How to look for records of... Prisoners and convicts

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This guide will help you to search for records of prisoners serving sentences in England and Wales. This includes many prisoners sentenced to transportation during the 19th century and awaiting transportation in hulks (prison ships). A proportion of those sentenced to be transported were never actually taken overseas and would have served all or part of their sentences in hulks or prisons.

Historical records of prisoners in prisons or gaols are held in a number of different places, including The National Archives, prisons themselves and local archives. The records at The National Archives relating to prisoners mostly consist of lists or registers of prisoners among records submitted to the Home Office or Prison Commission. Records of prisons, if they survive, may be found in local or county archives.

For information on somebody currently serving a prison sentence visit the prisons and probation pages on GOV.UK.

Consult our Criminal court cases: an overview guide for advice on finding which court a prisoner was convicted in and how to find records of the court.

Use our guide to Criminal transportation to find out more about records of convicts sentenced to be transported to Australia.

For information on finding records of prison staff use our guide to Prisons and prison staff.

For information on finding historical records of imprisoned debtors, see our guide to Bankrupts and insolvent debtors.

What does it help to know before starting?

Generally, there is no single record at The National Archives recording details of an individual prisoner’s time in prison. There is a small number of records for individual prisoners, usually relating to high profile cases, see the section below on records of individual prisoners. Licenses for early release of prisoners in PCOM 3 and PCOM 4 (available through Findmypast) can also contain information on a prisoner’s time in gaol and previous convictions.

Information on most convicted prisoners is found in registers of prisoners held in a particular prison or hulk, or calendars of prisoners convicted at courts of assizes or quarter sessions. The registers are little more than lists and do not provide much information on individual prisoners, usually:

  • Name
  • Age when convicted
  • Offence
  • Where and when convicted
  • Sentence

Many of the older registers are available online and can be searched by name on our partner websites, more information is in the Online records section below.

More recent records are likely to be closed because of data protection. Closed records will not be available online or searchable by name. It may be necessary to know where the prisoner was convicted or imprisoned and the dates in order to identify a record and submit a FOI request. See the section below on records available only at The National Archives.

Online records

Criminal registers for England and Wales (1791–1892)

Search criminal registers for England and Wales (HO 26 and HO 27), 1791 to 1892, on or (charges apply). The registers list all persons in England and Wales charged with indictable offences (tried by jury) showing the county where prisoners were tried and the sentences if convicted; some of the registers may contain personal information respecting the prisoners.

Many prisoners who were originally sentenced to death may have had their sentences ‘commuted’ to transportation for life or to a term of imprisonment.

Prison hulk registers and letter books (1802-1849) on Ancestry

Search by name for convicts held on prison hulks (HO 9) in England 1802-1849 on (charges apply). The registers contain basic information on the prisoners and where and when they were convicted.

Prison hulks were ships moored near naval bases to house prisoners – often those awaiting transportation. Many prisoners sentenced to transportation were never actually taken overseas and may have served their whole sentence, or a large part of it, on the hulks.

Use our guide to criminal transportation to find more records relating to criminals sentenced to transportation

Criminals, convicts and prisoners (1770–1935) on Findmypast

Search among the assorted records of criminals, convicts and prisoners on (charges apply) for:

Home Office records including:

  • Home Office: Convicts, Miscellanea (HO 7)
  • Quarterly returns of prisoners on hulks 1824-1876 (HO 8)
  • Criminal entry books, recording correspondence 1782-1871 (HO 13)
  • Criminal petitions 1819-1853 (HO 17) and (HO 18) and registers of criminal petitions (HO 19), see below for more information
  • Registers of Prisoners from National Prisons lodged in County Prisons 1847-1866 (HO 23)
  • Prison Registers and Statistical Returns 1838-1875 (HO 24)
  • Criminal registers, Middlesex (HO 26), and England and Wales (HO 27)
  • Judges’ Reports on Criminals 1784-1830 (HO 47)
  • Newgate Prison Calendar 1782-1853 (HO 77)
  • Miscellaneous Criminal Books 1798-1831 (HO 130)
  • Calendars of prisoners 1868-1915 (HO 140, see below for later records not available online)

Prison Commission records including

  • Various Prison records (PCOM 2)
  • Parole Licences, Male 1853-1887 (PCOM 3) and Female 1853-1887 (PCOM 4)
  • Transfer Papers 1843-1871 (PCOM 5)

Other records include

  • Metropolitan Police habitual criminals’ registers and miscellaneous papers (MEPO 6)
  • Registers of convicts in prison hulks (ADM 6)
  • After-trial calendars of prisoners of the Central Criminal Court (CRIM 9)
  • Treasury Accounts for Convict Hulks 1802-1831 (T 38)

Refer to the series descriptions of the records using the hyperlinks in the list above to learn more about what is contained in the records. For example, calendars of prisoners in HO 140 and criminal registers in HO 26 and HO 27 are registers of prisoners tried at various courts and include those not convicted, while HO 24 includes prison registers from Parkhurst, Pentonville and Millbank Penitentiary, as well as returns from county gaols.

