NOTE from DearMYRTLE: The following was just released through the Ancestry.co.uk MediaRoom. All inquiries should be addressed to Ancestry's support desk.
25 July 2007 - In a world-first, Ancestry.co.uk today launched online the most comprehensive collection of convict transportation records - the Convict Transportation Registers: 1788-1868, which include most of the 163,021[i] convicts transported to Australia during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Ancestry.co.uk estimates that more than two million Britons are directly descended from these deportees[ii], meaning that there is a one in 30 chance of Brits having a convict ancestor listed among the records.
The collection - the originals for which are held at The National Archives, includes the four transportation registers spanning the 80 years of convict transportation, and also the New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave, 1834-1859, Convict Musters, 1806-1849 and Settler and Convict Lists,1787-1834.
Information contained in the records includes name, date and place of conviction, term of sentence, name of ship, departure date and colony to which convicts were sent. Also included can be occupation, marital status, religion and the date on which freedom was finally granted.
The Ancestry.co.uk convict records collection provides a unique insight into the penal practices of the British Empire. Australia was first settled in 1788 when the British Government established a penal colony at Port Jackson, Sydney Bay, with accurate records of all convicts kept from that date.
Convict deportation reached a peak in 1833 when 36 ships transported nearly 7,000 convicts to the colonial outpost. The journey to Australia took eight months, six spent at sea and two in ports for supplies and repairs.
83 per cent of convicts were male aged between 15 and 30 years and 75 per cent worked in unskilled professions. Although a small number were convicted of serious crimes such as murder or assault (two per cent), most had committed more minor offences – 87 per cent of men and 91 per cent of women were convicted of property crime including larceny, burglary and ‘theft of animal or fowl[iii]’. Some more colourful crimes listed in the collection include:
- Stealing fish from a pond or river
- Embezzling Naval stores
- Receiving or buying stolen goods, jewels and plate etc.
- Setting fire to underwood
- Petty larcenies or thefts, under one shilling
Convicts of note, or whose descendents have gone on to enjoy success or notoriety, are listed in the records, include:
- Red Kelly, the father of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous bush ranger. An Irishman, Red was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs and was sent to Tasmania. Upon release, Red settled in Victoria, married and in 1855 had a son, Edward (aka Ned) who became a folk hero for his defiance of the colonial authorities. He was hanged at Melbourne Gaol in 1880.
- Elizabeth Thackery, the first female convict to have set foot in the country, was sentenced to seven years for the theft of five handkerchiefs, arriving on the First Fleet. She eventually settled in Tasmania, living to the age of 93.
- John Caesar also arrived on the First Fleet, having been convicted for stealing 240 shillings. Caesar originated from the West Indies and was the first black convict to arrive in Australia.
Ancestry.co.uk spokesperson Josh Hanna comments: “This is the first time that these unique records have ever been brought together in one place online, making them accessible to so many. While Australia’s convict history itself has been well documented, there are thousands of individual stories in the collection just waiting to be told.
“These records are of significance not only to the one in four Australians who are of convict descent, but also to the estimated two million Brits, many of whom are unaware of their links to the other side of the globe and who can now claim Australian convicts amongst their ancestors.”
[i] A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, 1977
[ii] 163,021 convicts were deported between 1787 and 1867, with the midpoint and peak of deportation being the early to mid 1830s. The average convict had five siblings meaning convicts left behind 800,000 brothers and sisters. The population at this time stood at approximately 15,700,000, meaning relatives of convicts made up around 5.1 per cent of the population. Taking into account emigration and migration since the end of convict deportation, this sample of 800,000 people will have grown into a population of around two million (1.95 million) or 3.33 per cent of the current population (one in 30). This is a broad estimate. Sources include ONS trends data, Papers of the Royal Commission on Population, and the 1841-1901 Censuses.
[iii] L.L. Robinson, The Convict Settlers, 1965