Convicts: Life in the colony

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Convicts re-offending in New South Wales


Bench of Magistrates

The first Bench of Magistrates sat in Sydney in February 1788. These courts were also established in large centres of the colony such as Parramatta and Bathurst, to deal with minor cases.


Searching Ancestry

Quarter Sessions Cases

General or Quarter Sessions Courts first sat in New South Wales in 1824. These courts could deal with any crimes not punishable by death which were committed by convicts still under sentence.

Cases for the following Quarter Sessions have been indexed by State Archives & Records NSW:

  • Bathurst (1832–1836)
  • Campbelltown (1828–1836)
  • Liverpool (1824–1828)
  • Maitland (1830–1836)
  • Newcastle (1826–1829)
  • Parramatta (1825–1836)
  • Sydney (1824–1837)
  • Windsor (1824–1836)

Clerk of the Peace (Quarter Session Records)

Why you should check out this resource:

  • The appendixes include extra information to the online Quarter Sessions Cases, 1824–37. You can verify the month of the case whereas the online index often only provides the year of the case.
  • It also includes Sydney and Country Quarter Sessions 1841–1901 (with a description of the nature of the charge).
  • It describes a range of records such as calendars of criminal cases and judges' notebooks.

The original records are kept at State Archives & Records NSW but we do have some records in the family history area.

Supreme Court of New South Wales

What is a colonial convict?

If you were born in the colony or came to the colony as a free settler and committed an offence you would be known as a colonial convict. Also, convicts who had re-offended after serving their sentence would be listed as a colonial convict.

Police Gazette or Hue and Cry

The Police Gazette or Hue and Cry was a London police publication containing descriptions of crime and criminals, escapes and commitments. It covers 1797-1810, 1828 and 1830-1840. It also includes lists of prisoners who absconded, deserters from His Majesty's Service and items stolen.

Colonial Secretary's Papers

Find out about specific events in your convict's life through letters to and from the Colonial Secretary, as well as official records kept by the Colonial Secretary. Few records prior to 1810 survive but after that time, the papers were kept fairly systematically.

You can find detailed information about the Office of the Colonial Secretary and the records through the State Archives & Records NSW Colonial Secretary Overview

Court of Civil Jurisdiction

This court heard pleas of every form of civil action including about land, houses and debts. It was replaced in 1814 by the Governor's Court. This in turn was replaced by the Supreme Court of NSW which had both civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Search historical newspapers

Search and view hundreds of digitised historic newspapers using Trove.

Trove is a free, online search engine developed by the National Library of Australia.

Court records