Petitions for clemency (1819-1853)

Search HO 17 (1819-1839) and HO 18 (1839-1853) by name of prisoner on Findmypast. Petitions in HO 17 are also described in some detail in Discovery and a cataloguing project is adding descriptions to HO 18.  Petitions were submitted to the Home Secretary requesting reductions in initial sentences, and sometimes contain background information on the prisoner, their families, their crimes and prison conditions.

The series HO 17 also contains lists of prisoners submitted by prison governors recommending prisoners for pardons for good behaviour.

The series HO 19 records receipt of petitions and some petitions are registered which no longer survive.

Judge’s reports and circuit letters

Other records which may have led to a reduction of sentence can be found through judges’ reports from 1784-1829, which are in series HO 47 and can be searched by name and keyword in our catalogue or among the records digitised on Findmypast.

These can include details of evidence from the trial as well as comments from witnesses, juries and the friends and relatives of the accused.

Licences of parole for female convicts (1853-1871, 1883-1887)

Search by name for licences of parole issued to female convicts (PCOM 4) on (charges apply). Their contents vary but can include a variety of personal details, reports on behaviour while in prison and (from 1871) photographs.

These are also available through Findmypast.

Photographs of prisoners

The records digitised on Findmypast include albums of photographs of prisoners at Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons and at Oxford Gaol.

The two albums of photographs of prisoners in Wandsworth Prison created in 1872 and 1873 can also be browsed in Discovery at

They can be searched by prisoner’s name in Discovery using the form on this page.

Most records of convicted criminals do not include a photograph.

Prisoners listed in census records (1841-1911)

Search census records (charges apply) for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 by name of prisoner online. If you find a prison in the census, it will list the names of prisoners present at the time the census was taken.

For advice on finding census returns for prisons see our partner websites.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

If the record is closed you will first need to submit a Freedom of Information request. You can make an FOI request for a closed record by selecting the ‘Submit FOI request’ button to the right of the closed record description in Discovery, our online catalogue.

Records of individual prisoners

There are some records for individual prisoners created by the Prison Commission in the series PCOM 8, 1876-1958, and in the Home Office series HO 336, 1936-2008 (most files are closed). The Home Office series HO 144  and HO 291 also contain some files on convicted criminals, as well as more general criminal matters or cases. They generally relate to high profile cases.

Search by name of the prisoner using the search box in the catalogue links and submit an FOI request if the record is closed.

Calendars of prisoners tried at Assizes and Quarter Sessions (1916-1971)

Lists of prisoners tried at county assizes or quarter sessions are in our series HO 140.  Before 1915 they are available online and can be searched by name of prisoner on Findmypast. From 1916 onwards they are not digitised and must be consulted as original records at The National Archives. To identify the record you need, search HO 140 by county and year.

A calendar for a specific year will list only those prisoners tried in that year, if you do not know the year a prisoner was tried, you may need to consult several calendars.

Calendars in HO 140 dated 1930 to 1971 are closed records. If you wish to know if someone is mentioned in a calendar that is closed, you will need to identify the relevant calendar and submit a FOI request.

In 1972 Assize Courts and Quarter Sessions were replaced by Crown Courts and after trial calendars ceased.

Prisoners tried at the Old Bailey or the Central Criminal Court (1815-1849)

Browse HO 16 for returns of prisoners committed for trial at the Old Bailey arranged by date. The returns list charges and the sentences passed, including acquittals and not guilty verdicts.

Recorder’s returns and judges’ circuit letters, from 1816-1840, are arranged by date in series HO 6, and contain more material about the decision to reduce sentences, lists of prisoners and letters from prison governors. They can be browsed by year.

Other records

Various other Home Office series can contain records relating to prisoners.HO 45 and HO 144, Home Office registered papers all of which can be searched on our catalogue. They contain papers on all sorts of subjects including convicts and prisoners.

PC 1 Privy Council Office unbound papers also contains correspondence relating to convicts and criminal matters, refer to our guide for more information.

Useful websites

The Prison History website has a wealth of information on 19th century prisons and local lock-ups, including searchable databases with information on the location of surviving records.The Digital Panopticon  website has searchable information on convicts convicted at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court) drawn from a variety of sources.


Watch the video Tracing your Criminal Ancestors by Chris Day.