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Convict Letter Books

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The series known as Convict Letter Books (CON LB) consists of volumes of copy outgoing letters and other communications which emanated from the Convict Department. The series beginning in 1843, possibly due to reforms carried out by Edward Cottingham who replaced Palmer in 1842, charts very well the later years of the system. The relevant volumes are as follows:

  • CON LB 22 9 February 1843-16 April 1846

  • CON LB 1 26 May 1845-3 February 1851

  • CON LB 2 8 January 1851-31 December 1852

  • CON LB 3 3 January 1853-31 December 1856

Comparison with the earlier period show that in some ways, conditions were still very harsh. Convicts were still arriving in bad condition from the county gaols.

In February 1844, nine female convicts with two children arrived at Grangegorman depot from Drogheda Gaol, Co. Louth, complaining that on reaching Drogheda they were all placed on straw in a cell on a stone floor without fire or any covering whatever from the effect of which they have suffered severely (NAI, CON LB 22 1843-1846).

Two female convicts arrived in Grangegorman in March 1844 from Roscommon Gaol dressed in a most scandalous way with a sort of man's jacket on over a flannel petticoat and no cloak, and also without a warrant or any returns whatever being sent with them from the gaol (NAI, CON LB 22 1843-1846).

It would appear that the journey to the port was still causing problems, even though it simply meant carrying the convicts from the depot at Grangegorman to Kingstown. It was however, necessary to provide a large military escort to guard the cars carrying the convicts because of the rowdiness and frequent drunkenness on the journey. In April 1843, it had been necessary to provide sixteen cars to carry 64 convicts from Grangegorman to Kingstown (NAI, CON LB 22 1843-1846).

There were improvements however. From May 1843 there was considerable improvement when the admiralty supplied the necessary garments, sending them straight from the ship to the depot to avoid wasting time in fitting out the convicts at embarkation (NAI CON LB 22 1843-1846). There was concern shown for nursing mothers, when in January 1845, Cottingham asked that September to April be avoided for sailings because it was dangerous for nursing mothers to travel in jaunting cars in bad weather. He also complained about the accommodation for mothers in convict ships, saying that the berths were inconvenient, if not dangerous, so far as women with infants were concerned, each woman being allowed a berth separated by planks and so narrow that a woman with an infant could not sleep in one without danger (NAI, CON LB 22 1843-1846).

With respect to heath, in April 1848 a circular from Hitchins, to the governors of all local gaols requested that only those who were in good health and free from infectious diseases were to be admitted to the depots (NAI, CON LB 1 1845-1851).

Irish Archives

The following pages are an online version of the article, Sources in the National Archives for research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia (1791-1853) by Rena Lohan. The complete printed version with illustrative examples of the document types mentioned, appears in Irish Archives, the Journal of the Irish Society for Archives, Spring 1996.

A large amount of related material may also be found in Sources in the National Archives for researching the Great Famine