Dutch explorers found Australia in the early 1600s, but decided against settling because the land was too dry and inhospitable.
After losing the American colonies the British were anxious to find another place to ship convicts and established the state of New South Wales as a penal colony.
In 1788, nine ships of convicts along with two military escort ships, called the First Fleet, settled in what is known today as Sydney, Australia.
Descendants of these First Fleet convicts are as proud of their heritage as those who descend from those who arrived on the Mayflower.
Nearly 160,000 English convicts had landed in Australia by1850, along with free settlers who started arriving by 1793. As New South Wales expanded and Victoria broke off in 1834 followed by Queensland in 1859.
The Gold Rush of 1851 spurred overland settlers and soon the British had settled in all parts of Australia.
By 1900, more than a million people had settled in Australia, mostly from the British Isles with each colony maintaining its own identity until 1901 when Australia became a Federation of states and territories.
Those territories being New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and Australian Capital Territory.
Today Australia is a sovereign nation but is still a member of the British Commonwealth.
Convict Records is a fascinating view of Australian genealogy and the oldest records generally exist because Europeans have been there for only 250 years.
The following links will help you to get started on your research:
“The First Fleet Fellowship Victoria Inc. is an historical society formed in 1984 to provide an association for all those people who have ancestors who arrived in Australia in 1788 aboard one of the ships of the First Fleet.”
First Fleet Online has information about the convicts who were transported to Australia in 1787. “A fleet of ships carrying over 1000 convicts and military under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in Australia in January 1788 after a journey of seven months. Few ships had been here before other than the early Dutch, French, and British explorers. So it was quite a journey to undertake.”
Ancestry.com has an amazing amount of records to search for all states and territories, including convict records. Recent additions include: Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922, Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1949, Australia Death Index, 1787-1985
In the section dedicated to family research the New South Wales State Government has an index to convict indents from 1788-1842
Census, population musters, and BMDs fore long-deceased Australian ancestors can be found at Family Search.
Emigration sources from the United Kingdom for more than 24 million passenger records for ships sailing from British ports from 1890 to 1960 can be found at Findmypast.co.uk
Australian colonies have quickly changed during their history and a gazetteer might be needed to locate place names that no longer exist you might want download free of charge from Google eBooks “A Geographical Dictionary or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies” by William Henry Wells.