Victoria's early history, 1803-1851

A guide to researching the history of Victoria's foundation and early settlement based on published and digitised sources.


Although there was no direct transportation of convicts to Port Phillip, convicts were brought into the colony by various means at various times. David Collin's party, which settled at Sorrento in 1803, included some 300 male convicts, one of whom achieved notoriety as the Wild White Man, the escaped convict William Buckley (see separate box below).

The contingent which settled at Western Port in 1826 in order to deter French interest in the region included convicts as well as soldiers, and convicts were assigned to the the Police Magistrate for the Port Phillip District, Captain William Lonsdale in order to carry out government work. Convicts were also assigned to the early surveyors to assist them in their work.

Many expirees and some assigned convicts from Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales provided the labour force for the settlers opening up and working the land. The 1840s saw the arrival of the Exiles, or Pentonvillains, sent from Van Diemen's Land to satisfy the growing demand for labour, much to the ire of some free settlers intent on keeping the colony "untainted" by convictism. Others however welcomed the influx as a solution to their labour shortages.


The Library's ergo website provides students with information about formative events in Victoria's history and includes the following useful links relating to convicts in Port Phillip:

Other sources

William Buckley, the wild white man

The first settlers discover Buckley, H26103

Convict William Buckley escaped from the Sorrento settlement in 1803 and lived with the Wathaurung Indigenous people near Barwon Heads for the next 32 years until he met with John Batman's party in 1835.

Introductory information on the State Library of Victoria's ergo website

Other sources

The following two sources comprise William Buckley's personal reminiscences and narrative as conveyed  to the writers:

 These two works provide accounts of his history:

Digital panopticon

The Digital Panopticon is a website that allows you to search millions of records relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts who were sentenced to transportation, imprisonment or death at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1913. It’s content comes from over 4 million UK and Australian records, many of which are available on subscription family history sites such as Findmypast and Ancestry.

It’s possible to search this database by name, place, date, date of birth, description or keyword. For example, 29 convicts had a squint!

Results are displayed in chronological order.

Some of the eresources searched by Digital Panopticon, such as Findmypast and Ancestry, are only accessible via subscription. While Digital Panopticon allows users to see summary results from these databases free of charge, they are unable to provide full access for non-subscribers. However, you can get full access to these databases in the Family History & Newspapers Room here at the library.

Sydney Illustrated news, 15 November 1886, p 8

Around a quarter of convicts who were sent to Australia had at least one tattoo. You can read more in our blog: Convict tattoos.

Relics of convict discipline

              Relics of convict discipline; H37687/4