Fremantle Stuff > Organisations > Enrolled Pensioner Force/Guards

Enrolled Pensioner Force


The Enrolled Pensioner Force served as a military unit in Western Australia from 1850 to 1880. Practically every warrant officer, non-commissioned officer and man in its ranks was a fighting soldier who had seen action in one or more of the frontier affrays and epic battles now part of history - in the Crimea, in India both before and during the Mutiny, in Afghanistan, China or the Kaffir War.

Few had served less than twenty years and a high proportion of the men were warrant or non-commissioned officers prior to enrolling in the Pensioner Force.
These were the veterans, the survivors of the killing matches of their time, who found a new life in Australia and whose descendants to the fourth and fifth generation are to be found in every stratum of life here today. Broomhall 1985: [np - vii] ...

The origins of the Enrolled Pensioner Force can be traced back to the British government's employment of pensioners in the maintenance of public order. The men selected for service were organised in special units of the Regular Army and paid as regular soldiers out of Army funds. This practice, of forming Independent Companies of Invalids manned by veteran soldiers, began in the closing years of the seventeenth century and continued throughout the eighteenth. The formation of new companies however, and the conscription of pensioners to fill up the vacancies in existing companies soon gained recognition as a means of providing for home defence in cases of emergency. Broomhall: 1985: 1. ...

In 1843 ... the government introduced a measure providing for the enrolment of the outpensioners in their several localities under the command of the half pay officers who had been appointed by an Act of 1842 to pay them their pensions. The corps of enrolled pensioners were to be liable to be called out for inspection and exercise for eight days each year, and were to be under military discipline when acting in aid of the civil power. At other times their members were to live freely in their own homes and follow their normal occupations.
The Enrolled Pensioners as they came to be called, wore a double breasted blue frock coat with red cuff and collar, loosely fitting so as to be capable of being worn over the man's civilian jacket in cold weather, dark grey trousers with a red stripe similar to those worn by Sappers and Miners and a black cloth forage cap with red band and brass star. The privates were armed with muskets and bayonets, the sergeants with swords and cavalry carbines, adapted to infantry service by "removing their side ribs and rings and fitting them with bayonets when such were missing".
Faced by heavy demands on the small regular army for garrisons, minor wars and police work overseas, the Home government had adopted this idea of recruiting a force to be used primarily to serve as guards in convict ships and, on arrival in the Colonies, to carry out the military duties which would otherwise have been the responsibility of the Regular Army in distant lands under the British flag. Broomhall: 1985: 2.

The barque Scindian brought the first convicts to Western Australia in 1850, and with them a number of Enrolled Pensioner Force men.

The influx of Pensioners and their families would result in an increase in the Western Australian population of over 2000 people.

The Barracks in South Terrace, Fremantle was provided for the housing of the EPF from 1853, and a second, much larger Barracks construction in Perth at the top of the Terrace, from 1863.


The EPF in 1887 in Barracks St, in front of the Town Hall. The Treasury Buildings are on the right, and the inconspicuous building between that and the Town Hall is the Guard House, the earliest part of the Perth military barracks in Barracks Square, and if not the first, among the first buildings in the colony.

The Pensioners were not retained as permanent convict guards after the voyages and in many cases their families travelled with them. Generally they sought work among the free settlers in the colony, but were always on hand to help the civil authorities if necessary.

To encourage them to stay in the colony, they were offered allotments of land which they could select, lease, and own, subject to many conditions. Nearly all of the Pensioners accepted the above offer, and many of these blocks were still owned by their descendants at the beginning of the first World War.

When the Governor of Western Australia wrote to England seeking re-inforcements for his garrison of regular soldiers he found that owing to political unrest in Europe all he was offered was a suggestion to make use of the military pensioners in the colony and enrol them as an auxiliary force to the existing regular soldiers.

Accordingly, Captain John Bruce, who had arrived in the colony with the second detachment aboard the Hashemy (1850), was appointed Staff Officer of Pensioners to the newly established Western Australian Military District and at one time the unit numbered over 600 men. They assisted the line companies in the various garrison duties and finally assumed all responsibilities when the last of the Queen's troops left Fremantle for Hobart on 8 March 1863.

