VDL Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853

Illustration of record series included within the VDL Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853 database, with archive references for document series at the TNA, London and TAHO, Hobart. © Digital Panopticon.

The "Van Diemen's Land Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853" is a consolidated database of evidence from numerous original sources. It provides a mass of information on the Old Bailey convicts who were ultimately transported to Van Diemen's Land (along with those convicted at other courts throughout the British Empire).

Origins and Content

The Founders and Survivors project was established in 2007 to explore the long-run impact of convict transportation on health and well-being. It has since broadened its aims to include the study of life-course offending and the intergenerational transmission of inequalities and conviction risk. The project draws on over 1.5 million digital records covering populations who either migrated to the British colony of Van Diemen’s Land (renamed Tasmania in 1856) or were born there in the years 1803-1900. Many of these are linked to digital images of the original documents. The record groups covered by the project include a number of series relating to transported convicts that have been provided to the Digital Panopticon. These have also been linked through to the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office "Tasmanian Name Index".

The original convict record series held by the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) were created in the period 1824-1870. However, they also include much information retrospectively entered from earlier record groups. The 522 volumes of records in the collection were placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.

The data extracted from the record series ranges widely and includes:

Identifying details

This includes police number and ship and date of arrival as recorded in the record series CON 22.

There are a total of 76,820 convict entries in the database. Some of these may be duplicate entries as some convicts were transported more than once.

Physical descriptions

Including colour of eyes, hair, age on arrival in Australia, height and scars, tattoos and other marks, as recorded in the record series CON 18, CON 19 and CON 23. Some additional information was obtained from record series CON 33 and CON 41.

The database contains 39,340 physical descriptions of convicts in total.

Information about place of birth and next of kin

As recorded in the record series CON 14 and CON 15.Some additional information was obtained from CON 33 and Con 41. In total, 58,852 places of birth and details on next of kin for 32,721 convicts are recorded.

Peter Gordon Fraser, portrait of a convict transported to Van Diemen's Land. Digitised item from: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. © TAHO.

Details of where convicts were sent to work on arrival in the colony and subsequent transfers

From September 1832, the Government Gazette provided regular information on convicts assigned to free settlers or transferred from one settler to another. This source also contains information on convicts loaned to settlers from Government Gangs. Often the number of convicts assigned to a settler or business is listed and not the names of the individuals. Data was only collected for the period to December 1835 in order to overlap with the period covered by the 1832, 1833 and 1835 musters. (Musters were lists compiled periodically - similar to censuses - as a way of keeping track of and enumerating convicts in the colonies). Additional information was added from the record series CON 27.

Appropriation details are included for 10,136 convicts.

Information about monies and property brought to Van Diemen’s Land

Many convicts arrived in Australia with goods and cash. These were held in trust by the colonial state while the convict served their sentence. From 1829 on, cash sums were entered into a Convict Savings Bank managed by the directors of the Derwent Bank.

Some of the money that convicts brought to Australia was earned between conviction and embarkation. While awaiting transportation male convicts were warehoused in hulks. There they were set to work at tasks such as dredging and constructing jetties and breakwaters. The value of the labour they performed was carefully calculated. As a reward for diligent service every convict was entitled to keep one penny out of each shilling’s worth of work they completed for the government. At the end of every week the prisoners received one third of their accumulated savings while the remainder was left in hand until they were discharged. Such practices were maintained in the British overseas hulk establishments in Bermuda and Gibraltar.

Although female convicts deposited less money than their male counterparts, many still brought cash and goods with them. This is interesting since women were not held in hulks prior to transportation. While it is possible that similar monetary incentive mechanisms existed in penitentiaries and county gaols, analysis of the attributes of convicts depositing money into convict savings bank accounts suggests that levels of deposits were strongly associated with potential pre-conviction earning power.

Data was sourced from the TAHO record series CON 73, CON 122 and CON 147.

Additional information was also obtained from TAHO, Derwent Bank boxes: 15b7; 16b2; 18b9; 18b11; 19b6; and TAHO, GO33: 1/14.

