The Biographical Database of Australia includes details of convicts transported to New South Wales (then including Victoria and Queensland) to the end of 1828 and is progressively adding details of NSW arrivals in the period 1829-1849. BDA currently contains indents for only two convict ships arriving in Tasmania, the Calcutta (1803) and Indefatigable (1812), but more will be progressively added, as will indent records of convicts sent to Western Australia.
Pre 1829 indents have been transcribed from official lists in two segments covering the years 1787 to 1812 and 1813-1828. In the early period the records often recorded only name, place and date of conviction and sentence (and sometimes age). From 1813 the format of the official records changed, with more detailed information being included such as crime, age, marital status and birthplace.
Some convicts, particularly in the two decades after 1788, were listed on an indent but did not actually arrive in the colony. This may have been owing to illness, death, escape, clerical error or the issue of a pardon between the date of the order for transportation and the date of sailing. The fact that they did not actually arrive is sometimes not noted on the indent record. Many of these non-arrivals (‘waysiders’) have been identified and annotated with editorial remarks on BDA.
The phrase “convict indent” is an abbreviation for “convict indenture”. The word “indenture” was used in this instance to describe a contract binding one person to work for another for a given period of time. The convict indentures were contracts assigning named convicts to the contractor, that is, to the person or persons the government had agreed to pay to undertake the responsibility of transporting the convicts to the colony. Upon their arrival in New South Wales, the contractor (or his agent, the master of the vessel) re-assigned the convicts to the governor.
Only a few of the original convict indentures have survived but various copies and extracts of lists of nearly all transported convicts have survived in Britain, Ireland or Australia. The phrase “convict indent” is now customarily used for any list held by an archive providing details of convicts transported on a particular vessel.
Explanatory Notes for 1788-1812
Before entering the details of individual convicts into the Database, a base list for each transport was chosen. This list was generally the most up-to-date or comprehensive list that could be found for a particular transport, although precedence was given to lists found in the series of records described as the Convict Indents [SZ115], [4/3999] & [4/4004].
Generally when multiple lists were found in the source references [SZ115] or [4/3999], one list was from an Order in Council while the other list was a Convict Indenture or similar list. The Convict Indentures have taken precedence over the Orders in Council as the latter were not necessarily comprehensive lists (see discussion in Convict Indents [SZ115] above).
The entries included in the Base List for each transport were input as recorded and in the same sequence. Additional information from other lists was added to these base entries where appropriate. For example, if one entry recorded that the convict was tried at “London Middlesex” while another records that the convict was tried at “London GD (Gaol Delivery)”, the information “GD” was added to the entry to record “London Middlesex GD”. However if a discrepancy existed between the two sources (for example, one records a trial date of 22 April 1790 while the other records 2 April 1790), the difference is noted in the “Editor’s Remarks” column. When multiple lists have survived for a particular transport, and when the other lists all record a different piece of information to that recorded in the Base List (eg. tried 2 April 1790), the information in the Base List has been changed with a comment included in the “Editor’s Remarks” column.
The names of convicts have been recorded in the Database as they were written in the Base List. Aliases and differing spellings have been recorded in separate fields and appear both in the Index and in the main entry for each convict. These entries are distinguished by “alias” and “alt” (alternative spelling).
Alternative names refer to another version of the name that is recorded in another list. Usually they are different spellings of the same name, eg. “Clark” alt “Clarke” however occasionally they are quite different. Sometimes the differences are a product of an error: for example, the Britannia (1798) included a “Sarah Gill” in reference [4/4000] who is referred to as “Sarah Hill” in [2/8246]; as the latter source was extracted from the former, the alternative is clearly an error. Sometimes an error was made in the base reference, with the “alt” name being the correct version. Some alternatives are included as “ed alt” to assist with search capabilities. The reason for these additions are explained within the respective entries.
Ages have been recorded as they appear in the various lists. Occasionally different ages were recorded in different sources. These differences have sometimes been noted as an Editor’s remark, and sometimes in the age field as follows: 23/25. Explanations for the latter format are found in the section relating to the particular transport.
This field has been added to the Database by the Editor to provide more detailed search capabilities. As the number of entries for each sex has been compared with the male/female statistics for each transport, and in a few instances checked against other sources, this information should be accurate.
Ship of Transportation
The spellings of ship names have been standardized in line with ABGR publications. The ship name and year of arrival both have search capabilities.
Place of Trial
Attempts were made to record trial places as found in the original source however some standardization and abbreviation was required. Five fields were used in the Database, dividing the information into court (eg. Justice Hall), building (eg. Old Bailey), town, county and country.
Some lists distinguish between sessions for county or city, for example, sessions for the “City of London” or for the “County of Middlesex”. In these instances, both trials were generally held in the Justice Hall of the Old Bailey in London. The information is distinguished by use of the following format, eg. “Justice Hall, Old Bailey, London (City), Middlesex” as compared with “Justice Hall, Old Bailey, London, Middlesex (County). When “County” is added after Middlesex it looks clumsy however it serves the purpose of providing this additional information.
Trial place can be searched by county and country. “Town” has been omitted from the search fields as trial places were usually recorded as a county name rather than town name despite the fact that many appear to be a town name. For example, most researchers would conclude that a convict recorded as having been tried at “Southampton” was tried in the town of Southampton in Hampshire. However in early years “Southampton” was also used as a county name for Hampshire and some of these convicts were actually tried at other places within Hampshire. Researchers would miss appropriate entries if they attempted to search by town so the town search field has been omitted. The county name or usual abbreviations will allow researchers to locate this information.
Although a huge number of different sessions are recorded in the Database many were in fact interchangeable names. For example, “general session of the delivery of the gaol” was written elsewhere “assize”. Also “general quarter session of the peace”, “quarter session of the peace”, “session of the peace” and “quarter session” were often used interchangeably. Where sessions were an extension of each other they were combined; when recorded differently in different sources they were separated by a slash.
Dates are recorded as found in the Base List with alternatives listed as Editor’s Remarks. Occasionally the Base List entry needed to be “corrected” in which case an Editor’s remark will explain the action taken. Seasons and festivals were included – eg. Midsummer, Lent – and have been recorded in brackets in the screen entry. Occasionally one source will provide a season while another provides an actual date. Both have been included in the Database although it is important to note that discrepancies will sometimes occur.
Several possible trial dates can be given for a convict in the records. A sentence handed down for a non-capital conviction was usually dated from the first day of the five to ten day session during which the trial took place, not on the actual day of the trial or the day the sentence was formally pronounced (usually on the last day of the session). Capital convicts not executed immediately after the session were issued with a respite while a reprieve from the death sentence was considered. This could take weeks, months, or in many early cases, years. If a decision was made to reprieve a convict to a sentence of transportation, the sentence was dated from the date of the reprieve, not the date of the original trial session. Some differing dates are the result of clerical errors made when the original record was created.
Most convicts were transported with either a 7 year, 14 year or life sentence, although a handful of other sentences were recorded.
This field covers comments made by the Editor. It includes references to entries that are “crossed out”, to convicts also recorded on earlier or later transports, to differing or additional information contained in other convict lists or secondary source references and so on.
Details are included noting the location of all of the original records from which the information contained in these entries has been extracted. Individual page references have not been noted.
Text in this section has been adapted from the Introduction to the CD-ROM Convicts to NSW 1788-1812 published by the Society of Australian Genealogists in 2002. The Introduction was compiled by the Editor: Carol J Baxter, and the data was captured by the Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record.
The text on this page is copyright. Permission to reproduce it should be obtained from BDA.