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Tuesday, 20 September 2011 14:04

Irish Family History ~ Australia

Written by  Darren McGettigan
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With emigration of young Irish people to Australia becoming very popular once again due to the terrible Irish recession, I thought  I would write a very short blog on some genealogical sources for ealier Irish emigration to Australia, particularly in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion and the early 1800s.

Unfortunate people were transported from the island of Ireland to Australia from 1791 to 1853. Many of these people were in very poor circumstances, and like Ned Kelly's father were convicted of stealing small amounts of food or farm animals, to be killed for food. The records for those transported down under were fortunately preserved in the State Papers Office in Dublin Castle, where they escaped the destruction of the vast majority of Irish records in the Four Courts Explosion of 1922. Although some important records for the pre 1836 period have been lost somehow, very large numbers of prisoners' petitions, which contain very valuable family information do survive.


After serving four years imprisonment in Australia, male prisoners had the right to request free passage to Australia for their wives and children. This probably led many desperate men to deliberately commit minor crimes in the hope of being sent to the Australian penal colonies, from where they could then summon their families after four years in the hope of starting a better life for themselves. A large archive of Free Settlers' Papers for the years 1828 to 1852 also survives.

These records can now be accessed in the National Archives of Ireland. They are also freely available in many archives in Australia itself as the Irish State made a very generous gift of microfilm copies and an index to Australia in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the founding of Australia.

Many State prisoners were also sent to Australia in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. This included the famous west Wicklowman Michael Dwyer, who was turned by his experiences in 1798 from the peaceful son of a Glen of Imaal sheep farmer into a ruthless and determined guerilla leader, who held out in the Wicklow Mountains for five years after the crushing of the 1798 rebellion. He finally surrendered in late 1803. Dwyer became a substantial farmer and high-ranking policeman in the Liverpool area near Sidney. His life took a bad turn however in the 1820s when he was dismissed from the police and was bankrupted as a farmer. He was imprisoned in the debtors jail in Sidney where he contracted dysentery. Michael Dwyer died at his home in Liverpool, Australia on 23 August 1825.

Last modified on Monday, 03 December 2012 19:18
Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an historian, author and genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.


1 Comment

  • Comment Link Susan Toole Tuesday, 12 June 2012 13:00 posted by Susan Toole

    Thank you Darren this is a fascinating site.
    Sidney Australia is spelled Sydney by the way.
    As a descendent of the O'Toole clan in Australia I was
    intrigued to discover some history of the name and that an O is missing from it!

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