Did your elusive ancestor end up in an Australian gaol? You may find their mug shot

When genealogists cannot find an elusive ancestor from Britain, Ireland, Canada, or the United States, it may be worthwhile to look further afield in far off places, such as the gaols in New South Wales, Australia.

The NSW State Archives has digitized more than 46,000 photos of prisoners, from 1870 to 1930, and most of these prisoners were born outside Australia.

Source: Gaol Photographic Description Book, NSW Archives.

The Archives’ Gaol Photographic Description Books contain a photograph of each prisoner and the following information: number, prisoners’ name, aliases, date when portrait was taken, native place, year of birth, details of arrival in the colony – ship and year of arrival, trade or occupation, religion, standard of education, height, weight (on committal, on discharge), colour of hair, colour of eyes, marks or special features, number of previous portrait, where and when tried, offence, sentence, remarks, and details of previous convictions (where and when, offence and sentence). In several cases, even a description of the tattoo is provided.

You can search the index by name, birthplace, and year born. A search of Ireland as the birthplace produced more than 2,000 names. England resulted in more than 6,000, Scotland about 1,400, Australia more than 760, America 720, and Canada 120.

Do not, however, limit searches to a country. A search for England, for example, may not uncover all inmates who were born in London.

For the gaol photos, you can download a copy of a page yourself. From the viewer, select ‘Open image in new window’ and then right click in the new window to save the image for free.

Not one of mine
I entered a number of family surnames, hoping to find an ancestor who had escaped my research, but no such luck. I did find a James Dever, a painter from Newcastle, NSW, who served time in two prisons during the 1880s. (Pictured above.) He was convicted for drunkenness, riotous behaviour, and assault.  But he isn’t one of mine. At least, I don’t think so. Perhaps one day I will discover our connection.

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One Response to Did your elusive ancestor end up in an Australian gaol? You may find their mug shot

  1. Mary Nolan says:

    Looking for William Shea transported about 1848
    He was sentenced to 7years for stealing a pig in Nenagh Court.
    He was from co offaly.

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