Claim a Convict
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Frequently Asked Questions

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Old Convict Barracks
Old Convict Barracks, Queens Square, Sydney by Sydney Ure Smith
(State Library of NSW: a7005001)
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How can I prove that my ancestor was a convict?

First the bad news—at times you may not be able to ‘prove’ that your ancestor was a convict although you may be able to be reasonably certain that he/she was.

  • If the convict was still serving sentence and wished to marry another convict or free person, then they would have had to request permission to do so. There may also be a notation on the Marriage document stating (with permission of the Governor or Consent of the Governor or such like). These permissions to marry are available on microfiche at many large libraries in NSW, between the years 1826 & 1851. The fiche does usually do not show the actual voyage number of a ship, but sometimes does include the year of arrival. I have transcribed the Convicts Permission to Marry for Port Jackson and this is available on CD-ROM. See Convicts Permission to Marry 1810—1851
  • Check also Convict Wedding Banns on Fiche 1826—1841
  • The 1828 NSW Census (& various Musters) is another excellent resource as it contains an alphabetical listing of all of those in the colony at that time and lists family groups eg.

    Smith, John F45 GS Mangles 1820 7
    Smith, Ann 40 TL Lady Rowena 1826 7
    Smith, John 2 BC      
    Smith, Eliza G 1 BC      

    The above tells us that John Smith who arrived on the Mangles in 1820 and serving a 7 year term had married Ann who arrived on the Lady Rowena in 1826 and although still serving a 7 year term had received her Ticket of Leave. John was working for the Government at the time. Also included in this family were John Jnr and Eliza who were both born in the colony. All those names between F...and G are members of the one family.
    The 1828 Census also dates Occupation at the time, Religion, Employer, and Residence. The next step is to find out who Ann is—as John was still a convict then he should have received permission to marry—therefore check out Permissions to Marry.
  • Other Musters & General Returns should also be checked.
  • Death certificates are also an excellent guide as many will show number of years in the colony. If your ancestor was still a serving a sentence at death, he/she could be included in the Convicts Death Register 1828—1879—see: Convict Death Register
  • The Death Index also contains the district and sometimes the person who reported the death—eg the person to whom they were assigned.
  • Some convicts and their children went to great lengths to hide that fact of there convict past, so the Death certificate may show less than the truth as regards time in the colony
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What are the Convict Indents or Convict arrival Musters?

These are, more or less, the passenger list for the ships that transported convicts. In NSW they are available on microfiche at many large libraries and the State Records of NSW. They are arranged in order of the ships arrival and then each ship is either arranged alphabetically by convict name, or by trial place and others in no order at all. Some are in very bad condition, others are extremely hard to read and some are typed and very easy to read. A hint: when visiting any library always take a magnifying glass.

Lesley Uebel has transcribed the convicts to Port Jackson (& Moreton Bay) - see Lesley's The Port Jackson Convicts Anthology [CD-ROM]

The earlier Convict Indents contain nothing more than name, trial place, date & sometimes age. The later Indents or Convict Arrival Musters contain, native place, religion, literacy, number of children, crime, physical description and if number of previous convictions. Also noted on some are TOL number or CF number. The Archives Office of Tasmania provide some details of the convicts to VDL on their web site

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Terminology: What does ….mean? - TOL CP AP GS CF

One often notes various letters after a convicts details and will give a short description of each:

CF

Certificate of Freedom Convicts who had completed their sentence were eligible to obtain this Certificate. Convicts who had completed their sentence were then classed as Free and could leave the colony if they wished. This certificate could not be revoked. A convict with a Life sentence could not receive a Certificate of Freedom, although they could apply for a Conditional Pardon.

  • Check also fiche ‘Register of Conditional Pardons 1791—1825’. This comprises a register of Conditional pardons from 16/12/1791 to 6/12/1825. Varying degrees of information are provided, such as: Number & date of Pardon, Name, ship and year, native place, trade or calling, offence, place & date of trial, sentence, year of birth, height, complexion.

TOL

A Ticket of Leave was a permission to the individual to employ himself for his own benefit. It gave no further advantage or privilege to the holders of them, than the exemption from public labour. A convict holding a ticket of leave was at liberty to work for himself and was no longer victualled at the expense of the Crown. These convicts were mustered each Sunday and obliged to attend church with other convicts, which retained them still under the eye and observation of the Superintendent of Convicts. They were required to reside within the district therein specified on the ticket and was not allowed to remove to another district without the express sanction of Government entered on the face of his Ticket; the Ticket; it was liable to be resumed at any time at the pleasure of the Governor; and, in that case, the individual reverts to the situation of a prisoner of the Crown in every respect. See also my page on Regulations. Ticket of Leave butts are available on microfilm and are in year order of receipt. TOL’s regulations tended to be changed with each Governor.

