Convicts in NSW – an overview of available records Part 3

ball_and_chain 300x225This is the final part of my brief overview of the available convict records in NSW. It has been necessarily brief and simplified – a whole book could be written on this topic, and State Records already has done so; see Sources below. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in NSW convict research.

Permission to Marry

Marriage was seen as an indulgence for convicts still serving their sentence, and permission had to be sought from the Governor if one or both parties were still serving their sentences. Marriage usually meant better living and working conditions for the convict. Permission was not always granted. If granted and the spouse was free, the convict may then be assigned to the spouse.

The record of the marriage itself can usually be found in parish and civil registers with the statement “married with permission of the Governor”. Records of requests for permission to marry and the granting or refusal of that permission are available in most cases in NSW. Indexes for the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence are available on the State Records New South Wales website; and from 1826 to 1851 on a CD - Convicts Permissions to Marry 1826-1851, Lesley Uebel, published by the author, 2000, which is in some libraries and can be purchased here. The correspondence and registers themselves are available on microfilm to 1825 and at the State Records NSW Western Sydney Records Centre after 1825.

Families

Convicts could apply to have their families brought out at the expense of the government, and had to show that they could support their families. A minimum of a ticket of leave was required to be able to support a family, as a ticket of leave meant that the convict could work for themselves instead of someone else. There is no specific index for these records, but a general search for correspondence to the Colonial Secretary to 1825 on the State Records New South Wales website will turn up any relevant documents. Correspondence after 1825 has been indexed on microfiche by Joan Reese, Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales, W & F Pascoe, Balgowlah NSW, 1994-2001, which is available in the State Records Reading Rooms and some libraries.

Register of Applications for Passages to the Colonies for Convicts’ Families 1848-1873 has been microfilmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, where British records pertaining to Australia and New Zealand have been progressively microfilmed and distributed.

State Records NSW Wives and Families of Convicts on Bounty Ships 1849-1855 is available on microfiche and lists the families on the ships they arrived on.

Punishment

A convict who committed a crime in the Colony was punished, and there were many ways of doing this, from revoking a ticket of leave, to transportation to Norfolk Island or Van Dieman’s Land.

Records of the trial in front of a magistrate or Quarter Sessions court can give interesting information on the accused and accuser, and the nature of the offence. The Bench of Magistrates heard civil and lesser criminal charges, as well as issuing publicans licenses, appointing constables, etc. An index to the Bench of Magistrates cases 1788-1820 shows all cases heard and is being progressively updated. The actual records from the various benches around the state have been microfilmed and are available at State Records NSW.

Quarter Sessions cases (for more serious crimes) from 1824-1837 have been indexed and the index is available online at the State Records New South Wales website. indexes for Colonial Secretary’s correspondence mentioned above should also be checked. Some records have been microfilmed, and the others are available at the Western Sydney Records Centre. The depositions of the accused and witnesses are often included in the papers.

Gaol records may also be available. Sydney Gaol was replaced in 1841 by Darlinghurst Gaol, and Parramatta Gaol, destroyed by fire in 1799, was rebuilt in 1802 and rebuilt again by 1842. Records include entrance books, description books, discharge books, daily occurance books, weekly and monthly statements and returns, and contain information such as physical description, crime, sentence, discharge details. These, too, are available at State Records, and the indexes mentioned above should be checked.

And then there are the penal settlements, where misbehaving convicts were sent for most punishment short of execution. Norfolk Island, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Cockatoo Island were used in turn, as well as Moreton Bay and Van Diemen’s Land. Indexes to Colonial Secretary’s correspondence can give names of convicts moved to penal settlements.

Sources

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

Cora Num, Convict Records in Australia. ACT:Â Cora Num, 2003.

Convicts in NSW – an overview of available records Part 2 – Freedom!

ball_and_chain 300x225Continuing my brief description of the records available for the majority of convicts in NSW. As mentioned last week, most convicts were sentenced for transportation for 7 years, 14 years or for life. I have also come across convicts transported for 10 years, mostly from Ireland. A ticket of leave allowed the convict to be self-supporting but restricted movement. For real freedom, the convict had to finish the original sentence or receive a pardon.

