When did immigration to Australia start?
British migration to Australia began with the sailing of the First Fleet in May 1787. The loss of the colonies in North America meant that the British government needed to find a new location for a penal settlement to dispose of the growing convict population.
The founding of a new colony in Australia would alleviate this problem and would also provide a base for a new expansion of the British Empire into the Pacific. In the years up to 1868, more than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia.
Many of those stayed in the country after their sentence had expired, while others made the long and hazardous sea journey back home.
At the same time as the enforced movement of criminals was taking place, free settlers were also encouraged to migrate to Australia to help with the economic development of the country.
They came as either assisted or unassisted immigrants, which indicates whether they received some financial help with travel costs or paid their own way.
Many Irish families fled the famine in their own country by resettling in Australia in the 1840s. The gold rushes in the 1850s further helped fuel migration into the country from Britain, Europe and elsewhere.
With the shortening of travelling time brought about by the large ships of the early 20th century, migration to Australia before and after the First World War was a very popular option with people who wished to start a new life overseas.
A chronic manpower shortage “down under” in the period immediately after the Second World War saw the government subsidise migrants with free or cheap travel.
Over a million British migrants – “Ten Pound Poms” – arrived in Australia between 1945 and 1972. So although Australia is very closely associated with its convict heritage, they formed only a very small percentage of the migrants who have populated the county over the last 220 years.
While many people living in the UK today may not have direct ancestors who resided in Australia for generation after generation, there will be some whose forebears were there temporarily, either as convicts or free settlers. However, the major link with people in Australia is likely to be through brothers and sisters of the main ancestral line. Many families will have stories of aunts, uncles and cousins who moved down under to improve their chances in life.
What are the Australian states?
The states are New South Wales (NSW), Victoria (VIC), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS) and Western Australia (WA).
The territories are the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Consequently, each state or territory has different regulations concerning its record-keeping, and while most areas may have similar records, there are few national records available to the researcher.
It is therefore very important to have some idea of whereabouts in Australia your family were based so that the appropriate state’s records can be consulted. Each state will have an archive office and a state library that form, between them, the major repositories of family history information.
Where are Australian civil registration records?
Birth, marriage and death certificates are some of the major sources for research in Australia. Each state began its own system of registration at different times. Tasmania was the first to record such events – starting on 1 December 1838. The majority of the other states began either in the 1840s or the 1850s, but the Northern Territory records start as late as 1870.
The details recorded in the early years were fairly lax, but more consistent information is usually found from the 1880s onwards. Indeed, the information provided is often more detailed than that given on the same type of documents for England and Wales. Certificates of birth, for example, will provide not only the name, date and place of birth of the child, the full names of both parents and at least the father’s occupation, but also their ages and the date and place of their marriage. The number of previous children born to the couple is also recorded.
Marriage certificates will give the full names of the bride and groom, their occupations, ages, birthplaces and the date and place of marriage, along with the full names and occupations of both sets of parents.
Death certificates will give the date, place and cause of death, the age of the deceased and details of the time that person has spent in Australia. Other information given includes the number (and often the names and ages) of the children of the deceased, along with details of his or her parents. The birthplace of the deceased and where they were married are also recorded, along with the name of their spouse and the age at which they married.
Each state has different access rules for their birth, marriage and death records. New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia have made all or part of their indexes available on the internet. Victoria and Queensland will allow you to download uncertified copies of the documents for a fee.
How do you find convict records?
Many researchers see the discovery of a convict ancestor as a highpoint in their research.
The digitisation of many of the convict records from the National Archives in London by Ancestry has made the task of finding such ancestors much easier.
Its Australian website contains several indexes to the convict transportation registers from 1787 to 1868, as well as the convict musters 1806-1849, convict pardons 1834-1859 and convict lists 1787-1834.
Many of these documents will provide details of the date and place of the trial of the convict and the sentence they were given. By consulting the trial records, or newspaper accounts of it, the misdemeanours of an ancestor can be established along with details of their origins and family.
For those people who were tried in London at the Old Bailey before 1834, transcriptions of their trials are available on the Old Bailey Online website. The majority of the trials were for petty theft of clothes or food and would have been dealt with less severely by the courts today.