  • Check microfiche TOL’s 1824—1827 and also on microfilm TOL Butts 1827—1867

AP

An Absolute Pardon, when issued under the Great Seal of England, but not before, restores the Individual to all the rights of a free subject, in every part of His Majesty’s dominions, from the date of instrument.

  • Check microfilm Absolute Pardons 1771—1841

CP

A Conditional Pardon, when approved by His Majesty through the Secretary of State, but not before, restores the Rights of Freedom, from the date of instrument, within the colony. But it bestows no power of leaving the colony, and no rights whatever beyond its limits until the regulations were changed in 1846. In 1846 those in receipt of a CP would leave the colony although they were not allowed to return to the country in which they had been convicted.

  • Check microfilm Register of Conditional Pardons 1791—1825 (date order)
  • Check Register of convicts recommended for CP 1826—1856 by date then alpha

This and the former, when once confirmed, according to law, cannot be revoked: and the holders are of course equally empowered to pursue their lawful occupation in any part of the country, as if they had never been convicted.

GS

Government Servant in all ways is just a convict still serving his or her time and employed by the Government in one capacity or another.

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View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800
View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800
(State Library of NSW: a928944)
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Convict Assignments

How can I find to whom my convict/s were assigned ? Finding to whom or which department a convict was assigned can sometimes be a difficult job as there is no one register for convict assignments for the complete years of transportation to Port Jackson. Some records were destroyed.

Convicts were either sent to the country or remained in Sydney

Convicts were assigned:

  • assigned to the Government for office or labouring work
  • Government Gang
  • to a private individual.
  • be assigned to their spouse .. although not a convict spouse during certain years
  • female convicts could have also been sent to the female factory

There are a number of ways to find to whom your convict was assigned

  • Check Colonial Secretaries Papers 1788 to 1825. Also check the Index under the name of the particular ship on which your ancestor arrived. Check also the Index of post 1825 Colonial Secretaries Letters indexed by Joan Reece.
  • The 1828 Census and the various Musters and General Returns will assist in tracking your convict as they mention to whom your convict was assigned at that point in time, although they may have left immediately after the Muster or Census was taken..
  • Many convict Indents (especially in the later years) note to whom a convict was assigned on the far right hand side of the Indent
  • Check the Index to Assignment Registers 1821—1825 Microfiche. This register records date of bond, to whom assigned, residence, convicts name, ship, occupation, date of payment commencing, date & cause of return. I have transcribed this and it is included in my Anthology of PJ Convicts
  • Check female Factory Index 1826—1848
  • Check the Government Gazettes
  • Check the Sydney Gazette and the other early newspapers as they did list assignments on a monthly basis at times
  • The Convict Death Index lists the name of the person for whom a person was working at their time of death, in some instances.
  • Nola Mackey (Grafton Family History Centre) has transcribed many of those assigned between 1830 and 1832.
  • Check the internet for any listings of convict assignments as some may be mentioned in web sites put up by various people.

Whilst I was transcribing the 1821 - 25 Assignment Register I noted: In some cases during this period, I found convicts who were assigned to as many as 6 masters in a 3 year period. These convicts were usually those with a particular skill e.g. Blacksmith, Sadler, Carpenter, Stonemason etc were assigned for a particular job that required doing. Some convicts were assigned to masters proved to be incompetent and therefore returned to the Prisoners Barracks after a short time...some the same day !!

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How do I find out if my convicts family came to Port Jackson?

  • Check the Wives and families of Convicts on Bounty Ships 1849—1855

This series comprises a register of wives & families of convicts on Bounty ships. Each entry records the name, sex, age, marital status, calling, native place, religion and education of the immigrant; as well as his or her relationship to the convict. The series is chronological by date of arrival & then alphabetical for each arrival. Again the 1828 Census and various Musters will list those who arrived free into the colony

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Could a convict leave the colony?

If your convict ancestor had served his full term and had obtained a Certificate of Freedom or an Absolute Pardon, he or she was considered to be a free person in all respects and could leave the colony if they wished. Most stayed here. It is thought that only about 5—10% of convicts did return home although some did escape by various means. There is no complete list available for departing ex convicts, although it would be worth checking the Sydney Gazette for Notices of Intent for those departing the colony.

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What was a Colonial Offence?

These were offences committed within the colony—by either a convict or a free person. A person could be re transported to one of the many other places within the colony eg. Port Macquarie, Norfolk Island and Tasmania.

