Colour digitised images of early convict indents are available for the first time through 'Sentenced beyond the seas' - a project to digitise and index Australia's early convict records.
Indents list the convicts transported to New South Wales - early indents provide name, date and place of trial and sentence while the later indents usually include physical description, native place, age and crime. This digitisation project is our gift to the people of Australia and marks the 225th anniversary in 2013 of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.
State Records NSW holds Australia’s earliest convict records dating back to the First Fleet in 1788. These convicts were ‘Sentenced to be transported to parts beyond the Seas’ [NRS 1150, SZ115 p.1].
The Orders in Council for these early convicts appointed the ‘Eastern Coast of New South Wales, some one or other of the islands adjacent’ as the place they would serve out their sentences. Convict indents, or lists of convicts embarked on the convict transport ships, were sent out to the new Colony of New South Wales. Sentenced beyond the Seas includes many of these convict indents dated from 1786 to 1801.
List of the ships in the project
Also included is a list of alphabetical indents by convict. The ship column includes the name of the ship or Order in Council plus the date of the document.
First Fleet, 26 January 1788
Note: The first ship listed below is the Lady Juliana - it was the first ship to set sail for Port Jackson after the First Fleet and arrived before the Second Fleet.
Third Fleet, 1791
Other convict ships
|Ship||Title / Info||Item|
|Pitt [15 Jun 1791]||Indenture Orders in Council [3 & 8 Jun 1791]||
14 Feb 1792
|Royal Admiral [14 May 1791]||List of convicts embarked at Woolwich||
7 Oct 1792
|Order in Council, dated 25 Jan 1792 [Kitty]||List of convicts per the Kitty||
18 Nov 1792
|Bellona [Jan 1793]||An Attested List of the Convictions & Sentences from the Assignment of the Bellona’s Convicts||
16 Jan 1793
|Boddington [or Boddingtons] [Feb 1793]||List of Convicts transported from Ireland to New South Wales||
7 Aug 1793
|Sugar Cane [Apr 1793]||List of Convicts transported from Ireland to New South Wales||
17 Sep 1793
|Surprize (2) [or Surprise( 2)] ||Attested Extract of the Indents||
25 Oct 1794
|Marquis Cornwallis [Aug 1795]||List of Convicts Transported from Ireland to New South Wales by the Marquis Cornwallis Transport||
11 Feb 1796
|Order in Council, dated 14 October 1795 [Indispensible]||List of Female Transports||
30 Apr 1796
|Britannia II [Dec 1796]||List of Convicts Transported to New South Wales per the Britannia Transport December 1796||
27 May 1797
|Orders in Council, dated 29 Jul 1796 [Ganges]||List of Transports Ganges
List of Transports
2 Jun 1797
|Orders in Council, dated 20 Sep 1797 [Barwell]||List of Male Transports Sent by the Barwellto New South Wales
His Majesty’s Order in Council Barwell
18 May 1798
|Britannia III||List of Female Convicts by the Britannia||
18 Jul 1798
|Order in Council, dated 10 Jan 1798 [Britannia III]||1st Order in Council for female convicts sent by the Britannia||
18 Jul 1798
|Order in Council, dated 31 Jan 1798 [Britannia III]||3d Order in Council for a female convict to be sent to New South Wales||
18 Jul 1798
|Order in Council, dated 24 Jan 1798 [Britannia III]||2d Order in Council for Female Convicts to be Sent by the Britannia||
18 Jul 1798
|Cape of Good Hope [21 May 1798] [Marquis Cornwallis]||Court martial, James Wall||
27 Oct 1798
|Cape of Good Hope [2 Feb 1799] [Buffalo]||Court martial, James Cannon||
26 Apr 1799
|Order in Council, dated 28 Sep 1798 [Hillsborough]||List of Male Transports (Note: 2nd list for Hillsborough not held)||
26 Jul 1799
|Hillsborough||List of 299 convicts per the Hillsborough [cover only]||
26 Jul 1799
|Friendship II||Return of men Embarked from New Geneva Barracks on board the Friendship Transport||
16 Feb 1800
|Minerva [16 May 1799]||List of Prisoners Embarked on board the Minerva Transport||
11 Jan 1800
|Speedy [30 Oct 1799]||List of Female convicts sent by the Speedy to New South Wales||
15 Apr 1800
|Earl Cornwallis||Assignment List||
13 Oct 1800
|Royal Admiral (2) [14 & 8 Mar 1800]||Order in Council for the Royal Admiral [14 Mar 1800]
Contract/Indenture for Royal Admiral (2) [8 May 1800]
20 Nov 1800
|Anne [20 Aug 1822]||
List of convicts sent out from Ireland in 1800 in the ship Anne
ML MSS 509 2b
21 Feb 1800
|Minorca, Nile and Canada [Contract/Deed Poll] [18 Jun 1801]||List of convicts transported to New South Wales in the Minorca, Canada, Nile. Arrived Dec1801||
14 Dec 1801
Alphabetical Indents, 1788-1800
Series: NRS 12188, Alphabetical indents, 1788-1800 [4/4003] and [4/4003A].
