Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dino Gava


This dissertation aims to examine the relationship between convict schoolmasters and the children of Swan River Colony over the 40 year period from 1850 to 1890, Fearing detrimental effects on the lives of their children, the majority of colonists believed that importation of convict labourers threatened the well-being of the younger generation morally, physically, and intellectually. These fears, based on popular perception of the convict as a perpetrator of evil, were further influenced by a voluble media. Published articles and letters to the newspapers called for government protection for settlers and their families from convict depredations. Public apprehension deepened with the implementation of government policies for establishing and expanding the education system. Parents believed these policies left their children exposed to moral corruption from ticket-of-leave and expiree schoolmasters within the classroom. Such anxieties led to public complaints and criticism which went unheeded by authorities. The government was faced with the problem of providing schools and teachers for a rapidly expanding and widely dispersed population following the arrival of convicts in 1850. Almost 3000 children entered the colony during the years 1850-90, and the existing education system became inadequate for such a large influx of children. Without sufficient financial resources and a scarcity of suitably qualified teachers, the utilization of convict abilities was unavoidable if an elementary education was to be established for all children in the colony. This study will question whether the government, in the attempt to deal with problems of delinquency and a lack of teaching staff, was concerned more for the provision of teachers in isolated schools, than it was for the well-being of children. Research will focus primarily on the appointment of convict schoolmasters and on the relationships that existed between them and the children they taught, their competence in the management of schools, and whether parental fears for their children's safety were fully justified. Examination of Education files indicate the extent of efficiency convict schoolmasters displayed in the classroom situation which led to either weaknesses in teaching skills, or to a high level of stability for children. Teacher absenteeism had a great deal of influence on children concerning the value of education, attendance levels, and on the collapse of some isolated schools. Occurrences of drunkenness, incompetence, or misconduct seriously undermined the schoolmaster's credibility as an authority figure, and discouraged any positive attitudes towards convict teachers. The objective of this dissertation is to balance the positive and negative influences convict schoolmasters may have had on children's moral and intellectual development. On the positive side, without employment of ticket-of-leave and expiree teachers an adequate education system could not have been established, leaving thousands of children to grow up uneducated. The negative aspect will concentrate upon some of the problems caused by unqualified teachers' inability to communicate a basic education, and for some schoolmasters, poor personal conduct in teacher-pupil relationships. A number of convict teachers were successful in their teaching careers and conducted their duties honestly and efficiently, were never reported for any misconduct, and continued teaching for long periods, bringing stability to children and ultimately, to the community. Many future colonial teachers and public leaders would owe their beginnings to humble convict mentors.