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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
18th Century convicts go online
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The first convicts were sent to Australia in 1788
The records of tens of thousands of British convicts sent to Australia from the end of the 18th Century have been put online for the first time.

Subscribers can browse names, date of conviction, the length of sentence and which penal colony they went to.

Ancestry.co.uk features records of 160,000 convicts transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868.

It is estimated two million Britons and 22% of Australians will have a convict ancestor listed in the records.

Minor offences

The journey to Australia by boat took eight months, six of which were spent at sea and two in ports where supplies were picked up.

The majority of the convicts were men and although a small number had been found guilty of serious crimes such as murder and assault, most had committed minor offences.

Some of the crimes they were punished for included stealing from a pond or river and setting fire to undergrowth.

Stealing fish from pond or river
Thefts under one shilling
Embezzling naval stores
Setting fire to underwood

One convict of note was the father of Ned Kelly, Australia's famous bush ranger. His Irish father, Red, was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs and sent to Tasmania.

The first female convict to set foot in Australia was Elizabeth Thackery, sentenced to seven years for the theft of five handkerchiefs.

Overcrowded prisons

Transportation of convicts to Australia began as British prisons were becoming overcrowded in the late 18th Century and crime in cities increased following the industrial revolution.

The first 780 British convicts arrived in 11 ships at Botany Bay, in New South Wales, in January 1788.

However, the area was deemed unsuitable for settlement so they sailed north to Port Jackson.

Convict deportation reached a peak in 1833 when 36 ships transported nearly 7,000 people to the colonial outpost.

Penal colonies were also established in what are now Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland.

After serving out their sentence many convicts remained in Australia, becoming government officials and settlers.

Many Australians are said to consider a convict in their family tree is a badge of honour and 22% are direct descendents of these convicts.

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