The Research Project

The criminal trial is the core of the Australian criminal justice system. It is the product of police investigation and its outcomes include the sentences of imprisonment that populate our prisons.

Criminal trials have been taking place in Australia since the first days of settlement. The archives of the Australian states are custodians of their records, which are among the most complete in the world.  The potential of these records for use by family historians as well as researchers is recognised in the increasing availability of digitised indexes, such as those developed at NSW State Records (eg the Prison photo books) and the Founders and Survivors database of Tasmanian convict and other records.

The Prosecution Project investigates the history of the criminal trial in Australia. We started by digitising the registers of Supreme Court cases that are available in most jurisdictions. These record the names of accused as well as their offences and the outcomes of the trials. The original aim of the project was to focus on the century after the gold rushes (c. 1851-1961). Improved access to early colonial records means we have extended this timeline back to as early as 1788 (NSW), 1824 (Tasmania) and 1830 (Western Australia). For Victoria records date from 1841, for South Australia 1845, Queensland 1850, Northern Territory 1872.

In addition to Supreme Court records the project continues to add new sources of data, including records from penal settlements, police gazettes and other legal proceedings, such as NSW Quarter Sessions records and Australian courts martial in the twentieth century.

The power of the project lies in its database of criminal trial appearances over these long periods of time. As the original records were almost all in manuscript form, we have transcribed the case data line by line into the structured format of a relational database. This enables great flexibility in searching for individuals, offences, verdicts, places and dates of trial, judges, sentences and so on. You can learn more about the project data here.