Commanders of the Pensioners, with dates, are as follows:

11 Nov 1854 to 4 Nov 1870 Lt-Colonel John Bruce
5 Nov 1870 to 14 Aug 1871 Major Robert Henry Crampton
15 Aug 1871 to 14 Aug 1872 Captain Charles Finnerty
15 Aug 1872 to 17 Nov 1880 Lt-Colonel Edward Douglas Harvest

Captain Edward Metcalfe Grain was Commanding Officer of the RE Corps, 29 August 1859 to 27 April 1862, but not Commandant of the Pensioners.

Lt-Colonel Edward Fox Angelo was Commandant of the Western Australian Defence Force, 3 June 1882 to February 1886, when he was appointed Government Resident (administrator) at Roebourne.

The Enrolled Pensioner Force uniform consisted of dark greyish-brown trousers with a scarlet stripe, and frock coats with facings of red and yellow.

As at 19 November 1880, the Enrolled Pensioner Force was abolished and a new unit called the Enrolled Guard was formed from among its members. It was placed under the command of Captain Matthew Skinner Smith, the Superintendent of Police (who happens to have been a Crimean War veteran, like Finnerty and Angelo) and the final parade of the Enrolled Guard was held on 31 March 1887.

Prison warders were also employed to oversee the convicts during the voyage and after they arrived in Australia. These men were employed by the Convict Establishment of Western Australia and in many cases travelled with their families.

(Much of the above is thanks to Diane Oldman, personal communication.)


The Enrolled Pensioner Guard became an important adjunct to the Convict Establishment Military pensions were granted to English soldiers on completion of specified periods of service, or where wounds or disabilities had been received on active service. If they were fit enough, these men were expected to remain on standby to complement the regular army on garrison or guard duties to release regulars for front-line service. These Enrolled Pensioner Guards were required to turn out for inspection on a specified number of days each year, and were also encourage to volunteer for particular services - such as the guarding of convicts being transported to the Colonies. While the Sappers remained regular army personnel, the Pensioners received army pay for only six months Their incentive to volunteer for this duty, and perhaps stay on as immigrants, was a free passage to Australia for their wives and families, and a grant of land in the Colony. Moreover, both the Governor and the Comptroller-General quickly saw that there were other advantages to this trained body of men. When their nominated commanding officer, Captain Bruce, arrived in the Colony in October 1850, he found that of the 116 Pensioners who had arrived so far, half were still serving in the local force on military pay, welcomed by the Colonial Government to bolster the meagre defence and peacekeeping capacity of the Colony. The other half had taken their discharge and had branched out into civilian life as free migrants, taking up land grants at Freshwater Bay, South Perth and North Fremantle. A number of these new civilians then found employment in the Convict Establishment, welcomed by the Comptroller- General to make up for the lack of local recruits as Warders. Here they were provided with purpose-built quarters, while on their land grants the promise of convict-built cottages was slow to materialise because of the other pressures on the building labour force.
In a despatch to the Secretary for the Colonies, the Governor acknowledged that the grants of 10 acre lots to the Pensioners at the 'remote locations' of Freshwater Bay and South Perth was not working, as the men could not easily get to town to find casual work, or to sell their produce. He suggested the alternative of smaller lots closer to Perth and Fremantle where these men could also provide support for the military in an emergency. According to Captain Bruce, the men were aware of the disadvantages of the remote locations and were keen to accept smaller lots closer to town.


