Dealing with a glut of convicts was the primary reason for the initial settlement, being seen as a way to ease prison pressures and replace previous transportation to other places such as the United States. Life for convicts was not easy before, during or after their transportation to one of the Australian colonies. In the end it did provide opportunities for those prepared to take them. Note that not all colonies began life as convict settlements. Some were based on commercial ventures. Details are listed below.

While convict ancestry was once considered something to be hidden, it is now often regarded as something about which to be proud.

This page looks at convict life both before coming to Australia and once they arrived. It includes a section on Irish convicts. There is also information on the establishment of the main colonies, the majority of which had convicts at some point during their early years.



Prison hulks, gaols, trial information, records held in the British Isles.


  • 1855 Convict Jacket
    Images, information, bibliography, links. This website has been archived and is no longer being updated.
  • Anti-Transportation Movement
    Article reproduced in The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser [NSW : 1843 - 1893]. This was only one of the parts of this movement in the middle of the 19th century. Includes a clear copy as well as the facsimile. For links to other newspaper articles from around the colonies on the same topic, see the Search results for ‘Anti-transportation movement’ at Trove [NLA].
  • A Short History of Convict Australia
    Pilot Guide. Who they were, transportation, convict life, pardon & punishment, escapes. Text with a short video.
  • Australia Bound : Convict Voyaging, 1788-1868
    ‘Strikingly little scholarly attention has been paid either to the organisation of the ships prior to departure or to convict and other experiences of the voyages. This research project seeks to begin to fill that gap : its aim is to write an experiential history of convict voyaging’. Download a PDF copy of the information here.
  • Australian Convict Sites
    Well annotated information and links to sites from most states in Australia. This site is new and is replacing the previously listed site. There may be further changes till the final version is completed.
  • Before Transportation
    ‘From 1788 to 1868 over 160 000 men, women and children from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds were punished with transportation to Australia. On this page you w​ill find links to information on the life of convicts before their arrival in Australia and their journey to Australia’.
  • British Convicts to Australia [Historic UK]
    Article including images from Historic UK.
  • Convict and Colonial Australia
    Splash ABC. Select specific topics from the wide range, each of which is linked to specific school levels, Examples include :
  • Convict Creations
    What stems from our convict heritage.
  • Convict Crimes
    Article. Discusses these, and also includes a listing of crimes committed.
  • Convictism in Australia
    Reasons for transportation, history - transport to various states, women, Political prisoners, Cessation of transportation, Legacy of the convict era, Notable convicts transported to Australia, references, links. Wikipedia.
  • Convict Life In Australia
    Covers aspects of convict life especially discipline and punishment.
  • Convict Records
    ‘ allows you to search the British Convict transportation register for convicts transported to Australia between 1787-1867. Information available includes name of convict, known aliases, place convicted, port of departure, date of departure, port of arrival, and the source of the data’.
  • Convict Transportation Registers Database
    [State Library of Queensland]. ‘The British Convict transportation registers 1787-1867 database has been compiled from the British Home Office [HO] records which are available on microfilm. You can find details for approximately 123 000 of the estimated 160 000 convicts transported to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries - names, term of years, transport ships and more’. Convict research : finding out even more will help you to find further information.
  • CoraWeb
    Primarily developed as Websites for Genealogists. While it still fulfils that function , it has nymber of sections that will provide information about Convicts, Criminal and Court Records, Directories, Newspapers, Shipping and migration as well as other topics which are equally valuable in finding information related not only colonies but also convicts, transportation, gaols and more. Several individual sections and pages have been included in this listing.
  • Descriptions of Convict Life
    A series of vignettes covering a range of aspects of convict life.
  • Flash Jim : The astonishing story of the convict fraudster who wrote Australia’s first dictionary
    ‘The astonishing story of James Hardy Vaux, writer of Australia’s first dictionary and first true-crime memoir. If you wear ‘togs’, tell a ‘yarn’, call someone ‘sly’, or refuse to ‘snitch’ on a friend then you are talking like a convict. These words, and hundreds of others, once left colonial magistrates baffled and police confused’. Several options available.
  • ‘Flash’ language [Sydney Living Museums]
    ‘Convicts of the early colony had their own ‘flash’ language, made up of slang words developed by criminals in London. The following is a selection of words from Vaux’s dictionary, and other words in use in the early colony’.
  • Indexes - Convict Records NSW
    Covers Certificates of Freedom, Exiles, Pardons, Tickets of Leave, more. Also has links to Guides and Stories related to convict information. Search capability provided.


