Ancestry.com releases records of cons Britain sent to Australia

July 25, 2007, 9:11 AM UTC
Fortune

Remember hearing in history class that Australia was populated by British convicts? Well, what you might not have learned is that as many as 1 in 30 Britons today are descendants of the dearly deported. Ancestry.com is uncovering a bit more of that colorful past today as it releases the records of 163,021 convicts who were shipped off.

From Ancestry.com’s press release:

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 percent), 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’. 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.”