How to look for records of... Criminal transportation

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of people sentenced to transportation or whose death sentences were reduced to transportation. The National Archives holds records of many criminal trials and convictions – as well as convict voyages, censuses and pardons – and this guide explains how these are indexed and how they can be searched. It also contains background information on the history of criminal transportation.

2. Transportation to America and the West Indies

Before 1776, convicts sentenced to transportation were sent to North America and the West Indies. Few records of these individuals survive, though it may be possible to find records of a conviction in records of assizes or the Old Bailey.

A list of men and women transported to North America between 1614 and 1775 is included in The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage 1614-1775 by Peter Wilson Coldham. The list also details where each person was tried.

Bonded Passengers to America, also by Peter Wilson Coldham, gives a detailed overview of all relevant records and published sources in The National Archives. Finding out more about a person transported to North America or the West Indies is likely to be difficult.

Consult our guide to America and West Indies in the calendar of State Papers Colonial for advice on finding records.

The American Revolution of 1776 meant that transportation to North America was no longer possible. Sentences of transportation were still passed, with convicts held in prison while the government considered alternative destinations. The prisons soon became overcrowded and extra accommodation had to be provided in derelict ships (or hulks) moored in coastal waters. The solution was to develop new penal colonies in modern day Australia, and on 13 May 1787 the first fleet set sail.

3.Transportation to Australia

After 1776, criminal transportation was to penal settlements in modern-day Australia, specifically New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (modern-day Tasmania). Convicted prisoners could be sentenced to transportation for a set term, 7 or 14 years, or life. Increasingly, during the 19th century, criminals sentenced to death had their sentence reduced to transportation. Transportees could gain limited freedom in the colony through a ticket of leave or conditional pardon. They could only return to their home country on completion of their sentences or if granted a full pardon.

Transportation did not cease until 1868, but it had been effectively stopped as a sentence in 1857 and had become unusual well before that date. During its 80-year history 158,702 convicts arrived in Australia from England and Ireland, as well as 1,321 from other parts of the Empire.

Many more records survive from this period and most records are searchable online.

3.1 Bermuda, Gibraltar, Western Australia and South Australia

Some convicts sentenced to transportation found themselves sent to places which were not penal settlements.

Convicts sent to Bermuda or Gibraltar were employed in work improving or building the dockyards. If they survived they were returned to Britain on completion of their sentences.

In the 1840s the British government started granting some prisoners sentenced to transportation conditional pardons before sending them to places that did not receive convicts. A relatively small number of young offenders were sent from Parkhurst Prison to Western Australia as apprentices.

Pardons were conditional on the convict not leaving until the expiry of their original sentence.

The record sources for pardoned convicts sent to places other than penal settlements are essentially the same as for more conventional transportation.

4. Online records

Criminals, convicts and prisoners, 1770-1934

Assorted records of criminals, convicts and prisoners can be searched on (charges apply). Though many do not relate to criminal transportation, they may confirm if a prisoner was sentenced to be transported.

The collection includes

  • HO 8 Quarterly returns of prisoners – including those on hulks awaiting transportation.
  • HO 13 Correspondence and warrants – includes copies of instructions to governors of gaols listing prisoners to be transported and records of pardons.
  • HO 17 and HO 18 Petitions – letters and petitions pleading for reductions in sentences or pardons from prisoners, including those already transported. See our guide to Convicted Criminals for more information.

Criminal Registers, 1791-1892

Search Criminal Registers for England and Wales (HO 26 and HO 27) on Ancestry to find details of sentences passed on prisoners.

Convict Transportation Registers, HO 11

Transportation registers list the names of convicts transported on particular ships along with where they were convicted, their crime and sentence.

Registers for 1791-1868 (excluding the third fleet) can be searched by name on Ancestry.

Digital images of the registers can also be downloaded from Discovery but cannot be searched by name of convict. Search or browse HO 11 in Discovery by name of the transport ship.

Lists of convicts and settlers, HO 10

Lists of male and female convicts and pardons can be downloaded from Discovery but are not searchable by name.

Lists give particulars as to

  • convict sentences, employment and other information
  • lists of pardons granted
  • lists of convicts embarked for and arriving in New South Wales
  • general musters relating to settlers and convicts

Browse Discovery for lists from

5. Surgeon’s journals, ADM 101 and MT 32

Convicts were transported to Australia on hired merchant vessels and a Royal Navy surgeon was appointed to each vessel to take charge of the convicts and provide medical care during the voyage. The surgeons were required to keep journals and submit them to the Admiralty and many survive in our series ADM 101 and MT 32. As well as describing medical treatment, these journals often contain the surgeon’s remarks on the journey.

Search ADM 101 in Discovery by name of the convict vessel to see if a journal survives.

You can also search ADM 101 using a convict’s name but the journals do not contain complete lists of convicts, only convicts receiving medical treatment are likely to be listed.

A smaller series of journals from 1858-1867 is in MT 32 listed by name of ship and date.

6. Australian sources

A great deal of information can be obtained from Australian websites where data has been compiled from a variety of sources, including some of the records listed above and some from records held in Australia.

Index to Tasmanian convicts, 1804-1853

Search the index to Tasmanian convicts (archives council of Tasmania) by name see some digitised records, including conduct records, indents and descriptions.

The Female Convicts Research Centre

The Female Convicts Research Centre promotes interest in the female convicts of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), by encouraging and facilitating research and has a database of information on female convicts and information on their lives in Tasmania.

Convict records of Australia

The Convict Records website can be searched by name to find when a convict arrived, his crime, sentence and the ship he was transported on. A search online is probably the easiest way to establish if someone was transported.


Digitised newspapers, gazettes and journals can be searched on the TROVE website.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is Australia’s pre-eminent dictionary of national biography. In it you will find concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of significant and representative persons in Australian history, including convicts and administrators of the penal settlements.

7. Convicts transported from Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland has a range of records relating to transportation from Ireland to Australia and a searchable database. Records include transportation registers and petitions to the Lord Lieutenant.

Further information can be found in their research guide.

8. Further reading

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search our library catalogue to see which are available to consult in the reading rooms.

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search our library catalogue to see which are available to consult in the reading rooms.

Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage 1614-1775

Peter Wilson Coldham, Bonded Passengers to America

Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868 (1983)

Alan Brooke, and David Brandon, Bound for Botany Bay: British convict voyages to Australia (2005)

P G Fidlon and R J Ryan (eds), The first fleeters: a comprehensive listing of convicts, marines, seamen, officers, wives, children and ships (1981)

Michael Flynn, The second fleet: Britain’s grim convict armada of 1790 (2001)

Mollie Gillen, The founders of Australia: a biographical dictionary of the first fleet (1989)

David T Hawkings, Bound for Australia (2012)

David T Hawkings, Criminal ancestors: a guide to historical criminal records in England and Wales (2009)

Robert Hughes, The fatal shore: a history of transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 (1987)

L L Robson, 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 (1965)

R J Ryan (ed), The second fleet convicts: a comprehensive listing of convicts who sailed in HMS Guardian, Lady Juliana, Neptune, Scarborough and Surprise (1982)