Pensioner Guards were soldiers of the British Army, the Army of the East India Company and Royal Marines who were pensioned off after long service, or injury. They were sent to Western Australia as part of a series of fully armed convict guards, upon 35 of the convict ships between 1850 and 1856. Originally soldiers enlisted for life, which generally translated to 20 years and those who eventually became Pensioner Guards volunteered for service. Once they arrived in Australia, the Pensioner Guards employed on the Pensioner Force until the arrival of the next convict ship, before taking it upon themselves to find their own employment, which for some was with the Convict Establishment, however for many, it was whatever job they could find at the time, but were still under obligation to turn out in times of civil unrest, which included everything from prisoner escapes to bushfires and everything in between. They were also expected to comply by strict guidelines in regards to their land, which was anywhere between 2 and 10 acres.
You know the cottage is open, when you see this guard!
On their land, each Pensioner Guard typically had a two-room cottage, which was leased to them for the first seven years and if they looked after the land and stayed in Australia, it became their own. These cottages were built for the sum of 15 pounds each, by convicts and ticket of leave labourers, who were people who had finished their sentences and were on probation before becoming free men.
There were originally four Pensioner Guard Cottages built in West Guildford, now known as Bassendean, however, this is the only one which still remains today. In 1857, this particular Pensioner Guard Cottage became the home of John Davis, his wife Amelia and their multitude of children, making a total of 8 people living under the roof of two absolutely tiny rooms.
John applied for Title on the 10th of October, 1864 and received the Title Deed Number of 2017, after serving his obligatory 7 years in the Enrolled Force and living on and making the required improvements to the land.
During the first part of the 20th century, there were changes made to many Pensioner Guard Cottages, in order to make them much more habitable and this particular cottage was lived in until after World War II. It was eventually handed over to the Bassendean Historical Society, who put so much love and time and money into taking care of and preserving this wonderful piece of Western Australian History.
Cottage built for Enrolled Pensioner Guards, Surrey Street, West Guildford, later renamed Bassendean, ca. 1920. What was then open farmland is now suburbia Image Supplied : Battye Library
This is a lovely little museum, which is filled with historical artefacts and easy to read information on the walls. It doesn't take much time at all to visit and is a wonderful insight into what life would have been like for Pensioner Guards and their families, back when bathrooms didn't even exist. If you have any further questions, the friendly and very knowledgeable staff from the Bassendean Historical Society will be more than happy to answer them for you.