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Forced Emigration: Historic Remedy for British Criminal Activity

For centuries, Great Britain has attempted to resolve its criminal problem by forcibly transporting miscreants to distant parts of the realm.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Nathan Murphy
Word Count: 1143 (approx.)
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For centuries, Great Britain has attempted to resolve its criminal problem by forcibly transporting miscreants to distant parts of the realm. Most of us are aware that Australia and the surrounding Australasian islands served as dumping grounds for Britain's outcasts; however, the fact that the British previously employed North America and the Caribbean as penal colonies is less widely known. Utilizing the abundance of sources generated in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales during the "transportation" process can help genealogists to trace their roots back to the Mother Country. Family historians have indexed and published many of these records.

From the 17th through 19th centuries, the British government transported convicted felons to many parts of the world. Some of the sentences allowed convicts to escape the death penalty; while on the other hand, criminals were often forcibly expelled from the British Isles for lesser infractions, such as repeated theft. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia received the products of this justice system. The West Indies also served as a major destination. From the late 18th century onward, Australasia became the targeted area and today many living Australians can trace their roots back to these individuals.

The convicts usually served 7- or 14-year labor sentences and then were granted the freedom to stay in their new home, or return to their lands of nativity. Many never went back and remained in the new lands. Australians refer to convict immigrants as "assisted immigrants" and non-convict immigrants as "unassisted immigrants." A good place to begin your study on this topic is the Web site The International Centre for Convict Studies, available at http://iccs.arts.utas.edu.au/index.html.

In addition, the following list directs the reader towards useful databases and books to find out more about this class of ancestor. It is by no means comprehensive, but represents a significant interest now expressed by historians and genealogists in the subject:

North America and the Caribbean

1. Peter Wilson Coldham, Bonded Passengers to America, 9 vols. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983).

2. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988-1992). Also available on CD-Rom from Brøderbund.

3. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1660: A Comprehensive Listing Compiled from English Public Records of Those Who Took Ship to the Americas for Political, Religious, and Economic Reasons; of Those Who were Deported for Vagrancy, Roguery, or Non-conformity; and of Those Who were Sold to Labour in the New Colonies. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987). Also available on CD-Rom from Brøderbund.

4. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699: A Comprehensive Listing Compiled from English Public Records of Those Who Took Ship to the Americas for Political, Religious, and Economic Reasons; of Those Who were Deported for Vagrancy, Roguery, or Non-conformity; and of Those Who were Sold to Labour in the New Colonies. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990). Also available on CD-Rom from Brøderbund.

5. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1700-1750: A Comprehensive Listing Compiled from English Public Records of Those Who Took Ship to the Americas for Political, Religious, and Economic Reasons; of Those Who were Deported for Vagrancy, Roguery, or Non-conformity; and of Those Who were Sold to Labour in the New Colonies. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992). Also available on CD-Rom from Brøderbund.

6. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1751-1776: A Comprehensive Listing Compiled from English Public Records of Those Who Took Ship to the Americas for Political, Religious, and Economic Reasons; of Those Who were Deported for Vagrancy, Roguery, or Non-conformity; and of Those Who were Sold to Labour in the New Colonies. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993). Also available on CD-Rom from Brøderbund.

7. Peter Wilson Coldham, Emigrants in Chains: A Social History of Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-conformists, Vagabonds, Beggars and Other Undesirables, 1607-1776. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992).

8. Peter Wilson Coldham, English Convicts in Colonial America. (New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1974-1976).

9. Peter Wilson Coldham, The King's Passengers to Maryland and Virginia. (Westminster, MD: Family Line, 1997).

10. Immigrant Ship Transcriber's Guild, Immigrant Ship Transcriber's Guild. Internet, available at http://www.immigrantships.net. This database contains passenger lists for convict ships.

11. The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, The Proceedings of the Old Bailey London 1674 to 1834. Internet, available at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org. This database currently contains an index and scanned images to over 53,000 criminal trials. A quick keyword search for the term "transported" brought up over 4000 hits.

12. Roger Kershaw, Emigrants and Expats: A Guide to Sources on UK Emigration and Residents Overseas. (Richmond, Surrey: Public Record Office, 2002).

13. A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). Discussed online at http://iccs.arts.utas.edu.au/data/boundforamerica.html.

14. The National Archives, Transportation to America and the West Indies, 1615-1776, Legal Records Leaflet No. 16. Internet, available at: http://www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=268.

15. Myra Vanderpool Gormley, Transported Felons Hang on Family Trees. Internet, available at: http://www.ancestry.aol.com/columns/myra/Shaking_Family_Tree12-18-97.htm.

Australasia

1. The National Archives of Ireland, Ireland-Australia Transportation Records Database. Internet, available at: http://www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/transportation/search01.html. This database is based upon documents held in Ireland.

2. Public Record Office Victoria, Assisted British Immigration: Index to Registers of Assisted British Immigrants 1839-1871. Internet, available at: http://proarchives.imagineering.com.au/index_search.asp?searchid=24.

3. Lincolnshire County Council, Lincolnshire Convicts Transported to Australia, Gibraltar and Bermuda, 1788-1868. Internet, available at: http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/section.asp?docId=27638&catId=2725.

4. Peter Larson, Australian Shipping 1788-1868 - Convictions. Internet, available at: http://www.blaxland.com/ozships/. This database contains over 70,000 passengers taken from Australian newspapers. They also sell a compact disk called The Convictions CD.

5. Center for Family History and Genealogy (Brigham Young University), British Immigrants Project. Internet, available at: http://immigrants.byu.edu. This Web site draws its immigrant lists from criminal and other sources deposited in the British Isles. The project has begun to input sources such as transportation orders from Warwickshire Quarter Sessions into its database.

6. David T. Hawkings, Criminal Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England and Wales. (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton, 1992).

7. David T. Hawkings, Prison Registers and Prison Hulk Records. (London: Historical Association, 1997).

8. David T. Hawkings, Bound for Australia. (Chichester: Phillimore, 1987).

9. Convicts to Australia: A Guide to Researching Your Convict Ancestors. Internet, available at: http://www.convictcentral.com. This Web site provides historical background and humor about the first settlers of Western Australia.

10. Janet Reakes, How to Trace Your Convict Ancestors: Their Lives, Times and Records. (1999).

11. Descendants of Convicts Group Inc. Internet, available at: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~dcginc/frames.htm#top. This Web site helps related researchers to coordinate efforts with one another.

12. Government of New South Wales, State Records New South Wales: Indexes to Assisted Immigrants, 1839-96. Internet, available at: http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/indexes/immigration/introduction.htm. This Web site covers an astounding amount of data, including databases of convict immigrants.

13. Lesley Uebel, Claim-A-Convict: Convicts to Port Jackson, New South Wales. Internet, available at: http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/convicts/index.html. Contains an index to over 20,000 convict immigrants.

14. The National Archives, Transportation to Australia, Legal Records Leaflet No. 17. Internet, available at: http://www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=347.

15. Criminal Register CD 1805-1816 Transportation Sentences. Covers all of England and Wales. Available from S & N Genealogy for £10.95, www.genealogysupplies.com.

What exciting lines to pursue!

If anyone is aware of any additional databases not listed here, please share them with the author.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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