New South Wales Sheriff's Papers, 1841-1850. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
© the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales and is used under licence with the permission of the State Records Authority. The State of New South Wales gives no warranty regarding the data's accuracy, completeness, currency or suitability for any particular purpose.
About this collection
This collection contains a series of correspondence from the Sheriff and Under Sheriff to government officers and private persons of New South Wales, Australia spanning the years 1829 to 1879. The letters mainly concern convicts and may include information about the crime, the victim, the perpetrator or accused and witnesses.
The practice of banishing undesirables had a long history in England, but it was not organized as a definite system until the Transportation Act 1717 which made transportation an alternate punishment to death in certain circumstances, and a punishment in its own right for some offences. Botany Bay had been considered a possible outlet for convicts during the 1780s. In 1786 the British government decided to make use of this region. In October 1786 Captain Arthur Phillip was appointed Governor of New South Wales and set sail with the First Fleet on 13 May 1787, arriving in Botany Bay with some 775 convicts on 18 January 1788.
From the outset convicts were used as a labour force, initially working for the government on necessary public work projects, then for private settlers who began arriving in 1793. Once the early problems had been overcome the settlement expanded and by 1821 NSW had taken shape as a colony in which farming, grazing, commerce and a variety of other economic activities flourished. Between 1788 and 1842 about 80,000 convicts were transported to NSW. Of these, about 85% were men and 15% were women. Almost two thirds of convicts were English (along with a small number of Scottish and Welsh), with the Irish making up the remaining one third. Most were first offenders with the majority being convicted of petty larceny or receiving stolen goods. Transportation of convicts to NSW finished in 1842, although some convict 'exiles' continued to arrive until 1850.
Convicts were usually given sentences of transportation for seven and 14 years or life. Some convicts in the 1830s received ten-year sentences. About one quarter of the convicts were sentenced to 'the term of their natural lives' and a proportion of these had reprieves from the death sentence.
The historical background in this description was taken from the website of the State Records Authority of New South Wales. Additional details are available on their website.