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Archives In Brief 73 - Italian migration and settlement in New South Wales

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Provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to Italian settlement in New South Wales. Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator, and the Departmental Special Bundle listings, which are available in the reading room.

Regulatory background to the records

Italian fruiterer - Thomas Lopez's Grocery Shop, 219 Elizabeth Street, Redfern (NSW) Date c. 01/01/1890 NRS 4481 Digital ID: 4481_a026_000123.jpgThe first recorded Italian 'visitor' to New South Wales was a Venetian, Antonio Ponto, who was on board the Endeavour when Captain Cook explored the east coast of Australia in 1770 [1].

While Alessandro Malaspina (1793), who was accompanied by two Italian artists, Ferdinando Brambilla and Giovanni Ravenet, and an Italian missionary, Francisco De Prata, (1822) are mentioned in early colonial records, there were only a few Italian-born settlers in New South Wales before the 1850s [2].

Among these early 'settlers' were some convicts — notably Dominico Papalio (Indian in 1810); Vincenzo Bucchieri and Angelo Farrugia (Guildford in 1812); Vincenzo Gatto (Marquis of Wellington in 1815) and Joseph Laberbiera (Elizabeth in 1816).

The first time the number of Italian born immigrants in New South Wales was reported was in the 1871 Census, when 772 Italians were recorded. Successive census reports recorded an increase over the next thirty years — 1 359 in 1881, 1 477 in 1891 and 1 577 in 1901. In the twentieth century the figure rose from 29 940 in 1954 [3] to 66 090 in 1996 [4].

Italian immigration has declined in recent years.

The majority of the Italian immigrants came from Sicily, Calabria and Veneto, settling in metropolitan areas and 'enlivening inner-city suburbs' such as Kings Cross [5].

In the report on the 1891 Census, Coghlan notes that the 600 Italians in Sydney are 'for the most part engaged in fruit-vending, while those employed in the country were mainly occupied in vine dressing and wine making, as well as working as ordinary day-labourers' [6].

A key event in the history of Italian immigration to New South Wales was the Marquis de Ray's ill-conceived scheme to colonise New Ireland (New Guinea). The survivors — mostly from the Veneto region — arrived in Sydney on the James Patterson in 1881. They settled in the Richmond River District — known as New Italy. The settlement thrived for the first few years and by 1888 there were 250 residents. Community numbers began to decline however, following the end of World War I [7].

During World War I (after 1916), Italians living in Australia were subject to the Commonwealth Government requirement that they register with local authorities as 'aliens'. Many Italians were interned during World War II. Today, the contribution made by Italian immigrants and their descendants to the business, political and cultural life of New South Wales is celebrated.

[1] James Jupp, The Australian People: An Encyclopaedia of the Nation. Its People and their Origins, Cambridge University Press Cambridge, 2001, p. 486

[2] ibid. p. 487

[3] The Australian Encyclopaedia, Volume 5, Angus and Roberson, Sydney, 195, p. 113

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics,


[6] T. A. Coghlan, General Report on the Eleventh Census of New South Wales, Government Printer, Sydney, 1894, p. 183

[7] op. cit p. 489

Searching for individuals in the records

Particular individuals may be difficult to trace because records are generally arranged by the government department that created them rather than by persons' names. When searching for individuals, your first step should be to determine what dealings the person may have had with the government of the day. You then need to consider which public office would have created these records.

Major sources for records

Colonial Secretary's records | Passengers and crew records | Convict records | Business and company records | Naturalization records | New Italy settlement | Internment and 'alien' registration records | Police, court and prison records | Hospital, health and death records

Colonial Secretary's records

The main series of correspondence and the list of Special Bundles should be consulted for information relating to or concerning Italians in the colony/state. Examples include the 'memorials' of those applying to be naturalized. See Archives in Brief 64, Archives in Brief 65, the Archives in Brief 104 and the Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence.

Examples from the Colonial Secretary

NRS 906, Special Bundles, 1826-1982
* Complaints of foreign immigrants on voyage — the Swiss and Italian immigrants on the Ledunia; the Americans on the Georges; and the Germans on the Marbs and Aurora. Bill to regulate foreign immigration, 1855-56, [4/7170]
The Ledunia arrived in October 1855.
* Demography of Italy — Italian publication, 1854-56, 1872-76 [4/1085]
* Purchase of statues from G. Fontana for public buildings, 1880-84 [4/847.3]
This bundle contains correspondence from G. Fontana

Passengers and crew records

The majority of Italians arriving in the colony 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. Furthermore, some lists record only the numbers on board rather than listing the passengers and crew by name. Details on a settler's arrival may be found from other sources for example, naturalization records (see below).

