I can’t find a convict

Convicts in New South Wales

Convicts in New South Wales

Not even one convict. I can’t believe it. I am so ashamed that there is not one convict on any of my lines. Not even a convict that was pardoned or a marriage to a convict. I have searched my mothers side, and both her parents. I have searched my fathers side, and both his parents. I have searched all through my husbands sides. But no, only free settlers.  The closest debauchery I have found is my original ancestor in my fathers line that is “alleged” to have been part of the Rum Corps. I say alleged as I don’t like to point fingers. He may innocently have enjoyed a brew and thought sharing it for a price was a good idea. So I haven’t had the honour of using any of my knowledge on finding convicts.  But I’m not letting that stop me from digging around looking at some convicts.

I see www.ancestry.com.au has a lot of convict records and I find their website the best place to start a search. They have records of the First, Second and Third Fleet and further convict transportation indexes; this all covers from 1787 to 1868. Over that time 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia. Ancestry also has convict muster rolls from 1806 to 1849; the muster rolls were used as a way to count off and keep track of those pesky convicts. They also have convict pardons and tickets of leave from 1834 to 1859. The convict pardons were given to convicts that had life sentences; they could get conditional pardon requiring them to stay in Australia and absolute which means they could return to the UK. I don’t know if anyone would be crazy enough to try to take the journey back. While a ticket of leave was granted for good behaviour and the convict had to stay in the police district. The information you will find should be the name, date and place of conviction, term of sentence, name of ship, departure date and name of the colony they were being sent to. More information on the convicts birthplace and physical description could be included in  a ticket of leave. They kept a tight rein on the convicts. When convicts wanted to marry they had to put in an application and get it approved. Many were approved as it was seen as rehabilitation for the convicts. Although those that lied about their names to avoid their previous marriage were generally refused. These convicts had no scruples.

On the other side of the convicts trip to Australia is the Old Bailey in London where many convicts were sentenced. The records in the Old Bailey cover from 1674 to 1913 and include 197,000 records. The Old Bailey records were published in England, to crowds hungry for scandal. The Old Bailey even charged for the public to attend the court hearings. To start searching you can go straight to www.oldbaileyonline.org  and go into the search bar on the right . If you want to do a more advanced search press on “search” on the left hand sidebar on the home page. It wasn’t till the 1790’s many names were written in shorthand and not standardised so many variations of a person’s name shows up. Try a few different variations. Also many defendants could be listed in the same trial, so you many need to dig through lists of names. Trials were generally around 509 words, some that were not interesting were hardly reported and ones that captured the public’s imagination were quite long and over a few publications. The Old Bailey that stands today is quite different from the one courtroom that stood in 1674 but luckily the records have all been retained.

I have enjoyed the convict trail and I also discovered that only one in five people have a convict in their family. A lot less of us are related to convicts then I thought. I also discovered that Kevin Rudd is related to a famous convict Mary Wade who stole underwear and a dress off another young girl. But it seems a lot of people are related to Mary Wade who is  considered a founding mother of Australia. Mary had 21 children and by her death at 82 she had 300 living descendants.   With that many children it’s not surprising that one got through to be a Prime Minister, if only for a short time.  If you have any interesting convicts in your family I would love to hear about it. I know there would be some amazing stories out there.

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