The County Gaol of Down was a transportation gaol. Those sentenced to be sent to the penal colony of New South Wales were held in the Gaol prior to being despatched to Australia.

Transportation from Great Britain to Australia began in 1787 but it was only in 1791 that the first ship left Irish shores. Over the next seventy-seven years between 45,000 and 55,000 Irish convicts are thought to have been transported. Most of them were destined for New South Wales and Van Diemen's land (now Tasmania).

But in 1787 transportation was not a new phenomenon. Under George I a regular system of transportation was established and Acts of Parliament outlined a series of transportable offences. The loss of the American Colonies in the War of Independence, however, meant that another destination for convicts had to be found. Australia was chosen for its distance, its size and resources and because it offered opportunities in agriculture, whaling and trade with the Far East.   

As a punishment transportation appealed to a broad range of groups. Penal reformers welcomed the idea because it held out the possibility of a new and reformed life within a disciplined context.  Many others from the propertied classes recognised it as a good means of ensuring retribution and deterrence at a time when public opinion shrank from the death penalty. Above all, it served a practical need as prisons were overcrowded and ineffective.

However, most convicts were transported for very petty crimes. The Museum's convict database shows that most male convicts in Down were found guilty of larceny involving small amounts of money, cloth, handkerchiefs, leather or pieces of jewellery. The 66 women transported from Down Gaol over the period the gaol operated were mostly indicted for stealing money, clothes and cloth along with shoplifting and forgery.

Once in Australia, abele bodied men were assigned to free settlers as workers or worked on government building schemes. Women were usually assigned as farm servants or, if they had small children, to the female factory at Parramatta. On completion of their sentences, or in many cases, in advance of that, convicts were given a ticket of leave.  Most convicts became good citizens of the  Colony and led productive lives. Some became rich or achieved prominence in their new country. Today many visitors to the museum come from Australia to see where their ancestors were imprisoned.

The following is a list of books held in the Museum library on transportation to Australia:

