12 November 2020
Found a convict ancestor in your family tree? Simon Wills' hand-picked selection of websites will help you find out more about your ancestor's transportation, life as a convict and subsequent fate.
1. Old Bailey Online
Once America gained its independence in 1783, Britain could no longer deport its convicts there. However, British authorities still wanted to send criminals far away, and the decision was made to despatch them to Australia instead.
‘Transportation to Australia’ became a common sentence handed down by the courts, and hence one method to identify transported convicts is to search British court records such as locally-held quarter sessions or the Old Bailey Online here.
The Home Office kept lists of individuals deported to Australia from 1787 to 1867, which is archived as series HO11 at TNA. You can also search the records free using the State Library of Queensland’s database, OneSearch here.
Type in the name of an ancestor and choose ‘SLQ Family History Indexes’ as your option. Each entry usually reveals:
- Place and date of sentencing
- Duration of transportation
- Date and place of arrival in Australia
- Ship name
You can use this information to try and locate the associated UK court records or newspaper account of the trial, which may reveal more information about the offence committed.
3. University of Wollongong
The University of Wollongong has a free database of everyone transported in the First Fleet of convicts sent to Australia in 1787 here.
It includes a biography of each convict describing their profession, age, crime, sentence, and fate where known. For example, William Hogg was a 39-year-old silversmith convicted of forgery at the Old Bailey who was sentenced to 14 years transportation. He reached Australia aboard the ship Scarborough, but committed suicide in 1795.
About the author
Dr Simon Wills is a genealogist and author with more than 30 years’ experience of researching his ancestors. He has a particular interest in maritime history and the natural world. His latest book is A History of Birds (White Owl). He is also author of The Wreck of the SS London, Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors, and How Our Ancestors Died, amongst others.
Text extracted from an in-depth article by Dr Simon Wills in the December issue of Family Tree magazine. Get your copy here.
(image By State Library of New South Wales, CC BY-SA 3.0 au, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42805374)