16,306 Convicts

21 September 2017

Cultural Studies | Empire and Globalism | Gender and Sexuality | History

The Convict Database. Source: Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives.

The Convict Database. Source: Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives. This interactive database is freely available to users in the UK - click the image above to explore the records.

Between 1788 and 1868, the British government transported more than 160,000 convicts to Australia. A popular punishment since the early seventeenth century, transportation was second in severity only to execution. Following the War of Independence, however, the defeated Crown could no longer banish undesirable elements of society to their American colonies. Conditions in overcrowded gaols and prison hulks began to deteriorate following the outbreak of war, and continued to slide until some bright spark suggested the establishment of a penal colony far, far removed from English shores.

Migration to New Worlds: The Modern Era, published in August, includes records for 16,306 convicts transported to New South Wales between 1780 and 1819. Using the original data entered into muster lists in 1820, we have built a fully searchable, interactive feature – The Convict Database – which is freely available to users across the UK (and purchasers globally). Including comparative aids and links to individual records within the original document, this feature enables users to search the data and examine gender, trial court, sentence, ship, trial date, arrival date, occupation and eventual settlement in Australia. 

Ships to make the half-year journey include the exotically named Bencoolen, Calcutta and… Northampton. Well, rather Northampton than The Experiment. The records of the Old Bailey by far exceed those of any other court from across the British Isles and Empire, though even Marlborough, Adam Matthew’s sleepy Wiltshire home, sentenced five of the men in these lists. Amongst the myriad occupations recorded, one can find fiddlers, floggers, ratcatchers, salt boilers, surgeon’s mates, tooth drawers and a “woman of all works”. One poor sod even finds his job recorded as “servant to his wife”!

Hidden amongst these 16,000 records, Charles Gulliver was the first name I stumbled across (while egotistically testing out the search function). In December 1815, Charles stood trial in London and was sentenced to transportation. 456 days later, he arrived in New South Wales aboard the Sir William Bensley to begin his seven years of service to the Crown. Though I cannot irrefutably claim a link to this travelling Gulliver, one suspects that a Gulliver tried in London may not be far removed from the clan in neighbouring Essex. 

Charles Gulliver, found in the Convict Database. Source: Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives.

Charles Gulliver, found in the Convict Database. Source: Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives. This interactive database is freely available to users in the UK - click the image above to explore the records.


Former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, can claim a direct link to two among this number; Thomas Rudd and Mary Cable who arrived in New South Wales in 1801 and 1804 respectively. By the time the survey was taken in 1820, the pair had married, and Thomas was a landholder. The most famous transportee included in the database is Mary Wade; only eleven years old when she boarded the ship to Australia, Mary’s descendants are now reckoned to stretch into the tens of thousands.

Mary Wade's original record, in Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives.

Mary Wade's original record, in Nominal Alphabetical Return of Male and Female Convicts in New South Wales, 1820 (HO 10/1 and HO 10/2) from The National Archives. This document will be available open access for 30 days - click the image above to read.


From humble origins, the far-flung penal colony transformed into a thriving, multi-cultural nation. While early generations of white Australians would feel shamed by their convict ancestors, today, many descendants of those early migrants take pride in their long-standing links to the country which gave the world Kylie, Neighbours and three whole Hemsworths.

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Migration to New Worlds is available now! For more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The fully searchable Convict Database includes comparative tools and a visualisation charting data trends. It is currently available open access for all UK users through a partnership with JISC.

About the Author

Lindsay Gulliver

Lindsay Gulliver

Since joining the editorial team at Adam Matthew, I have worked on a range of resources charting the history of colonial America, popular medicine, World’s Fairs and socialism around the globe. My main academic interests lie in cultural history and Thatcherism, but I enjoy researching all areas of modern history.

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