CONVICTS IN AUSTRALIA
Laura Berry looks at the records available for researching the life of a convict after their transportation
In 1787, the British government shipped the first fleet of convicts to Australia’s east coast, identified by Captain James Cook as suitable for habitation in 1770. Hundreds of prisoners, guards and mariners landed at Port Jackson in January 1788, becoming the first Europeans to settle in Australia. Although the terrain was much harsher than had been expected, they quickly set to work building the first camp at Sydney Cove, New South Wales. Two more fleets arrived in 1790 and 1791, and by the time transportation came to an end in 1868, more than 162,000 men, women and children had been forcibly sent Down Under.
In 1803-1804, the British took a party of convicts to build penal colonies on an island off Australia’s south-east coast, named Van Diemen’s Land by Dutch explorers (later known as Tasmania). It was here that actress Anne Reid’s ancestor John Reid was sent for committing forgery. In the early 19th century camps were also raised in Queensland and later in Western Australia and Norfolk Island.
The location of any surviving records charting the lives of convict ancestors in Australia largely depends on where they were sent, and, as Anne Reid discovered, convicts in the mid-19th centuryy were treated quite differently to the early transportees. rtees.
Anne Reid’s ancestor John Reid
was sent to Tasmania on a convict ship after committing