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Finding free family history records of Australian ancestors

Convicts, prisoners and courts

Australian convicts are some of the most well documented people in history. Follow their journeys here with this growing list of resources dedicated to our colonial convict history.  There are also links to prison records for "non-convicts" (people who were not here by means of convict transportation from England.) Also, here you will find many links to databases of court records including both criminal and civil cases.

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Australian Capital Territory

  • The links below are now broken so some of the history has been lost.  If you want to browse what the website had, you can try this link in the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20131205051929:
    • link break iconObituaries, Inquests, Indictments, Accidents, Sudden Deaths etc (old link: http://www.canberrahistoryweb.com/obituaries.htm)
    • link break iconConvicts (old link: http://www.canberrahistoryweb.com/convicts.htm)
  • As the ACT was granted self-government in 1989, many useful files are still in the National Archives of Australia a preliminary check of RecordSearch http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/recordsearch.aspx will assist in refining your request by locating agencies that made the files or series information.

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Queensland

Queensland Archives has compiled indexes of their archival records. Use these links to get to the page and search the index database by name.

info Once you get to the Queensland Archives page, here's how to use it:

  1. Scroll down to "Index Categories"
  2. Click on the appropriate radio button for the type of records you are looking for - this will then expand to show what record sets are available.
  3. Click on the appropriate radio button for the records you are looking for - this will then expand (below the list) to show a search area where you can input names etc.

You may also be able to download the full index using a link that will appear on the top right of the page or below the search box (depending on what device you are using, eg: desktop, iPad etc).

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New South Wales

  • NSW State Archives - Records relating to convicts
    • Convicts Index 1791 to 1873  Not digitised - A single searchable database containing certificates of freedom; bank accounts; deaths; exemptions from Government Labor; pardons; tickets of leave; and, tickets of leave passports. There are 140,000+ entries to search.
    • Convict Indents (Digitised) Index 1788 to 1801 Fully digitised - Convict Indents list the convicts transported to NSW. Early indents provide name, date and place of trial and sentence; later indents usually contain more information such as a physical description, native place, age and crime. Search over 12,000 names and view digital versions online.
    • Convict Assignments 1821 to 1825 Not digitised - This index will be of interest to those researching the assignment of convicts for the period December 1821 to December 1825. The index records the convict’s name, ship, date of assignment, to whom assigned, residence and remarks
    • Convict Exiles Index - 1849 to 1850 Not digitised - Transportation to NSW effectively ceased in 1842 but between 1846-1850 exiles were transported. Exiles had served part of their sentence in a penitentiary in Britain and were granted a conditional pardon or ticket of leave on arrival in the Colony. This index covers 1849-50 only.
    • Convicts Applications to Marry - 1825 to 1851 Not digitised - These registers record key details about the parties applying for permission to marry including: their names; their ages; the date of permission or refusal; ship of arrival; sentence (for the party who was the convict); whether free or bond and the name of the clergyman. 
  • NSW State Archives - Records relating to courts
    • Bench of Magistrates Index 1788 to 1820 Not digitised - The index lists criminal and civil cases heard before the Judge Advocate's Bench of Magistrates 19 Feb 1788-25 Nov 1820. It includes meetings of the Rose Hill (Parramatta) bench from 7 October 1789.
    • Court of Civil Jurisdiction Index 1799 to 1814 Not digitised- Minutes of proceedings show date of sitting, members present, the nature of the action, and judgment of the Court. Arguments put forward by both parties are summarised. Where an action concerned a business document (eg. promissory note), tendered in evidence, a copy was normally entered up.
    • Criminal Court Records Index 1788 to 1833 Not digitised - This is a valuable resource relating to the New South Wales colonial justice system and will be of benefit to those of you researching criminals, convicts and crimes committed during the early years of the Colony.
    • Criminal Depositions (Deposition Books) Index 1849 to 1949 Not digitised - Includes criminal actions at country area Quarter Sessions relating to cases of a non-capital nature etc. The Index records: registration number, name of defendant, place and date of committal, offence and where committed for trial.
    • Criminal Indictments Index 1863 to 1919 Not digitised - Includes criminal cases tried before the Supreme Court at Sydney and on the Circuit for the period 1863-1919. The Index records: trial number and where tried, name of defendant, offence, date of trial and Judge, verdict and sentence.
    • Governor's Court Case Papers 1815 to 1824 Not digitised - This index includes cases relating to the payment of debts on promissory notes or goods, services, or for slander. The quantity of papers for each case varies and in some cases very little information is given.
    • Indigenous Colonial Court Cases 1788 to 1838 Not digitised - There are approximately 250 entries in the index from the period 1788-1838.
    • NSW King’s / Queen’s Counsel appointment correspondence 1892 to 1950 Fully digitised - This index provides access to digital copies of correspondence relating to applications to take silk in NSW between 1892 and 1950. The index is searchable by name and year appointed silk.
    • Port Macquarie Small Debts Register 1845-1887 Fully digitised - Small Debts Register - Port Macquarie Courts of Petty Sessions
    • Quarter Sessions Cases 1824 to 1837 Not digitised - The case papers are numbered and arranged chronologically and usually include the name of the of the person tried, date, place, verdict and sentence. They generally contain the indictment which gives a statement of the crime and circumstances.
  • NSW State Archives Bankruptcy and insolvency records
    • Bankruptcy Index 1888 to 1929 Not digitised - Bankruptcy is a state in which a person is unable to pay creditors and is required to undergo a legal process that usually results in liquidation of his/her estate in order to meet expenses (at least in part). It is similar, but not identical to insolvency.
  • Insolvency Index 1842 to 1887 Not digitised - Insolvency is the inability to pay debts or meet expenses. Under early colonial law insolvency was treated as a different concept to bankruptcy (which involved an insolvents assets being administered and distributed to creditors).

