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Perry McIntyre’s research guide to National Archives of Ireland resources

Historian and Inside History contributor Perry McIntyre is an expert on 19th-century Irish immigration. Here, Perry gives us the lowdown on two important resources from the National Archives of Ireland website that may just provide the missing pieces of your Irish family history puzzle. 

The Irish Transportation Database
The Irish Transportation Database, on the National Archives of Ireland website, is a searchable index of Irish convicts, many of whom were transported to Australia during the years 1780–1868. The records searchable on the database represent a selection of holdings in Dublin, and associated document reference numbers. Keep in mind, however, that the database does not cover all Irish convicts. Some convicts who were sentenced to this punishment were not transported in the end – they could have died or had their sentences remitted. Indeed, the database includes many petitions from family members against sentences of transportation for their relatives.

Some of the records on this database include – click here to view:

  • Transportation Registers (1836-1857)
  • Prisoners’ Petitions and Cases (1788-1836)
  • State Prisoners’ Petitions (1798-1799)
  • Convict Reference Files (1836-1856: 1865-1868)
  • Free Settlers’ Papers (1828-1852)
  • Male Convict Register (1842-1847)
  • Register of Convicts on Convict Ships (1851-1853)

To access the database, simply enter “Transportation Database” into the search box on the National Archives of Ireland homepage, then scroll down the results to Ireland-Australia transportation records (1791-1853).

Despite the date range, there are very few documents relating to the earliest period of transportation, although there is a wealth of material particularly for the later period of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. These documents are also available on microfilm in the Reading Room at the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. Closer to home, they are also available at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, all state libraries in each capital city, and even some genealogical societies (such as the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney).

Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers
If your research has ever benefited from the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence in Australia, you will be pleased to know that the Irish equivalent – the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers [CSORP] – is a similarly brilliant source. The longest surviving series of these records began in 1818 and continues well into the 20th century, yet it is a particularly brilliant mine of information for early 19th century Irish research.

To access this resource, simply click on ‘digital resources’ on the National Archives of Ireland homepage, and then on the hyperlink to the CSORP website.

The registered papers of the Office of Chief Secretary of Ireland on this website include petitions regarding all manner of aspect of transportation of convicts, from movement from local gaols to supplies on board ships. There are also petitions from families who remained in Ireland when their relatives were transported, as well as a variety of correspondence from officials about the processes of transportation and free emigration.

One example of such correspondence awaited discovery in the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers: a document with two enclosed letters describing the plight of an A McEvoy. The first was written by John Cope Chetwood on 28 July 1822, from Woodbrook. Here is an excerpt:

Sir, Having received a communication from London last post that there was to be a convict ship to sail very soon from Cork and that there has been an order for a passage for some free women and children whose husbands are in New South Wales, may I request to know if such an order has been given for a woman of the name of Ann McAvoy (sic) and 3 children whose husband was sent out about two years ago – [and? news?] transmitted from Dublin to Cork – he now lives with a Gentleman in that settlement and has some land and could maintain his wife and children very comfortably and is conducting himself very well.

John Cope Chetwood then sent a follow-up letter on 11 August 1822, again asking for information on Ann:

She having been promised to go the first opportunity with any free women that might be joining Mr Espie attended the ship that this woman’s husband went in. He has now got a very comfortable situation so as to enable him to support her and her three children very comfortably… If no passage has been ordered for her you will have the goodness to have her name inserted in the list, as it would be a most expensive journey to her to go to Woolwich with her three children to obtain a passage.

Happily, a passenger by the name of A McEvoy undertook such free passage to NSW in 1822.

Other correspondence include James Grace Moran’s petition for employment in Ireland, which provided details of his military career, including service in the 73rd Regiment in New South Wales. Another example was James Farrell Jnr, from Athlone, who petitioned to be allowed to purchase land in New South Wales. In 1822, Timothy Nowlan applied to be allowed to take 50 merino sheep to New South Wales on the convict ship Mangles.

The few scans that are on the website are truly magnificent. A search for ‘Minerva’ brings up five matches, one of which, CSORP 1819/247, is a ‘list of names and details of 172 male convicts on board the convict ship Minerva bound for New South Wales. The first page of this document is scanned on the website and clearly shows the convicts’ place of conviction alphabetically by county and, most excitingly, their crimes and sentences. The convict indent in Sydney doesn’t even list their crimes!

For over 180 years some of these documents have survived the ravages of time and destruction of other papers in Ireland. When I researched for my PhD thesis on the wives and families of convicts, I used this series of documents extensively but had to plough through the old contemporary indexes and boxes. Now the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers can be searched for the years 1818 to 1822 while sitting in Australia.

The project of cataloguing and digitising the CSORP registers, from 1818 to 1852, is still underway by the National Archives of Ireland, thanks to a generous benefaction given by Francis J Crowley. Francis was an American professor whose parents were Irish-born, and in his will he bequeathed most of his estate to the Republic of Ireland to be used for the preservation of records of the history of the Irish people. The added bonus of the wonderful bequest is that it also employs a dedicated conservator to conserve the papers once they are listed. Registers from the years 1823 and 1824 are currently being catalogued – stay tuned!

These two databases on The National Archives of Ireland website may significantly broaden your knowledge of your ancestors, particularly if they were transported convicts. However, be sure to also look at this material to learn more about what was going on in Ireland at the time your ancestors lived there. Browse the website and keep your searches fairly simple yet creative. Good luck.


Useful links: 

  • Chief Secretary’s Office of Ireland Registered Papers – Click here
  • Chief Secretary’s Office of Ireland Registered Papers guide – Click here
  • Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence at State Records of NSW – Click here
  • Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence at State Records of NSW Archives in Brief guide – Click here
  • Irish Wattle, Irish convicts to Australia in the 1790s – Click here
  • Ireland-Australia Transportation Database – Click here
  • Ireland-Australia Transportation Records 1791-1853 – Click here

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