Convicts: Bound for Australia

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Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Getting started

We've put together some tips, strategies and resources to help you start researching your convict ancestry.

You can access most eresources from anywhere, anytime if you’re a New South Wales resident. You need to have a Library card or a registered NSW public library card.

Visit the Library to use eresources only available at the Library, such as Ancestry, or if you’re not a New South Wales resident.

Find out if your ancestor was a convict

Do you want to find out if the family story about having convict ancestry is true or just wondered if you have convict ancestry? But not sure where to start?

  • age
  • date
  • place of trial
  • crime
  • sentence
  • the ship’s name
  • departure date
  • physical description (later records only)

You might also find out who they were assigned to and if they received a ticket of leave, certificate of freedom or a pardon.

Can't find your ancestor in the convict indents?

Maybe your ancestor was sent to a different state. Try the following resources:

The information available varies so you may not find all the above details for your convict.

Still can't find your ancestor?

Try finding your ancestor's marriage and death certificates to verify if they were a convict:

  • Marriage certificates will include 'married with the permission of the Governor' if one or both parties were convicts and still serving their sentence.
  • Death certificates may have ‘prisoner of the Crown’ if they were a convict.
  • Remember that convicts frequently used an alias - this is usually indicated in the records.

More than a third of convicts sent to Australia were from Ireland

Not all transportation registers survived – for example a fire destroyed registers from before 1836. You might still be able to find a record about your convict and their family in a petition or free settler's papers.

Irish newspapers reported convicts’ crimes, trials, sentences and transportation — particularly if it was a serious crime.

Find out if your ancestor was a First Fleeter

Search the following resources to find your First Fleeter's biography. Biographies for people born on the First Fleet are also available.

Where to next?

Now that you've verified that your ancestor was a convict, you can begin exploring their journey to Australia and life in the colony.

The Convict Years

Britain transported approximately 163,000 convicts to Australia on 825 ships between 1788 and 1868.

Not all convicts survived the journey to Australia with 518 drowning in shipwrecks.

Finding aids

Use finding aids like Bound for Australia by David Hawkins to learn about essential records for tracing a convict’s life from beginning to end.

Charles Bateson’s The Convict ships 1787–1868 is the definitive guide to convict transportation to Australia. It lists all the convict ships along with departure and arrivals dates. Most voyages have a synopsis - use these as a starting point for further research.

Did you know?

South Australia and the Northern Territory did not have any penal colonies.


Ancestry Library Edition

Searching Ancestry

Did you know?

Convicts were still sent to colonies in Australia after the official end of transportation.

In New South Wales transportation ceased in 1842 but continued between 1849 and 1850. These convicts had generally served part of their sentence in Britain and were given a conditional pardon or ticket of leave on arrival.