  • Check Index to the Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788—1825 and those available after that date, but not fully indexed.
  • Check Sydney Gazette
  • Check the State Records for other Indexes
  • Check the Bench of Magistrates (on-line)
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Just how many convicts were sent to the colony?

These figures are approximate only and include convicts from places other than the UK and Ireland eg Bombay, Mauritius , East Indies etc to Port Jackson. Includes those who landed only. The numbers for PJ convicts will be updated shortly

Place Males Females
Port Jackson 70326 12192
VDL 52508 12498
Port Phillip 2026 -
Norfolk Island 2733 -
WA 9636  
Moreton Bay 517  
Died en route about 2400 - both sexes

Therefore an APPROXIMATE total of just over 160,000

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From where did the convicts originate?

The majority of our PJ convicts were born in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but others were born in America, Canada, Africa, Germany, Prussia, Poland, Ceylon, Italy, Madras, Madeira, Spain, France , Russia, to name just a few.

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How can I obtain Trial Records?

Tried at the Old Bailey:

The Mitchell Library in Sydney has copies of these trials on microfilm. Ensure you take the exact date of trial with you as these are arranged chronologically. You can obtain the trial date from the Convict Indent. These may also be available elsewhere in Australia so it is best to check with your state library. These are now available on the internet

Tried elsewhere in England:

The Convict Indent will state whether your convict was tried at either the Assize Courts or the Quarter Sessions—which court was determined by the nature of the crime.

Assize: can be obtained from the PRO office in Kew, England now called The National Archives. They will not provide you with the information, but provide a list of researchers who will (for a charge) be able to do this research for you.

Quarter Sessions: can be obtained from the County Record Office where the crime was tried. It is worth checking the and County newspapers as they may have reported the crime.

Many large libraries in Australia hold of copy of the microfilm made available by the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP)

Irish Convict Trials:

Most of these have not survived. It may be worth checking the National Archives of Ireland web site to check if the convict you are seeking is listed. If the person you are researching was convicted before 1836, but was not the subject of a petition, he or she will not appear on this database. Also check the Dublin Freeman’s Journals microfilms as these papers contain much information about some of the convict trials.

Scottish Trials:

Are available from the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh for a charge.

You will need to advise them of the exact trial date and place—again, you can obtain this from the Convict Indent.

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I want to find who the parents of my convict ancestor were

This question is often asked. The names of parents are not included on the Indents, although if a parent (or sibling or spouse) were transported, sometimes the Indent will make note of this You MAY be able to find further information on the IGI or Petitions for Clemency

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Why use an alias?

The use of Aliases is that they were primarily used to:

  1. Protect the families ‘good’ name and I have found that in many instances a male convict would use his mothers maiden name.
  2. Often a convict, if he or she had a prior conviction for a crime that did not result in transportation, would use another name in order that their ‘new’ sentence would not be too harsh.
  3. Female convicts were often transported under their maiden name and sometimes her alias was her ‘married’ name.

Some convicts used for than one alias and often both the Christian and the Surname could be an alias.

There were also a number of male convicts whose alias was also a nickname…for example

Thomas Smith alias Gypsy Tom
John Forman alias Black Jack
John Bates alias Lucky John
Robert Withers alias Blue Bob
John Boyd alias Pily Jock
Richard Sheldon alias Rough Dick
William Fubbs alias Jack the Gardener
Joseph McManus alias Bold Boy

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Publican’s Licences

The “Butts and Certificates of the First Publicans Licences 1830 – 1860” have been indexed by Jean McNaught. Many libraries will hold the microfilm of these Butts.

A example of what the Butts contain is as follows:

Revenue Branch, Colonial Treasury, Sydney
Date: 5 June 1848

License to Retail Fermented and Spiritous Liquors, issued in favour
of.. (Gregory Board), for the House known by the Sign of …”The Blue Lion”
At: Clarence and Market Street, Sydney
From 1 July 1848 to 30th June 1849.

Amount Duly Received:
Certificate of the above-mentioned

Being a fit Person to keep a Public House granted by
…. (signed) Justices of the Peace
Assembled at…Sydney on the ..8 day of ..May, 1848

The Index will give you this information and I use another person as an example

Name: Charker
Given: James
Reel: 1241
Public House Title: The Plough Inn
Licence No.: 1315
Location: Berrima
Year: 1858

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The 1828 Census

The significance of the 1828 Census is that is the only detailed census for NSW to survive in full to the present day. Background The Return forms were printed and were issued to each Bench of Magistrates whose responsibility it was to ensure that one was completed for each household and returned to the Colonial Secretary’s office. A district Constable was accompanied to each household by a Clerk who actually completed all the details on the form from verbal statements submitted by the householder or individuals questioned. Most returns reached the Colonial Secretary’s office during November 1828 but some must have been arrived during 1829 as several people who did not arrive until early 1829 are included.