Information, especially from the Irish Archives concerning convicts, allied free settlers and the transportation system.

  • Convicts : Life in the colony
    State Library of NSW. ‘Use this guide to research your convict’s life after they arrived in the colony. Find out more about a convict’s working life, family life and freedom’. [Previously listed under a different title.]
  • Free Settlers’ Papers
    ‘This small series, spanning the years 1828 to 1848, contains information on relatives of transported convicts who emigrated to join their convict relative at the expense of government’. PDF available.
  • Ireland-Australia Transportation Database
    Introductory page, links, more.
  • Irish Convicts to NSW 1791-1834
    ‘Details of Irish convicts transported to New South Wales’ during this period. Links to other sites and information.
  • Sources in the National Archives
    For research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia [1791-1853] by Rena Lohan. Information, links to further material, PDF version of the article.
  • Margaret Catchpole
    Margaret Catchpole [1762-1819], horse thief. ‘Only the most basic details are known about the lives and crimes of many of the convicts sent to Australia’. This is the story of one female convict, Margaret Catchpole.
  • The Convict Experience
    State Library of NSW. ‘In nineteenth century England, the sentence for a variety of crimes was transportation to Australia, a harsh punishment with many convicts never seeing their homeland again’. Data and images included.
  • The Digital Panopticon
    ‘This website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty datasets, relating to the lives of 90 000 convicts from the Old Bailey. Use our site to search individual convict life archives, explore and visualise data and learn more about crime and criminal justice in the past’.
  • The End of Transportation
    Short article on the anti-transportation push, with embedded links, from The Dictionary of Sydney. The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.
  • The Horrors of Convict Life
    British Radical Visions of the Australian Penal Colonies. Effects of penal colonies on convicts. Includes information from John Frost, who had spent time in Van Diemen’s Land as a convict.
  • The Parliamentary Report on Transportation 1838
    Also known as the Molesworth Report. This presentation provides ‘Extracts from the Molesworth Report of 1838 describing conditions for the convicts’. A second brief statement can be found in a summary of the Molesworth Report.
  • The Rule of Law in A Penal Colony
    Law and Power in Early New South Wales. Selections from the book of this title, by David Neal [Cambridge University Press, 1991]. Google books.
  • The Vocabulary of Convictism and Flash in New South Wales 1788 to 1850
    Robert Langker. ‘Describes the evolution of convict terminology, as revealed through this thesis now in the [National] Library’s Collection’. Archived but still available with some limitations.
  • Transportation versus Imprisonment …
    In Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Britain : Penal Power, Liberty, and the State. Article originally in Law & Society Review. Get a PDF copy [206K] here. Not free but options to access through other sources.
  • Why were convicts transported to Australia ?
    Sydney Living Museums. ‘Until 1782, English convicts were transported to America. However, in 1783 the American War of Independence ended. America refused to accept any more convicts so England had to find somewhere else to send their prisoners. Transportation to New South Wales was the solution’.

Top of Page


Covering the early years of each of the colony settlements. Includes documentation and information on influential people.

New South Wales

Captain Arthur Phillip

  • Arthur Phillip
    First Fleet Commander, First Governor. A biography and detail of his time as Governor. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Governor Phillip’s Instructions 25 April 1787
    General information, the transcript in PDF and RTF formats.
  • The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay
    Arthur Phillip. Free ebook of 23 chapters, several appendices. Extends beyond the voyage, to the land they arrived at. ‘Includes the Journals of Lieutenants Shortland, Watts, Ball and Captain Marshall, with an account of their new discoveries’.