The nearly 1200 Enrolled Pensioner Guards who were brought out to oversee the prisoners are a relatively little known entity in the social history of Western Australia and their contribution to the whole fabric of our colonial society tends to be overshadowed by negative thinking about the effects of convictism or by dwelling on the vast changes wrought by the gold rushes. Their place in the strict hierarchy of the times is also difficult to define situated as they were on the scale somewhere between the convicts and the ‘free emigrants’ a position which forced them to become by and large a closed society of their own. Widows of Pensioners tended to marry single men or widowers from within the ranks of the guards despite the fact that women were in a marked minority in the colony and presumably in demand by male settlers and prospering ex-convicts.
On arrival in the settlement the Enrolled Pensioner Guard were guaranteed six months employment and paid (while on duty) between one and threepence and one and tenpence per day, depending on their army rank. Initially, they were not allowed a land grant so as to better encourage them to supply the demand for labour rather than aspire to become settlers. But the difficulties in obtaining outside work and the hardships they suffered in consequence brought about an authoritorial change of heart in a very short time. Pensioners were granted land on the condition they lived on it and maintained it for seven years before given the freehold.
Not all Pensioner soldiers could make a living exclusively from guarding the convicts so some were employed by the Government in various capacities or became policemen, others pursued trades or hired out as labourers in competition with free workmen and ex-convicts. Many of the soldiers’ wives also had to find employment to eke out the family income and worked as servants or laundresses. Because of the nature of colonial society before the goldrushes, the Pensioners fairly rapidly formed a close knit community of their own marked by the establishment of a benevolent fund designed to look after their members during sickness and to help provide for bereaved families. Village settlements were established at places like Mill Point and Freshwater Bay and blocks of land granted to individual Pensioners when they were congregated nearer settled areas such as Guildford and Fremantle. Jennie Carter: 54-55.


After 1842 all Imperial Military Pensioners with the exception of Royal Navy and the HEIC Marine Pensioners had to be ‘registered’ on the roll of the Royal Hospital Military Pension District in which they resided or chose to reside. A Staff Officer of Pensioners administered these Pension Districts. The fittest of these men, and those younger than 55, could be chosen to be ‘enrolled’ in what was termed Local Companies or Local Force.
These men were known as Enrolled Military Pensioners. They could be called out for to assist the Civil authorities and had to attend twelve days military exercises annually. For this they were paid Enrolled money (Broomhall: 21, 125) They also had to attend under arms every Sunday for church parade. For the period these men were enrolled they were subject to the provisions of the Mutiny Act and Articles of War.
An example of a Warder who was also in receipt of a military pension is John Richard Gray (after whom Graylands is named). He was in receipt of a Temporary Pension of 8d. per diem for three years and would have had to be ‘registered’ or ‘enrolled‘ which was the usage of the day (as we now enrol in a class or activity) on the Ipswich Pension District roll then on the Chatham District Roll. He could not be ‘enrolled’ in the ‘Local Force’ as he was employed a Warder, so could not satisfy the terms required for service in the Local Force. Nor could he be a Military Pensioner once his pension ceased. However, he became a Military Pensioner in 1880 when he was in receipt of his Deferred Pension of 5d. Margaret Baddeley, personal communication, published here by permission.


From 1850 to 1868, in which year transportation ceased, 9,721 convicts were landed at Fremantle. ...
As an offset against the influx of the criminal element the convict system was the means of introducing about 2000 persons consisting of military pensioners with their wives and children. A contingent of those time-expired soldiers came out as guards over the prisoners in every convict ship. A large number of them were retained in the enrolled force to guard the convict establishment and others became warders or policemen or entered into other pursuits. Many of them were veterans of the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny, and others were comparatively young men who had been invalided home from India early in their military career. On the whole they were a valuable addition to the population; numbers of them accumulated property, and many of their descendants are to be found occupying prominent positions, both in private and official life. ...
The Barracks Green, now the oval, was used as a parade ground for both pensioners and volunteers ...
Under an agreement with the British Government the convict establishment and the convicts were handed over to the colonial government in 1886. The Comptroller General of Convicts and all the organised machinery disappeared and the local prison system took its place, the few remaining convicts becoming ordinary prisoners until they completed their terms. In 1888 the enrolled pensioner force was disbanded and thus the last phase of convict administration automatically came to an end and the colony became the land of a buried past and a brilliant future. Hitchcock: 34, 45, 67.

