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Archives In Brief 58 - Bankruptcy and insolvency records

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Outlines the main sources for the research of bankruptcy and insolvency records.

Definitions | Important information | Administrative background | Indexes | Main record series | Additional Sources


Insolvency - The inability to satisfy creditors or discharge liabilities. Early legislation in NSW addressed insolvency rather than bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy - Bankruptcy is similar, but not identical to insolvency. Bankruptcy involves the sequestration of a person's assets when they are unable to meet the demands of creditors. Bankruptcy is a state in which a person is unable to pay creditors and is required to undergo a legal process that usually results in liquidation of his/her estate in order to meet expenses (as least in part). If a person is declared to be a bankrupt then he or she cannot operate a business for profit, enter a business contract or borrow money.

Sequestration order - The order made by the court giving the trustee control of the debtor's property. The date of sequestration is the official date on which the debtor becomes bankrupt.

Important information

A proportion of Archives are fragile and at the risk of further damage if handled. For this reason we may withhold access to the original files in the reading room until they have received attention from our Conservation staff or provide surrogate copies where appropriate. Files will be checked on a case by case basis as they are requested in the reading room. Unfortunately, if a file requires conservation treatment, it will not be issued on the day it is requested. Conservation treatments can take up to six months to be completed.

Administrative background

The jurisdiction of insolvency was recognized in section XXII of the Act to Provide for the Better Administration of Justice in New South Wales, 1823 (4 George IV c.96) which gave the Supreme Court the authority to examine those unable to pay their creditors in full. Despite this act, insolvents were often imprisoned for debt. In 1830 an Act for the Relief of Debtors and for an Equal Distribution of their Estates and Effects amongst Creditors (11 George IV No 7) combined the two British concepts of insolvency and bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was established under an Act to amend and consolidate the law relating to insolvency and bankruptcy (51 Vic No 19 1887). This act allowed for clearer guidelines over the process of bankruptcy, from the inability to meet creditors, to the distribution of the assets. The jurisdiction was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia in 1928 following the Bankruptcy Act 1924 which took effect on 1 August, 1928.


Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy

NRS 13656, Insolvency index, 1842-87
Reel 38
The Insolvency Index, 1842-87 is available to search online.

NRS 13658, Bankruptcy index, 1888-1928
The Bankruptcy index, 1888-1928 is available to search online.

Main record series

Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy

NRS 13654, Insolvency files, 1842-87

NRS 13655, Bankruptcy files, 1888-1929

NRS 13659, Court books, 1900-34
These show for each case: name and number of each bankrupt and notes of exhibits, examinations etc.

Supreme Court, Insolvency Jurisdiction

NRS 13521, Insolvency Cause papers (incomplete) 1824, 1827-28, 1830, 1835, 1838-49, 1853-55, 1857-60, 1863, 1888
A full listing is available in the reading room.

Supreme Court, Prothonotary

NRS 13597, Term books (causes and matters in banco), 1889-1955, 1889-1935, 1935-55

Registrar General

NRS 13006, Bankruptcy index, 1888-93

NRS 13007, Copies of sequestration orders and memorandum of release relating to bankruptcy, 1912, 1914-16
These give the name, address and occupation of the bankrupt.


NRS 13241, Record of debtors lodged in gaol, 24 Oct 1909-21 Nov 1953
The volume shows date, name of debtor and gaol. This record is closed to public access.

Corrective Services, Carters Barracks Debtors Prison

NRS 2074, Copies of letters sent 7 Dec 1835-7 Mar 1839
This contains letters sent by the Gaoler to the High Sheriff, Police Magistrates and other public officers.

Corrective Services, Darlinghurst Gaol

NRS 2151, Debtors books, 1829-1900
These volumes list persons detained under civil process in Sydney and Darlinghurst Gaols.

Additional Sources

Records generated by Judges in various courts are listed in Archives Investigator by name of the Judge. State Records holds notebooks for Judges presiding over hearings in the Court of Marine Inquiry and the Vice Admiralty Court. Researchers should consult Archives Investigator.
Tip: use Advanced Search - Person.

Further records in relation to debtors are also listed in Archives Investigator under the agencies No. 6, Sheriff's Office, No. 1045 Governor's Court of NSW, and the various gaols including Carters Barracks Debtors Prison, Sydney Gaol and Darlinghurst Gaol.

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator. Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003. This work may be freely reproduced and distributed for most purposes, however some restrictions apply. See our copyright notice or contact us.