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Australian convict records: Home

Between 1788 and 1868 about 160 000 British convicts were sent to Australia. This State Library of South Australia guide will assist you to locate worldwide resources for researching your convict ancestors.

Convict arrival dates


New South Wales                              1788 - 1840
Queensland 1824 - 1839
Tasmania 1803 - 1853
Victoria 1803 - 1849
Western Australia 1850 - 1868

Cast Iron Leg Irons


The Industrial Revolution in England resulted in large numbers of people unemployed and living in poverty. This in turn led to a huge increase in the crime rate as people became more desperate to survive.

In the late 1700s there were more than two hundred crimes in England carrying the death penalty. Overcrowding in prisons became such a problem that the government had to use left over hulks from the Napoleonic War as floating prisons.

A number of these hulks were placed on the River Thames but others were anchored in Portsmouth and Plymouth harbours. In total, the government used nine different vessels.

When these became overcrowded, Government officials saw transportation as the answer to the problem.

Someone convicted of a capital punishment and whose death sentence was commuted would usually receive fourteen years transportation. Those convicted of a non-capital offence were usually sentenced to seven years. Initially, convicts were transported to America or the West Indies, but as a result of the American Revolution, an alternative destination was necessary.

Australia was chosen as that alternative destination. The First Fleet of eleven ships set sail on 13 May 1787, arriving at Botany Bay, 20 January 1788. On arrival it was apparent that Botany Bay was not suitable for a colony and so they relocated to Port Jackson. It was here that the first European settlement in Australia was established.

Subsequently other penal settlements of varying duration were established at Moreton Bay, Norfolk Island, Port Phillip and various locations in Tasmania and Western Australia. By the end of the convict era approximately 160,000 people had been transported to Australian penal settlements.

South Australian Convicts?

South Australia was established through private enterprise by the South Australian Company and was the only state which never accepted convicts transported directly from England. There were however some convicts, both escaped and emancipated, who made their way to South Australia from the other colonies. These included some among the whalers and sealers who camped on Kangaroo Island before the South Australian colony was established in 1836. Many others also travelled overland or by ship to join the new colony despite measures to deter them. Criminals were also sentenced to transportation from South Australia to the eastern penal colonies up until 1851.

Further information on South Australia's convicts can be found in Paul Sendziuk's paper 'No convicts here: reconsidering South Australia's foundation myth' in "Turning points: chapters in South Australian history" and Graham Jaunay's "SA convicts sentenced to transportation 1837-1851"

An index to those sentenced to transportation from South Australia between 1837 - 1851 is available via the Find My Past database (available for use within the Library).  In some cases the index gives not just name, age, crime, sentence etc but also a description of the convict and biographical information including the name of spouse, number of children, religion and other personal details that are so valuable to the family historian.

Graham Jaunay also has a name searchable index avalable via his website.

Who we are

State Library of South Australia
GPO Box 419
Adelaide SA 5001
(08) 8207 7250

Family History Services at the State Library of SA

The State Library Family History Collection specialises in South Australian resources. It is also strong in material relating to England and Ireland and includes a selection of interstate and overseas resources.

The collection is located in the Spence Wing on Level 1.

A staff member is stationed in the area weekdays from 10am to 5pm during Library opening hours. Outside these times, assistance is available at the Information Desk.

Our Ask Us service can provide assistance for those unable to get to the Library.

Staff are able to get you started by showing you how to use the resources and can refer you to professional services for more extensive personalised research.