LOOKING BACK: Family history researchers Maggie Heffernan and Bill Buckler busy cross referencing.
LOOKING BACK: Family history researchers Maggie Heffernan and Bill Buckler busy cross referencing. Trevor Veale

Unearth a convict in the family

MANY Britains flock to Australia to get a suntan and see the sights, but rewind the clock to the late 1700s and early 1800s and it was a different story.

This was the other end of the world. An inhospitable, undesirable place certainly not featured on any travel brochures.

Between 1788 and 1868, the British Government arranged plenty of "extended holidays" for convicts, and Australia was the number one destination.

"The British Government began transporting criminals to Australia after the war of independence in America," publicity officer of the Coffs Harbour Family History Society, Maggie Heffernan, said.

"America didn't want any more convicts after that so places like Canada, Gibraltar and Australia became chosen destinations.

"When we look at the crimes committed in today's language, the penalties back then where very harsh. Imagine being sent away for seven years for stealing a handkerchief or a loaf of bread? This was the reality for criminals back then. The justice system was unfair with many inconsistencies and sentencing was often the result of a judge's mood on the day."

Once emancipated, most ex-convicts stayed in Australia and joined the free settlers, with some rising to prominent positions in Australian society and this has led to many Aussies proudly exploring and claiming their convict lineage.

Is it possible you have a convict in your family tree? The team from the Coffs Harbour District Family History Society is hosting a workshop on July 23 at the Uniting Church Hall in Vernon St.

The workshop will be hosted by Maggie, along with two other local presenters, who have all recently completed the "Convict Ancestors" unit through the University of Tasmania and have information to share that will be helpful in tracing your convict heritage.

"Whether you are a complete novice, or are already digging around in your family history, this workshop will give you plenty of information," Maggie said.

"We held a workshop in February that was so popular we had to move to a bigger venue so please pre-book to avoid disappointment."

Workshop July 23, cost $5 for non-members includes afternoon tea. Bookings to 66516126 Tues, Wed, or Thurs, 10am-4pm or coffsgenie@gmail.com