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Research Guide

A guide to Convict Indents and other indexes and records of arrival

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Indents, or Indentures, were the documents written to formally transfer the prisoners from the custody of the master of a transport ship to the Governor of the colony receiving them. They were kept for each convict and up till the mid-1800s they recorded names, date and place of trial and sentence. Later indents went into more detail and gave name, age, date and place of trial, sentence, former convictions, marital status, number of children, crime, religion, height, colour of eyes, hair and complexion, visible marks, scars, tattoos and other such identifying information. Since transportation to Western Australia only began in 1850, most of its convict indents fitted into the latter category and transcripts are being systematically added to this site as time permits.

New South Wales convict indents are held by the State Archives Office (SAONSW) on microfilm and many of the records from 1788 to 1842 have been released with their 'Genealogical Research Kit' which is referred to as the 'Archives Resources Kit' these days. The kit is held by many major libraries and genealogical societies.

The Genealogical Society of Victoria has also produced an index of New South Wales convicts arriving between 1788 and 1842 and a revised version was released in early 2000. Arrivals are usually listed by ship. The Guide to Convict Records published by the SAONSW gives a chronological chart of ships arriving in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, together with reference numbers to locate the original records, as well as any muster, surgeons' or protest records that have survived. These records could also list names of convicts involved in attempted mutinies on voyages to Australia. Printed and bound copies of indents were maintained between January 1830 and September 1835 and they often contain notes relating to Tickets of Leave and Pardons.

The Tasmanian Archives Convict Deptartment Guidebook lists records related to Tasmanian convicts and their reference numbers. Records after 1841 are also accompanied by 'confessions' or statements made by convicts about their specific crimes. Detailed lists are also kept which give a full, description of the convict's head shape, whiskers, scars, deformities, face blemishes, nose shape, speech impediments, etc.

The Library Board of Western Australia's "Tracing Your Ancestors: a guide to genealogical sources in the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History" (1983) lists the available convict sources in its holdings. A revision called "Dead Reckoning: How to find your way through the Genealogical Jungle of Western Australia" was released in 1997. Gillian O'Mara released her "Convict Records of Western Australia: a research guide" in 1990. Apart from a detailed description of the convicts' physical appearances and trial details, the Battye Library records usually include some comments on the convicts' background in Britain and later records even detail previous convictions. Alexandra Hasluck's "Unwilling Emigrants" and Rica Erickson's "Dictionary of Western Australians Vol. 2 Bond 1850-1868" provide even more detail. The latter volume was revised in 1994 by Erickson and O'Mara and is called "Convicts in Western Australia 1850-1887".
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