  • British Convict Registers
    ‘Contains details of convicts transported to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries including name of convict [and any known aliases], place of trial, term of years, name of ship and date of departure and place of arrival’. Covers other areas as well as those for Queensland.
  • Captain Patrick Logan
    ‘Regarded by many historians as the true founder of Queensland’, by others as brutal Commandant of the Penal Colony until his death in 1830. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Chronological register of convicts at Moreton Bay 1824-1839
    ‘View digital copy’. Links to related material as well. A second source for this information can be found using this link.
  • Convict Brisbane
    Queensland Historical Atlas. Information and several images.
  • Convicts and early settlers
    ‘Records of early settlers pre and post separation from the colony of New South Wales in 1859, as well as convict records from Moreton Bay, St Helena and Toowoomba’.
  • Convicts at Moreton Bay : 1824-1859
    The Royal Historical Society of Queensland. ‘ This book is a great overview of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement from 1824 to 1842 and the status of convicts before separation’. Small fee to purchase.
  • Convict Queenslanders
    State Library Of Queensland. ‘Queensland’s history contains many well-respected settlers from all walks of life. Discover some of Queensland’s pioneers who first came to Australia as convicts’.
  • Establishing Queensland’s Borders
    Queensland Government. Covers the period 1838 on.
  • History of Queensland
    Queensland Government. Several sections including Settlement and Early Development.
  • History of Brisbane
    Early sections cover European exploration, The Penal Colony, free settlement, development in the early years. Wikipedia.
  • Letters Patent Erecting Colony of Queensland
    6 June 1859, [UK]. Full transcript [PDF or RTF], why it is important, how it happened, what it looks like.
  • Moreton Bay Penal Settlement 1824 to 1842
    Information, links from the Queensland State Archives. A related site can be found at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement
  • Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane
    NSW Governor after whom the city and the river were named and who arranged the establishment of the colony. Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Top of Page

South Australia

  • Colonel William Light
    Surveyor-General in the early colony.
  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield
    Immigration promoter and the man behind the push to settle South Australia as a free settlement. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Events and Statistics in …
    South Australian History 1834-1857. ‘The period from settlement of the Colony to the commencement of responsible Government’. Point form, by years.
  • German Settlers in South Australia
    The first arrived in 1836. German settlers spread across the state but are found in larger groups in areas such as the Barossa.
  • History of Adelaide
    Aboriginal Settlement, early European interest, settlement, the first years, later developments. Wikipedia.
  • Settling South Australia
    ‘Settlement of the Colony of South Australia in 1836 was the result of a vision for a self-supporting free colony’.
  • Sir John Hindmarsh
    First Governor. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • South Australian Company
    Information about the company that developed the settlement in South Australia. Links to main people involved. Multiple links to further information about specific people and topics. Wikipedia.
  • South Australian History
    Time sections beginning with Pre 1836. Each contains information, links. Access an alphabetical listing of places and people important in South Australia’s development.
  • South Australian History Timeline
    An extensive listing with links to most items included.


