See also the Ireland-Australia transportation database
What was the transportation system and when did it commence?
Answer to question 1:
The exact origin of the use of transportation as a punishment for crime is obscure, but it seems to have developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from a need to avoid what were considered the destabilising influences of particular groups within society. When, during the course of the eighteenth century, the death penalty came to be regarded as too severe for certain capital offences, transportation to North America became popular as a means of mitigating the sentence. Except for very serious crimes, transportation came to largely replace capital punishment. After the American War of Independence, New South Wales replaced North America as a penal colony and transportation came to largely replace capital punishment.
Does the National Archives hold records relating to the transportation of Irish convicts to other destinations?
Answer to question 2:
The surviving transportation records in the National Archives largely document the transportation of Irish convicts to penal colonies in Australia and Tasmania, and to the West Indies in the final years of the operation of the convict transportation system. However, one small series of documents, State Prisoners’ Petitions, includes documents relating to persons who were transported or exiled to North America, or who opted to join foreign armies in Europe following their implication for involvement in events surrounding the Rebellion of 1798.
When did the transportation of convicts from Ireland to Australia begin and how for long did the system of transporting convicts last?
Answer to question 3:
The transportation of convicts from Ireland to Australia began when the first shipload of convicts left Ireland for New South Wales at the beginning of April 1791. Before this, convicts were transported to North America, but transportation to that destination ceased after the American War of Independence. The transportation of convicts from Ireland to Australia ceased in 1853, due largely to growing opposition of colonists, who regarded the continued use of Australia as a penal colony as a disincentive to the immigration of free settlers. The exception to this was the transportation of persons who were involved in the Fenian Rising of 1867.
How can I get further information on my convict ancestor’s trial and conviction?
Answer to question 4:
Trial records for the periods covered by our transportation records were largely destroyed by fire and explosion in the former Public Record Office of Ireland at the commencement of the Irish Civil War in 1922. However, some trials were reported in local newspapers and any enquiry in this regard should be directed to the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2
Are there any police reports relating to the crime committed by my ancestor?
Answer to question 5:
The archives of the Chief Secretary’s Office includes crime reports, some of which might document a convict’s crime. However, locating information on a particular convict can require a level of research that the National Archives cannot undertake on behalf of correspondents and any research in these records must be undertaken personally or by a professional researcher commissioned to perform the work on your behalf. Please consult the list of professional researchers in our Genealogy section or visit our Genealogy Service.
How can I get further information on my convict ancestor’s imprisonment?
Answer to question 6:
Registers of local prisons, convict depots and convict prisons will contain details of convicts, varying in the level of detail recorded. For example, the register of Grangegorman female convict depot covering the period 11 July 1840 to 22 December 1853, contains some 3,500 entries. Registers of local prisons will include, among details of all prisoners, information relating to those sentenced to transportation. However, locating information on a particular convict can require a level of research that the National Archives cannot undertake on behalf of correspondents and any research in these records must be undertaken personally or by a professional researcher commissioned to perform the work on your behalf. Please consult the list of professional researchers in our Genealogy section or visit our Genealogy Service.
How can I find out the name of the ship on which my convict ancestor was transported?
Answer to question 7:
The transportation register frequently records the name of the ship on which a convict was transported and where such information is not recorded, determining the name of the ship can involve research in other sources. A good starting point for such research is a publication, The Convict Ships, by Charles Bateson (Glasgow, 1969), which lists ships departing from Great Britain and Ireland and records such information as dates of arrival in Australia and Tasmania.
From other sources, I can identify my ancestor’s native county. How can I get further information on my ancestor and his/her family?
Answer to question 8:
General information on the conduct of genealogical research from archival sources in the National Archives and elsewhere is available in the Genealogy section of our website.
Were children transported?
Answer to question 9:
There is evidence that children as young as 12 years were, on conviction, sentenced to a term of transportation. In addition, the children of female convicts were generally allowed to accompany their mothers as free settlers, and there are instances where the children of a male convict were also allowed to accompany him. Although there seems to have been no clear policy with respect to allowing children to accompany a convict parent, it is possible that the lack of any defined official policy may have been due to the fact that it was in the interest of the authorities to have as many children as possible sent with their convict parents in order to avoid their becoming a burden on the poor law. The main preoccupation of the authorities was to dispose of children in the cheapest way, whether on board ship or otherwise.
Did any convict transportation ships sink during the voyage?
Answer to question 10:
The Convict Ships by Charles Bateson (Glasgow, 1969), provides a comprehensive description of the voyages, including dates of departure and arrival of the convict transportation ships that sailed from Great Britain and Ireland.
Where can I find other information on the Irish convict transportation system?
Answer to question 11:
An overview of the system of transportation and descriptions of surviving archival sources that document the operation of the system and the transportation of individual convicts can be found in Rena Lohan’s article ‘Sources in the National Archives for research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia‘.