The Census contains 27,611 males and 8,987 females – a total of 36,598. It was estimated that runaway convicts and persons of no fixed abode and omissions did not exceed 2,000. The serving military personnel and their families are NOT recorded – who number approximately 2,550.

In many instances incorrect information was given to the Clerk sometimes deliberately and in other instances, particularly as regards year of arrival, through hazy recollection. Widely differing accents and the Clerks interpretation and literacy can also attribute to some information being recorded incorrectly. {Take a liberal approach to the possible variations in the spelling of surnames} When the returns were subsequently transcribed into bound volumes some errors also occurred.

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1841 Census

Taken in March 1841 - Index of names can be found on the State Records of NSW web site and the microfilm providing all the information as noted below is available at many libraries.

Please note that not all of this census survived, but it does contain some 9354 entries, so is still a valuable resource.

  • The *head of the household, employer of servants or proprietor of land is the only person mentioned by name, whilst the others in that household are listed as just a statistic.
  • The names of those in the districts of Lachlan and Liverpool are only statistical returns with no individual names listed.

The Census provides these details:

NAME OF ESTABLISHMENT: (Name of Householder)

NUMBER OF EACH AGE:- MALES Under 2: 2 & under 7: 7 & under 14 14 & under 21 21 & under 45 45 and under 60 60 and upwards FEMALES Under 2: 2 & under 7: 7 & under 14 14 & under 21 21 & under 45 45 and under 60 60 and upwards MARRIED OR SINGLE Married Males: Single Males Married Females: Single Females: CIVIL CONDITION MALES Free. Born in Colony: Free: Arrived Free Free: Other Free person: Bond: Holding Ticket of Leave Bond: In Government employ Bond: In Private Assignment FEMALES Free. Born in Colony Free: Arrived Free Free: Other Free person Bond: Holding Ticket of Leave Bond: In Government employ Bond: In Private Assignment RELIGION C of England C. of Scotland Wesleyan Methodist Other Protestant Roman Catholic: Jews Pagans OCCUPATION: Merchants, Bankers & professional Shopkeepers Mechanics Shepherds Gardeners, Stockman & Persons employed in agriculture Domestic servants All other persons not included in the forgoing classes Totals Males Females General Totals HOUSES: Stones or Brick Wood Finished Unfinished Inhabited Uninhabited

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Land grants – Leases & Purchases

Check the following:

  • The State Records hold microfilm of Registers of Land Grants & leases 1792 – 1856 and you will see many of the films available on their web site.
  • Land Grant 1788 – 1809 (book) – A record of registered grants and leases in NSW & VDL and NI Edited by R J Ryan * The Sydney Gazette and the HRA often included the names of those who obtained grants and leases.
  • 1828 Census and various Musters
  • Index of Land Grants – Leases and Purchases 1820 – 1856 Indexed by Jean McNaught.
    This Index details the following:
    Surname; Given Name; Location, AO Loc. Lot No. Soc. No. Acreage (Acre, Rods, Perches) Vol No. Folio Number, Year and Tenure

Eg of info on Index:

Stubbs, Thomas Location: Lane Cove Archives Office Location – 7/499, Lot Number blank Soc No. blank, Acres 15 Volume Number 39, Folio Number 287, Year 26 – 53, Tenure; Purchase

Eg. of information on MICROFILM (State Records of NSW) : (another person)

No: 193
Register: No: 31
Folio: 261

Name: Robert Fopp of Sydney
Quantity: 700
Tenure: Purchase County or Parish:
County of Argyle – Parish unnamed
By Whom Granted: Sir Richard Bourke
When Granted: 29th March 1836
Annual Quit Rent: One peppercorn
Witness: G. Holden
Description: At the Upper Wollondilly. Bounded on the East by part of the Western Boundary of Captain Curries grant being in line bearing North, nine chains, on the North by the Wollondilly River on the West by a line bearing South one hundred and two chains, and on the South by a lien bearing East one hundred and three chains to Captain Curries boundary. Being the land sold as Lot 30 in pursuance of advertisement of 13 October 1835. Amount of purchase money £175

Conditions: Reserving a right of way or ways, all stone, gravel and indigenous timber, all .(?) .of gold, silver and coal all land 100 feet above high water mark.

 

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