Passenger and crew records can be found in the series Passengers arriving (or Shipping lists, or Passenger lists), 1855-1922. These records are described in more detail in Archives in Brief 1.

Convict records

Just over 160 000 convicts were transported to the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1868. While most were from the British Isles, there were some Italian convicts among them.

Most were tried by English courts outside Britain. Marie Jones' book From Places Now Forgotten: An Index of Convicts Whose Places of Trial were outside the UK & Ireland (Marie Jones, Wild and Woolly P/L, 1996) is a valuable means of identifying these convicts. It is available in theh reading room.

Archives in Brief 2 and Archives in Brief 34 outline the main sources to be used for convict research. For a comprehensive listing of convict records held by State Records, researchers should consult the Archives Investigator and the Guide to Convict Records (Convict Guide) which is available in the reading room.

Business and company records

Many Italian immigrants opened small business, often as green grocers, fruiterers and café and oyster saloon proprietors. The Act No. 100, 1902 — An Act to provide for the Registration of Firms — which came into operation on 1 January 1903, required all firms, defined as 'two or more persons lawfully…carrying on any business', to be registered.

The Registers of firms under the Registration of Firms Act of 1902, 1903-22 includes details about the address and the persons carrying on the business. This series is indexed.

More information is provided in Archives Investigator.

There are also a range of records for companies that were incorporated between 1875 and 1969. Records include company packets, NRS 12951, NRS 16382 and NRS 16383. The packets cover companies that were registered after 1875 and ceased trading by 1977.

The records are accessible via Archives Investigator. Search the company name using the simple search option.

Where there is no company packet, check the Australian Securities Commission’s Dead Companies Index Pre-1969, COD 534. This index is available in the reading room and gives: registration number; company name; incorporation date and dissolution date.

More information on these records can be found in Archives Investigator under Agency No. 24, Registrar General. See also records of Agency No. 78, the Corporate Affairs Commission.

Bankruptcy records may also include Italian businesses. See Archives in Brief 58. Commercial directories such as Sands should also be checked for information on businesses.

Italian arrivals on the Saint Ludwona

On 8 October 1855 the Antwerp steamer Saint Ludwina arrived in Sydney. Aboard were 176 Italian passengers, many from the Swiss Italian canton of Ticino. These people had arrived, by their own description in a statement made to the Reverend P.O’Farrell of Saint Patrick’s, Church Hill within days of disembarkation, ‘in a state of misery…without money’. Their voyage under the supervision of the Master, Captain Lammers, had been a ‘history of hardships and sufferings and unworthy treatment’. Their complaint had been passed promptly to the Agent for Immigration by Father O’Farrell.

Their embarkation in Antwerp had not been promising: left without food for 22 hours,a delegation of the group had finally approached the Chief Mate to request sustenance. An altercation had broken out which left two of the passengers hospitalised with knife wounds, and the Mate and another seaman in custody in an Antwerp gaol.

The Italians recounted how, for the rest of the voyage, they were deprived of adequate food, or given inedible and mouldy biscuit, and finally, were forced to pay the Captain extortionate amounts of money for food he had in his own stores. Even the sick were made to pay for broth and the final weeks’ sustenance consisted of ‘uncooked Indian corn and water’, the Captain having refused to supply any fuel by which means they could cook.

The immigrants having exhausted their reserves of money through the Captain’s cruel scheme, proceeded to exchange clothing, hats and scarves for any small portion of food he was willing to give them.

H.H.Browne, the Agent for Immigration acted on Father O’Farrell’s report and required from Captain Lammers a response to the allegations. Lammers denied the bulk of the complaints and instead accused the Italians of being ‘violent and unruly’ and coming to him ‘in numbers and with clenched fists and violent gestures demanding…..what they wanted instantly and conducted themselves with such violence that during the latter part of the voyage neither the Captain nor the Doctor ever dared to undress or go to bed but slept with loaded pistols on the Benches’.

Lammers named a certain Baccegolopo (Bacigalupo) as having been throughout the voyage a ‘dangerous person’. But Father O’Farrell pointed out that this same individual had been recommended by the shipping company agent, Rebera, in Antwerp as a good person and one ‘in whom he (Rebera) had confidence’ and who had been given a free passage for acting as under-agent on the company’s behalf.