24,554 convicts have a record of monies deposited on arrival in the colony.

Conviction data

This includes confessed convictions prior to transportation, details of transportation offence and summary data for subsequent colonial convictions.

This conviction data was sourced from multiple CON series TAHO record series, including: CON 31, CON 32, CON 33, CON 37, CON 40, CON 41, CON 42, CON 67 and CON 78.

There are 38,383 convicts with at least one recorded prior conviction; the nature of the transported offence is recorded for 45,455; summary data for subsequent colonial court encounters transcribed for 12,530.

This includes a 4% longitudinal sample of male conduct records (CON 31, 32, 33, 37) and a near total count of female conduct records (CON 40 and CON 41).

Thomas Lempriere, Philips Island from the Northwest extremity to the overseer's hut, Macquarie Harbour (c. 1828). Digitised item from: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. © TAHO.

Information about the issuing of tickets-of-leave, certificates of freedom and pardons

Much information about prisoners was routinely entered into the Government Gazette. This included:

Additional information is included in CON 45.

62,453 convicts have recorded details of at least one such indulgence.

Applications for permission to marry

This record series records applications from both men and women to marry where one or both parties was a serving convict. The data is taken from CON 45/1 (1829-31) and CON 52/1-7 (1836-1858). These are supplemented by 90 additional entries posted in the Hobart Town Gazette. Many convicts lodged multiple applications often naming different parties. Applications were made by both men and women.

This database has been linked to the RGD records of marriage.

16,747 convicts made at least one application to marry.

For New South Wales convict applications to marry, see the "NSW Convict Applications to Marry 1825-1841" database.

Anson Brothers, photograph of Richard and Fanny Smith (nee Cato) at the time of their marriage (1873). Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, record ID NS2860-1-9. © TAHO.

Information about deaths under sentence

This file was compiled from a number of different records that were linked by hand. It contains information on all recorded-in-system convict deaths. That is, deaths recorded on convict records, or surviving musters (periodic censuses of convicts in the colonies), or despatches from the colonies to London, in church burial registers (where the deceased was noted as a convict) or in the convict department death registers that were compiled from 1840 on (CON 63/1-2).

13,545 convicts have been linked to a death record.

The complete list of sources used is as follows:

Government Gazette runaway notices

From 1824, information about convict absconders was routinely entered into the Government Gazette in the form of runaway notices. Corresponding notices were placed in subsequent editions of the paper notifying captures. Information on all Gazetted absconders and recaptures was transcribed for the period to 1860.

12,867 individual convicts are linked to at least one runaway notice appearing in the Government Gazette 1824-1860. Variables include: date absconded, date apprehended and location the convict absconded from.

The Tasmanian Police Gazette: notices of convictions and discharged prisoners

The Tasmanian Police Gazettes were first issued in 1861 and are available in PDF format until 1933. Founders and Survivors secured permission from the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office to use PDF2EXCEL to convert the weekly tables of discharged prisoners to Excel files. The data was then checked against the originals and OCR mistakes corrected. The tables were published weekly commencing in 1865 and ending in mid 1910. From this point on data was recorded for weekly convictions.

3,611 convicts have been linked to at least one conviction or discharge notice circulated in the pages of the Tasmanian Police Gazette, 1865-1900.

Tasmanian departure records

This file was supplied by the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. It contains information on departures from Van Diemen’s Land in the period to 1817-1858. Usefully, it provides information on the ship of arrival in the colony (a great help in identifying former convicts).

6,147 convicts have been linked to this index. This record provides information on the date of departure, the ship embarked on and the destination.

Pauper records

This record series includes information on Tasmanian paupers institutionalised in the period 1858-1952. The data was usually recorded on admission and/or discharge and there are often multiple entries for a single pauper. This data was collected from the TAHO record series POL 709.

2,588 convicts have been linked to a pauper admission record, providing details of admissions and discharges from a variety of different institutions.

[Anonymous], View taken on Major Mitchell's Pass to the Pilgrim Decr 5th 1832 (1832). Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, reference code 404908. © State Library of New South Wales.

