Court records at the National Library of Ireland: www.nli.ie detail prisoners who were transported to the penal colonies at Bermuda, Gibraltar and Tasmania (Van Dieman’s Land). Classified as Ms. 3016, this amazing set of transportation records covers 1849-1850. They show the Irish court a person was convicted in, the addresses of friends and relatives, religion and the prisoner’s age. While transportation to Australia is well known, the other penal colonies, including Bermuda and Gibraltar remain relatively unknown.
In Bermuda, the convicts were used for labor in the dockyard and aboard ships anchored in the bay off Boaz Island. Convict labor was also used to build the dockyard and Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island. Conditions were harsh and many prisoners died of yellow fever. This lead to prison revolts and the execution of many of those involved.
The “convict establishment” was closed in 1865. The men were taken to England or carried to Australia on “tickets of leave.” Records documenting the lives of these convicts are in the Assignment Lists and Quarterly Returns of the Hulk Establishments (Series HO11) at the National Archives, Kew: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk The HO series have been indexed on a searchable database on the State Library of Queensland as “Convict Transportation Register Database”: www.slq.qld.gov.au/info/fh/convicts
The British used prisoners to work on the docks in Gibraltar. They began sending convicts to labor on fortifications in 1842. These prisoners lived on ships in the harbor and were not allowed to associate with the local population. When one escaped the town bells would ring until he was recaptured. They were shipped back to Great Britain and Ireland after their terms expired.
The history of Irish convicts is both fascinating and heart wrenching at the same time. The reasons people were transported can be both sobering and mindboggling.