This guide will help you research your Australian convict ancestor.
From January 1788, when the First Fleet of convicts arrived at Botany Bay, to the end of convict transportation 80 years later, over 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia.
Convicts were transported directly to three colonies only:
- New South Wales 1788-1842,
- Tasmania 1803 - 1852 and
- Western Australia 1850 - 1868.
However many convicts ended up in other states or colonies, having been taken there by their assigned masters or by moving there after gaining their freedom. Distant settlements such as Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island were also used as places of secondary punishment.
How do I know my ancestor was a convict?
Pointers to a person being convict may include:
- The words “with the permission of the Governor” on a marriage certificate,
- The name of your ancestor in a convict muster,
- The name of a ship and year after the person’s name, in a document,
- Noted as a convict in a census or other official document, such as Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence.
What do I need to start convict research?
A good starting point for convict research is the record of the convict's arrival in Australia. It is best to have an idea of:
the convict’s arrival date and
the colony to which he/she was transported,
as each of the three colonies which received convicts have separate records. Information found on the arrival record will enable you to research their crime, trial and sentence and to follow the convict's time of sentence in Australia.
Arriving in Australia
HO 10 Criminal – Convict Transportation Registers in the UK National Archives, list convict ships and their convicts, in chronological order by ship’s date. The registers indexed in the Convict Transportation Registers Database. Convicts transported from Ireland are not included. The Registers are also digitised and indexed in Ancestry.com in eResources.
New South Wales 1788 - 1842
Convict Indents record the arrival of convicts into New South Wales. They generally provide
- names, age, marital status, number of children, religion, occupation and physical description,
- trial date and place and sometimes the crime and native place.
Early indents may not include all details.
Find your convict's name in the index and see their digitised indent in Ancestry.com in eResources,
or use the Index to Convicts who arrived in New South Wales 1788-1842, and note fiche number and page, to find the indent in Convicts Indents (Bound and Printed). This material is found in the Newspapers and Microforms Reading Room.
Tasmania 1803 - 1853
Use the index and digitised conduct records of convicts who arrived in Tasmania on the Archives of Tasmania website. The digitised conduct record for each convict lists:
- name and aliases,
- marital status and children
- crime and sentence
- place and date of trial
- ship of transportation
- assignments, colonial offences and punishments
- dates of Ticket of Leave and Freedom.
Early conduct records may have less detail.
Western Australia 1850 - 1868
Find the arrival of your convict into Western Australia with :
- Fremantle Jail convict database
the index to Western Australian convicts at Convict Central
the (Index to) WA Convict Registers at mc N 1211, Compartment 27 in the Newspapers and Microforms Reading Room.