Stories and People

Edward Hughes



Edward Hughes 1819-1896
Citation by Adele Cameron

Edward Hughes was born in the town of Armagh in the county Armagh, Ireland about 1819. Army records show him entering the British Army as a 17 ½ year old in 1836 making his birth date 1819. Supporting this was his discharge date which was 3rd August 1858 at the age of 39 ½. His death certificate, issued in Western Australia in 1896 states that he was 73 years old making his birth date 1923. I support the former as he died in an institution, Mt Eliza Depot where his exact particulars may have been unknown. This theory is evident on his death certificate where the word unknown was used against all personal details. Mt Eliza Depot was situated on the banks of the Swan River at the foot of Kings Park. It was a home for old ex convicts, ex soldiers and other destitute men.

Nothing is known of Edward Hughes until he enlisted in the army aged 17 ½ in 1836. The following year he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) where he served for 9 ½ years until 1846.

He married Mary Robinson in either Ireland or England about 1847. Edward was a Catholic and Mary a Protestant which may have caused trouble amongst their respective families.

Then Edward left Mary early 1847 for a period of 10 ½ years when he served in the East Indies. This may have meant India where he could have been involved in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Returning home after this period of service he was discharged from the army at Chatham, England in 3rd August 1858. A physician’s report said although he suffered no organic disease, he was worn out by service. He was barely 40. Life in the British army in the 19th Century was harsh. Their barracks were squalid and overcrowded and their food poor. They earned one shilling a day but once food, laundry, haircuts and medical treatments were deducted little was left. He first served with the 51st Regiment of Foot and then with the 74th Regiment of Foot. His army records state that he was 5 foot 6 inches tall with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. His occupation was listed as a labourer. Army records state he received some good conduct commendations as well as several periods where he forfeited pay and rank for misdeeds. His first child, Annie was born about 1862 indicating that he was back with Mary after an absence of 11 or more years.

Pay, as a pensioned off soldier was extremely poor and many ex soldiers applied to become Enrolled Pensioner Guards of Convicts, in charge of convicts on their journey to Australia. The promise of six months continuous work, a gratuity of ten pounds, a free passage and a grant of land with free convict labour to clear it, was tempting.

Edward applied to become a Pensioner Guard and was accepted. The uniform consisted of dark grayish brown trousers with a scarlet stripe down each leg, a knee length dark blue surcoat with facings of red and yellow, dandified epaulettes and a tall regulation hat.

Edward, his wife Mary and one year old Annie left Ireland early 1863 on the Clyde and arrived in Western Australia on the 29th May 1863. The Clyde was an 1151 ton ship built in Glasgow in 1880. She left Portland, England on March 5th 1863 bound for the Swan River Colony, as Perth was then known. The voyage took 75 days travelling by way of Capetown. Edward was one of 50 Pensioner Guards on board. 35 wives and 65 children accompanied them. 320 convicts also were on the ship. The Pensioner Barracks at the top of St George’s Terrace had just been commenced, so it was quite probable that they resided there as soon as it was finished. The Barracks, when finished consisted of 120 rooms, a hospital, a magazine and other facilities. They lived in the Barracks for an unknown period. All that remains of the Barracks since 1966 is the imposing three story entrance arch. The rest was knocked down for the freeway and Parliament House.

A son Edward (Ned) was born in Western Australia in 1864.

The Chelsea Pensioner Records show that in 1891 his pension was transferred to Perth W.A. Did he collect any pension between the years 1858-1891? We don’t know? 

Pensioner guards could choose to continue on with military duty, until the next convict ship bought a new contingent of Enrolled Pensioners to the colony. Otherwise they could obtain a discharge and remain as settlers, however they could be called on to uphold civil authority in an emergency. After serving seven years in the Enrolled Pensioner Force they were eligible for a free land grant of some 10 to 33 acres. Edward was awarded one acre in 8th Nov 1883, some 20 years after his arrival in W.A. We do not know if he remained in the service, but it is very probable he did, as this was the only life he had known. The original Enrolled Pensioner Guard force was disbanded in 1880 when Edward was 61. A new force named The Enrolled Guard was established and this was also disbanded in 1887. Edward’s one acre was situated near the Mt Eliza Barracks Lot 24H. We do not know if he ever built on this land. Our present Parliament House is situated on this site now. The present value of this land would be immense.

In 1885 Edward was described as a turbulent character, who was gaoled. Mary was left destitute and applied for poor relief. Son Edward was described as his larrikin son and arrested in 1886. Then in 1857 Edward was found guilty of stealing 60 cabbage plants. He was fined.

Edward Hughes died 3rd May 1896.

He was given a military funeral. His body was loaded onto a horse drawn gun carriage and driven along the entire length of Saint George’s Terrace and Adelaide Terrace and then left up to The East Perth Cemetery. His young grandsons, Jack, Alfred, Alexander and Arthur walked beside the coffin. A story is told that when they saw their reflections in the polished brass of the gun carriage they got the giggles. It would have been a long walk for the boys whose ages ranged from 8 to 16. Edward had a long, hard and colourful life over a period of 77 years living in Ireland, England, Tasmania, India and finally Western Australia. He was my great, great Grandfather.

Brought to you by:

National Trust of Western Australia


Friends of the Battye Library (Inc)

  • East Perth Cemeteries

    Bronte St
    East Perth WA 6004

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