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Australia was first settled in 1788, when the British government established a penal colony at Port Jackson, Sydney Bay. As a result, records about convicts transported to Australia are numerous and play a major role in Australian family history research.
Indexes and records of convicts are available in a variety of formats including microfiche, microfilm, book and CD. Some indexes and guides are available on the internet and generally provide information for further research in material in State Archives and libraries. See:
This site contains a searchable database of 780 First Fleet convicts:
Ships that transported convicts: Ships of the First Fleet
Convicts from Ireland: Ireland-Australia Transportation Records, 1791-1853
The punishment of "transportation" for a crime tried in London by the Old Bailey Court resulted in exile to Australia after the American Revolutionary War. The website below is searchable by several catagories including by name for the punishment of Transportation:
Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1834
A partial index of convicts arriving in Australia is available at:
New South Wales holds more convict records than any other state. Of the approximately 150,000 convicts transported to Australia from Great Britain between 1788 and 1850, nearly 90,000 of them went to the region of New South Wales, which then covered a substantial portion of Australia. The following is a guide to the convict records held by the Archives Office:
By 1829 convicts or ex-convicts made up approximately 65 percent of the population of New South Wales. The ex-convicts had received either a ticket of leave, a certificate of freedom, or a pardon.
Tickets of leave were issued to convicts having served about half of their sentences with good behavior. These tickets allowed convicts to seek employment as they wished, limited their movement to a certain district for the remainder of their sentences. Prior to 1828, bench magistrates granted tickets of leave and approved applications for convicts to marry. The actual ticket of leave was issued to the convict; the government retained the ticket of leave butts. Ticket of leave butts listed the convict’s name, ship, and date of arrival, native place, trade or calling, date and place of trial and sentence, a physical description, and the district to which he or she was confined.
A Certificate of Freedom was a document stating that a convict's sentence had been served and was usually given to convicts with a 7, 10 or 14 year sentence or when they received a pardon. Convicts with a life sentence could receive a Pardon, but not a Certificate of Freedom. The Certificate of Freedom number was sometimes annotated on the indent or noted on a Ticket of Leave Butt. Colonial Certificates of Freedom relate to sentences received for offences committed after arrival in the colony. The government retained certificates of freedom butts, which were similar to ticket of leave butts.
Pardons, both conditional and absolute, were generally granted to convicts with life sentences. Conditional pardons required that the ex-convict never return to the British Isles or his or her pardon would be void. Absolute pardons allowed an ex-convict to return to the British Isles if he or she wished. Pardons contain information similar to tickets of leave.
Convict indents are lists that were made when convicts arrived on transport ships. Information given in indents is similar to that in tickets of leave but also includes a convict’s marital status and number of children and whether the convict was literate. An index to convict indents for 1788–1842 is held by the Archives Office of New South Wales.
Tasmania received more than 60,000 convicts from Great Britain in addition to convicts from other colonies. Western Australia received approximately 10,000 transported convicts between 1850 and 1868. South Australia never received convicts. However, South Australian transported convicts 1837-1851
The ticket of leave butts and certificate of freedom butts for the over 67,000 convicts sent to Tasmania have not survived. The main records for Tasmanian convicts are the convict conduct registers. Information contained in these registers are similar to the tickets of leave and certificates of freedom. Description lists are also available for Tasmanian convicts and give detailed descriptions of the convicts.
Victoria and Queensland did not become separate, self-governing colonies until after convict transportation to eastern Australia ceased. Thus, these areas do not have convict records. Technically, during the transportation era, no convicts were transported to the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, however convicts did find their way to the District. Please observe the copyright requirements for the following site: PRO Victoria - Convict Records
Western Australia Convicts:Swan River Convicts 1850-1868
The Family History Library has copies of the following:
Guide to the convict records in the Archives Office of New South Wales. Sydney, Australia: The Archives Authority, 1970. (Family History Library Call No. 994.4 A35gNo. 14 or on Microfilm No. 908277 Item 1.)
Records about convicts are found under several headings in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
AUSTRALIA - CONVICT RECORDS
Additional Convict Records are available by adding a State to the Place Search: AUSTRALIA, [STATE] - Convict Records
AUSTRALIA - CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS
The Family History Library has a large collection of records generated by correctional institutions. Correctional institutions, including jails and penal colonies, created many valuable genealogical records. Such records include jail entrance and charge books, musters of convicts and prisoners, registers of sentences and punishments, registers of prisoner conduct, petitions for mitigation of sentences, and registers of sentences remitted or commuted. Additional Correctional Institutions records are available by adding a State or Town to the Place Search: AUSTRALIA - CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS AUSTRALIA, [STATE].
Additional Australia topics include:
The following books are good sources for further information about convicts and the English penal and transportation systems:
- Bateson, Charles. The Convict Ships. Second Edition. Glasgow, Scotland: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1969. (Family History Library Call Number994 H2b.)
- Cobley, John F. C. C. The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts. Sydney, Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1970. (Family History Library Call Number 994 P2c.)
- Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore. New York, NY, USA: Alfred A. Knoft, 1987. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2hr.)
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