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Archives In Brief 61 - Publicans' licenses

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Provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to publicans licenses. Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator and the interim guide Publicans Licenses, available in the reading room.

Background | Indexes | Main record series | Additional sources


The earliest licensing records in the State archives date from 1798 Bench of Magistrates records. Other early records can be found in the records of the Judge Advocate's Office and the Colonial Secretary.

Under Act 6 Geo IV no. 4 (1825) and later Acts, certificates for the issue of licenses were granted by a Justice of the Peace in the Court of Quarter Sessions. Publicans' licenses were issued from and registered in the office of the Colonial Treasurer upon the granting of the certificate by the Court.

Licensing Districts were proclaimed under the Licensing Act of 1882. Under the same Act Licensing Courts were established in each Licensing District.

In 1919 the Licenses Reduction Board was constituted under the Liquor (Amendment) Act. The Board was to reduce the numbers of publicans' licenses in New South Wales by selecting the public houses to be closed and fixing compensation payments. The Licensing Courts could still transfer licenses and in special cases, issue new licenses without reference to the Board.

The Licenses Reduction Board was reconstituted by the Liquor (Amendment) Act 1923. The Act also reconstituted the Licensing Courts, which were still held in each Licensing District. One tribunal now controlled all matters relating to the issue and reduction of licenses. In 1982 the Licenses Reduction Board was replaced by the Liquor Administration Board.

Online Index

Publicans' Licences, 1830-61
This Index was compiled  from NRS 14401, NRS 14402 and NRS 14403. The Index covers the years 1830-61, surnames A-Z. There are c. 20 000 entries in the index.  
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Index to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, 1788-1825

Indexes to the post-1826 Colonial Secretary's correspondence
Search the database to the Colonial Secretary Main series of letters received, 1826-1982 in the Colonial Secretary Correspondence Guide.

Index to publicans licenses, June 1830-June 1847, Reel 1355-1356
This is a partial index. Reel 1355 is indexed by name of hotel. Reel 1356 is indexed by name of licensee

Index to Port Phillip publicans' licenses, 1839, Reel 1357
This partial index consists of two alphabetical sequences; by name of hotel and by name of licensee.

Index to certificates of publicans' licenses, Apr 1853-Mar 1855, NRS 14402 [4/90], Reel 5063
This volume contains an index of publicans and an index of hotel names.

Index to certificates of publicans' licenses, 1 Jul 1857-31 May 1860, Reel 1374
This index is incomplete, and covers the names of licensees only.

Index to butts and certificates of publicans licences, 1830-60
Available electronically in the reading room. This index was prepared by the Richmond-Tweed Regional Library.

Publicans in NSW, 1887
Held in book form in the reading room. This index was prepared by students of the University of Western Sydney, Nepean.

Care should be taken when using these indexes as there may be some duplication and some indexes are incomplete.

Main record series


NRS 14401, Butts of publicans' licenses, Jun 1830-May 1849
Reels 5049-5062 and 1236
The butts contain details of the licence number, the date of issue, the name and address of the licensee and sign of hotel, period covered and amount of duty received.

NRS 14403, Certificates for publicans' licenses, 1 Jul 1853-30 Jun 1861
Reels 5063-5066 and 1236-1242
These certificates contain the details of: name of district, date of justices' licensing meeting, name of proposed licensee and type of licence issued, situation of Public House and sign, names and residence of sureties for licensee and signatures of justices.

NRS 14411, Printed lists of licenses issued, 1866-82, 1895-1900, 1907-10
Reel 1243, COD 533
The lists have been extracted from the New South Wales Government Gazette and bound in chronological order. They record the name of licensee, location and sign of house, period of licence and from 1907 assessed annual rental.

Government Gazettes

Between 1866 and 1922 lists of publicans licenses were published in the New South Wales Government Gazette. A return arranged by District and published by the Treasury, was usually published in the August-September issue of the Gazette. Returns of licenses granted at Special Meetings prior to or after the Annual Meetings were also published. A set of the New South Wales Government Gazettes is held at the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC). Government Gazettes may also be accessed at the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library, and some university libraries.

Licensing Courts

NRS 9590, Plans of licensed premises: Hotel plans, 1884-1959
These are largely architect's plans of proposed hotels, and major and minor alterations and additions to existing hotels, submitted for approval. A full listing is available, indexed in a card index at the WSRC. A microfilm copy of the index is also available on Reels 1380-89. Digital images of some plans are available in Archives Investigator.

Licenses Reduction Board

NRS 9522, Card index to publicans' licenses, c.1920-37
These cards only relate to hotels in country areas and some Sydney suburbs and may not be complete. There is a separate card for each establishment: electorate, licensing district, sign (name), situation, licensing history, name of licensee and information such as orders and repairs. The cards are held at the WSRC.

Additional sources

Additional sources may also be found in the Archives Investigator under agencies including Attorney General, Colonial Secretsry, the various Courts of Petty Sessions and Licensing Courts, the Licenses Reduction Board, Police, Supreme Court, Surveyor General and Treasury; and, pending issue of the Short Guide, in the interim Guide, Publicans' Licenses, which is in our reading room only.

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.