The following is a guide to further researching a prisoner on Cockatoo Island. Where possible, the databases, indexes and guides listed are freely available online.
This guide identifies rather than analyses the records and resources. Researchers should make their own assessment on the value of the information they offer.
There may be further records relating to specific prisoners in the government records at the New South Wales State Archives & Records, which holds records produced by Cockatoo Island Penal Establishment. Including the logbooks of the Daily State of the Establishment (1849-53, 1855-61, 1866-7, 4/504, 4/506-7, 4/6510-12), Punishment Books (1859-69, 4/6502-3) and Copies of Letters Received by the Superintendent (1841-57, 4/6514). These records are arranged chronologically and not indexed by name. They are available to view on microfilm in the reading room of the NSW State Archives & Records.
Joan Reese’s Index to Colonial Secretary’s Main series of Letters Received, 1826-94, can be accessed at NSW State Archives & Records and other Australian libraries for free, or for purchase online . The index can be searched by name and by place (“Cockatoo Island” returns c. 1000 results). The Colonial Secretary’s numbering system is listed in the register by [year]/[number], but in practice earlier letters were filed with last letter on that subject. Use Reese’s index or the Skeleton Register (available at the NSW State Archive’s Reading Room) to locate correspondence in the Main Series. There is a copying service available for a fee, if you have both a letter and container number.
Convict Transportation registers database, 1787-1867, State Library of Queensland. Compiled from British Home Office Records, search from 123,000 convicts transported to Australia from 1788-1860.
Convict Records, 1788-1868 lists 456 convict ships to Australia. Can search convicts by name and aliases. Community contributed record, so completeness of transcribed records varies.
Digital Panopticon, search millions of records from around fifty datasets relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts tried at the Old Bailey (London).
Convict Voyages – offers contextual information about Britain’s penal colonies across the world (including the Australian Colonies, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Robben Island and the Andaman Islands).
Exiles Index, 1849-50. This index covers exiles transported to Port Phillip from 1849-50 (not the entire period 1846-50). Exiles had served part of their sentence in a penitentiary in Britain and were granted a conditional pardon or ticket of leave on arrival in the colony.
Irish Convicts to NSW 1788-1849, A database of Irish convicts transported to New South Wales between 1788 and 1849.
The Tasmanian Name Index, Libraries Tasmania. Search by individual’s name across a wide range of resources, including passengers lists and ships, Tasmanian census (1837-57), convicts transported to Tasmania and secondary (1803-1893) and prisoners in Hobart (1895-1932).
Index to Indigenous colonial court cases, 1788-1838, compiled by Victoria Jane Barclay Gollan. Enter search terms to search within name, offence, date and/or place of trial. Approx. 250 records in the index.
Transcription of Moreton Bay convict records, 1824-39, by Ken Lamb, made available by Queensland Government. Downloadable database of convicts at Moreton Bay, including prison registers, colonial secretary correspondence and absconding prisoners.
New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930 includes registers of Darlinghurst Gaol which Cockatoo Island convicts passed through. Take advantage of a free two-week trial to subscription or visit a library or archive for free access.
Prosecution Project, Griffiths University, court data for trials from 1788-1943. Includes name of accused, date of trial, first offence listed, verdict, location of trial and links to newspaper archives. For some states, it also includes material from courts, police and prison records. Also description of court system for each colony.
Vessels arrived in Sydney, 1837-1925, State Archives & Records Index relating to vessels arriving in Sydney, records name and type of vessel and date of arrival.
Index to Assisted Immigrants, 1839-96. Name searchable digitised index. Assisted immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle (144-59), Moreton Bay (1848-59), and Port Phillip, 1839-51. Refers to people whose passage was paid for or subsidised by British government, mostly arriving from the UK.
Research Guide: Chinese Migration Stories, gives historic context and guide to further research online and at the NSW State Archives & Records.
Ships List, a database of information about immigrant ships travelling between Australia, Canada and other countries. It includes some passenger lists, ships’ arrivals and official immigration reports.
Guide to Births, Deaths and Marriage Records: Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales, State Library Queensland. General research guide that also includes links to online Birth, Deaths and Marriages databases for the Australian states and other countries.
National Library of Australia Trove holds over 200 million newspaper items from 1800s to 1950s. Until the 1910s, detailed reporting of court-proceedings including the judge presiding, defendants, and witnesses or victims and verbatim testimonies. Note that the court date listed in Cockatoo Island registers can be ‘out’ by a few days.