Certificate of freedom was granted to a convict who had served his full sentence. He would make a declaration to the local magistrate who would check the indents, or send to Sydney if he didn’t have a copy of the printed indents, and then issue the certificate. The convict was required to produce the certificate to prove that he wasn’t a runaway.

The indexes to records of surviving certificates of freedom are available on the State Records New South Wales website, and the surviving registers and butts have been microfilmed.

Conditional Pardons were the most usual freedom granted to convicts under a life sentence and were also granted to convicts with a shorter sentence before that sentence had expired. The ‘condition’ was that they remain in the Colony until their full term had been served, and after 1846 that they not return to Great Britain and Ireland or the Colony in which they had been tried for later crimes.

An index to conditional pardons for 1826-1870 is available on State Records New South Wales website. Surviving registers of conditional pardons , copies of conditional pardons and registers of recommendations for conditional pardons have been microfilmed. Some applications for conditional pardons have also survived for years between 1826 and 1845 and have also been microfilmed.

Absolute Pardons represented unconditional freedom, to remain in the Colony, travel elsewhere, or return to Great Britain or Ireland. A small proportion of convicts received and abolute pardon, and most of these chose not to return to their homeland.

Colonial Pardons were granted by the Governor for offences committed in the Colony.

Pardons were more usually granted to convicts with a life sentence. Convicts with a shorter sentence were able to achieve their freedom once their terms had expired, but a life convict was a convict for life unless he earned his freedom. Pardons were usually granted for good behaviour, specialist skills or for fulfilling special responsibilities.

After the “Rum Rebellion” Governor Macquarie assumed control of the Colony in 1809 and required the surrender of all pardons issued during that time. These pardons were then examinied and re-issued if found to have merit.

Correspondence

Most of the freedoms gained by convicts had to be requested, in writing. Letters of application were written by well-educated convicts, or by a clerk at the local court, for which a fee was charged. Reasons for requests included the granting or reinstatement of a ticket of leave or pardon; to live out of the barracks; to have Fridays off to support a family; for information of progress of an earlier application; and for “indulgences” such as to marry, spend bank money or to be assigned elsewhere for family reasons. Many of these letters survive and should be searched in the first instance in the “Colonial Secretary’s Papers”. An index for 1788-1825 is available on the State Records New South Wales website.

Although a convict may have been granted a certificate of freedom or absolute pardon allowing him/her to return to the homeland, most chose not to do so. Life was better here in the Colony than back home, and many sought to bring their families out here. In addition, to return meant paying for the passage, which was expensive.

Next week I will cover records about family and other matters.

Sources

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 2, 34. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-5.

Cora Num, Convict Records in Australia. ACT: Cora Num, 2003.

Convicts in NSW – an overview of available records Part 1

ball_and_chain 300x225Many of us are thrilled these days to find that we have a convict amongst our ancestors. How do you find out more about him or her? The administration of the convict system required a lot of paperwork and a great deal of it survives. We can follow the career of a convict and look at the records that were produced at each stage of his/her career.

Trial records for trials in England. If your convict was tried in Middlesex, at the Old Bailey in London, the trial record may be available online at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/search/ which gives images of the actual record of the trial proceedings. The records of Quarter Sessions courts are held by County Record Offices in England, although the Society of Australian Genealogists may have a copy. Criminal Registers for Middlesex from 1791 and other counties from 1805 give a small amount of information about the trial and have been microfilmed and are available in Sydney.

Convict indents are the lists of convicts delivered to the Colony by the transport ships, and were the official record of the convicts’ arrival. Early lists of arrivals gave the bare minimum of information – name, when and where convicted, and the sentence, usually transportation for 7 or 14 years or for life. Later lists included more information such as age, and later still included occupation, native place, and a physical description. By 1826 the offence, former convictions, religion, marital status, number of children and education were also included.

Early indents were handwritten and bound into volumes and so are now called “bound indents”. Later they were printed and distributed to magistrates and officials to enable them to identify individual convicts – “printed indents”. Magistrates were then in a position to grant tickets of leave and other indulgences.

Convicts may also appear on musters and other lists such as those of embarkation in England or Ireland, or of transportation between colonies.

Assignment once a convict arrived in Sydney he/she was either employed on public works or, more commonly, assigned to a private settler to work and to be fed and clothed. Men were usually employed as field labourers or tradesmen; women as domestic servants or at the Female Factory manufacturing wool and linen. Most of the records of assignment have been lost; lists of “convicts sent to various districts after being disembarked” exist for the years 1814-1826. Musters and censuses can also be used to determine the whereabouts of convicts.

