British Transportation Registers 1787-1867

[Anonymous], Representation of the transports going from Newgate to take water at Blackfriars (c. 1760). Collage, record number 4919. © London Metropolitan Archives.

The "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" is a database compiled by researchers at the State Library of Queensland as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP). The registers, constituting an index to the British Home Office Convict Criminal Transportation Registers, cover the entire period of convict transportation to Australia, from 1787 to 1867. The registers contain entries for convicts tried at courts across England, Wales and Scotland, and transported from Great Britain (though, importantly, not Ireland). As well as covering the three primary sites of penal settlement in Australia – New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and Western Australia – it also includes entries for convicts who arrived in Gibraltar, Norfolk Island, Moreton Bay (Brisbane) and Port Phillip.

Origins and Content

The original HO 11 registers of transported convicts were compiled using data collected throughout a convict’s journey. The registers drew information from multiple musters, registers and even Tickets of Leave. Information such as a convict’s 'name and their conviction details were collected as they were loaded onto a ship, but information regarding their date of arrival and colony was not completed until the end of the voyage. As such, a small minority of register entries contain a date of death for those who died on board; it is even possible to find examples of convicts loaded onto ships, but never transported, as they were removed shortly after their initial entry in the register was made.

Walter Preston, Botany Bay Harbour, in New South Wales: with a View of the Heads (1812). British Museum, number 1869,0213.33 © Trustees of the British Museum.

Relationship to Other Sources

"British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" entries provide an essential bridge between British records of crime and sentencing, and Australian records of punishment from the period of transportation to life beyond.

Within the Digital Panopticon website, "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" entries are most likely to directly link from the Old Bailey Proceedings 1740-1913 and/or the England and Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892, the Convict Indents (Ship and Arrival Registers) 1788-1868, New South Wales Convict Indexes 1788-1873, VDL Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853 and WA Convict Probation Records 1850-1868.

Listing the name and ship of individual convicts, along with the place and year of trial mean that the "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" entries are of limited genealogical use. They offer little other information on the identities and histories of convicts. Often the most useful piece of information in a "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" entry for future identification in Australia is the name of the ship on which they arrived and the date they entered the colony.

Strengths and Limitations

The "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" are the most comprehensive source for discovering if, when and how those sentenced to transportation, (or indeed capital convicts who were granted respite on this condition) arrived in Australia. Nonetheless, it's important to remember that over 37,000 transported convicts are not included. The "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" are not a comprehensive list of all the convicts transported to Australia (nor is the HO 11 collection on which they are based). Though they cover the entire period of penal transportation to the continent, the registers record only around 123,000 of the more than 160,000 individuals transported - the "missing" 37,000 convicts are primarily those who were transported from Ireland or other locations outside mainland Britain. The vast majority of London convicts will therefore be found in the Registers.

The database is also not without considerable errors, which can hamper relational data. Mistakes in the recording of dates and courts can, for instance, prevent matches between convicts arriving in the colonies and their original conviction.

Numbers of Old Bailey convicts transported to Australia each year, as recorded in the "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867". © Digital Panopticon.

Another significant limitation of the "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" is the limited amount of information the record set contains. Without key identifying information such as date of birth, and only variable levels of detail in conviction data, it can therefore be difficult to discern between the journeys of similarly-named convicts sentenced at the same sessions. Without the ability to confirm which ship a transportee arrived to the colonies on, the utility of the "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" as a way of linking between Britain and Australia can be greatly reduced.

However, despite the limited information offered by the registers, they remain one of the most useful sources for confirming a sentence of transportation, measuring the time between sentence and transportation, and tracing convicts from the UK to Australia regardless of the period or colony of arrival.

Original Source and Digitisation

The "British Transportation Registers 1787-1867" database was compiled from the HO 11 convict criminal transportation registers. These are available at the National Archives in Kew, London, or on Microfilm at the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Queensland. The version of his dataset used on this website, which has been enhanced by the inclusion of unique IDs and a few other changes, is available for download through the University of Sheffield Data Repository, figshare.

Further Information

Author Credits

This page was written by Lucy Williams, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.