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Archives In Brief 105 - French migration and settlement in NSW

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Earliest references to the French in NSW

Searching for individuals in the records

Individual people may be difficult to trace because State records are generally arranged in the original order maintained by the government agency that created them. Few agencies arranged records by person's names. When searching for individuals, your first step should be to determine what dealings they may have had with the government of the day. You then need to consider which agency would have created these records. Some records have been indexed by persons' names and the relevant indexes are noted in this AIB.

Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825

An index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825 is available in the reading room and at our Community Access Points. The earliest records held by State Records relating to the French are contained in the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825. Included are letters that relate to a number of French vessels visiting Sydney, such as the Surprize asking for permission to go sealing in 1802 [4/1719 pp.128-30] Reel 6041. Other references include a request from Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet to make a hydrographic plan of the "roadstead" at Sydney Harbour in 1819 [4/1743 pp.151-52] Reel 6048.

A Frenchman who played an important role in the development of commerce and banking in the colony was Prosper de Mestre. He was the second person to be denized in September 1825 and there are numerous references to his business activities in the Colonial Secretary's Papers.

Later Colonial Secretary's records

The following references to the French are included in the Colonial Secretary's Special Bundles, NRS 906,

  • 1859-74 Municipalities, Petitions and Counter Petitions for incorporation, proclamations, by-laws etc - Hunters Hill [4/729.1, 4/734, 4/794]. Includes names on petitions and letters from the likes of Jules Joubert, Didier Numa Joubert, Charles Edward Jeaneret and Gabriel de Milhau. The Hunters Hill region was known as the French Village during the 1850s.
  • Returns of patients of French Nationality in hospitals and asylums c.1867-72 Letter No. 72/9747 [1/2193].
  • Translations of communications from French Consul, 1881 [4/834.3]. Includes information on French nationals living in and visiting New South Wales.
  • Detention and opening of Pasteur correspondence, 1888-89 [4/887.3]. Includes copies of telegrams from M. Pasteur to two French scientists, Drs Germont and Loir, who were conducting experiments for the Rabbit Commission.

The main record series are described in the Archives Investigator and Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. Archives in Brief 64, Archives in Brief 65, and Archives in Brief 104 (PDF) provide summary information.

French convicts

There were only small numbers of French-born convicts transported to New South Wales. Well-known examples include James Larra and Francois Girard. Larra, a French Jew, arrived with the Second Fleet on the Scarborough and was granted the first liquor licence in Parramatta in 1798 [SZ766] Reel 655. Girard was transported on the Agamemnon in 1820 and received a conditional pardon in 1825 [4/4431] Reel 774. He is supposed to have influenced the naming of Napoleon Street, Darling Harbour. Lesser known examples include seaman Francois Fieudard, a native on Toulon, who was tried in Cornwall and transported on the Admiral Gambier in 1809 [4/4430 p.135] Reel 774.

French Canadian convicts

In 1840 the Buffalo arrived in Sydney with 58 French convicts from Lower Canada. These prisoners were interned near present-day Concord, resulting in the naming of French Bay, Canada Bay and Exile Bay. Many of these convicts appear in the Butts of tickets of private employment, 1841-42, NRS 12199 [4/4287-88] COD 214 and Reel 592 and indexes to ticket of leave passports. A list of free pardons for all but six of the convicts is at 44/5586 [4/2641].

New Caledonia

France used New Caledonia as a penal colony from 1864. This caused some alarm among the governments of the Australian colonies who sought reassurances from the French that preventative measures were in place to prevent escaped convicts and pardoned convicts from reaching Australia. The convicts are also referred to as Communist exiles.

  • Colonial Secretary, Main series of letters received, NRS 905: List of former French convicts from New Caledonia residing in NSW, 1885 [4/887.1].
  • Colonial Secretary's Special Bundles, NRS 906: 1874-90 Correspondence to Governor, including… French Communist exiles from New Caledonia etc. Includes a report on Henri Rochefort, one of the most prominent Paris commune leaders.
  • Clerk of the Peace, Extradition cases, 1881-1905, NRS 834. Includes depositions, warrants and other papers relating to the extradition of persons "illegally at large" from New Caledonia. A list of cases is available.

Other convict records

Archives in Brief 2 and Archives in Brief 34 outline the main sources and provide basic guidance on researching convicts.

Immigration and shipping

The French arriving in the colony either paid their own passage or worked as crew. Research into these records can often be difficult as there is no comprehensive index to the records of nineteenth century passenger and crew arrivals. Some lists record only the numbers on board rather than individual passengers. Passenger and crew records are described in more detail in Archives in Brief 1 and Archives in Brief 21.

A number of searchable databases relating to immigration can be found on our website and details on a settler's arrival may be found from other sources, such as naturalization records. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds post 1922 immigration records. Freecall 1300 886 881.


Naturalization was the means by which non-British subjects gained the privileges and rights of citizenship held by British subjects or people born in New South Wales. Any non-British subject who wished to vote or own land needed to become naturalized. Naturalization records are an important source as they can provide both the date of arrival and the name of the ship. See Short Guide 9 and Archives in Brief 3 for a full list of records relating to naturalization. The Naturalization Index, 1834-1903 is available online and includes over 350 entries for French-born persons (including those receiving Letters of Denization). The National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds post 1903 naturalization records. Freecall 1300 886 881.

