Henry Vincent (gaoler)

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Henry Vincent (c. 1796 - 6 May 1869) was the first Superintendent of Rottnest Island Aboriginal Prison, in Western Australia. He was known for his cruelty.


Francis Henry Vincent[1] is said to have been born in Dorset in around 1796. He is always referred to as Henry Vincent.

Vincent was wounded and lost an eye in the Battle of Waterloo. He was the gaoler at Fremantle from 1831 until he was given the job of constructing the "Rottnest Native Establishment". He was appointed Superintendent of the Rottnest Island Aboriginal Prison in 1839, and held the position for 21 years, until 1867.[2]

Under Vincent's rule many Aborigines died. However this was not unique to his supervision; between 1838, when the prison was opened, and 1931, it is reported that there were 369 Aboriginal fatalities.[3] While most deaths were caused by disease, it is reported that five prisoners were hanged.[4] Vincent was extremely cruel, and eventually his overtly brutal treatment of the prisoners concerned even the colonial authorities, to the extent that the Governor sent an investigator to the island. The investigator was later driven off the island by Vincent. For his treatment of Aboriginal prisoners, Vincent was forced into retirement in 1867, and his place was taken by William Jackson.[5] Like many in the Western Australian Swan River colony, Vincent believed that the Aborigines were an inferior race, doomed to extinction.

As superintendent of the prison, Henry Vincent left his mark on the island. With Aboriginal labour he designed and built many of the old colonial buildings that can still be seen today. Vincent managed, with the aid of his Aboriginal prisoners, to build and successfully run a farm on the island.[6] Most of the development took place in Thomson Bay; of particular significance is the Quod that was the prison accommodation for the Aboriginal men.

Vincent died on 6 May 1869 when he was said to be 73 years old. The service took place at St John's Church and he was buried in Fremantle Cemetery.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Early Fremantle Record of Deaths". The West Australian. 19 September 1935. Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Henderson James A. & T. Perigo, "Rottnest, (1989) Links In History" (Rottnest Island Authority, Perth, 1989), pp. 10-15.
  3. ^ Pederson, Howard, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Perth, File No. 88/699 'Deaths of Aborigines in Custody': List of 'Aboriginal Men Who Died At Rottnest Island, 1838-1900'
  4. ^ Somerville, W. (1966) "Rottnest Island, In History and Legend" (Rottnest Island Board, Perth, 1966), p. 74.
  5. ^ Henderson James A. & T. Perigo, Rottnest, Links In History (Rottnest Island Authority, Perth, 1989), pp. 10-15.
  6. ^ Green, Neville (1981) "Aborigines and Settlers" in C.T. Stannage, ed. A New History Of Western Australia (University of Western Australia Press Nedlands, 1981), p. 89-92.