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Victoria

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Western Australia

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South Australia

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Tasmania

Tasmanain government records are accesible vis the LINC names index: https://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/

  • Tasmanian Convicts 1804-1853
  • Arrivals (19th Century). Passengers and ships arriving, mainly in Hobart. Contains surnames A-N, O-Z to be added.
  • Bankruptcy (1821-1928). Documents from cases of bankruptcy and insolvency.
  • Births (1803-1933). People born in Tasmania including some baptisms collected by the Registrar General (1900-1933 baptisms only).
  • Census (1837-1857). Householders in the 1840s and 1850s, not complete for all districts.
  • Convict permissions to marry (1829-1857). Convicts applying to marry free people or other convicts.
  • Convicts (1803-1893). Convicts transported to Tasmania and those convicted locally through the convict system.
  • Court (1830-1845). Supreme Court. Minutes of proceedings in criminal cases
  • Deaths (1803-1933). People who died in Tasmania including some burial records collected by the Registrar General (1900-1933 burials only).
  • Departures (1817-1867). People leaving Tasmanian ports, mainly Launceston.
  • Divorces (1861-1920). Petitions for divorce in the Tasmanian Supreme Court.
  • Health & Welfare (1830-1873). Patients and attendants at the New Norfolk Colonial Hospital and applications to the Queens Orphan School.
  • Hotels & Properties (1818-1958). Hotel licensees, inquests into fires, Launceston buildings and demolished hotels.
  • Immigration (1912-1943). Nominations and arrivals of migrants under immigration schemes.
  • Inquests (1828-1930). Inquests into people’s deaths.
  • Marriages (1803-1899). People who married in Tasmania.
  • Miscellaneous (1838-1873). General correspondence of the Comptroller general of convicts and North Fleet shipwreck survivors.
  • Naturalisations (1835-1905). People applying to become citizens.
  • Prisoners (1895-1902). Prisoners in the Hobart gaol.
  • Wills (1824-1989). Wills and letters of administration of estates registered for probate.
  • WW1 photographs and articles from the Tasmanian Mail and Weekly Courier illustrated newspaper (1914-1919) and applications for Crown and leased land under the Soldier Settlement Act 1916.

Other datasets and sites

A number of useful Tasmanian datasets that were once freeely available on the Rootsweb website were lost in early 2016 due to technical issues experienced by the site owner, Ancestry.com. A significant number of pages are now inaccessible including those listed below. While disappointing for many genealogists - the hard work of dedicated researchers may be gone forever as Ancestry appears to have acknowledged that the information will never be retrieved. You may like to try Google to find related records to the following:

  • Port Arthur Convict Database
  • Tasmanian Convict Index
  • Tasman GenWeb convicts index
  • Asia 2 Convict List
  • Asia 8 Convict Assignment List
  • Convict Absconders
  • Prince of Orange Convict List
  • Harmony Female Convict List
  • Friendship Female Convict List
  • Kangaroo Female Convict shipping list 1814
  • Mermaid Female Convict shipping list 1828
  • Persian Female Convict list 1827
  • Woodford male Convict shipping list 1826
  • Convict Pardons 1851
  • Convict ticket of Leave February 1837
  • Convict Ticket of Leave Deprived February 1837
  • Archived Convicts Index A to K
  • Archived Convicts Index L to Z

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Northern Territory

The Nothern Territory Department of Arts and Museums is responsible for the Northern Territory Archives. A list of collections in the archive is available for download in PDF format (warning: 250+ pages) which can then be searched offline.  The archives can also be searced online using the "Archives Navigator" service although it is not straight forward and no indexes are available. 

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National

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Last update November 2020