Friday, 27 July 2007

Australian convict records

This week it was announced that details of Australian convict records for the period 1788 to 1868 have been released online through subscription site Ancestry.

The BBC web site reported:

The records of tens of thousands of British convicts sent to Australia from the end of the 18th Century have been put online for the first time. Subscribers can browse names, date of conviction, the length of sentence and which penal colony they went to.

It is estimated two million Britons and 22% of Australians will have a convict ancestor listed in the records.

Transportation of convicts to Australia began as British prisons were becoming overcrowded in the late 18th Century and crime in cities increased following the industrial revolution. The journey to Australia by boat took eight months, six of which were spent at sea and two in ports where supplies were picked up.

The majority of the convicts were men and although a small number had been found guilty of serious crimes such as murder and assault, most had committed minor offences. Some of the crimes they were punished for included stealing from a pond or river and setting fire to undergrowth.

After serving out their sentence many convicts remained in Australia and the BBC site comments:

Many Australians are said to consider a convict in their family tree is a badge of honour and 22% are direct descendents of these convicts.

The documents are from the National Archives in the UK, and include two Daglishes.

James Daglish in December 1832 on board the ship "Jupiter" to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania). He had been convicted on 28 July 1832.

The New South Wales and Tasmania Convict Musters 1806-1849 show that James had been assigned to Public Works but died on 31 October 1836.

William Daglish in May 1865 on board the ship "Racehorse" to Western Australia. He had been convicted on 22 July 1863.

More details of the voyage can be found on the Convicts to Australia site which shows that the Racehorse left Portland, England on May 26, 1865 bound for the Swan River Colony. The voyage took 76 days and the Racehorse arrived in Fremantle on August 10, 1865 with 172 passengers and 278 convicts.

The list of convicts shows that William Daglish, aged 31, had been convicted of house breaking on 22 July 1863 and sentenced to 12 years.

Could this be the same William Daglish who was reported in The Times in May 1858 under the heading "A Notorious Burglar"?

"William Daglish, a powerful, thick set young man, 25 years of age, is in the custody of South Shields police, and has been identified with two desparate burglaries ... there seems no doubt but that, though he is only 25 years of age, he is the leader of the gang of burglars who have caused so much alarm in the north country towns during the past two or three months ... He has suffered four years penal servitude for shoplifting at Sunderland; 18 months imprisonment for a burlary in the parsonage of Holy Trinity Church, South Shields and has been imprisoned for three other offences. It is suspected that his companions are either returned convicts, or ticket-of-leave men"

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