List of books transferred, 1 June 1828
List of books transferred to the Principal Superintendent of Convicts - this item includes the Alphabetical Indents, 1788-1800 as other records (such as indents and registers of pardons, certificates of freedom and tickets of leave)
Frequently Asked Questions
Useful information about early convict arrivals and answers to frequently asked questions about the Index to Early Convicts.
What are the ships of the First Fleet?
The eleven ships of the First Fleet comprised two naval escorts, HMS Sirius and HMS Supply; six convict transports: Alexander, Scarborough, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales and Friendship; plus three storeships: Fishburn, Golden Grove and Borrowdale.
What are indents?
‘Indent’ is short for ‘indenture’. An indenture is a legal agreement or contract. Contractors agreed to transport the convicts to New South Wales. Upon arrival the labour of the convicts was assigned to the Governor for the remainder of their sentences. Indentures are the basic convict document recording their names, where they were tried and when they were tried and the lengths of their sentences.
What are Orders in Council?
Orders in Council are official documents recording decisions of the King in Council. Where convicts had already been sentenced to transportation to America or Africa the Orders in Council were required to change their destination to ‘the eastern coast of New South Wales or some one or other of the islands adjacent’.
Why were some convicts originally to be transported to America or Africa?
Transportation of convicts from England to America had been practised until the British colonists there declared their independence in 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. Other destinations for transportation were then considered, including places in Africa such as Das Voltas Bay on the South African coast and the island of Lemaine in Gambia. Some convicts had been sent to the Gold Coast but many of these died soon after their arrival. New South Wales was chosen as a suitable place for transportation in 1786.
Why don’t all the lists of convicts show the name of the ship?
The Orders in Council do not necessarily record those who were to be transported by a particular ship. In some cases the Orders in Council were later annotated with the name of a ship or ships.
Why are there numbers after ship names?
The numbering of the ships is based on that used in Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1983. The number without brackets refers to vessels of that name; the number in brackets to the voyages of the vessel. For example Friendship II (1) means it was the first voyage to the colony of the second ship called Friendship.
Why are some names crossed out on the documents?
Orders in Council include lists of convicts intended to be transported and indentures include those intended to be transported on specific ships. Some convicts may not have been embarked, others may have been embarked but removed prior to the ship sailing, eg. due to poor health, and others may have been embarked on later ships. These convicts’ names may have been crossed of the lists.
Did any of the convicts come from places other than England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland?
Yes. Some convicts were convicted in other British colonies such as the Cape of Good Hope. Often these were soldiers or sailors.
What does ‘do.’ mean?
‘Do’ is short for ‘ditto’, meaning the same as the entry above.
What does ‘emancipated’ mean?
An emancipated convict, or emancipist, is one who has completed his sentence and is now free.
What happened to the convicts after they arrived?
There are some annotations on the records in Sentenced beyond the Seas on what became of some of them. See the convict bibliography for published works on the First Fleet, Second Fleet and specific ships.
Who had custody of the records of convict arrivals?
The records were first kept by the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales or his Secretary. Later these records were kept by the Colonial Secretary. Some records were transferred to the Principal Superintendent of Convicts in 1828 [see NRS 1186] but the original indents remained with the Colonial Secretary’s Office .
What are the numbers on the right side of the Alphabetical Indents?
The two volumes of Alphabetical Indents form an index to NRS 1150, Convict Indents, First Fleet, Second Fleet and ships to 1801 for the years 1788 to 1800. The pages in NRS 1150 which bear convict names were numbered in pencil with the number spelt out in words, or longhand. The Alphabetical Indents record the longhand number and the pencilled number of the convict on that page, in the right‑hand column of the entry as shown below:
|Archer, John||Kent||Jul 1788||7 years||138,11|
|Archer, Wm||London||Dec 1787||7 years||47,8|
The number preceding the comma represents the longhand page number in NRS 1150, Convict Indents, First Fleet, Second Fleet and ships to 1801 on which the convict’s name appears. The number following the comma indicates the number of the entry on that page. Thus the entry relating to John Archer is the eleventh down on longhand page 138.
When were the Alphabetical Indents compiled?
It appears that between 1822 and 1828 a clerk created the Alphabetical Indents as a means of finding details of convicts who had arrived in the period 1788 to 1800.
