We have just added two key collections to the world’s largest online collection of Australian convict records.
For Australians exploring convict history, the NSW Convict Indents, 1788-1842 provides the ideal starting point, as all convicts on ships transported to Australia were listed in an indent. Details such as name, trial date/location, and sentence are available, with later records also including occupation, to whom a convict was assigned, nativity and detailed physical description.
As early Australian convicts and free settlers established themselves in their new country, almost all aspects of their lives and activities fell under the responsibility of the Governor and were recorded by the colonial secretaries. The NSW Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856, are the most comprehensive collection of public records relating to the early years of Australia, following the arrival of the First Fleet.
These records paint a vivid picture of day-to-day life in early Australia as they contain all the letters and records associated with the daily activities of colonial administration in NSW. This includes letters and complaints received, marriage permission requests, character memorials for potential settlers, petitions by convicts for sentence mitigation, pardons, official visit reports, grant or lease applications, information about court cases, import and transportation permits, proclamations, office appointments, affidavits notifying loss of certificates of freedom and tickets of leave.
While most early Australians can be found in these collections, some of the most notable public figures and convict heroes include:
- William Bligh, 4X great grandfather of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, was the captain of the HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied against him, and former governor of NSW, who was deposed from that role when the citizens of NSW rebelled against him.
- William Bland, the original Australian larrikin who mocked authority and was convicted of murder and transported to Van Diemen’s Land, then Sydney. A classic case of convict “makes good”, Bland became a member of the Legislative Council but declared bankruptcy the year he resigned.
- Mary Bryant (nee Broad) arrived in Australia as a prisoner with the First Fleet aboard the The Charlotte. During her journey, she gave birth to a baby girl whom she named after the ship. Upon arrival, she married William Bryant, a convicted smuggler who had arrived on the same ship. In a demonstration of the resolve and determination of early Australians, Mary, her husband and a seven-man crew stole one of the governor’s boats and escaped from Botany Bay but were eventually discovered and the boat was shot down on the coast of Timor.
- James Ruse was a Cornish farmer who at the age of 23 was convicted of breaking and entering and was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. He arrived on the First Fleet. When he had 18 months remaining in his sentence, he applied to Governor Philip for a land grant, stating his farming background. Governor Phillip, desperate to make the colony self-sufficient, allocated Ruse an allotment at Rose Hill. After Ruses’ sentence expired, his land was deeded to him and Ruse became the first person in the colony to receive a land grant.
Australia Day is an occasion to not only celebrate our great country, but a day to reflect on who we are, where we came from and how our early history shaped our country’s character, attitude and culture.
These new records are a significant addition to our collection, which now surpasses the one billion record mark on the site. They provide one of the most detailed snap shots of the day-to-day life of early Australia and those who founded our country.
These convict records are free to search from 26 January – 29 January 2012. Simply go to www.ancestry.com.au/convict2012 to begin searching.
[i] The Australian Constitution Referendum Study, 1999