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Enrolled Pensioner Force

The EPF came out on the convict transport ships, in order to control the prisoners. They were pensioners as a result of having served in the military. Their principal barracks in Western Australia was at the top of St George's Terrace, where the gatehouse still stands.


Photo used on the cover of Broomhall's book and the EPFWA and Museum of Perth websites, showing the EPF in front of the Perth Barracks in 1866. Commandant John Bruce is front right.

One standard resource for this organisation is Frank H. Broomhall 1989, The Veterans: A History of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia 1850-1880, Hesperian Press rev. ed. (MS orig. 1975). These are excerpts from the beginning of the book.

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.


Last parade of the EPF at Government House 31 March 1887 from Broomhall: 147, from Battye 4368 B/50

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 resulted 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 also a second, much larger Barracks construction in Perth at the top of the Terrace, from 1863.

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 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 1871Major Robert Henry Crampton
15 Aug 1871 to 14 Aug 1872Captain 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 courtesy of Diane Oldman, personal communication.)

As M.S. James, Margaret Baddeley is another EPF authority, particularly on the basis of her 2016 book, A Superior Body of Men, Authorhouse. She kindly provided this brief summary especially for this website.

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.

Jennie Carter provides a useful summary in her Bassendean: A Social History 1829-1979, Bassendean Town Council, 1986.

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.

Fremantle's first historian, J.K. Hitchcock, gives us the following notes on the EPF, in his 1929 book, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

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.

Hitchcock was a little briefer in his 1919 publication.

The pensioners, it may be remarked, were members of the enrolled force who were quartered in the large barracks in South-terrace (now the Base Hospital) and in smaller barracks where the Police Station now is. A contingent of these time-expired soldiers came out as guards over the prisoners in every convict establishment. Many of them were old veterans who had served in the Crimean war and Indian Mutiny, while 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 now to be found occupying prominent positions both in private and official life.

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 M.S. 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. This was published as a book: Henderson and Coy.

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

Conole, Peter 2019, 'Wicklow, Crimea, and the last Frontier', Western Ancestor, September: 214. Article about pensioner John Stokes.

Conole, Peter and Diane Oldman 2016, The Pension System - By Friends Remember'd, EPG Gazette, 2 & 3.

Hitchcock J.K. 1919, 'Early days of Fremantle: High Street 50 years ago', published in 12 parts in the Fremantle Times 21 March - 20 June 1919.

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.

Museum of Perth page for the Barracks Arch.

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.

State Records Office page which include EPF resources

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

Ships that brought EPF.

Thanks to Margaret Baddeley and Diane Oldman for information about the EPF, and to Keith Bostock for advice about what to leave out.

Garry Gillard | New: 25 October, 2015 | Now: 29 April, 2021