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Indents or Indentures

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What are they and what information do they contain?

An Indenture is a contract binding one party into the service of another for a specified term. We also tend to call the musters taken on board ship on arrival, Indents,  and these lists are available at many libraries throughout Australia on microfiche. They are, mostly, organised in date of arrival order.

The convicts are then listed within each Indent in either:

  • Alphabetical order
  • Place of trial order
  • and a few in no order at all

A few points to consider:

Not all Indents survived and a few were made up from old assignments registers

Some pages of a few Indents did not survive although one can check the British Convict Transportation Registers compiled by the British Home Office for convicts from the UK. These lists were compiled in the UK and not on arrival here in Port Jackson so they do differ slightly and do not contain the wealth of information as do the musters taken on board on arrival.

Not all of the convicts who arrived in the very early days are listed on the Indents as some disembarked prior to sailing, died before sailing for were given a reprieve. 

Some convicts are listed as being on board one ship, when in reality arrived on another and a few changed ships mid voyage (first fleets)

The name under which a convict sailed may not necessarily be the one used on and after his or her arrival and either name was used in other references such as Musters, victualling lists & the 1828 NSW Census etc…in this case I am referring to names other than an alias listed on the Indent.

A number of convicts arrived more than once and many are listed with the notation ‘been here before’ or similar

What do they contain?

The NSW Convict Indents all contain different information. Most of the early Indents do not contain very much information at all, whilst the later ones contain a host of great material for us to work with. Convicts arrived to Port Jackson from 1788 until 1849 – that is just over 60 years that convicts arrived onto our shores….so to make it easier  I will list the type of information contained on the Indents over a variety of years.

1788 – 1800 : These are some of the difficult Indents to read.  Most contain the following Name; Age; Where tried & date; Sentence; and a few note the Native Place, and columns for AP/CP/TOL Numbers. 

1801 – 1812 : Name; place & date tried, sometimes age, sentence and  including at times, (but not always) the AP/CP/TOL or C of F numbers.

From mid 1813 – 1826 – native place; calling; age; height; complexion; eye and hair colour; crime and remarks were added

From 1826 onwards they have also included, crime, marital status, number of children, including at times the number of each gender and if on board,  how disposed or assigned up until about 1836, number of previous convictions, education, religion.

From 1831 up until about 1835 there is also a set of fiche known as the annotated printed indents that are repeats of the Bound copies (handwritten) —these, as the name implies are typed copies of the hand written Indents.  There are some differences between the two so it is worth checking both copies.

Most Indents contain other bits of information scribbled near the convicts name such as:

  • Death – especially if they died shortly after arrival
  • Sibling/s or parents already in the colony or on the same transport.
  • Certificate of Freedom Number and date
  • Female Factory Report date
  • Sent to Norfolk Island, Cockatoo Island or elsewhere


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