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

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