Between 1787 and 1868, some 160,000 convicts were transported from the UK to Australia. About 4,000 of these came from Norfolk.
At the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) we hold records of the various courts that sentenced people to transportation – these are described below. The National Archives (TNA) also holds records relating to transportees.
Records held in Australia are often more detailed than those in England. The National Library of Australia has a research guide to convict records.
The transportation registers give information such as:
The registers are held at TNA, but are available at Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist. These are subscription websites, but can be accessed free of charge at the NRO, the Norfolk Heritage Centre (NHC) and King’s Lynn Borough Archives.
Between them, these websites give access to a large number of related sources including:
At the NRO we have a list of people transported from Norfolk courts available on the searchroom shelves, compiled from reports in the local newspapers.
This has a names index and can be a useful starting point if the date of trial is not known.
Local newspapers may give more information than the court records.
The Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Mercury cover the whole period and the Norfolk News the period from 1845 onwards. These newspapers are all available on microfilm at the NHC.
The Norfolk Chronicle 1776-1907 (with gaps) and Norwich News 1823-1905 (with gaps) are available to search at the British Newspaper Archive.
This is a subscription website, but can be accessed free of charge at NRO, NHC, King’s Lynn Borough Archives and all Norfolk libraries.
The assize court or one of five quarter sessions courts in Norfolk could sentence people to transportation.
In general, the assize courts tried crimes for which the culprit could be sentenced to death, while the quarter sessions courts tried lesser crimes.
However, there are a few cases of death sentences being given by the King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth sessions courts in the early 19th century. The surviving records are summarised below.
Assize judges came from London to Norfolk twice a year to hold trials in cases of serious crime. The main records are the indictments which give the crime, plea, verdict and sentence.
Sometimes there are depositions or other supporting papers, but the survival rate of these for the Norfolk circuit is not good.
Assize courts were held at Easter and in July or August: the cases were reported in all the local newspapers listed above. The records of the assize court are held at TNA.
Some printed assize calendars (lists) of prisoners, giving brief summaries of the proceedings, are held at the NHC while others are at the Castle Museum in Norwich.
We have some calendars of prisoners, as well as microfilm copies of some calendars held elsewhere, 1693-1971 (with many gaps): see below.
This court had jurisdiction over the county of Norfolk, apart from the boroughs listed below. It met in Norwich and by adjournment in King’s Lynn, Walsingham, Holt and Swaffham.
The location of the trial gives some idea of where in the county the crime took place.
If the court papers survive they will give more details on the crime and the evidence of witnesses. For records of this court, see list C/S. These include:
Surviving records are held at the King's Lynn Borough Archives, but the sessions books are available on microfilm at the NRO.
These are registers of all persons charged with indictable offences in England and Wales. The information given may include:
The registers are useful in identifying the court which heard the case, so that you can look for any surviving court records. The original registers are held at TNA, and can be searched via the Ancestry website.
Some people who were sentenced to death (almost all at the assizes) later had their sentences commuted to a period of transportation instead.
In a very few cases, this is noted in local records and their names are included in the draft list of transportations in the NRO.
In most cases, however, their names can only be found through the Commutation records at TNA.