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Swing Riots Australia Convicts and Van Diemens Land

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Date: 22 Sep 2021
Location: Australiamap
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Page Purpose: This page is to be constructed to provide background about the Swing Riots, and how the Swing Rioters were transported to Australia, and to capture the life experiences before and after transportation.
Special Credits: Jill Chambers (Author of the Black Sheep and Machine Breakers) for her research on the topics, the lists of the Rioters and other relevant information to be acknowledged through the process of identifying the rioters and those sent to the colonies.

Planned tasks: 1. Break the rioting and riots into the four districts - and explain how the process in each of hte counties. 2. List the Swing Rioter names and work toward buliding profiles and capturing all of them as part of showing how life worked for them after transportation (did they ever return to England? Did they die in Australia? Do they have descendants currently living? 3. Develop a page to show and inform what the expeirence of living on a Prison Hulk would have been like. 4. Develop another page to explain life for the Convicts tha tlead to the riots. 5. Anything else that may be relevant - such as "Marriage in the colony as a swing rioter".

How will we do it? Answer the questions:

who were the swing rioters?

Swing Rioters were primarily male agricultural labourers across the Counties of England, and their families. Research identifies that while most convicts were young urban criminals, the Swing Rioters were more likely to be mature age family men, who had historically worked on the lands of the owners whose properties they visited to 'smash the machines". The 'machines' were the threshers that had replaced them, and which the rioters perceived to be the cause of their loss of jobs, homes and capacity to provide for their families. Records indicate that some of the rioters included family groups - fathers and sons attending the same protest and participating in 'machine breaking' or rioting. In some instances more than one member of the same family was transported. This would have created great hardship for the family members left behind, due to social structures at the time, where there was no social welfare to speak of for the women left to raise families unsupported and already experiencing extreme poverty.

Where were they from?

Jill Chambers articulates that they were from a range of Counties, but there were pockets with significantly higher rates of arrest and conviction: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Sussex, and Wiltshire. In comparison the of the rioters from Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, and Staffordshire-only one or two people from each county was transported.

why did they riot? why was the government reaction so harsh? rapid spreading, violent upsurge, fears of revolution why were they put in hulks and what was life like for them in the prison hulks? )what happened to them after they were arrested? the trial experience and injustice and lack of procedural fairness. what was the experience of transport? What happened to them once they arrived in VDL? what was life like?

Was your Convict Ancestor a Swing Rioter?

You can find out by visiting a number of sites, as the names of those arrested and transported are publicly listed. Heritage Hunter explains that if your ancestors worked the land prior to the riots in the early part of the 19th century, then there is a good chance that they will have participated in the riots.
Useful Research Resources
The National Archives UK

  • Material on crime and punishment held in the Home Office (HO) series including HO 26 and 27 (the criminal registers for England and Wales 1791-1892).
  • Quarterly returns for convicts held in prisons or on prison hulks (1802-11876).
  • HO9 contains prison hulk registers and letter books (1802-1849).
  • HO10 & HO11 holds the records of convicts transported to Australia or Tasmania. TNA holds transportees records (1787-1879), and theae are downloadable from the [discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk Discovery Catalogue]
  • ADM6 (Admiralty Records)
  • ASSI series holds the records for the assizes courts (1559–1971)
  • T38 Treasury records holds Department Accounts for the Convict Hulks (1802-1831).

Research Tip: Begin your search with the guides under the heading, ‘Criminals, courts and prisons’ – the guide on ‘Criminal Transportees’ is said to be particularly useful and all guides are helpful.

  • Quarter sessions records are usually held in local record offices, some of which have online indexes.
  • Newspaper articles can reveal specific events and reports in more detail than the government records. [www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk The British Newspaper Archive}has over 12 million pages online, including many regional publications. The archive can also be accessed via Findmypast.

Note: There is different accessibility levels for records, with some downloadable from the TNA.People living in Kew England are able to visit the The National Archives in person to view for free. Other times people may need to access them via commercial websites such as Ancestry, or FindMyPast, which hold extensive digitised collections of the criminal records.

Van Diemen's Land
Convicts Deported to Van Diemen's Land had extensive information recorded about them the Libraries Tasmania holds many of the records such as departure and arrival details, physical descriptions of the convicts, conduct records, and applications for marriage and so forth. Most of the records are photographs of original and handwritten documents and some are in poor condition, and difficult to read. Research Tip: Use the "Names Index Tab" and simply type in the name of your ancestor. You will then receive an option to check boxes and refine your search. Be aware that there are some 'misspells' and 'typography errors' so you see a name and a date that MIGHT be yours - its worth looking at to be on the safe side and rule it out. Australian Resources:

Other Resources

Linked Pages


  • My Ancestor was an Agricultural Labourer, Ian H. Waller, Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd (revised edition), 2002, ISBN 978190346298-0
  • Criminal Ancestors, David T. Hawkings, The History Press (2nd edition), 2009, ISBN 9780750950572

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