How to look for records of... Prisoners or prison staff

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

The records of prisons covering prison staff and individual prisoners might be held in a number of different places including The National Archives, prisons themselves and local archives. Prison records were not created nationally, so it is often best to start looking in local archives – this is particularly true of prison registers created after 1878.

What do I need to know before I start?

Prisoners were often moved between prisons where there was space, rather than being imprisoned near their home or where the offence was committed.

What records can I see online?

Prisons listed in census records (1841-1911)

Search census records (£) for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 online. If you find a prison in the census, it will list the names of prisoners present at the time the census was taken.

Prison hulk registers and letter books (1802-1849)

Search by name for convicts held on prison hulks (HO 9) in England 1802-1849 on Ancestry.co.uk (£). The registers contain personal information on the prisoners and where and when they were convicted.

Prison hulks were ships moored near naval bases to house prisoners – often those awaiting transportation.

Licences of parole for female convicts (1853-1871, 1883-1887)

Search by name for licences of parole issued to female convicts (PCOM 4) on Ancestry.co.uk (£). Their contents vary but can include a variety of personal details, reports on behaviour while in prison and (from 1871) photographs.

Criminals, convicts and prisoners (1770-1935)

Search among the assorted records of criminals, convicts and prisoners on Findmypast.co.uk (£). Records include:

  • registers of convicts in prison hulks 1818-1831 (ADM6)
  • after-trial calendars of prisoners 1855-1931 (CRIM 9)
  • Home Office calendars of prisoners 1868-1929 (HO 140)
  • Prison Commission prison records 1880-1885 (PCOM 2)
  • registers of criminal petitions 1797-1853 (HO 19)
  • printed lists of prisoners tried at Newgate 1782-1853 (HO 77)

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Prison registers and calendars of prisoners (1770-1971)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, by date or place, in HO 23, HO 24, HO 140 and PCOM 2 for registers and calendars of prisoners. These are arranged by prison or by county and individual prisoners’ names do not usually appear in our catalogue.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

You can search some of these records by name on Findmypast (£).

Quarterly returns of convicts in prisons and prison hulks (1802-1876)

Search our catalogue in HO 8, by name of prison or prison hulk and year, for records of prisoners held in these institutions. Search also T 38 for lists of crews and convicts on convict hulks.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

Petitions for clemency (1762-1854)

Browse our catalogue in HO 17 (1819-1839) and HO 18 (1839-1854) for petitions of clemency. They are arranged in coded bundles so you will need to use the registers in HO 19 to identify the right one.

These registers are available online via Findmypast (£) – search by name and select to search series  HO 19. The registers provide a reference which helps you search for the actual petition. Read section 5.2 of our criminal transportees: further research guide for further help.

Some petitions in HO 17 and HO 18 are searchable by name in our catalogue.

You can also search for petitions by date in HO 48 and HO 49 (c1762-1871).

Prisoners tried at the Old Bailey or the Central Criminal Court (1815-1849)

Browse HO 16 for lists of prisoners arranged by date.

Court orders (1842-1871)

Consult PCOM 5 (which is indexed by PCOM 6) to find details of a prisoner’s movements from prison to prison, misconduct, physical description and next of kin.

Indexes of prison licences for men (1853-1887)

Consult the indexes of prison licences in PCOM 6 to locate male prison licences held in PCOM 3.

Prison licences, popularly known as ‘tickets of leave’, allowed convicts of good behaviour to be released before the completion of their sentences.

Registers of superannuation and retirement allowances for prison staff (1834-1925)

You may be able to find mentions of prison staff details (such as name, age, religion or details of service) in PMG 28.

Browse PMG 28 by date of retirement and then under ‘P’ for records of prison staff. The pensioners of the Convict Establishment and Convict Prisons are also generally entered in separate volumes.

Prison staff appointment books (1887-1898)

Browse HO 160 by date of appointment, transfer or dismissal of prison staff. These records are not complete and do not provide any additional personal information.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?

Books

Read Criminal Ancestors by David T Hawkings (Stroud, 2009).