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Following a general discussion of the sources used, the following categories of information are discussed in this section:

Record keeping in the past was not like it is today, with our standardised computerised records, and widely agreed upon spelling of names. So careful interpretation has been necessary to ensure that this is the most 'accurate' version that is possible.

Interpretation has occurred at a number of levels.

The secondary sources from which this database was derived are:

John Cobley, Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, 1970, Angus and Robertson, Australia

Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia, 1989, Library of Australian History, Sydney

Gillen and Cobley examined a number of contemporary sources to compile their lists. Apart from published accounts, these sources included a number of official documents such as records from the hulks, lists made by contractors who transported the convicts, both English and colonial court records, commercial transactions and census information. These documents are in the form of hand written records, usually transcribed from working drafts by vast armies of clerks.

The clerk who wrote up the final draft might have written legibly, but had to rely upon legible drafts to prepare an accurate list. Then too, clerks can make errors in their copying. This occurred in the case of Mary Spencer, who received the sentence of transportation for 5 years, but had it recorded as 7 years by mistake.

Click for an example of a handwritten record from the time.

See the section on Name below for a more detailed discussion of problem of consistency of spelling.



Other sources included the published journals and lists compiled by the various officers on board the First Fleet. Most of the officers who accompanied the First Fleet kept journals, and those of the following writers have been referred to in this database.

Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790) surgeon on Lady Penrhyn kept a detailed journal of the journey. As Gillen says the lists he prepared "would have been more useful if he had been more careful in the matter of dates of birth and death, and the sex of babies born on the voyage... His estimates of the ages of the convict women is also often suspect." Gillen made use of other (later) records to determine likely and probable mothers, and so Gillen is the reference used to determine the mothers of these children as reported in this database.

Ralph Clark (c1755-1794) lieutenant of marines, left a most interesting journal of his time in the colony. He had no time for the convicts especially the women, and remained troubled by the immorality that he observed in the settlement, writing such passages as "I would call [the women's camp] by the name of Sodom, for there is more sin committed in it than in any other part of the world". Lt Clark's daily routine included kissing his wife Betsy Alicia's picture, yet he apparently saw nothing inconsistent in also living with the convict Mary Branham and giving their daughter the same name as his wife, Alicia.

David Collins (1756-1810), captain of marines was both secretary to Governor Phillip and Deputy Judge Advocate of the community. He stayed longer in the colony than he needed out of loyalty to Governor Phillip at considerable loss of pay and promotion prospects. He was appointed lieutenant governor of a proposed new settlement at Port Phillip which he was forced to relocate at Hobart. He had two children by Ann/Nancy Yates, and maintained an interest in them after she married in 1800. He also had two children in Hobart. However his long separations from his wife were also deeply distressing.

William Bradley (1758-1833), First Lieutenant of HMS Sirius, was a solitary man who returned to England in 1791. He surveyed Port Jackson and coastal waters, and illustrated his informative journal with many water colour drawings.

James Scott (-1796), sergeant of marines, travelled on the First Fleet with his wife and daughter. Another daughter was born on the voyage out, and a son was baptised in July 1790. He kept an intermittent journal which records events of great human interest. He returned to England in 1791 and where he died early in 1796.

Two of these officers, Surgeon Bowes and Lieutenant Clark created lists of the convicts on board their transports, which provide some supplementary information or confirmation of the official records.

However according to Gillen, who cross referenced wherever possible, Bowes was notoriously unreliable, and his handwriting extremely difficult to decipher (despite his tidy signature). Both Bowes and Clark recorded what they were told by the convicts, which may or may not have been in accordance with official records. Hence there were sometimes conflicting statements which Gillen and Cobley had to evaluate.

Once in New South Wales the information is based on available written records, including court records. So well behaved and cooperative convicts were less likely to appear in the records, and are harder to trace over time.



Names were spelt as they sounded by those who had need to record the name. In an age of illiteracy, individuals did not know how to spell their name, and in any case were probably not asked. Some of the name recorders were better at spelling than others. There is also the problem of errors which were made in the endless tasks of copying and recopying names from one file to another.

Some of the convicts used a variety of names, further adding to the difficulty, while female convicts also changed their names as a result of marriage.

In some cases it is difficult to know with any certainty which is the real name, which is the alias or which is the adopted spouse's name. In this database, Gillen's format has been adopted which in some cases includes variations of spelling separated by a slash eg ABEL/ABLE. Where a signature exists that is often the spelling accepted by Gillen.

In general, the use of a name in Australia determines the category in which it is recorded. A name is included under Surname if it is used with any frequency in Australia. Distinct changes of indentity indicated in the trial records, as for example "otherwise Roberts" or "Black Caesar", are recorded under Alternative Names. Alternative Names is not a searchable field - it is only for information.