Stone photo


This photo is attributed to Alfred Hawes Stone and is to be found in a collection of photographs from an 1868 album that he presented to his daughter on the occasion of her marriage in that year, and that was made available to SLWA for copying in 2015, and is captioned (not by the photographer himself) as showing the Enrolled Pensioner Force (page 136 of the album, approx.) The Library added the date c. 1868 to its own caption on the webpage.

It has, however, been suggested that the British Army infantry officers in the photograph are not in fact pensioners, so it is somewhat mysterious at the moment. It's also not known where the photo was taken. The sign painted on the top of the door reads 'Adjutant's Department', so it was probably at a military barracks somewhere, and, if in WA, in Perth rather than Fremantle. Stone and others did add photos from elsewhere to these albums, so this one is neither necessarily taken in WA nor indeed taken by Stone.

Personal communications from researchers (enthusiasts/hobbyists) have suggested that it is 'an important "arrival in the colonies" or "departure from the colonies" photo and that it shows a very senior officer (ie, an arriving or departing officer-in-command of the forces in Australia and New Zealand) along with an entourage consisting of a couple of senior regimental officers plus his "general staff", such as adjutants, quartermasters, commissary officers, surgeons, the provost marshal, an ADC or two and so on.' The best candidate (of three indentified) for the senior officer in the middle of the front row, from the appearance of the man, is 'General Trevor Chute – arrived to be the boss in Melbourne 1861, took over in New Zealand from Cameron in 1865, left for Britain in 1870.' (quoting Peter Conole, personal communication with Diane Oldman)

In conclusion, the best set of possibilities for the photo is that Stone did take it, in Perth, in 1870, and that it shows the people described in the preceding paragraph, and for the reason proposed.

References, Links, and Acknowledgements

See also my page about Convict Hiring Depots.

For one example of the life of a Enrolled Pensioner, see Diane Oldman's very helpful page for Owen Connor, who, arriving on the Mermaid in 1851, was the recipient of the very first grant of North Fremantle land, P1, cnr Swan and De Lisle Streets.

Baddeley, Margaret, personal communication; see also James, v. infra.

Baddeley, Margaret, 'Pensioners Benevolent Fund' (on this site)

Bolton, G.C. 1981, 'Who were the pensioners?' review article in Convictism in Western Australia, Studies in WA History, vol. 4.

Broomhall, Frank H. 1989, The Veterans: A History of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia 1850-1880, Hesperian Press rev. ed. (MS orig. 1975)

Campbell, Robin McKellar 2010, Building the Fremantle Convict Establishment, PhD, UWA (Faculty of Architecture). Available online to download (not from this site) as a 40MB PDF.

Carter, Jennie 1986, Bassendean: A Social History 1829-1979, Bassendean Town Council.

Hitchcock, J.K. 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

James, M.S. 2016, A Superior Body of Men, Authorhouse. [Adds further biographical information to the history of the military pensioners who were either discharged in the Colony of Western Australia, came as guards on the convict transports, or immigrated freely to the State.]

Mather, F.C., 'Army pensioners and the maintenance of civil order in early nineteenth century England', Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research.

O'Brien, Jacqueline & Pamela Statham-Drew 2013, Court and Camera: The Life and Times of A.H. Stone, Fremantle Press.

Ring, M., 'Military Pensioners', in The Companion to Tasmanian History, ed. A. Alexander, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania (online version, 2006).

Williams, A.E. 1984, Nedlands: From Campsite to City, City of Nedlands.

Many of the Pensioners were Crimean War vets, qv.

Wikipedia page for the Scindian.

WAGS page for this Special Interest Group.

Enrolled Pensioner Force WA.

Enrolled Military Pensioners Force, at - no longer maintained

Photo (bottom) probably by Alfred Hawes Stone, c. 1868, SLWA 6909B/141. It is reproduced in O'Brien & Statham-Drew: 80-81, attributed to Stone.

Ships that brought EPF.

Thanks to Margaret Baddeley and Diane Oldman for information about the EPF, and to Peter Conole for information about the Stone photo.

Garry Gillard | New: 25 October, 2015 | Now: 16 November, 2018