LONDON (Reuters) - As many as one in four Britons may have ancestors who moved to Australia -- of their own free will -- in the 19th and early 20th centuries, online records show.
Despite the much-publicised transportation of criminals to Australia, most Britons who went there in the 1800s did so voluntarily, according to the records.
The names of almost nine million people who travelled to, and within, the country over almost 100 years are revealed in a database billed as one of the most comprehensive ever.
More than 2.2 million of the three million free settlers who travelled to Australia during this time were British, the records for ancestry.co.uk found.
The rest came from Asia and other European countries.
From these records, published for the first time online on Wednesday, experts from the site estimate about 16 million Britons are related to an Australian free settler.
Famous descendants of free settlers include Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and cricket legend Don Bradman.
The record is based on data from the New South Wales Unassisted Immigrants Passenger Lists, 1826-1922, and the New South Wales Assisted Immigrants Passenger Lists, 1828-1896.
It records the name, date of arrival, port of departure, name and weight of ships travelling to Australia, names of relations in the colony and the passenger’s race and occupation.
Crew members of ships that travelled Down Under are also included.
According to figures from local authorities, the Australian population in 1826 -- when official immigration counting began -- was about 53,000.
This had ballooned to 5.6 million by 1922, mainly on the back of a booming local economy.
The database adds to the record launched online last year that detail the tens of thousands of British convicts sent to Australia from the 18th century.
The website’s managing director, Simon Harper, said in a statement it was the first time this amount of early Australian records had gone online.
“Australia’s free settler heritage is often overlooked in favour of its more ‘colourful’ convict past,” he said.
“However it should be remembered that free settlers were brave and ambitious, making the choice to leave their homes and travel by ship for many months to the other side of the world for the chance of a new life.”
The full list can be viewed at ancestry.com.au
Editing by Stephen Addison