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.
Most of our early records refer to prisons or jails as gaols.
We hold records for:
- Adelaide Gaol
- Yatala Labour Prison (formerly Dry Creek Labour Prison or the Stockade)
- Several regional gaols including Gladstone Gaol, Mount Gambier Gaol, Port Augusta Gaol, Port Lincoln Gaol, Redruth Gaol and Kyeema Prison Camp.
Records relating to gaols are typically restricted from general public access for up to 100 years. Records 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 prison over 100 years ago can usually be found by doing a Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch. There are no indexes for Adelaide Gaol 1848-1857.
Other information about prisoners, including some photographs or 'mug shots', might also be found through Police records and through Court records.
Indexes and Digitised Records
Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, from 1848 (GRS 2414)
This series contains registers of all persons brought to Adelaide Gaol between 1848-1955. The indexes cover 1848-1912 and are arranged alphabetically by the prisoner's surname. These registers are open for public access after 100 years to 31 December from the last year noted in the record.
Index to GRS 2414 Register of Prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, 1848-1857 (Volume A to B)
Index to GRS 2414 Register of Prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, 1857-1889 (Volume C to I)
Index to GRS 2414 Register of Prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, 1889-1912 (Volume J to N)
Digitised records on FamilySearch - Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, 1848-1857
(GRS 2414/2, Volume A to B)
Digitised records on FamilySearch - Register of prisoners - Adelaide Gaol, from 1857
(GRS 2414/1, Volumes C to N up to 21 Dec 1912)
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.
Index to GRG54/23 Register of Prisoners in the gaol for assaults fines etc - Adelaide Gaol, 1838-1843 A - Z
Digitised records on FamilySearch - Register of prisoners in the gaol for assaults, fines, debt etc. - Adelaide Gaol, 1838-1844 (GRG54/23)
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.
Index to GRG54/24 Register of prisoners committed and tried 1839-1849 A - Z
Digitised records on FamilySearch - Registers of prisoners committed and tried - Adelaide Gaol, 1839-1849 (GRG54/24)
Register of prisoners - Yatala Labour Prison, 1854-1904 (GRG54/41)
This series contains the register of prisoners at Yatala Labour Prison. The prison was opened in 1854, but the earliest register records some prisoners with convictions back to 1851. From 1883 photographs of the prisoners are usually included.
Names of prisoners who were in Yatala between 1854 and 1904 are usually able to be found by doing a Keyword Search on ArchivesSearch.
Digitised records on FamilySearch:
- Register of prisoners - Yatala Labour Prison, 1854-1866 (GRG54/41, Unit 13 up to 15 Dec 1866)
- Register of prisoners - Yatala Labour Prison, from 1866 (GRG54/41, Units 1-4 up to 15 Dec 1904)
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.
Index 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.
Index to GRG 54/39 Marine Deserter's Index - Dry Creek Labour Prison, 1856-1860 A - Z
Digitised records of several regional gaols can also be found on FamilySearch including:
- Register of prisoners and charge books - Redruth Gaol, from 1861 (GRG 54/210, Unit 1)
- Register of prisoners - Port Lincoln Gaol, from 1880 (GRG54/205)
- Register of prisoners - Gladstone Gaol, from 1881 (GRG54/125, Unit 1)
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).
There 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)