South Australia's first prisoners were gaoled aboard the ship Buffalo, and later onshore in a canvas tent. Construction of the Adelaide Gaol began in 1840 followed by the Yatala Labour Prison, also known as the Dry Creek Stockade, in 1854.
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. Gaols in South Australia are now the responsibility of the Department of Correctional Services.
Gaol and prisoner records in State Records’ collection can be found by searching the catalogue, ArchivesSearch, for the Department for Correctional Services and predecessor agencies (GRG 54), and for the name of the gaol. State Records holds records for Adelaide Gaol, Yatala Labour Prison, Gladstone Gaol, Mount Gambier Gaol, Port Augusta Gaol, Port Lincoln Gaol, Redruth Gaol, Wallaroo Gaol, Kyeema Prison Camp and Robe Gaol.
State Records also holds records on various secure health and juvenile care facilities including James Nash House, Northfield Security Hospital and the Cavan Training Centre.
Records of prisoners such as prisoner registers usually contain a 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, literacy details, 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.
Some prison records include photographs and descriptions of the physical characteristics of prisoners. These records are described in the Photographs in Gaol and Police Records Fact Sheet.
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, whether the prisoner could read and write, marital status, religion, trade, year of arrival in the State and where from and name of ship.
Keeper’s journals were legally required to be kept from 1869, although some gaols began keeping them earlier. These daily journals record 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. See also Matron’s journals (for female inmates only) and Chief Warder’s journals.
South Australia Police records - see Police Gazettes, police station gaol records and Police Records of Convicted Persons (see GRG 5).
Court records - include signed depositions for criminal trials, indictments for trials, returns of prisoners tried at criminal sittings, and some criminal files. See GRG 36, and the Fact Sheet for Court Records available on the State Records website.
South Australian Government Gazettes - contains monthly Courts Calendars listing matters to be heard in the courts. Copies are available in State Records’ Research Centre, and online access is available up to 1918 via Austlii www.austlii.edu.au and from 1999 at www.governmentgazette.sa.gov.au.
Newspapers - the public reporting of criminal actions, trials and convictions in South Australia is undertaken by the newspapers. Refer to the Trove portal of the National Library of Australia website www.trove.nla.gov.au up to c.1954 or the State Library of South Australia www.slsa.sa.gov.au.
Access to gaol and court records
Department for Correctional Services records relating to gaols can be restricted from general public access for up to 100 years. Requests for access to restricted records can be made directly to the Department.
Criminal trial records of the Supreme Court are also restricted for 100 years. Requests for access to restricted records should be directed to the Court.
Records of prisoners held by local police stations are usually restricted for up to 60 years. Requests to access restricted records should be directed to the South Australian Police.
Other relevant records, descriptions and access conditions, and agency descriptions and inventories, are available via our online catalogue, ArchivesSearch.
Need further assistance?
If you require any assistance with your research, please contact a Reference Officer by:
visiting State Records’ Research Centre
completing the online enquiry form
calling us on +61 8 8343 6800.
This Fact Sheet can also be downloaded in PDF format - Gaols
State Records also holds various Indexes and Special Lists for gaol records, see below.