Prison officers and gaols staff

The major sources from our collection relating to gaol staff employed by the NSW Department of Corrective Services and its predecessors.

Historical Overview

The first gaols built at Sydney and Parramatta in 1797 were log gaols with separate cells for prisoners[1]. From 1797 to 1874 the Sherriff was responsible for the management of gaols. In this period more permanent gaols, built of stone and brick, were established at Parramatta, Windsor, Bathurst, Liverpool, Campbell Town, Berrima, Newcastle, Melbourne and the House of Correction at Sydney. Regulations in 1867 outlined in some detail the duties and conduct of the various employees of the gaols and official visitors such as justices, surgeons and chaplains. They also listed the records which were required to be maintained by each gaol.

From 1874 until 1970 the Department of Prisons was responsible for the management of gaols. The Department was renamed as the Department of Corrective Services following the Prisons Act 1970 in order to better describe its modern role. Further reform followed with the Nagle Commission of 1976 examining the effectiveness of the Department of Corrective Services in the light of modern penal practice. The relationship between staff and prisoners and the appointment and training of staff were priorities for the Commission.

Today the Department's mission statement is to provide “custodial and community-based services as an important element of the criminal justice system”. Offenders in custody are assessed and managed in order to “reduce their risks of re-offending.” The Department works with government and non-government groups in order to manage offenders both in custody and in the community.[2]

Since 1993 some NSW prisons have been privately managed. This fact sheet concerns only those gaol staff employed by the NSW State government.

See more about the Department of Prisons / Corrective Services in our catalogue.

List of main record series

Records of prison facilities can be identified by using our catalogue under the name of the gaol. Please note, these records may be incomplete.

Department of Prisons / Department of Corrective Services

NRS 1837
[3/14134-35], [19/10554-10555]
Registers of prison staff
The following details are shown: position, name, dates of appointment and remarks.Kaye Vernon and Billie Jacobsen's Index to Registers of Prison Staff 1860-1923 is compiled from [19/10554-55] and is available in the reading room.
NRS 19785
Register of staff movements
The register records the appointment, transfer and resignation of prison staff for each gaol during a particular pay period. The volume is arranged by gaol and contains the following information: name and particulars of appointments, transfers and resignations. Not all staff are recorded.
NRS 1838
Record of officers' services
For each officer the following details are given: nature and dates of various promotions, date of appointment to Public Service, date of appointment to Prisons Department, date of birth, colour of hair and eyes, complexion, height, birth place, married or single, calling, religion, date of contribution to superannuation fund, breaks in service, and remarks.
NRS 1842
Salary register 
For each gaol, as well as the Comptroller General's Office, all staff are listed, with a monthly record of salary paid. The final column notes salary increases, transfers, resignations, dismissals etc.
NRS 1843
Leave register 
For each officer, the following information is given: name, position, date, number of registered paper, and full details of leave granted. The volume is indexed.
NRS 1839
[3/14129], [5/1824], [19/9837]
Record of warders' offences 
These volumes record brief details of misconduct and neglect of duty on the part of warders employed in New South Wales gaols. The following information is given: name, date of appointment, classification (3rd Class, 2nd Class etc.), date, offence, by whom reported, by whom evidence given, decision, by whom, remarks. Notes on transfers to other gaols, promotion, demotions, resignations etc. are also given.
NRS 1840
Record of warders' offences and leave of absence 
These volumes give similar information to that found in Record of warders' offences (see above), but also include (for each officer) a detailed physical description and a list of leave taken (noting date and type of leave).
NRS 1841
Warders' defaults and transfer book 
This volume shows, under each name: date; nature of default; decision; remarks. The volume also lists transfers, promotions and salary variations, with the relevant date.

Other sources

Returns of the Colony (Blue books)
Provide an annual list of permanent government employees, including senior prison staff. The Blue books show name, position, date of appointment, and salary. See the related item lists NRS-1286 Returns of the Colony, 1822-1870
- Fiche 807-819 (1858-70),Reels 3609-3620 (1871-1960)
Public Service Lists
An annual list of permanent government employees including senior prison staff. Numbers of warders, no names are shown. See the related item lists NRS-1286 Returns of the Colony, 1822-1870
NRS 1845
Comptroller-General's Office: General rules and lists of duties of clerical staff 
NRS 1846
Corrective Services: Staff instruction manual 
This volume covers all aspects of routine prison administration.


We have a variety of gaol photos - try a Collection Search with the keywords 'gaol' or 'prison'.


Department of Corrective Services staff records are Open to Public Access after 70 years.

Further reading

John Ramsland, With just but relentless discipline: a social history of corrective services in NSW; Kangaroo Press 1996


[1] Return of Public Buildings erected in New South Wales since October, 1796 in HRA Series I, Volume II, p.21

[2] Department of Corrective Services