When convicts had the same name e.g. Catherine Smith, it is very hard to be sure which is the one who was punished. From earliest times in the colony the name of the convict transport was often used to distinguish between the convicts, a little like a modern identification number. The lists generated by the database use the same convention.

The names in Cobley's Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, are based on the lists, prepared for each vessel by the shipping contractors. These were full of gross misspellings and careless transcription errors.

The Gillen list has more variations, but is probably more "correct", and has been used in this database. However the name used by Cobley has been included in the list of alternative names.



The term Trade is used in this database, rather than the more modern term Occupation.

Sometimes alternative occupations are listed. This was often where the occupation recorded by Bowes or Clark differed from the 'official' court recopted rds. In such cases both former occupations are listed in the database as alternatives separated by 'or'. Some of the convicts were discharged soldiers or sailors, left adrift without any pension. Most of the fraud cases were situations where a former seaman attempted to impersonate another to receive the wages due to the name on the ship's muster.

If a convict was reported as having no occupation it is recorded as "none" in this database, whereas if there is no record of their occupation the phrase "no trade recorded" is used.

Some convicts developed useful skills after they arrived in New South Wales, but this is not recorded in this database.



The ages in Cobley are based on that reported by convicts, or deduced by observation. In an age of poor dental health, it was very easy to overestimate the age of toothless wrinkled convicts. Gillen used a wider variety of sources including court records, hulk records and reported age at death. For example, Bowes gave Dorothy Handland's age as 82, yet she survived the voyage and was able to return to England, at the conclusion of her sentence. Other records place her age as closer to 60 than to 80. Gillen's ages are the ones used in this database.

In the data base the age is recorded as -1 if no age was recorded.



Court records then, as now, give quite specific details as to the nature of the crime committed. In a database such as this it is necessary to engage in some classification and consolidation in order to enable significant searching and counting.

The terms used were selected keeping in mind the fact that they would be used in a sentence context, whilst at the same time providing sufficient detail about the kinds of things which were held to be valuable in those times, as well as the crimes for which people were transported.

Thus the main categories were:

Crimes with a value

Stealing is theft. There are a number of variations of the word 'petty' including its more original version 'petit', a French word meaning very small.

Assault is when the victim is harmed in some way.

Robbery is when the victim is confronted by the thief who demands goods.

Highway robbery is robbery whilst on a public street.

Burglary was, in the past, only used to describe cases where a lodging was entered while it was occupied. If not occupied the crime was one of housebreaking. In this database burglary is used in the modern sense of when a place of lodging was entered, and goods stolen. In a legal sense there is a distinction but for the sake of simplicity the two have been combined in this database to cover the more common crime of burglary.

Crimes with no value

Perjury is lying whilst under an oath to tell the truth

Fraud [impersonation] refers to instances where one sailor has assumed the identity of a second sailor in order to draw the second sailor's pay.

Other cases of fraud involve forgery or some other attempt at financial deceit.

Sacrilege is the destruction of religious objects.

Receiving stolen goods, like theft is self explanatory.

If the records are not available the database lists the crime as not recorded.



There were three main terms of transportation: 7 years, 14 years and Life. For the purposes of the database Life is given the number 99 years. Two convicts received sentences of transportation for 5 years. The term of 7 years was so common that in one of these cases there was an initial, and later corrected, clerical error.



If the crime had no monetary value eg forgery, then it is given a value of 0. Where no value can be deduced from records it is assigned -1 in the database.



The actual date of death is often used interchangeably with the date of burial, as that is what the early church records usually show.



Signatures are from marriage registers, or signed receipts for payment. Those who could not write made a cross near the name that was written for them. They are reproduced from Gillen.



Partners in Crime refers only to those partners in the original crime who were on board the First Fleet. Likewise marriages and relationships are usually only noted for those who were also First Fleet convicts, not marines, crew or Second Fleeters.

In 1788 a number of convicts were able to escape by making arrangements with the masters of the returning transports to travel as a crew member. Those who had sailing skills would have been most welcome to make up the numbers. If this is a possibility the notes say "may have escaped".

Those who escaped into the bush almost certainly perished, and this is also indicated in the notes.

Quotations from writers of the time use their often idiosyncratic punctuation and spelling.

Any association with the Dunkirk,Swift or Mercury is recorded, as these were significant names to many of the convicts.

The Simple Search screen provides a drop down list of headings under which information can be retrieved. The key words for each category are as follows:

Listed category Key word
Mutiny mutiny
Dunkirk report dunkirk
Punishments receive
Night watch night
Description describe
Motherhood child

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