Finally the relevant documents ,charge and counter charge were reviewed by the colony’s law officers and laid before the Governor but, due to ‘the lateness of the session’ were not attended to, but noted for a the next session of the Governor in council. Nothing further is recorded. The Agent for Immigration noted however, in his covering letter to the Colonial Secretary, that the exemption of foreign passenger ships from the operation of the Passenger Acts prevented him from giving any redress to the complainants and that some law which would bring vessels like the Saint Ludwina within the law was urgent.


Naturalization legislation came into force in New South Wales in 1849 (Act 11 Vic. No. 39). Prior to then, the only way that a non-British resident could be naturalised was by a special act of Parliament. Following this legislation any person born outside the British Empire who had resided in New South Wales for a period of five years and who wished to vote or own land needed to become naturalised.

Naturalization records are an important source as they can provide both the date of arrival and the name of the ship. See Archives Investigator and Archives in Brief 3 for a full list of records relating to denization and naturalization.

The National Archives of Australia holds post 1903 naturalisation records and information on alien registration and internment in New South Wales. The National Archives may be contacted on telephone: 1300 886 881, Web site

New Italy settlement

Information about New Italy may be found in the Colonial Secretary's correspondence and the Special Bundle listings.
One example is Colonial Secretary; NRS 905, Main series of letters received, 1892, letter no. 92/3497 [5/6069]. This reference relates to bonds for advances to plant mulberry trees and begin a silk industry.
The file for the New Italy School is included in the List of School files. Researchers should also consult Archives Investigator.

Internment and 'alien' registration records

The Department of Corrective Services' records relating to internees are listed in Archives Investigator. See also Bathurst Internment Camp, NRS 2014, Entrance and disposal book, 1939 [5/1523].

The notebooks of F.R. Jordan, C J relating to the Internment Camps at Hay, Orange, Cowra and Liverpool may also be of interest. The records of the Attorney General, in particular the incoming correspondence for the period 1911-56, the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence and Special Bundle listings as well as the Premier's Department Special Bundle lists should also be consulted.

Police, court and prison records

NRS 10958, Police Gazettes, 1862-1929, Reels 3129-3143 (1862-99), Reels 3594-3606 (1900-30) contain entries and photographs of Italian people. Consult Archives Investigator for details about the Gazettes.

Court records, depositions and related documents provide a wealth of information about Italians convicted in New South Wales.
The various court jurisdictions can be found in Archives Investigator.

Prison records include, from the period of the late 1870s, photographs of prisoners with details of conviction and personal history. The photographs are being progressively indexed. Details of prison records can be found in Archives Investigator.

Hospital, health and death records

Records of psychiatric institutions dating from 1838 may include Italian patients. Records of State government run mental institutions are listed in Archives Investigator.

See also Archives in Brief 85, Archives in Brief 86, and Archives in Brief 87.

Coroners' records such registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details (age and birthplace) of individuals into whose deaths an enquiry was held. Detailed reports have not survived for the years 1828 to 1911. See Archives in Brief 4.

Deceased Estate records relate to the payment of death duties, may also prove useful. See Archives in Brief 29.

Intestate Estate files should be consulted in instances where a person died without a will. See Archives in Brief 53 for full details.

Other sources

Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1788-1945 (see the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages online indexes)

Census of New South Wales, 1891 and 1901 (see Short Guide 7 and Short Guide 12).

Gold mining records. References to miners can be located in the records of the Gold Commissioners and in the records of Mining Wardens' Courts in the Department of Mines (see Archives Investigator). Land sales and transfers. Records relating to the purchase of land from the Crown can be found in Archives Investigator. Records relating to the transfer of land between individuals are available from Department of Lands, 1 Prince Albert Road, Queen's Square, Sydney,

Records of professions and occupations. Short Guide 10 lists a selection of the more significant State archives relating to particular professions and occupations.

Public service records. For records relating to public servants see Agency No. 573, Public Services Board in Archives Investigator. See also Archives in Brief 19, Archives in Brief 20, Archives in Brief 54, and Archives in Brief 113.

School records. Files, which cover the years 1876-1979, include administrative documents relating to government schools may be useful for areas where Italians settled (see Archives in Brief 26 for information) and the Schools and related records index.

In addition, there are some records, such as admission rolls, from individual schools. A list of these records, arranged alphabetically by the name of the schools, is available in the reading room.

This AIB 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.
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