  • Akenson, Donald Harman, The Irish Diaspora, a Primer (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies 1993). ISBN 0-85389-499-X
  • Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships, 1787-1868 (Glasgow: Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd 1969)
  • Cobley, John, The Crimes of the Lady Juliana Convicts, 1790 (Sydney: Library of Australian History 1989). ISBN 0-908120-72-9
  • Costello, Con, Botany Bay, the Story of the Convicts Transported from Ireland to Australia, 1791-1853 (Dublin: The Mercier Press 1987). ISBN 0-85342-808-5
  • Crawford, R.M., Australia (London: Hutchinson’s University Library 1952)
  • Damousi, Joy, Depraved and Disorderly, Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997). ISBN 0-521-58723-9
  • Davis, Richard (ed), ‘To Solitude Consigned’, the Tasmanian Journal of William Smith O’Brien, 1849-1853 (Sydney: Crossing Press 1995). ISBN 0-646-22784-X
  • Davis, Richard, William Smith O’Brien, Ticket-of-Leave, New Norfolk (Hobart: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies 1996). ISBN 0-859016-56-0
  • Fitzpatrick, D., Irish Emigration, 1801-1921 (Ireland: The Economic and Social History Society of Ireland 1985). ISBN 0-947897-00-3
  • Fitzpatrick, David, Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia (USA: Cornell University Press 1994). ISBN 0-8014-2606-5
  • Flynn, Michael, The Second Fleet, Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790 (Sydney: Library of Australian History 1993). ISBN 0-908120-83-4
  • Grimes, Seamus and O Tuathaigh, Gearoid (ed), The Irish-Australian Connection (Proceedings of the Irish-Australian Bicentenary Conference, University College Galway 1988). ISBN 0-9514844-0-0
  • Howard, Patrick, To Hell or to Hobart, a New Insight into Irish Convict History (Australia: Kangaroo Press 1993). ISBN 0-86417-668-6
  • Kociumbas, Jan, The Oxford History of Australia, Volume Two, 1770-1860 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia 1992). ISBN 0-19-554610-5
  • McClaughlin, Trevor, Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish Famine Orphans in Australia (Melbourne: The Genealogical Society of Victoria Inc. 1991). ISBN 0-949672-25-4
  • McClaughlin, Trevor, From Shamrock to Wattle, Digging Up Your Irish Ancestors (Sydney: William Collins Pty Ltd 1985). ISBN 0-00-217-330-1
  • McIlhatton, James, The Ulster Emigrants (London: Ameron Publications 1992). ISBN 1-874191-01-8
  • McLaren-Turner, Patricia (ed), Australian and New Zealand Studies, Papers Presented at a Colloquium at the British Library 7-9 February 1984 (London: The British Library 1985). ISBN 0-7123-0048-1
  • Meredith, John, The Donahoe Ballads (Australia: Red Rooster Press 1982)
  • Meredith, John, The Wild Colonial Boy, Bushranger Jack Donahoe, 1806-1830 (Australia: Red Rooster Press 1982). ISBN 0-908247-04-4
  • Mitchell, Brian (ed), Australia, the Early Years, from Reports in the Derry Journal (Derry: Genealogy Centre 1988). ISBN 0-9513318-0-9
  • O’Brian, John and Travers, Pauric, The Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia (Ireland: Poolbeg Press Ltd 1991). ISBN 1-85371-129-2
  • O’Farrell, Patrick, Letters from Irish Australia, 1825-1929 (Published jointly by New South Wales University Press, Australia, and Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast, 1984). ISBN 0-901905-32-1
  • O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia (Australia: New South Wales University Press 1987). ISBN 0-86840-146-3
  • O’Farrell, Patrick, Through Irish Eyes, Australian and New Zealand Images of the Irish, 1788-1948 (Australia: Aurora Books 1994). ISBN 1-86355-042-9
  • O’Farrell, Patrick, Vanished Kingdoms, Irish in Australia and New Zealand, a Personal Excursion (Australia: New South Wales University Press 1990). ISBN 0-86840-148-X
  • Oldham, Wilfrid (ed), Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies (Sydney: Library of Australian History 1990). ISBN 0-908120-77-X
  • O Luing, Sean, The Catalpa Rescue (Ireland: Anvil Books 1965). ISBN 0-900068-84-1
  • Oxley, Deborah, Convict Maids, the Forced Migration of Women to Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996). ISBN 0-521-44131-5
  • Patrick, Ross and Heather, Exiles Undaunted, the Irish Rebels Kevin and Eva O’Doherty (Australia: University of Queensland Press 1989). ISBN 0-7022-2223-2
  • Reese, Bob (ed), Exiles from Erin, Convict Lives in Ireland and Australia (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Ltd 1991). ISBN 0-7171-1922-X
  • Reid, Richard, Down Under, County Down Links with Australia (Downpatrick: Down County Museum 1990)
  • Reilly, Bernard, A True History of Bernard Reilly, a Returned Convict (Facsimile of a pamphlet in the collections of the National Library of Australia) (Canberra: National Library of Australia 1988). ISBN 0-642-10454-9
  • Robson, L.L., The Convict Settlers of Australia, an Enquiry into the Origin and Character of the Convicts Transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land 1787-1852 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1965). ISBN 0-522-83994-0
  • Ross, Valerie (ed), The Everingham Letterbook, Letters of a First Fleet Convict (Australia: Anvil Press 1985). ISBN 0-9590987-3-9
  • Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts and the Colonies, a Study of Penal Transportation from Great Britain and Ireland to Australia and Other Parts of the British Empire (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1964). ISBN 0-522-84114-7
  • Sherer, John (ed), The Gold-Finder of Australia; How He Went, How He Fared, and How He Made His Fortune (London: Salisbury, Beeton, and Co. 1853)
  • Smith, Babette, A Cargo of Women, Susannah and the Convicts of the Princess Royal (Australia: New South Wales University Press 1988). ISBN 0-86840-067-X
  • Trainor, Brian (ed), Researching Irish Australians, Directory of Research with Will Abstracts and Gravestone Inscriptions (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation 1998). ISBN 0-901905-90-9