Captain Charles Pennefather was already advocating the construction of a new prison in the south of the colony, stating that St Helena was unsuitable for the appropriate classification of prisoners, and by the 1920s it was decided to wind down the prison. It then functioned as a prison farm. Long-term prisoners were transferred to Boggo Road Gaol while the remaining prisoners dismantled the prison buildings. St Helena was finally closed in December 1932.

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Preferred Citation

Queensland State Archives Agency ID922, HM Penal Establishment, St Helena
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Last updated 9 September 2016
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0) ( )
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