In the days when Britain was the most powerful country on Earth and ruled over much of the planet's people and much of its land, Australia, today a modern, English-speaking Western nation, was nothing more than a British penal colony. Many British felons (many of whose crimes were, in modern eyes, trivial, such as stealing a loaf of bread) were transported to Australia, most of it inhospitable desert, as a punishment instead of being sent to jail. The first white women ever to step foot in Australia was Englishwoman Elizabeth Thakery, aged 20, who was sentenced to seven years' transportation for...... stealing five handkerchiefs worth a shilling in 1787. Some were sent there for a certain amount of years, whereas other were transported for life. To this day the British like making fun of their Australian cousins (especially when the two countries clash in cricket or rugby), by calling them "convicts."

But it has emerged that 2 million Brits (one in 30) are descended from these transported criminals and some of us may even be descendants of the notorious Australian outlaw Ned Kelly (1855-1880). Ned Kelly had Irish parents, from Dublin. At the time, the whole of Ireland was very much part of Britain.

Web will transport two million Brits to their Oz convict cousins

25th July 2007
Daily Mail

In your family? Mick Jagger as bushranger Ned Kelly

They were shipped off to the other side of the world for what today seem the most trivial of crimes.

Unfortunate souls such as 20-year-old Elizabeth Thakery, given seven years' transportation for stealing five handkerchiefs worth a shilling - who in May 1787 became the first white woman to set foot in Australia.

The aim was for this country to be rid of such people for good. But try as it might, Britain could not sever its ties with the 163,000 convicts it banished to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

An estimated two million here - one in 30 of us - are descended from the relatives of such 'criminals'. And from today, it will be much easier to track down these links.

The website Ancestry.co.uk has launched a comprehensive collection of convict transportation records that can be readily accessed online.

The register includes the name, date, place of conviction, term of sentence and marital status for nearly all those sent to Australia, as well as the name of their ship, departure date, and the colony to which they were sent.

The computerised records - the originals of which are held at the National Archives in Kew, South West London - include four registers spanning 80 years of transportation.

Australia, independent from Britain since 1901, was once a British penal colony, where Britain sent many of its convicts.

They contain the stories of those such as Elizabeth Thakery. Another name on the register is John 'Red' Kelly, the father of Ned Kelly - Australia's most famous bushranger.

The Irishman was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs - 'value about six pounds' - in Tipperary (then a part of Britain), which he had taken 14 miles down the road to sell at market.

Ancestry.co.uk spokesman Josh Hanna said: "This is the first time these unique records have been brought together in one place online, making them accessible to so many.

"These records are of significance not only to the one in four Australians who are of convict descent, but also to the estimated two million Brits, many of whom are unaware of their links to the other side of the globe."

While the paper records are already available to the pubwhenlic, the website version promises to save hours in searching.

The collection provides a unique insight into the penal practices of the British Empire.

Australia was formally settled in 1788, when the British government established a penal colony at Port Jackson, in Sydney.

Convict deportation reached a peak in 1833 36 ships transported nearly 7,000 to the outpost. The journey to Australia took eight months, six at sea and two in ports for supplies and repairs.

The majority of those sent to the colony - 83 per cent - were male and aged between 15 and 30, and three-quarters were in unskilled professions.

Just two per cent had committed serious crimes such as murder or assault. Around 90 per cent were guilty of crimes such as larceny, burglary and 'theft of animal or fowl'.

Previously, Australians who knew they were descended from convicts tended to hide their ancestry.

But today most are proud of their links with those who helped build their country.

Simon Ziviani, Australian PR director for the website, said: "Since Australia's bicentenary in 1988 there has been a new appreciation of the contribution convicts made to modern Australia.

"They arrived out here to a very hard land and created cities and roads and people are now proud to be related to the convicts."

The country's prime minister, John Howard, is descended from convicts on both sides of his family.

The figure for British relatives is based on the idea that the average convict had five siblings, meaning that in total, the 163,021 left 800,000 brothers and sisters behind, who made up 5.1 per cent of the population at the time.

Taking into account emigration and migration, it was calculated that those 800,000 would have around two million descendants, equivalent to 3.33 per cent of the current population.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 25th, 2007 at 12:29 PM..