There are records of convicts in iron’d gangs and road parties for a few years in the 1830s and early 1840s. Some convicts were granted exemption from government service and others absconded or ran away, and some of these records still exist. Bound indents for 1826-1832 record “how disposed of” and usually gives assignment after arrival.

Ticket of Leave was the first step towards the convicts’ freedom, allowing the convict to work for himself as long as he stayed in the district for which it was granted. In general, a convict was granted a ticket of leave after 4 years of a 7 year sentence; 6-8 years of a 14 year sentence, or 8-12 years of a life sentence. Some applications for tickets of leave survive; registers for tickets of leave issued for 1810-1814 and 1824-1833; and the ticket of leave butts from 1827-1875 – these are the stubs after the actual ticket of leave was removed and given to the convict. An excellent index to tickets of leave for 1810-1875 is available at the website of the Society of Australian Genealogists.

A ticket of leaver could apply for a “passport” which allowed him to travel to a district other than the one for which his ticket of leave was issued for work purposes. The passport was usually issued for a period of twelve months, after which time it could be renewed. The butts of ticket of leave passorts are available for the years 1835-1869 and show the name, ship and year of arrival, date and place of trial, sentence, ticket of leave number, and what the holder is allowed to do.

 

Actual freedom for the convict was granted at a later stage, and will be covered in Part 2. Part 3 will cover other records that may be available for convicts, such as requests for permission to marry. Most of the records relating to convicts have been microfilmed and many if not most records have been indexed, allowing quick identification of the records available to individual convicts. The State Records NSW website has many online indexes related to convicts, and the microfilms are available at the State Records NSW Reading Rooms and many libraries. Although indexes can give you a thrill when you find your convict ancestor, the thrill of seeing the actual record about your ancestor is so much greater!

Sources

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

Cora Num, Convict Records in Australia. ACT: Cora Num, 2003.

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Five essential websites for NSW genealogy

Today I want to discuss websites that I find to be essential for researching family history in New South Wales. Genealogy has come a very long way in the last few years, with so many government repositories and others putting indexes, and even images of the actual records, online. Here are the websites that I use most often.

1. NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Historical Index Search is a necessary first step for anyone starting on their family history. Starting with the people you know – your parents and their parents, you can then start putting the meat on the bones – the hard evidence of birth, death, and marriage registrations. The index allows searching for births from 1788 to 1906 by name and/or parents’ names; deaths from 1788 to 1976 by name or parents’ names; and marriages from 1788 to 1956 by either or both parties’ names. The upper search limit increases each year by one year. Once an entry is found the certificate can be ordered and paid for online. Current cost for a certificate is $25.00.

2. NSW State Records was previously names the Archives Office of NSW. Their indexes online has many useful indexes including some censuses; Colonial Secretary Correspondence; Convicts; Court, Police and Prison records such as civil and criminal cases, divorces, gaol photographs, police service records, and some early probate records; Deceased Estate files of the Stamp Duties Office; Education and Child Welfare; Immigration and Shipping; Indigenous Australians; Insolvencies; Land records and Naturalization. Additional records and series are added to as indexing progresses. The Convict and Immigration indexes are essential resources for finding out how your ancestor arrived in Australia. Some indexes are held on the websites of other organisations.

3. Society of Australian Genealogists is based in Sydney and is a marvelous resource for Australian research and NSW research in particular. Their research guides are enormously helpful – factual and very informative. Online databases include Convicts’ Tickets of Leave, Electoral districts for Sydney Streets, Soldiers and Marines from 1787 to 1830, and NSW Ships Musters 1816-1825. The catalogue shows what resources are available when you visit the library and is being added to all the time.

4. State Library of NSW has many resources that are also available in other repositories such as State Records NSW. I always check their catalogue to see if it is worthwhile to visit for records on microfilm or microfiche, both Australian and from the UK. They also have some records for other states. Mitchell Library and the William Dixson Library in particular specialise in Australian and New Zealand books and manuscripts. The State Library also has a vast collection of maps and plans, pictures, photographs and newspapers.

