LIFE AS A CONVICT
Hard labour was meant to deter criminals from re- offending. Convicts built Australia’s first roads, cleared dense scrubland, felled and hauled timber, and worked in a variety of mines and factories. Some absconded, in which case their chance of survival in the bush was slim, particularly during the early years of settlement.
The Tasmanian Archives has a rich online collection of conduct rolls and registers, indent rolls and description lists (see search.archives.tas.gov.au/ default.aspx?detail=1&type= A& id=TA00060), and the State Library of Queensland has an excellent resources page for researching people transported all over Australia at slq.qld.gov.au/resources/ family-history/convicts/resources.
The State Library of New South Wales has a research guide to learning more about life in the colony and finding records for individual convicts at guides.sl.nsw.gov.au/content.
php? pid= 445387& sid= 3648963, and the State Records Office of Western Australia lists its convict records at sro.wa.gov.au/archive- collection/
collection/convict-records, with further information on the State Library of Western Australia website at slwa.wa.gov.au/dead_reckoning/government_archival_records/a- c/convicts.
Repeat offenders were tried at the local Court of Petty Sessions and Bench Magistrates. Norfolk Island, Port Macquarie, Van Diemen’s Land and Newcastle received many unruly convicts who were re-transported from their original colony for offences like swearing and disorderly conduct. Research New South Wales trial papers with help from guides.sl.nsw.gov.au/content.php? pid= 445387& sid = 3821156, and refer to the state archive and library websites above for other areas.
Though the British established thousands of penal sites across Australia during the 18th and 19th centuries, few remain intact. A total of 11 of the best-surviving examples of convict settlements are now preserved as UNESCO World Heritage sites, listed at whc.unesco.org/en/list/1306. Some former settlements have been turned into museums, one of the most significant being Port Arthur in Tasmania ( portarthur.org.au).
The State Records Office of Western Australia has a useful list of convict records on its website