  • Black War
    ‘A period of conflict between the British colonists and Tasmanian Aborigines in Van Diemen’s Land [now Tasmania] in the early years of the 19th century’. References, literary references. Wikipedia.
  • Constitution Act 1855 [Tas]
    Full transcript [PDF or RTF], why it is important, how it happened, what it looks like.
  • Convicts on the West Coast of Tasmania
    ‘The use of the West Coast as an outpost to house convicts in isolated penal settlements occurred in the era 1822-1833 and 1846-1847’. Macquarie Harbour. Wikipedia. Further information on the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station can be found here. Wikipedia.
  • David Collins
    Deputy Judge Advocate NSW and Lieutenant-Governor Tasmania. Biography, information about his role in NSW and the setting up of the colony in Van Diemen’s Land. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • George Augustus Robinson
    Protector of Aboriginals. Biography, information on his role, actions, relationship with Arthur. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • History of Tasmania
    Timeline in sections, links. Sections for Indigenous people, pre 1800, 1800-1809, 1810-1819, 1820-1829, 1830-1839, 1840-1849, 1850-1859 and 1860-1869. Wikipedia.
  • Order in Council
    Separation of Van Diemen’s Land From New South Wales. Downloadable file.
  • Records of the Tasmanian Convict Department 1803-1893
    Australian Memory of the World. ‘Tasmania was the second primary site for the reception of convicts transported from the British Isles to the Australian continent in the nineteenth century. Convicts formed the first major group of European descent to settle in Tasmania and formed the bulk of the community throughout the period of transportation. The records held in the Archives Office of Tasmania meticulously document every aspect of the life of each convict in the system’.
  • Sir George Arthur
    Lieutenant-Governor. Biography, information on his time in Tasmania. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Tasmanian Convicts - Main Index
    ‘In 1812 the convict ship Indefatigable was the first ship to bring convicts direct from England to the shores of Van Diemen’s Land. This continued until 1853 when transportation ceased. Over a period of some 41 years more than 74 000 convicts were transported to our Island State’. Links to major sources.
  • The Black Line
    Article section, links. The attempt to corral all Aborigines in Tasmania. Wikipedia.
  • Truganini
    Early life, final years & legacy, cultural references, other references, links. Wikipedia. Check the entry for Trugernanner [Truganini], Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • VDL Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853
    The Digital Panopticon. ‘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]’.
  • VDL Founders and Survivors Convict Biographies 1812-1853
    ‘Provides extensive biographical details, from a wide variety of surviving sources, on some 30 000 convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land [now called Tasmania], covering the years 1812-1853’.

Top of Page


  • Australian Constitutions Act 1850 [UK]
    Original document. Significance, history, why it happened. The effect on several states including Victoria. Transcripts in PDF and RTF formats. View the actual document online.
  • Convicts [Ergo]
    ‘Although Victoria’s first settlers may have thought of Port Phillip as a free colony, convicts worked for land-owners and later prison ‘hulk’ ships housed a growing criminal population. Read on to discover why Victoria’s convict heritage is a secret history, … ’.
  • Convicts - Victoria’s early history, 1803-1851
    Research Guides at State Library of Victoria. ‘A guide to researching the history of Victoria’s foundation and early settlement based on published and digitised sources’.
  • CoraWeb - Victoria
    Links to information about Convicts in Victoria. Selections from a larger collection listed under the Coraweb title in a section above.
  • Edward Henty
    Farmer, grazier, politician, settler. The settlement at Portland. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Foundation of Melbourne
    Exploration, settlement, Batman’s Treaty, Tasmanian settlement, establishment of Melbourne, the true founder. Wikipedia.
  • Highlight : Convicts in Victoria, Australia 1803-1851
    ‘Although there was no direct transportation of convicts to Port Phillip, convicts were brought into the colony by various means at various times. Migrants from Tasmania were many of Melbourne’s earliest settlers and they brought their assigned convicts with them. And much of Melbourne’s early beginnings – buildings, roads, water cartage and general municipal work – was a direct result of the efforts of convict labour imported from Sydney’. Fee-based options.
  • History of Melbourne
    Extends beyond the colonial period. There is a substantial section on the Early Years, with embedded links. Wikipedia.
  • History of Melbourne [2]
    Early years as well as later developments.
  • John Batman
    Grazier, squatter, purchaser, pioneer of Melbourne. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • John Helder Wedge
    Explorer, grazier, public servant, politician, surveyor during the early years of Melbourne. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • John Pascoe Fawkner
    Landowner, politician, prisoner, publican, newspaper owner. Early Port Phillip settler. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Melbourne’s Heritage
    Information collected by the City of Melbourne and grouped under a variety of topics.
  • Port Phillip, Victoria
    Summary of the early establishment, links to related information, maps, images.
  • Victoria Registers of Convicts 1842-1854
    ‘Find your convict ancestor from the early colony of Victoria and uncover details of their sentence and transportation. Trace their progression from criminal to assigned servant, ticket-of-leave holder to free person’.
  • William Buckley
    Convict, escapee, “wild white man”, indigenous culture recorder, public servant. Lived with the Aborigines in the Port Phillip district after escaping as a convict. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • William Buckley [Geelong Visual Diary]
    Article with links to further information.
  • William Buckley and the Aborigines [3]
    Information about James [sic] Buckley who lived for thirty years among the Wallawarro or Watourong tribes at Geelong, Port Phillip. Also check the links in the menu on the left for additional information.

