Knowledge Base - Filter: Convicts

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Each year we are asked thousands of questions related to information we have in our libraries and archives about Tasmania.

To support your research we are posting our responses below to the most topical and interesting enquiries.

We make sure to remove personal information from the enquiries, answers, related data and search tips.

How can I access surgeons' journals or reports?

You may be interested in looking at the journal for a particular convict ship arriving in Van Diemen's Land, such as the Chapman 1824 & 1826, the William Miles 1828, or the Northampton 1836.

The Surgeon's journals, 1816-1856 are available on microfilm in the Hobart Reading Room.

Surgeons oversaw the welfare of the convicts, and the health of the crew. The aim was to keep them as healthy as possible in the conditions. Journal entries vary but can include, immunisation lists, sick lists, case histories of patients, date and cause of death, a nosological synopsis (list of diseases or conditions), and general remarks on a voyage.

Image: Front cover of convict register vellum CON78-1-1


Search tips

Use resources in the Hobart Reading Room, the Microspace and the History Room

Step 1. Search the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) Handbook No. 7 (Pages 75-77) to see if there is a Surgeon's journal for the ship your convict was transported on. The AJCP handbooks are shelved on the Family History (FH) shelves in the Reading Room at Dewey no. Q 016.994 AUS.
You may prefer to use a volume behind the desk in the History Room called – Convict ships to Van Diemen's Land with a select list of associated convict records.
It is good to note the sailing dates because some ships did multiple trips.

Step 2. When you find a journal, note the AJCP reel and Piece number.

Step 3. Find the AJCP reel in the Microspace.

Step 4. Use the Piece number to find the correct section on the microfilm. The piece number is indicated in a reference tag, which appears before a ship's records on the microfilm. For example, Piece number 8 would appear on the tag as ADM 101/8. There may be several ships within each Piece.

What is the difference between a "Certificate of Freedom" and a "Certificate of Emancipation" in early Van Diemen's Land?

A definitive answer remains elusive for the time being. We hold descriptive lists of convicts in the archival series, the "Alphabetical registers of male convicts" (CON23).

These lists contain a column called : "No. and date of Free Certificate Free Pardon or Emancipation"
This column contains the abbreviations: "CE" [Certificate of Emancipation], "FC" [Freedom Certificate] and "FP" [Free Pardon]. All three certificates have separate numbering systems. 
Newspaper items of the period seem to offer contradictory messages about the status of these certificates:-

1. On 22 August 1818, the Hobart Town Gazette published regulations that stipulate only four types of documents: Certificate of Freedom, free pardon, conditional pardon, and ticket of leave.

2. On 30 September 1820, the Hobart Town Gazette referring to the colonial regulations states (second column): "[A]ll persons, male or female, whose sentences have expired are desired to bring their certificates [to musters]:- Those who have received Pardons and Emancipations are also to produce them, and all Tickets of Leave are to be exhibited."

To try to unravel the contradictory data, it is clear : 
Due to the fact the "Certificate of Freedom " has a numbering system quite distinct from the "Certificate of Emancipation" with its own numbering system, it means that the two forms of convict status are officially separate and presumably intend different outcomes.

It should be noted that the 1820 newspaper item above cites the word "Emancipations" to include both "Certificates of Freedom" plus another kind of status included under the term "Certificate of Emancipation". In other words, the word, "Emancipations" (note the use of the plural), is used loosely to cover both types of documents, namely, "Certificate of Freedom" and also "Certificate of Emancipation"; that is, a single plural word to describe them both.

The earlier newspaper item (published in 1818) limits the status to four options, none of which allow for a "Certificate of Emancipation". 

So the question remains: was there a change in the documentary evidence between 1818 and 1820, in Van Diemen's Land, that, for a short period, established a slight variance in status between convict emancipation and freedom?


​Search tips

​To find CON23 to view the columns, you should open the Search Archives form and then select series records in the drop down menu, type the word: CON23 and click on the search button.