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Warder: John McGovern

By: Susanne Horton 

Original: February 2008 Published: 4 June 2024


Of all the Warders at the Albany Convict Gaol, John McGovern was the Head Warder from 1879 to 1913.

John McGovern was the Head Warder of the Albany Convict Gaol from 1879 to 1913. McGovern was a Police Constable at York in 1870-1 before he was transferred to Perth and then Fremantle. 

John McGovern made several improvements to the Albany Gaol and organised most of the convicts, who had few skills, to carry out routine repairs and maintenance. However because little money was forthcoming from the Colonial Government, the Gaol became rundown and obsolete.  Some changes were made including the conversion of the solitary cells into larger cells by removing internal walls, thus giving prisoners more space and a kitchen was added.  However, the close proximately of the Gaol Keepers and their families to prisoners meant that they were subjected to the inside noise and abusive language of the drunken prisoners who made up the greater proportion of the inmates.

Although the living conditions for all were harsh, it appears that the conditions were relaxed.  At one time, it was a prisoner who rushed into a gaoler's bedroom and extinguished a fire which threatened the whole Gaol.  In addition, the Gaol Bakehouse became a friendly place for prisoners to gather.

John McGovern tried many times to improve the building including the removal of the shingle roof to be replaced by iron sheeting.  A doorway in the store wall on Parade Street side of the building was bricked up and a window built in the wall over the old opening. 

Police - John McGovern.jpg

Warder, John McGovern.  Date: unknown

John had married Mary Ann Mannix who became the Matron at the Albany Convict Gaol and was paid 5 pounds per annum. The family lived in the rooms to the right and left of the entrance to the Gaol.  In these quarters, he and his wife and nine children and at least eight of these lived in the Gaol.  The quarters had no electric power and only one gaslight until 1913, when the next warden installed extra gas lighting at his own expense. 

Times were hard for families in those days. Three of the McGovern children died between 1886 and 1892 and on 7 November 1899, Mrs McGovern died after giving birth to twins, who also died.  She was only forty years old.  When Mrs McGovern died, the position of Matron was passed on to her daughter, Minnie, then aged sixteen years old, who retained the title until 1905.  The second eldest daughter, Lillian in 1905 who was just fifteen years old, followed Minnie.  Lillian remained the matron until 1913 when John retired and a new warden was appointed. 

McGovern retired as a Warden of the Albany Convict Gaol in 1913 and died at 'Neumylda' hospital on Grey Street, Albany in 1926. 

John McGovern & family fine print  P08.478.png

Warder, John McGovern and family.  Date: unknown

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