Jules Joubert migrated to Sydney in 1841 and was naturalized in 1859 [4/1200] Reel 128. He was an early developer in the Hunters Hill region and established a ferry service in 1860. In 1878 Joubert was awarded the Chevalier, Legion of Honour (France). Other examples include Hortense Modeste Angelique Mustiere from Normandy who was naturalized in 1864 [4/1202] Reel 130. She married Francois Joseph Adam, a Frenchman from Paris, who received an early grant of naturalization in 1861 and is listed as a "private gentleman" in his memorial (letter no. 61/3787 in [4/3454]). They settled in the Grafton region.


Business records

Some French settlers opened small businesses, such as Louis Gille & Co, an importer of church requisites and religious books, run by Louis Gille and Jean Escottier in Sydney. The Registers of firms, 1903-22, NRS 12961, [2/8526-53] includes the name of the firm; nature of the business; place of business; date of registration; and details of persons carrying on the business. The entry for Louis Gille & Co can be found in the register [2/8526 p.45]. A partial index to firms registered under the Registration of Firms Act of 1902, c.1904, NRS 12962, is available.

Company records

The records of companies, such as Pierre Couve Ltd [17/5669, No. 11596], that were incorporated between 1875 and 1969 are arranged by a company number, which can be found in the Australian Securities Commission's Dead Companies Index Pre-1969, available in the reading room.
For more information check Archives Investigator for the agency Registrar General, Companies Branch. Conduct an advanced search to locate Agency Nos. 24 and 25. Other relevant records are listed in Archives Investigator under 'Corporate Affairs Commission' (Agency No. 78). Commercial directories such as Sands should be consulted for business names and addresses.

Insolvency and bankruptcy records

Insolvency and bankruptcy records include information about businesses and their assets. See Archives in Brief 58 for more details and the Index to Insolvency records, 1842-1887. Bankruptcy files, 1888-1928, NRS 13655 have a similar format to the Insolvency files. They are indexed on Reel 39, which is available in the reading room.

Charles Lamounerie Dictus Fattorini, a naturalized Frenchman and practising medical doctor in Port Macquarie, was declared insolvent in 1852, NRS 13654, [2/8864 file 3140].
Arthur Dubois, originally from Bordeaux, was declared insolvent in 1874, NRS 13654 [2/9525 file 11924]. He started out as a contract worker and became a grazier in the Liverpool Plains region.

Probate packets and records of death duties

Probate packets

The Supreme Court issues probate documents to certify that a will is valid, and authorising the executor named in the will to administer the estate. Consult the Probate Index to locate the wills of those who died testate. Also search Archives Investigator

Deceased estate and Intestate records

Under the Stamp Duties Act of 1880 and subsequent legislation no probates (wills) or letters of administration could be granted until a duty was paid or security given, including intestate (without a will) estates. Death duties were abolished in 1981. See Archives in Brief 9 and Archives in Brief 53 for more information.

There is a Deceased Estate File for Gabriel de Milhau [20/53] duty paid 30/10/1903, with a detailed account of his estate and houses in Ashfield. The file also includes a translation of the marriage agreement between Gabriel and his wife Marian.


The Colonial Secretary's Papers re land, 1826-1856, contains requests from individuals to either lease or purchase land. Examples include Auguste le Fevre [2/7906] Reel 1152, Prosper de Mestre [2/7841] Reel 1119, and Didier Numa Joubert [2/7895] Reel 1147. Other land records of interest include Commissioners of Crown lands, conditional purchase records and maps and plans.
Records relating to the transfer of land between individuals are available from: NSW Department of Lands, 1 Prince Albert Road, Queen's Square, Sydney, telephone 9228 6666.

Other sources

Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1788-1945. See NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages online indexes.

Coroners' records. Registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details such as cause of death, age and birthplace. See Archives in Brief 4.

Court records. The records from the various court jurisdictions can be found in the Archives Investigator under Courts of Petty Sessions, Clerk of the Peace and Supreme Court.

Divorce Records. See Archives in Brief 77 and the Index to Divorce Case Papers, 1873-1930. New entries are being progressively added to this index.

Education records. Files, from c.1876 to 1979, include administrative documents relating to government schools and may be useful for areas where French resided. See Archives in Brief 26 and the Index to School files and related records. For example, the Hunters Hill Public School Admission Register 1920-36 [1/7078] includes the names of many children with French surnames. There is also an Education Department subject file on the teaching of French in schools 1907, 1911 [20/12698 pt].

Prison records. See Archives Investigator under the name of the goal for details. The index to gaol photographs is being regularly updated. You can search by birthplace, which brings up results for Darlinghurst Gaol like Madeline Crotti, NRS 2138 Reel 5099 page 292.
Population records. French migration to New South Wales remained limited over the years. There are few French-born residents listed in the 1841 Census. The 1891 and 1901 Census Collectors' books listing householders are available. See Short Guide 7 and Short Guide 12. Reports on both censuses are also held by State Records.
Professions and Occupations. A number of French people can be found in various professions, including French teachers (Mrs E. Everiet and Edward Perier in [20/12698]), wool trading houses and merchants (Louis August Joseph Lambelin [20/257] duty paid 28/02/1905), and police officers (Jules Pierre Rochaix, [8/3252] Reel 3043). Artists such as Lucien Henry can also be found in various series. Short Guide 10 lists a selection of the more significant State archives relating to particular professions and occupations.
Railway Passes. Registers of Free Railway Passes, 1880-92, NRS 5283 [4/4678-85] includes information on nationality. There are some references to French-born pass holders. The Registers have been indexed by Pastkeys (Fiche 6118-6126).

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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