When were the indents received in New South Wales?
The Orders in Council had not been sent out with the First Fleet. Copies of the Orders in Council for the First and Second Fleets were transmitted to Governor Phillip in Letter No.10 of the 19 February 1791. These were received by the Mary Ann transport which arrived 9 July 1791. (Historical Records of Australia (HRA) I, i, 214, 217, 224). Phillip had written on 9 July 1788, ‘The masters of the transports having left with the agents the bonds and whatever papers they received that related to the convicts, I have no account of the time for which the convicts are sentenced, or the dates of their convictions’ (HRA I, i, 57). Later indents were usually sent on the ships in the care of their masters but the Governors frequently requested to be supplied with the lists as they were not always received with the convicts.
How are the pages numbered?
There are longhand numbers (see above), page numbers for individual documents (often at the bottom of the pages) and page numbers for the collection of documents as a whole, eg. NRS 1150, [SZ115, p.21c]. (The latter can be used for citation purposes). Only the pages with lists of names have a longhand number (called the ‘ship page’ in the Early Convict Index).
Why are lists for some ships not included?
Some early lists of convict names are not included in NRS 1150, [SZ115] and [4/3999]. See the Chronological list of Convict Ships for references to these records, including NRS 1152-1154 [4/4000-4002] and NRS 12188, [4/4004] which have not been digitised in Sentenced beyond the Seas. Also complete lists for some ships such as the Lady Juliana were not received.
Why aren’t there transcriptions of every page?
Transcription is a time-consuming task and names can be open to interpretation. Convict names and trial details have been included in the Early Convict Index. Orders in Council and Indentures (excluding the lists of convicts) have been transcribed.
State Records thanks the following institutions and their staff for their assistance in the Sentenced beyond the Seas project.
State Records NSW
Jenni Stapleton, Acting Director, State Records NSW
Christine Shergold, Manager, Special Projects
Archives Control and Management
Richard Gore, retired Manager, Archives Control
Wendy Gallagher, Acting Manager, Archives Control
Janette Pelosi, Senior Archivist, Context and Documentation (Project co-ordinator)
Anna Gray, Acting Project Officer, Copying and Digitisation
Tara Majoor, Digitisation Officer
Michael Wood, Acting Digitisation Officer
Elizabeth Hadlow, Senior Conservator
Jill Gurney, Conservator
Paul Smith, Conservator
Robert Dooley, Archivist Archives Control
Marie Maher, Archives Control Support Officer
Christine Yeats, retired Manager, Public Access
Rhonda Campbell, Acting Manager, Public Access
Warwick Hunter, Policy Officer, Access and Information
Gail Davis, Senior Archivist, Research and Publications
Rachel Hollis, Archivist, Public Access
Information and Communications
David Thornell, Manager, Information and Communications
Ninh Phan, Senior Technology Officer
Anthea Brown, Project Archivist, Online Services
Tuula Lepisto, Assistant, Publications and Online Services
Amanda Barber, Manager, Government Recordkeeping
Grace Hui, Administrative Assistant, Government Recordkeeping
The National Archives (United Kingdom) (TNA)
Tim Padfield, Copyright Officer, The National Archives (UK)
Paul Johnson, The National Archives Image Library Manager (UK)
National Library of Australia (NLA)
Marie-Louise Ayers, Senior Curator, Pictures and Manuscripts, National Library of Australia
Emma Jolley, Curator, Manuscripts Branch, National Library of Australia
Mathew Stuckings, Reference Librarian, Manuscripts Branch, National Library of Australia
Patricia Crampin, Preservation Reformatting, National Library of Australia
Jennifer Lloyd, Preservation Reformatting, National Library of Australia
Robyn Tait, Preservation Reformatting, National Library of Australia
Robyn Holmes, Senior Curator, Pictures and Manuscripts, National Library of Australia
State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW)
Tracy Bradford, Head of Manuscripts, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Merinda Campbell, Imaging Services, State Library of New South Wales
Kevin Leamon, Coordinator Copyright and Permissions, State Library of New South Wales
W. & F. Pascoe Pty Ltd
(for digitisation of HO 31/1 from AJCP Reel 1734)Bibliography
For a more detailed bibliography see the Guide to New South Wales State Archives Relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Kingswood, NSW, State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006, pp.356-359.
Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships 1787-1868. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 2004. (1st edition 1959.)
Castles, Alex C., An Introduction to Australian Legal History. The Sydney, Law Book Company, 1971.
Cobley, John, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts. London, Angus & Robertson, 1982 (1st published 1970.)
Cobley, John, The crimes of the Lady Juliana convicts, 1790. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1989.