Western Australia

  • Colonial Office Circular, 5 December 1828
    Circular describing the intention to establish a free colony on the west coast of Australia [no convicts]. Wikisource.
  • Convict Era of Western Australia
    Convicts at King Georges Sound, Free Settlement period, agitation for convicts, the convict era, end to transportation, later years, references, links. Wikipedia.
  • Convict Records of Western Australia 1838 – 1910
    Australian Memory of the World. ‘The Swan River Settlement had been in existence for 20 years when it took the unusual step of electing to become a British penal settlement in 1849. The British authorities accepted the offer and quickly dispatched the barque Scindian, which arrived in Gage Roads on 1 June 1850 with a cargo of 75 male convicts, the first of 43 shipments of convicts to the colony over an 18-year period’.
  • Convicts
    ‘The State Records Office holds comprehensive sets of records relating to convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868’. Includes sections such as Convict Establishment Records and Other Convict Related Information.
  • Convict Stories [Irwin District, Western Australia]
    ‘We know that over 750 convicts were assigned to work in the Irwin Districts. Here are three of those men’s stories’.
  • Enrolled Pensioner Force – Western Australia
    ‘The Enrolled Pensioner Force consisted of soldiers who came to the colony of Western Australia between 1850 and 1874, most arriving during the years of convict transportation as guards on the convict ship’.
  • History of Perth, Western Australia
    Aboriginal history, early European exploration, Swan River Colony, the early years, Convict era [1850 - 1868], sections on the later nineteenth century and the twentieth century. Wikipedia.
  • List of convict ship voyages to Western Australia
    ‘Between 1842 and 1849, 234 juvenile offenders were transported to the Colony of Western Australia on seven convict ships. From 1850 to 1868, over 9 000 convicts were transported to the colony on 43 convict ship voyages. Western Australia was classed as a full-fledged penal colony in 1850’. Wikipedia.
  • Ordinance enabling transportation of convicts to Western Australia
    The document by which convicts were first considered for acceptance in Western Australia. This came about following a meeting in 1849. Details of this meeting and the resolutions coming from it are found on the page titled Resolutions of a Meeting held to determine whether Western Australia should apply to become a Penal Settlement. Wikisource.
  • Sir James Stirling
    Founder of Western Australia. Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • The Centre for WA History
    Linked to the University of Western Australia. They produce the Studies in Western Australian Journal. Volumes include Volume 24, Building a Colony : The Convict Legacy [2006], Volume 17, Historical Traces [1997] and Volume 4, Convictism in Western Australia [1981]. Procedures for accessing these are found on the Studies in Western Australian History site.
  • The Colonial Secretary’s Office Records
    ‘The records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office held at the State Records Office forms a major historical resource for research into Western Australia in the 1800s. Get started with our guides to popular topics’, including Convicts [menu on the right hand side of the page] and also the topic links in the main section.
  • The Convict Era
    Part of the history of the Fremantle Prison. Sections include Characters, Convict Profile, Crime and Punishment and Escape Stories. Check the link to Heritage and Research in the menu on the left. The Convict Database [in Research] allows you to find extensive information about individuals by clicking on the name of the convict.
  • Western Australian Convicts 1850-1868
    How many, why the change in attitude, how used. Previously listed in another section of this page.
  • Western Australia Documents
    Access multiple documents. Each has a transcript in PDF or RTF formats. Range from “Instructions to the Admiralty to take formal possession of the western portion of the continent 5 November 1828 [UK]” to a 1978 document. The majority are from the early colonial period.

Top of Page

× Calendar Competitions Conferences Curriculum Education Resources Site Information Special Pages Teachers Tertiary Updates & Changes