Other Archives

Information about convicts sourced from TAHO record collections has also been linked to a number of other sources held in different archives. These include:

Australian convict musters — TNA (UK) HO/10 series

Details of employment for all convicts under sentence, taken from the records:

22,955 convicts appear in at least one of these musters.

Diagnostic summary data recorded in journals kept by the Surgeon Superintendents on the voyage to Australia

This file was compiled from the Admiralty series of Surgeon's Journals (also available separately on this website) for voyages to Van Diemen’s Land. The original records are held by The National Archives, Kew, London, in record series ADM 101 and were digitally captured and then transcribed by Founders and Survivors. Some additional data was subsequently added for missing vessels from The National Archives website.

The file has been compiled from the list of sick passengers and crew that appears in most journals. In the few cases where a sick list was missing from a journal, one has been compiled from the detailed case notes entered into every journal.

There are 24,340 records in this file, of which 13,554 are uniquely matched to a convict. Note that many convicts were treated more than once during the voyage. Some entries are for the treatment of crew, soldiers or other free passengers.

British hulk records

Based upon the HO 9 record series held at The National Archives (UK).

The recorded data includes when and where received from, age, occupation, literacy, when and where discharged.

The file contains 35,000 separate entries of which 11,514 are linked to a convict in the Founders and Survivors database. Other entries are for convicts who died in the hulks, served their sentence in the British Isles or were transported to New South Wales, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

The Tasmanian Papers

This record series, held at the State Library of New South Wales, contains many archival estrays including several cash and property lists for convicts arriving in Van Diemen’s Land (Tas Papers: 21-26). These have been used to supplement series held by TAHO.

Relationship to Other Sources

In the Digital Panopticon website, entries in the "VDL Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853" database are most likely to directly link to the Old Bailey Proceedings 1740-1913 or the England and Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892, to the Hulks Registers 1801-1879, British Transportation Registers 1787-1867, Convict Indents (Ship and Arrival Registers) 1788-1868, VDL Convict Labour Contracts 1848-1857 and VDL Founders and Survivors Convict Biographies 1812-1853.

Strengths and Limitations

The Founders and Survivors database is a large and unique collection of detailed records from a wide variety of sources. Nonetheless, it is not comprehensive, partly due to the limitations of the original sources, and partly owing to the fact coverage of the existing records is often selective.

The Tasmanian convict archive includes many duplicate and conflicting entries. In part this is because some information about convicts was copied from records forwarded from Britain and Ireland while other details were elicited from convicts themselves. The size of the archive presents further logistical challenges. There are, for example, an estimated 660,000 summaries of colonial court encounters contained in the conduct record series alone, of which less than 100,000 have been transcribed and coded to date. It has not even proved possible to determine the exact number of convicts transported. Those shipped from Britain and Ireland were joined by others convicted in courts scattered throughout the British Empire, including the Australian colonies. Many convicts appear more than once since they were provided with a new police number on reconviction. There are also some missing records and incomplete record series.

Many of these problems can be solved through the careful online reconstruction of this remarkable interlinked record series. An important part of this work includes the reintegration of digital images of records that have become physically scattered. This includes many held in museum collections and the State Library of New South Wales as well as those in private hands. This work is considerably aided by the multiple identifiers included in convict records. The use of police numbers to link records pertaining to the same convict is a particularly useful record-keeping innovation. Keeping track of convicts after they become free, however, is a much more serious challenge.

James Reid Scott, [Flogging prisoners, Tasmania] (no date). Trove, PIC Drawer 3841 #R454 . © National Library of Australia.

Original Source and Digitisation

Many of the original sources have been digitised by the Founders and Survivors team or TAHO and are available online through the Tasmanian Name Index or the links to individual records groups provided here: https://www.linc.tas.gov.au/family-history/Pages/Convict-life.aspx

The Founders and Survivors databases were created using funding from the following Australian Research Council grants:

The project has also received funding from the University of Tasmania and the University of Guelph.

Further Information

Author Credits

This page was written by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.