Convicts to NSW 1788-1812 [CDrom]. Compiled by ABGR [Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record] Project for the Society of Australian Genealogists, 2002.
Costello, Con, Botany Bay: The story of the convicts transported from Ireland to Australia, 1791-1853. Cork, Mercia Press, 1987.
The Crimes and lives of the convicts arriving in Sydney on the 'Salamander' 1791 / compiled by members of the Tomaree Family History Group. Tomaree Family History Group, 2006.
Crittenden, Victor, A bibliography of the First Fleet. Australian National University Press, 1982.
Crittenden, Victor, The voyage of the First Fleet 1787-1788, taken from contemporary accounts / Victor Crittenden. Mulini Press, 1981.
Cumpston, J.S., Shipping Arrivals and Departures Sydney, 1788-1825. Canberra, The Author, 1964.
Flynn, Michael, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1993.
Flynn, Michael, Settlers and Seditionists: The People of the Convict ship Surprize 1794. Newtown, N.S.W., Angela Lind, 1994.
Frost, Alan. Botany Bay: The Real Story. Melbourne, Black Inc., 2011.
Frost, Alan. The First Fleet: The Real Story. Melbourne, Black Inc., 2011.
Genealogical Society of Victoria, Index to Convicts who arrived in NSW, 1788-1842 and an index to the ships that transported them [Microfiche]. Melbourne, The Society, 2000.
Gillen, Mollie, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, with Appendices by Yvonne Browning, Michael Flynn, Mollie Gillen. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1989.
Hall, Barbara, Of Infamous Character: The Convicts of the Boddingtons, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1793. Sydney, The Author, 2004.
Hall, Barbara, A Nimble Fingered Tribe: The Convicts of the Sugar Cane, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1793. Sydney, The Author, 2002.
Hall, Barbara, The Irish Vanguard: The Convicts of the Queen, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1791. Sydney, The Author, 2009.
Hall, Barbara, A Desperate Set of Villains: The Convicts of the Marquis Cornwallis, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1796. Sydney, The Author, 2000.
Hall, Barbara, Death or Liberty: The Convicts of the Britannia, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1797. Sydney, The Author, 2006.
Hall, Barbara, The Convicts of the Minerva, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1799. Sydney, The Author, 2015.
Hawkings, David T., Bound for Australia. Sydney, Library of Australia History, 1988.
Hazzard, Margaret, Punishment Short of Death: A History of the Penal Settlement at Norfolk Island. Melbourne, Hyland House, 1984.
Historical Records of New South Wales (HRNSW).
Historical Records of Australia (HRA).
Hunter, John. The First Fleet Journal of John Hunter, October 1786-August 1788. Edited, with an introduction by John Currey. Malvern, Vic., The Banks Society, 2011.
Martin, Ged, ed. The Founding of Australia: the Argument about Australia’s Origins. Sydney, Hale & Iremonger, 1978.
Martin, Megan, Settlers and convicts of the Bellona, 1793: a biographical dictionary / compiled by Megan Martin for the Bellona Muster Committee, 1793-1993. The Committee, 1992.
Neal, David, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Needham, Anne, The women of the 1790 Neptune: the seventy-eight convicts named on the cover and those who came free / Anne Needham; with Laurel Riddler ... [et al.] ; illustrations Phyllis Scott. The Author, 1992.
Noah, William, Voyage to Sydney in the ship Hillsborough, 1798-1799 and a description of the colony. [Facsimile edition.]. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1978.
Oldham, Wilfrid, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, edited by W. Hugh Oldham, commentary by Dan Byrnes. Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1990.
Phillip, Arthur, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson & Norfolk Island. London, John Stockdale, 1789. Facsimile ed. Richmond, Vic., Hutchinson, 1982
Richardson, G.D. The Archives of the Colonial Secretary’s Department, New South Wales, 1788-1856. Unpublished BA Thesis. [Copy held by State Records NSW.]
Robson, L.L., The Convict Settlers of Australia: An Enquiry into the Origin and Character of the Convicts transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land 1787-1852. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1965.
Ryan, R.J., The Third fleet convicts: an alphabetical listing of names giving place and date of conviction, length of sentence and ship of transportation / RJ Ryan (ed.). Horwitz Grahame, 1983.
Starr, Marion, Unhappy Exiles, convicts of the Pitt & Kitty, 1792. 2016.
White, John, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, by John White, Surgeon-General to the First Fleet and the Settlement at Port Jackson (Originally published 1790), With a Biographical Introduction by Rex Rienits, Edited by Alec H. Chisholm. Angus and Robertson in association with the Royal Australian Historical Society, 1962.
Convict Records recognised by UNESCO
These significant original convict documents are irreplaceable. They were listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.