Westminster – NSW/VDL Female Convict Research Project

Many women who fell seriously ill on board convict ships were sent off to the Unite Convict Hospital Ship for further treatment. Image source: 19th London publisher, artist not indicated, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


As part of the launch of Australian Convict Research London I have started a research project titled, Transported Female Convicts of Westminster. Through the Digital Panopticon and other online resources, I and later with help from Maree, one of the project volunteers from Hobart, have indentified around 60 women who were born or lived in Westminster during the time of convict transportation (1788 – 1868) who commited crimes and were thus transported to Australia; the majority to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania or lutruwita. According to the Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., from 1803 – 1853, around 13,500 female convicts were transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

An early grandmother on my father’s side who lived around Oatlands and Ross, Tasmania was one of these women, hence my interest and connection to this project. Our Ellen Handley was born in Westminster around 1827, she was 23 years old in 1850 when she was arrested with a friend for attempting to steal plaid shawls. This led to her being sentenced at the Central Criminal Court/Old Bailey in London to 7 years transportation. She sailed to Van Diemen’s Land on the Baretto Junior, leaving Kent, England on 12 April 1850 and arriving in Tasmania around 3 months later on 26 July. A little more about her later…

The aim of this project is to initially build a simple profile of each female convict that will look something similar to the one I have made up below for Sarah Anderson. Please note: This is still being edited and added to as I confirm details and find more information on Sarah. From these profiles, and then looking at the data, a decision can be made about how to futher analyse, record, document and share this information.

Below are some snips from the transported female convicts of Westminster dataset I narrowed down and downloaded from Digital Panopticon. These graphs demonstrate how the final data can be used to create snapshots of these women. As further information is gathered about each female convict, more nuanced results can be evidenced. Note: the data below has not been cross referenced with other documentation and therefore could be inaccurate.

The Female Convicts of Westminster research project aims to honour the memory of each female convict and capture a rough snapshot of transportation in the late Georgian (1714 – 1837)/Regency (1811 – 1820) and Victorian (1837 – 1901) eras and female criminals/convicts from a specific place – in this case, Westminster. I also believe my project will fill a void in the knowledge and understanding of this very important era in the United Kingdom and Australia’s shared history.

Not only were these women’s lives changed forever by transporting them to the other side of the world for mainly petty crimes, this era also had a negative and life-changing affect on the Australian environment and Aboriginal people’s lives, especially in early New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. Here at King River Press, we recognise Tasmanian Aboriginal – lutruwita palawa people as true and sovereign people of Tasmania. The King and Franklin River areas are considered the lands of the lairmerenga people.

Sources used for the profile of Sarah Anderson:

Libraries Tasmania – Tasmanian Names Index

Female Convicts Research Centre Inc.

Digital Panopticon

Claim a Convict

Thank you so much for showing interest in this page and perhaps my project. We already have 3 volunteers – Maree from Hobart – Tasmania, Judy from Hobart who lives in London and Lisa from Australia. I would also be very open to collaborating with members of the forthcoming Australian Convict Research London group or any other members of the public who are interested in assisting. Much of the foundational knowledge and information on female convicts of Westminster can be found through open access websites so you can assist from anywhere in the world with a computer and internet connection. Thank you, again.

Cheers, Jodie

My contact details are here. You can also read more about me here.