Fremantle Stuff > People > Laurence Welch
Laurence Welch brought the first Aboriginal prisoners to Rottnest in 1838, as first superindent of the native prison. He held the position for only one year, before the appointment of Henry Vincent.
On the 17th of August 1838, Constable Laurence Welch left Garden island in an open boat with 10 Aboriginal prisoners headed for Rottnest.
A journey of some 12 miles on the open ocean was extremely dangerous but Welch and his charges arrived unharmed, much to the displeasure of Robert Thomson.
The island was now a gazetted prison used mainly to hold Aboriginal prisoners. 'Murphy's law' being what it is, a prison for Aborigines was built on the island and five (one source says two) escaped by stealing Thomson's boat, which was wrecked.
The Aborigines had been chained to a tree which they simply burned down. To be fair to Welch, he was sent to the island with little in the way of resources and supplies and had to spend his initial nights sleeping in a cave.
One of the escapees drowned during the crossing to the mainland but the others tried to make made good their escape. The drowned man was part of the Swan River tribe and they became convinced that the other escapees had murdered him. In accordance with tribal payback law they tracked the remaining four down and killed one, the others fleeing for their lives.
Thomson now took the opportunity to berate the authorities for his misfortune but they responded by saying he was lax with the security of his boat and it was his fault the escape had taken place. Not put off, he persisted and eventually got 10 pounds for his loss. Thomson eventually got a reasonable price for his holdings on Rottnest when the Government paid him 600 pounds and gave him title to land on the mainland.
Very few people could gain permission to land on the island and permits were issued to the few who did manage to gain admittance. It was presumed 'correctly' that if the Aborigines had no access to boats then there could be no escape. Despite the restrictions, in 1839 there was another escape from the island and Welch was promptly transferred to the mainland. wanowandthen.com.
The island received its first shipment of prisoners in August 1838 when Constable Lawrence [sic] Welch brought 10 Aboriginal prisoners over by rowing boat. Without proper accommodation, the convicts spent their first months on the island sheltering in a cave tied to a tree, while their gaolers sought shelter in the outbuildings belonging to the sole occupants of the island, the Thomson family. In September 6 convicts escaped by rowboat after setting fire to the tree they were manacled to at night. Henry Vincent was transferred from Fremantle Prison, where he worked as a warder, to become Superintendent of Rottnest in 1839. convictyoyages.org.
By 1831, settlers had been granted allotments on Rottnest Island in order to provide
food resources, including fish, farm produce and salt, for the struggling colony.
Problems of increasing conflicts between Aborigines and white settlers on the
mainland spawned a proposal to use Rottnest as an island prison. Although this
idea met with some resistance from those settlers already established on the island,
the first prisoners were taken to Rottnest late in 1838. Constable Welch was the first
Superintendent of the penal settlement and was given charge of construction works
there. In August 1839, Welch was replaced by Mr Henry Vincent, who was
responsible for the supervision of building works on the island. The majority of
buildings on Rottnest were built by convict labour during Vincent's term of office
including the first Lighthouse. Heritage Council.
The first European settler on the island was Robert Thomson, who established a modest farm for hay production, as well as a salt collection enterprise. In August 1838, a Corporal Welch was sent to Rottnest with 10 aboriginal prisoners. The following year, Thomson had his whaleboat stolen, supposedly by several of the inmates, and after complaints, Governor John Hutt decided to resume all land grants previously made on the island. Henry Vincent, a gaoler at the Fremantle prison was subsequently sent to the island as its first superintendent. Wikipedia.
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