My Scottish Trial records have arrived!

I have written previously about the trial records available at the National Archives of Scotland for convicts transported to Australia. You can search for the convict by name in the catalogue and order the records to be copied and posted to you by writing to them by email.

A couple of weeks ago I rang the National Archives to order copies of files for John Graham and Thomas McKay. Actually it was 17 August. Yesterday, 2 September, a nice big packet arrived in the mail:

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Inside the jiffy bag was a nice thick stack of colour photocopies all tied up with tape. Each one is labelled with the statement:



and the reference number of the file.

I have therefore decided against reproducing one of the pages here.

I can’t wait to have a good look through it. More soon!

Scottish convict records at the National Archives of Scotland

National Archives of ScotlandDid you know that you can search for your Scottish convict by name in the catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland?

I didn’t until recently. I am researching one John Graham who, it was claimed on his death certificate, arrived in the colonies when he was about 16 and spent may have spent some time in Tasmania. A search of all the usual arrival options to New South Wales proved unsuccessful but there was a suitable candidate transported to Van Diemen’s Land at a young age.

Further research at the excellent Archives Office of Tasmania digitised content website showed that this John Graham came from Scotland. His 7 year term was timed perfectly for him to serve it, move to New South Wales, get married and start his family.

The catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland has indexed convict trial records by name. A search for the name John Graham gave far too many results to be useful, but narrowing the date range down to when I knew (from the Tasmanian records) that his trial took place, and there he was. Twice.

The precognition (AD14/39/95) showed that he was tried with Thomas McKay, who appears next to him on the convict indent. Under the heading  ‘Accused’  they are both named, as is his father and his father’s occupation, and their residence:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee

The trial papers (JC26/1839/5) give even more information:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.

Requesting copies of these records is not so straightforward, but it can be done. It appeared that the only way to do so from the other side of the world was to request a quote by email, so I wrote to the enquiry email address asking for one, giving the first reference that I’d found.

I got an email back a few days later with a very detailed list of what was in both files:

Precognition (ref: AD14/39/95)

A Precognition is the written report of the evidence of witnesses to a crime, taken before the trial in order to help prepare the case against the accused. This particular Precognition contains the following items:

  • Bound Precognition, this includes the witness statements and the declarations of both John Graham and Thomas McKay [74 pages]
  • Printed Indictment [7 pages]
  • Inventory of Papers in Precognition [3 pages]
  • Schedule [2 pages]
  • Petition [6 pages]
  • Letters [2 pages]
  • Supplementary Schedule [2 pages]

74 pages of witness statements and declarations! Priceless!

The Court Process Papers (ref: JC26/1839/5) contain the following items:

  • Handwritten Indictment [13 pages]
  • Diligence [2 pages]
  • List of Assize [2 pages]
  • Execution against John Graham [2 pages]
  • Execution against Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Execution against witnesses [4 pages]
  • Declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • Declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • Extract Conviction [5 pages]
  • Complaint against Robert Burt, James Downie, Duncan Carswell, James Robertson and Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Extract Certified Copy Complaint [4 pages]
  • Complaint against Archibald Paterson & John Graham [2 pages]
  • Complaint against John Graham [2 pages]

I was also given the option of a Minute Book entry:

The Minute Book Entry (ref: JC11/86)

This is a handwritten summary of the proceedings in court, and includes the charge, the plea and the sentence handed down [2 pages]

The quote was given separately for each file, and was not for the faint-hearted, although considerably cheaper than a trip to Edinburgh. We are going ahead with it, so I’ll report on what comes back when the package arrives.

Payment is by cheque on a British account (which I don’t have) or an international money order, or by credit card over the phone. They hope to provide online payments in the future. Postage and packing is included.

As much as I wish that they offered a similar service to the National Archives of Australia where you can pay a small amount to have something they intend to digitise scanned early, such as the World War II service files, I am still impressed that I was able to do so much from my PC here in Sydney.

I can’t wait for the copies to arrive!

Image by courtesy of the National Archives of Scotland

A surprise in the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence

I found a surprising document when I was researching a convict at State Records New South Wales at Kingswood last week. John Webster arrived in 1830 on the Lord Melville (2), received his certificate of freedom in 1836, married a convict in the same year, and had a number of children over the years. He died in 1896, in Marrickville, in inner Sydney.

All this information is worth finding and the very least you should try to discover about your own convict. Once you have the birth, marriage and deaths of any ancestor, his/her spouse and their children, and the relevant convict records, it’s time to look further afield. The Colonial Secretary received all manner of correspondence from and about convicts and is always worth searching.

The index from 1788 to 1825 is online at the State Records NSW website. After 1826 to 1894 there are indexes prepared by the late Joan Reese on microfiche, and these are worth their weight in gold.  It was these that I searched to find any correspondence for my client’s convict.

I searched each series in turn, 1826-1831, 1832-1837, 1838-1841, 1842-1847, and on until the end. The index is commonly called ‘Convicts and Others’ and it is important to keep searching it even though your convict is no longer a convict. It is equally important to search it even if your ancestor wasn’t a convict.

In the 1878-1888 series I found the entry with his name, no ship name, but the place ‘Enmore’, with the State Records NSW references. Enmore is where one of his daughters was married, and near Newtown where many of the children were born. So I requested to inspect the actual document in the Reading Room at Kingswood.

When it arrived I was surprised to find it to be a Notice of Admission for the second wife Mary to a ‘Licensed House’ for the care of the insane in Tempe, which is down the Princes Highway from Newtown. According to the Superintendent of the Hospital she was

suffering from Melancholia, Chronic. She takes little or no interest in her surroundings. I think she is no longer good for anything.  She is in fair general health, although thin and weak.

Her medical practitioner wrote

Have attended her on & off for several years and for some time she has become more and more melancholic. She now sits nearly all day in the one place saying she will never get well that she has many sins – that she has a strange feeling, has lost all reason, & does not desire anything[;] she is getting thinner & although she eats well, cannot sleep.

All the above have also been observed by her husband. He also says she mutters and keeps him constantly watching her.

Poor woman.

We now know a lot more about this family than we did before, and have further leads we can follow if the records of this institution still exist.


Reese, Joan. Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. Microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2009.

State Records New South Wales: Colonial Secretary, ‘Main series of letters received, 1826-1982’. NRS905. [Bundle 1/2632], Item 87/1718, ‘Notice of Admission for Mary Elizabeth Webster 8 Feb, 1887’. 8 pages.

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