Online records of the transportation of convicts to Australia are readily available. Below are links to database searches at Ancestry.co.uk
Transportation Registers and Musters Links:
Australian Convict Collection
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – First Fleet, 1787-1788
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Second Fleet, 1789-1790
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Third Fleet, 1791
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls & Related Records, 1790-1849
New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849
New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, 1826-1851
New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia, Convict Pardons & Tickets of Leave, 1834-1859
British justice was ruthless in the 18th and 19th centuries with many crimes that would be considered petty today, being punishable by death then. Very minor crimes would also attract prison sentences and British goals became so overcrowded as to be virtually unmanageable.
The increase in crime and the pressure on Britain’s gaols was in some part due to the rapidly growing population of Britain at the time and the movement and displacement of the population during and following the industrial revolution. Another way of dealing with those convicted of crime had to be found.
The government and the administrators of justice proposed that transportation was a good alternative to the death penalty and long gaol sentences for minor or petty crimes and began transportation to firstly the Americas and then to Australia. The Transportation Act of 1718 enabled courts to sentence convicted criminals to 7 years transportation to America and estimates have been made that between 50 and 60,000 were sent there. Not surprisingly, the American option ceased to exist after the American War of Independence and so Australia and it’s environs then became the destination of choice.
The first British settlement of Australia (a penal colony) was at Port Jackson, (now Sydney) and was established in 1788 on what is now known as Australia Day – 26 January. This settlement comprised of over 700 convicts who set sail on the First Fleet of convict ships from England for Botany Bay on the 13 May 1787. More than 40 died on the voyage. On arrival the survivors were employed on settlement building works or cultivating the land to grow food.
About 160,000 men and women were transported from 1787 to 1857. On completion of their sentences many of the convicts married other convicts, had children and became the first Australian settlers. Some died, as they were ill-prepared for the rigors of the voyage and the hard life that awaited them when they arrived in Australia. Some managed to successfully farm the land. Very few returned to England.
Transportation continued for over 70 years until 1857 but wasn’t actually abolished until 1868.
Other Useful Links
British Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867.
This is a database compiled from British Home Office records and maintained by the State Library of Queensland. A search of this database by name will provide the name of the ship, when transported, where convicted and the term of the sentence, place of arrival and various record references.