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1 in 5 Aussies have convict ancestors

Posted Jan 24 2010 9:50pm

Genealogy and Family History Records - Ancestry.com.au_1264395810731 (press release)

In celebration of this year’s Australia Day, Ancestry.com.au is launching a new and complete convict records collection, making it easier than ever to trace you ancestors from arrest to release.

Ancestry.com.au, Australia’s  #1 family history website, today launched online the Convict Registers of Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1791-1846 and the New South Wales Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867, which ‘completes’ the journey from arrest to release of almost one third of all convicts transported to Australia.

These two important collections bring the total of criminal and convict records available in Ancestry.com.au’s Australian Convicts Collection to more than 2.3 million, making it the most comprehensive online convict resource.

Ancestry.com.au estimates that more than four million Australians are descended from convicts, meaning that there is a one in five chance that they will have ancestor included in the records. 

To celebrate this milestone four-year project, the 15 collections which comprise the Australian Convicts Collection will be available for FREE on Ancestry.com.au for eight days from Sunday the 24th of January.

The Convict Registers of Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1791-1846 contain details of more than 21,000 pardons granted to convicts transported to New South Wales. A conditional pardon entitled a convict to their freedom but not to return home, while an absolute pardon gave them full citizen rights, in and out of the colony.

The New South Wales Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867 contain details of more than 34,000 certificates granted to those who had completed a fixed seven, 10 or 14 year term. Convicts with a life sentence could receive a pardon but not a certificate.

Other collections FREE to search from January 24th include the England and Wales Criminal Registers, the Convict Transportation Registers, Convict Muster Rolls, Convict Applications to Marry, Convict Death Registers, and a variety of other record sets documenting the trial, journey, working life, release and death of the majority of convicts transported.

Convict records are a cornerstone for researchers of early colonial history and contain a variety of personal information such as name, date and place of conviction, crime and trial details, term of sentence, name of ship, departure date and colony to which convicts were sent.

Also included can be occupation, a physical description and the convict’s religion – and most records are fully searchable and include links to original document images.

Between 1788 and 1842, more than 80,000 convicts were transported just to New South Wales.

Australia became the most convenient location to transport the many convicts who could no longer fit into Britain’s overcrowded prisons following the American Revolution in 1776, which made transportation there impossible. In 1787, the first 11 ships carrying convicts to Australia – known as The First Fleetset sail for New South Wales, arriving eight months later.

Now you can join famous Australians including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and celebrity cook Maggie Beer and trace your family’s ancestors.

Among the thousands of convicts detailed in the collection whose journeys can now be traced from arrest to release include:

· George Barrington – Also known as the ‘Prince of Pickpockets’, Barrington was a gentleman thief transported to New South Wales in 1790. Famed for attempting to escape his arrest disguised in his wife’s clothes, he helped quell a mutiny during the voyage, resulting in a conditional pardon in 1792 and an absolute pardon in 1796.  

· Joseph Backler - A British artist who was sentenced to death in 1831 for forging cheques, though his conviction was later commuted to transportation. He continued to paint after receiving a conditional pardon in 1847 and today is regarded as the most prolific oil painter of early colonial Australia.

· Israel Chapman – Also known as the ‘George Street Runner’, Chapman was convicted of highway robbery and transported to Australia in 1818. After receiving a conditional pardon he became one of New South Wales’ first police detectives and earned an absolute pardon six years later in recognition of his services.

A number of famous names and infamous criminals also appear, including:

· Red Kelly, the father of Ned Kelly – Australia’s most famous bush ranger. An Irishman, Red was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs and was sent to Tasmania. Upon release, Red settled in Victoria, married and in 1855 had a son, Edward (aka Ned) who became a folk hero for his defiance of the colonial authorities. He was hanged at Melbourne Gaol in 1880.

· Elizabeth Thackery – the first female convict to have set foot in the country was sentenced to seven years for the theft of five handkerchiefs, arriving on the First Fleet. She eventually settled in Tasmania, living to the age of 93.

· John Caesar – Another First Fleet arrival, Caesar was convicted for stealing 240 shillings. Caesar originated from the West Indies and was the first black convict to arrive in Australia.

Study of the records reveals a number of significant increases in convict transportations linked to key events in British history. For example, the number of transportations rose dramatically between 1845 and 1847 as the Great Famine ravaged Ireland and left thousands starving.

The famine catalyzed Irish immigration to England, but extreme poverty forced many new arrivals to turn to crime; and many were subsequently transported to Australia.    

An estimated 90 per cent of all convicts appear in the England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, which includes all 1.4 million criminal trials which took place in England and Wales from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries.

Ancestry.com.au Partnership Development Manager Brad Argent comments, “In recent years we have seen a shift in how Australians perceive their convict ancestry. It used to be something to hide however now it’s often a matter of great personal pride to be able to say that one or more of our ancestors arrived as convicts.

“With Australians wanting to know more about the saucy tales in their family’s past, these records will unlock clues and provide great insights into the lives of our ancestors.”

To search the world’s largest online collection of convict records FREE this Australia Day, log onto www.ancestry.com.au/convictcollection

 

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