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Convicts, criminals & crime

Convicts, criminals & crime

Records relating to NSW, Norfolk Island and Tasmania found in Colonial Office microfilms

As a penal settlement answering to the British government, copies of colonial paperwork were sent to the Colonial Office in London. The Colonial Office papers contain a huge amount of material relating to the early settlements and residents of New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Tasmania. This seminar provides a guide to the type of information available both on the microfilms published by the Australian Joint Copying Project and in other published works.
- 45/60 minutes – Powerpoint presentation

Norfolk Island: the first settlement, 1788-1814

Many convicts and soldiers who arrived in the early years of settlement spent time on Norfolk Island until, in the first decade of the 1800s, the authorities decided to close the settlement and transfer the settlers to Tasmania. A wealth of documents have survived for this period containing information about those resident on the island. This seminar covers the type of records and other sources available, their contents and where they can be located.

- 45/60 minutes – Powerpoint presentation

Case study: researching the notorious Captain Thunderbolt

When Carol Baxter began researching bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, she found that other books and articles had, naturally, been written. However, most of these were riddled with errors and failed to make use of the wealth of information that was available to an experienced researcher. For example, she found a transcript of Fred Ward’s critical 1856 trial that no one had previously located. Through this case study, you will see how a professional researcher undertakes such research and learn strategies that you can apply to your own research.  

Nicked! Tracing criminals and their crimes in Britain and Australia

Carol Baxter not only has convict ancestors of her own, she researches and writes about criminals in her popular histories – which fall within the sub-genre “true historical crime”. In fact, two of her books were long-listed for the Davitt Award for women crime writers. She edited the CD-ROM Convicts to NSW 1787 to 1812 (Society of Australian Genealogists, 2002) – a transcription and compilation of all the convict transportation records for that period – and, while General Editor for the Biographical Database of Australia, edited similar records for later years.

The murder that kick-started the communication revolution

In 1845, ex-Australian convict, John Tawell, made history as the first murderer caught using the electric telegraph. This amazing technology, recently nicknamed ‘the Victorian internet’ was struggling to find community support and financial backing – until Tawell was caught by the wires. This talk tells the story of the Jekyll-and-Hyde character at the heart of this sensational story.  

- 30/60 minutes – no equipment necessary but Powerpoint slides are available

The Thunderbolt conspiracy

In December 2009, the Sun Herald devoted a full page to claims that, according to new research, the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt did not die in 1870 but instead escaped to America. According to these researchers, the police had shot the wrong man and, fearful of the consequences if the news broke that Thunderbolt was still alive, they implemented a cover up. This conspiracy of silence supposedly continues even today and reaches as high as the Governor of New South Wales. Their claims were raised in Parliament in March 2010 and were reported in newspapers as far away as Britain.

Mary Ann Bugg: Lieutenant and lover

Beautiful, feisty, intelligent and educated, Mary Ann Bugg was the “right-hand man” of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. She was also his lover, the mother of his children, and the most notorious Aboriginal woman in nineteenth-century Australia.

– 30/60 minutes – no equipment necessary but Powerpoint slides are available

Bail Up! The story of Australia’s most successful bushranger

In 1863, colonial-born horsebreaker Frederick Ward and a fellow prisoner escaped from the Cockatoo Island penal establishment in Sydney Harbour, the only successful escapees from this barbaric prison. On the run from the authorities, he became the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt and roamed in northern NSW from 1863 until his dramatic denouement in 1870.

- 30/60 minutes – no equipment necessary but Powerpoint slides are available

Australia’s greatest bank robbery

In 1828, thieves tunnelled through a sewerage drain into the vault of the Bank of Australia and stole the equivalent, in today’s terms, of nearly $20 million, making it the largest bank robbery in Australian history. The crime, in a penal settlement of all places, nearly broke the bank. This talk tells the story of this astonishing robbery; it also provides insights into colonial times and reveals parallels with society today.

- 30/60 minutes – no equipment necessary but Powerpoint slides are available


Sexy convict Jane New was a temptation that John Stephen Jnr found too difficult to resist. John was the Registrar of the NSW Supreme Court, son of a Supreme Court judge, and brother of a future Lieutenant-Governor of NSW. His relatives in England – also with the surname Stephen – had played a leading role in the abolition of slavery.

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