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Berkshire Family Historian
June 2002

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Berkshire Family Historian
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A distant shore

by Martyn Killion

While the British Isles and Australia have a great deal in common, particularly in respect of their histories, there are significant differences when it comes to the methodology and sources used in genealogical research in each country. It is hardly surprising given that Australia was and still is to some extent today, a nation largely made up of immigrants, that Australian research focuses on immigration and the immigration records available. The various forms of immigration, the records available and the information they contain can provide priceless information for any family historian. For Australian researchers the value is obvious - immigration is the link back overseas to continue research. For an English family historian the records can be just as valuable in providing details of a long lost branch of the family. As will be seen the records may also assist the research process on those ancestors who stayed behind.

In order successfully to trace immigration from England to Australia, there are a number of factors to consider before delving into the records. The first of these is that there were several types of 'immigrants' to Australian shores - unassisted arrivals, assisted immigrants, convicts, captains and crews of vessels and personnel serving with the British military regiments stationed in the colonies throughout the nineteenth century. For some of these categories of arrival, the records can be extremely useful, and for others very disappointing. Not all of the colonies received all of these categories of immigrants. South Australia, for example, did not receive convicts transported directly from the British Isles. The second factor to consider is that until the 1920s, immigration was the responsibility of each colony (later state) of Australia. From that time on, immigration became the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Effectively, this means that prior to the 1920s, each colony or state maintained its own records of immigrants arriving within its borders. Today the government archives in each State maintain these records. In order to trace an immigrant successfully, it is therefore necessary to know the immigrant's intended port of destination when they departed from England. The alternative is, through a process of elimination, to conduct research into the records of each state. The records will vary from state to state in terms of the information they contain, the indexing work that may have been done on them and finally what has survived.

The focus of this article rests on the two main methods of free immigration - unassisted and assisted arrivals, and the records for each that can be found in New South Wales are used as examples of the type of information which may be obtained.

Unassisted Arrivals

This category of arrival refers to those people who paid the cost of their own voyage. Because there was no need for the government of the day to have any involvement to any great extent in this method of immigration, the information which was recorded about such people is limited. Furthermore, in New South Wales, for the period from the 1790s to 1826, few passenger lists of ships carrying unassisted arrivals survive. From 1826 to the 1920s and beyond, the lists do survive. The problems in their use is that the lists are arranged chronologically by date of arrival and beyond 1855 there are currently no name indexes to the lists.

Cartoon from 'Punch'

A Punch cartoon

The difficulties in the use of passenger lists for unassisted passengers is further complicated by the fact that the only identifying information recorded about unassisted passengers is generally their name. This can make the research process tedious and inadequate especially when researching a common name which may appear several times on one list let alone in several lists over a period of time which may need to be searched. During some periods of time not all passengers are individually identified. This is especially the case in the early 1850s, during the goldrush period when hordes of passengers arrived in Victoria and New South Wales in search of their fortunes.

Assisted Arrivals

The research process is much easier and more rewarding for assisted immigrants. A number of assisted immigration schemes were operated from 1828 in New South Wales. The majority of these were founded and monitored by the New South Wales government. These were designed at various times to, for example, redress the imbalance of the sexes within the colony or the lack of skilled labour.

As a result, the government recorded a large amount of detail about the individuals who were 'helped' out to the colonies in this way. Take, for example, the Jones family who arrived in New South Wales on the Sirocco in October 1864. From the Board's Immigrant List we learn that James Jones was 46, a bricklayer whose native place is stated as Benford (presumably Binfield), Berkshire, England. His parents are named as John and Mary Jones who were both deceased, religion is stated as Church of England and James could both read and write. It is also stated that his brother-in-law, Thomas Bolton was in the colony living at Dapto near Wollongong, south of Sydney. James' wife, Mary, aged 48 was also a native of 'Benford' and her parents were both deceased. The couple also immigrated with a daughter, Emily, a 16-year-old milliner.1

A further example would be that of Ruth Skinner, a 27-year-old cook who arrived on the Morning Star in the same year. She is described as being a native of Shrivenham, Berkshire and a daughter of William and Elizabeth Skinner both living at Asbury, Shrivenham.2

Clearly, from the research point of view, such assisted immigrant records provide sufficient information to be able to continue research overseas. Based on the Ruth Skinner example above, research could then continue with parish registers to find her baptism and a search of the 1861 Census for Shrivenham may well pinpoint at least Ruth's parents. From an English research point of view, the same can be said: this record may help to eliminate details such as the deaths of Ruth's parents by at least providing the information that they were alive at the time of her departure in May of 1864.

The research process for assisted immigrants is also quite straightforward as all the records have been name indexed and, in the case of New South Wales at least, the majority of these indexes are now available on-line via State Records' website located at

In New South Wales, assisted immigrant records may also be supplemented by a series of records known as the Immigration Deposit Journals. These are a record of the monies paid towards the cost of an immigrant's fare and can, once again, provide some very interesting clues.

These records show, for example, that Thomas Boulton (note the spelling) paid monies towards the cost of the voyage of the Jones family above. The Journals show a distinct discrepancy in the ages of James and Mary Jones which are stated as 38 and 48 respectively. The family is also described, on this occasion, as being of Vinfield, Berkshire while a Mr J. Lawrence of the same place is listed as 'some person of note to whom reference can be made respecting the emigrants'. This record also helps to add further family members to the picture by stating that Thomas Boulton had also sponsored a William Bolton who also travelled on the Sirocco.3

For Ruth Skinner, her sponsor was John Strath (possibly a prospective employer). In the Immigration Deposit Journals, Ruth is described as living in London.4 This provides another interesting clue in the event of not being able to find her in her home parish using census records.

As with all other records, it is important to exercise some caution in using records of assisted immigrants. At various times there were strict limitations imposed on, for example, the age, trade or education of immigrants who were assisted to the colony. It therefore may well have been in our ancestors' interests to over-or understate their ages, occupation or education level when providing information which we now rely so heavily upon to accurately document their lives.

Immigration records from both sides of the research globe can assist family historians. Their value from the Australian perspective is obvious in terms of tracing a family 'overseas' -more often than not the goal of many an Australian family historian. Their value for tracing family events and movements in the British Isles is also becoming more apparent as a greater number of researchers internationally become aware of their existence.


1. State Records NSW: Immigration; CGS 5317, Persons on bounty ships to Sydney, Newcastle and Moreton Bay (Board's Immigrant Lists). Passenger list of the Sirocco, arrived 3 October 1864.

2. SRNSW: Immigration; CGS 5317, Persons on bounty ships to Sydney, Newcastle and Moreton Bay (Board's Immigrant Lists). Passenger list of the Morning Star, arrived 3 September 1864.

3. SRNSW: Immigration, CG55264, Immigration Deposit Journals. Deposit No. 4170 of 1863, Reel 2671.

4.ibid., Deposit No. 1470 of 1864, Reel 2671.

Further Reading and Information

For links to the websites of National, State and Territory archives see

Kershaw, Roger, Emigrants and Expats: A Guide to Sources on UK Emigration and Residents Overseas (PRO 2002).

Madgwick, R.B. Immigration into Eastern Australia, 1788-1851 (Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1969).

Martyn Killion, BA, Grad. Dip Applied Science (Information), Dip FHS, has been involved in family history for the last 25 years. He has been employed by State Records (NSW) since 1987 and currently holds the position of Executive Officer. Martyn was President of the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations from 1991 to 1995. He is the President and Honorary Archivist of the Society of Australian Genealogists based in Sydney.

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updated 30th June 2002