Archives In Brief 5 - Electoral rolls
- Who had the vote?
- Why use electoral rolls for research?
- When someone is missing from an electoral roll
- Electoral rolls held at State Records
- Electoral rolls after 1863
- Current electoral rolls
- For further information
Initially, the Governor, as Chief Magistrate of the colony and Commander-in-Chief, was responsible for almost all aspects of the inhabitants' lives. In time, most activities were carried out through the Governor's senior officers, including the Colonial Secretary. Commissioner Bigge's report on the colony led to the passing of the Judicature Act in 1823, which made provision for a Legislative Council and a Supreme Court for New South Wales.
The Legislative Council was appointed in 1823, with five, six or seven members appointed by the Governor. The Executive Council was constituted on 20 December 1825, with the four official members of the Legislative Council. On 25 July 1828, the membership of the Council was increased to 10 - 15 members.
In 1843 a Legislative Council of 36 members, which included 24 members elected by colonists was constructed. This was the first time that colonists had been able to vote for members of the Legislative Council, effectively beginning representative Government in New South Wales.
In 1856 New South Wales received responsible government. The New South Wales Constitution Act, 1855 gave the Legislative Council the power to establish a bicameral legislature. The Upper House (Legislative Council) consisted of members elected for life, whilst the Lower House was modelled on the British House of Commons with its members elected at a general election.
In 1934 the Legislative Council was replaced by a body that was indirectly elected by members of the Lower House. Since 1978, members of the Upper House have been elected along with members of the Lower House.
This chronology shows major changes to legislation. For more detailed information see the Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Responsible Government (Guide 3).
Men (over 21 and British subjects) owning freehold property to a value exceeding £200, or householders occupying a dwelling house with an annual value exceeding £20. A man could vote in every electorate where he held the necessary property for at least six months.
Property qualifications were reduced to men owning freehold property to a value exceeding £100. Also included were householders occupying a dwelling house with an annual value exceeding £10, or a pastoral lease.
Franchise qualifications were extended to include men receiving an annual salary of £100 and to those paying £40 per annum for board and lodging and £10 for lodging only.
All adult males who had lived in the electorate for the preceding six months and who were British subjects by birth, or had been naturalised for five years and had resided in the Colony for three years. Holders of miners rights were allowed to vote in three Gold Fields electorates. Police, serving members of the armed forces, paupers, prisoners and persons of unsound mind were barred from voting.
The property vote was abolished. Each elector was allowed to vote in one electorate only. The six months residence requirement was reduced to three months, which effectively meant that shearers and itinerant workers could vote. Residency requirements meant that British subjects by birth had to live in the Colony for one year and naturalised British subjects had to live in the Colony for a year after naturalisation.
Police regained the right to vote.
Women received the vote. Whilst South Australia led the British Commonwealth in granting votes for women in 1894, women gained the right to vote in both Commonwealth and New South Wales elections after the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 and the (NSW) Womens Franchise Act of 1902.
Absentee voting was introduced. Members of the armed forces regained the right to vote.
Electors of either sex had to be British subjects by birth or naturalisation and be aged 21 years or more. In the case of New South Wales, electors must have lived in Australia for six months, in the state for three months and in the relevant electoral sub-division for one month before enrolment.
Until 1970, "adult" was defined as over 21 years of age, but by 1974 the Commonwealth and other states had amended this to include people aged at least 18 years.
Electoral rolls can provide valuable information, indicating where a person lived over a period of time.
There may be times when some people are excluded from the electoral rolls. Disqualifications common to State and Commonwealth were: unsoundness of mind, attainder for treason (now obsolete), and being under sentence after conviction for an offence punishable by imprisonment for a year or more.
State Records holds a number of early manuscript and printed electoral rolls in the records of the Colonial Secretary's Office, between 1842-63. State Records' electoral rolls are listed comprehensively in Short Guide 1. Additional Electoral Rolls, 1843-90 are listed in Appendix 1 (pp. 241-423) of the Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Responsible Government (Guide 3).
NRS 1199, Electoral rolls, 1842-63 *ARK
The rolls show the electoral district and ward, year, name, nature of the qualification to vote, where the property affording the qualification is situated and occasionally the residence. The rolls are arranged by electoral district and ward.
Selected Australian electoral rolls, with the exception of South Australia, covering 1903-1980 are available on the Ancestry website.
State Library of NSW
Electoral rolls are held by the Family History Section of the State Library of New South Wales. These include:
Electoral rolls (NSW)
1842-63 (copy of the records held by State Records)
State electoral rolls
1859-1900 (there are gaps in these records)
Commonwealth electoral rolls
Joint Commonwealth and State electoral rolls
Any research into electoral rolls should take into account the fact that they were not updated every year, but names are listed alphabetically by division until 1990. After 1990 it is possible to obtain a listing that is alphabetical by state.
State Library of New South Wales
Family History Section
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9273 1414
The Ward Library at the University of Western Sydney holds a copy of the New South Wales section of the 1903-28 electoral rolls. The address is:
University of Western Sydney
Great Western Highway
Phone: (02) 9852 5900
Penrith Library holds copies of old electoral rolls.
Penrith Council Building
601 High Street
Penrith NSW 2750
The NSW Electoral Commission holds a microfiche set of current electoral rolls for NSW. These are in one alphabetical listing for the whole State. Members of the public can visit the Office to check these rolls. The NSW Electoral Commission will not check the rolls over the phone.
NSW Electoral Commission
Level 25, 201 Kent Street
Sydney NSW 2000
GPO Box 832
Sydney NSW 2001
Phone: 1300 135 736
Website: NSW Electoral Commission
There is an Australian Electoral Commission office in every electoral division in Australia. You can find the address of the office nearest you by calling 13 2326. Every office holds a copy of the current Australian Electoral Roll.
The Australian Electoral Commission holds current electoral rolls for the whole of Australia. There are two listings: one arranged alphabetically by State; and one arranged alphabetically by electoral division. The public can come in to the offices and check the electoral rolls. The office will not check the rolls over the telephone.
The rolls are updated for the elections and with occasional additional updates.
Australian Electoral Commission
Level 1, 24 Campbell Street
Haymarket NSW 2000
(opposite the Capitol Theatre)
Phone: (02) 9375 6333
Australian Electoral Commission
Ground Floor, 311 High Street
Penrith NSW 2750
Phone: (02) 4732 2162
Other records that contain information about individuals include directories such as the Sands Directory, the Post Office Directory and Gazetteers such as Balliere's Gazetteer. These records are also very useful for genealogical research.
*ARK signifies that a copy of the record or guide is part of the Archives Resources Kit and is held by the community access points.
© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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