Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Content, Convicts

New South Wales was first settled in 1788 as a penal colony and, as a result, a large percentage of the population in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was comprised of convicts and ex-convicts.

A person could be emancipated by receiving a certificate of freedom, a ticket of leave, or by being granted a pardon.

Certificates of Freedom

Certificates of Freedom were documents given to convicts in Australian penal colonies after completing their sentences. The document stated that the convict’s sentence had been served and that the convict was now free. Certificates of Freedom were usually given to convicts who had served 7, 10, or 14 year sentences. Convicts serving life sentences could only receive pardons and were therefore ineligible to receive Certificates of Freedom.

New South Wales Certificates of Freedom 1827-1867 contains butts from the certificates and provide the following pieces of information:

  • Certificate number and date
  • Prisoner’s number and name
  • Ship and year of arrival
  • Master
  • Native place
  • Trade or calling
  • Offence, date and place of trial and sentence
  • Birth year
  • Physical description (height, complexion, hair and eye colour)
  • General remarks (often noting distinguishing marks or characteristics such as scars or tattoos; also noting info regarding a Ticket of Leave if the convict held one)

Tickets of Leave

Tickets of leave allowed convicts to live and work for their own wages wherever they wanted to within a certain Police District. Tickets of leave were generally given to convicts with good behaviour. Convicts became eligible for a ticket after a certain amount of their sentence had been served. Generally a convict became eligible after 4 years for a seven year sentence, after 6 years for a fourteen year sentence, and after 8 years for a life sentence. Once a year the convict had to report in at the ticket of leave muster or else the ticket was revoked.

Pardons and tickets of leave contain similar information. Some of the information you can find in New South Wales and Tasmania Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave 1834-1859 includes:

  • Convict’s name
  • Ship and date of arrival
  • Birth place
  • Trade or occupation
  • Trial/conviction place and date
  • Physical description
  • District to which the convict was confined

Conditional and Absolute Pardons

Pardons were generally given to convicts with life sentences and shortened the sentence by granting freedom. There were two types of pardons: conditional and absolute. Conditional pardons required that freed convicts remain in the colony whereas absolute pardons allowed freed convicts to return to the UK.

New South Wales Convict Registers of Conditional and Absolute Pardons 1791-1867 provides details about the convicts, such as:

  • Convict’s name
  • Ship and date of arrival
  • Conviction place and date
  • Birth place and date
  • Pardon date and whether conditional or absolute
  • Place and date of trial and offence
  • Physical description
  • General remarks