sample photographs from the Gaol Photographic Description Books held by the State Archives and Records NSW

If you had ancestors who were on the wrong side of the law, be sure to check out the Gaol Photographs on the State Archives and Records NSW website. This incredible collection not only has gaol photographs, but details the stories of nearly 50,000 people who were imprisoned in New South Wales between 1870 and 1930 as well, and it is available for all to use, for free, online.

The State Archives and Records NSW set itself a goal to digitise the Gaol Photographic Description Books from 20 New South Wales prisons. These 199 volumes contain details of over 46,000 prisoners, which up until then were only available to be seen in the large leatherbound volumes in the archives (if you were allowed).

Now thanks to digitisation (and indexing) everyone has access to these incredible records. Using the Index to Gaol Photographs, you can search and view the search results, as well as zoom in to read what’s written on the page. And even download the photo … all for free.

The information you can find in these records includes: a photograph of each prisoner and number, prisoners’ name, aliases, date when portrait was taken, native place, year of birth, details of arrival in the colony – ship and year of arrival, trade or occupation, religion, standard of education, height, weight (on committal, on discharge), colour of hair, colour of eyes, marks or special features, number of previous portrait, where and when tried, offence, sentence, remarks, and details of previous convictions (where and when, offence and sentence).

While the series roughly covers the period 1870-1930, the dates of the books for each gaol vary. Please note that photographs were not taken of every prisoner admitted to gaol in New South Wales within the period.

Gaols currently listed in the index:
– Albury (1876-1929)
– Armidale (1894-1915)
– Bathurst (1874-1930)
– Berrima (1883-1888)
– Biloela (1885-1906)
– Broken Hill (1904-1929)
– Darlinghurst (1869-1914)
– Deniliquin (1895-1929)
– Dubbo (1889-1920)
– Goulburn (1884-1930)
– Grafton (1894-1929)
– Maitland (1885-1898) and (1875-1903)
– Parramatta (1881-1930)
– State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay
– Trial Bay (1892-1901)

Be sure to also check out the Archives’ online exhibition “Captured Portraits of Crime“, which gives indepth details of 37 of the prisoners from their records.