About this collection
Convict records are a cornerstone for researchers of early colonial history and contain a variety of personal information such as name, date and place of conviction, crime and trial details, term of sentence, name of ship, departure date and colony to which convicts were sent.
Also included can be occupation, a physical description and the convict’s religion – and most records are fully searchable and include links to original document images.
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Between 1788 and 1842, more than 80,000 convicts were transported just to New South Wales.
Australia became the most convenient location to transport the many convicts who could no longer fit into Britain’s overcrowded prisons following the American Revolution in 1776, which made transportation there impossible. In 1787, the first 11 ships carrying convicts to Australia – known as The First Fleet – set sail for New South Wales, arriving eight months later.
Among the thousands of convicts detailed in the collection whose journeys can now be traced from arrest to release include:
- George Barrington - Also known as the ‘Prince of Pickpockets’, Barrington was a gentleman thief transported to New South Wales in 1790. Famed for attempting to escape his arrest disguised in his wife’s clothes, he helped quell a mutiny during the voyage, resulting in a conditional pardon in 1792 and an absolute pardon in 1796.
- Joseph Backler - A British artist who was sentenced to death in 1831 for forging cheques, though his conviction was later commuted to transportation. He continued to paint after receiving a conditional pardon in 1847 and today is regarded as the most prolific oil painter of early colonial Australia.
- Israel Chapman – Also known as the ‘George Street Runner’, Chapman was convicted of highway robbery and transported to Australia in 1818. After receiving a conditional pardon he became one of New South Wales’ first police detectives and earned an absolute pardon six years later in recognition of his services.
- 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 – Another First Fleet arrival, Caesar was convicted for stealing 240 shillings. Caesar originated from the West Indies and was the first black convict to arrive in Australia.
Figures from the New South Wales Government
Image source: John Allcot, The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788, PIC S1556, LOC 2146-2150, National Library of Australia