5. NSW Department of Lands is not an immediately obvious source for family history, and it does allow some limited property searches here. What I use it for most often is its Historical Parish Maps, which can be viewed in small sections from here. It may be useful before doing a map search to find the correct parish using the search at the Geographical Names Board. All the existing parish maps that have been superceded by more recent versions have been digitised and put online. Towns are included to the street level, and portions of land have the names of the original purchaser. Hours can be spent looking at these maps. CDs of the maps are also available from the Department.

6. I know I said there would be five websites, but I think the State Records NSW website must be mentioned again apart from its online indexes. This is the place to find out whether the records you want actually exist and have been archived. As the progressive indexing of their holding continues more and more records can be found by searching in Archives Investigator, their catalogue search facility. For example, probate files can be found by searching for the name and the word “death” as keywords (and using “All Words” not “Exact Phrase”). Their Archives in Brief series are very useful guides to the records they hold and are available online or in hardcopy in State Records Reading Rooms.

These are the NSW sites that I use most often in my research for myself and others. I would be very interested to hear from others if they disagree with anything on my list, or have others they would like to share.

What use are land records?

compass 300x220Land records are a much-neglected resource in family history. Land and property is an important part of most people’s lives, whether they are paying off the mortgage on the house they live in, or rent business premises, or own farmland. Land records can tell us much about our ancestors’ ownership of, and attitude to, their land and property; they can tell us about the history of a house or piece of land; they can tell us who owned the land before or after our ancestors did, or who they rented it from. Land records can help to fill in the details of an ancestor’s life that make him or her seem more like a real person than a file of birth, death and marriage certificates.

Why look for land records? Land records can tell us much about the financial standing of our ancestors. Purchases, mortgages and sales of property reflect the fortunes of the landowner, whether it was farmland, investment property such as houses or business premises. An initial investigation of my grandfather, Richard Eason, a farmer and grazier in the Central West of NSW, showed that he started off with very little land and a mortgage to the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) in the early 1920s before he married, and later sold many parcels of land in the 1950s before moving to another town, indicating the increasing prosperity of the family. His father, John Eason, owned one small neglected farm when he died in 1933 according to his Deceased Estate File (for the calculation of death duties) but a search of the land records showed he owned many parcels of land over his lifetime.

Land records can also show us the history of a house or property as nothing else can. Who built the house, who owned it before our ancestor did, who bought it afterwards, who built the extension, when was the sewage connected, what did it look like, how was it furnished – these questions may be able to be answered by searching for relevant records. The signature of our ancestors may appear on some documents, and some may have been wholly hand-written by the ancestor.

What do we mean by land records? Land records are those created for the recording of land transactions – grants, purchases and leases, and sales, including mortgages and transfers. These records are generally kept by the Land Titles Office, now the Department of Lands, although some have now been handed over the State Records NSW. Old System land transactions and Torrens Title deeds show purchases, mortgages, transfers and sales, often with maps and diagrams. Parish maps show the name of the original purchaser or grantee of the land and that of the neighbours. Primary applications to change Old System land over to Torrens Title can contain much information about the family where proof was required of transfer of ownership. Conditional purchase files may contain the original request for the land. There are many different types of records that cannot be covered here.

Although some of these records, such as primary applications and conditional purchases, have now been archived with State Records NSW they can only be identified using Land Titles Office reference numbers, so a search must always begin at the Department of Lands.

What other records are there? Related records were created by other government bodies, and are mostly now kept by State Records NSW. Deceased Estate files relate to the administration of death duties, which were payable from 1880 to 1958, and may contain certificates of Valuation of Property, schedules of furniture and other assets, and balance sheets of businesses. Local government records include development and building applications, rate and valuation records, and maps and plans showing water distribution, sewage and the location of public amenities such as schools, parks and shops.

Land records are time-consuming to find but can be of inestimable value in filling out our family history and knowledge of our ancestors. In a later blog I will discuss how to go about finding these records.

Sources:

Land and Property Information NSW. A Guide to Searching New South Wales Land Title Records in the Queens Square Office of LPI NSW, March 2002 Edition. Sydney: Department of Information Technology and Management, 2002.

Regan, Des, and Press, Kate. How to Trace the History of Your House. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1990.

State Records New South Wales. Archives in Brief 29, 93, 106, 108Â and 109. Sydney: State Records NSW, 2006.

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