State Records Home
Personal tools
You are here :: Home The State Archives Guides and finding aids Short Guide 9 - Naturalization and denization records, 1834-1903

Short Guide 9 - Naturalization and denization records, 1834-1903

Filed under: , ,

Historical background | Description of the records | About this guide

Historical background

Prior to 1849 there was no general statute providing for the naturalization of aliens in Great Britain or in New South Wales. The only way in which an alien could be naturalized was by means of a special Act of Parliament. In New South Wales two such Acts were passed, 6 Geo. IV No. 13 and 6 Geo. IV No. 17, naturalizing Timothy Goodwin Pitman and Prosper de Mestre respectively.

However, there was another process, that of denization, by which an alien could acquire some of the rights of a natural born subject. A denizen was one who

is an alien born but who so obtained, 'ex-donatione regis', letters patent to make him an English subject; a high and incommunicable branch of the royal prerogative. A denizen is in a kind of middle state between the alien and natural born subject, and partakes of both of them. He may take lands by purchase or devise, which an alien may not … no denizen can be of the privy council, or either house of parliament, or have any office of trust, civil or military, or be capable of any grants of land etc. from the crown, 12 W.3 c.2'

(Tomlins, Sir Thomas Edylyne: the Law Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 1820, article 'ALIENS')

By the Act of Council 9 Geo. IV No. 6 the Governor was empowered to grant such letters of denization under the Great Seal of the colony to foreigners arriving with letters of recommendation from the Principal Secretary of State. The person to whom letters of denization were to be granted was obliged to swear the oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy (disowning the temporal authority of the Pope), Abjuration of the Descendants of the Pretender, and a Declaration against Transubstantiation. Roman Catholics were exempted from taking the Declaration against Transubstantiation by virtue of the Act 10 Geo. IV c.7 s.1, 'An Act for the relief of His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects'. The oaths had to be taken before a Judge of the Supreme Court, usually the Chief Justice, and a record to that effect kept in the Supreme Court. In practice, as most of the persons wanting letters of denization were already in the Colony, they petitioned the Governor who submitted their names to the Secretary of State for approval, rather than applying directly to the Secretary of State.

After the Act 11 Vic. No. 39, which made provision for the naturalization of aliens without resort to special Acts, came into force, the provisions for denization became for all practical purposes obsolete, as more extensive rights could be obtained more easily through naturalization than through the denization. Though the Act 9 Geo. IV No. 6 was not repealed and was re-enacted in the Naturalization and Denization Act 1898 (No. 21). There is no record of the issue of letters of denization after 1848.

Provision of a general nature for the naturalization of aliens in New South Wales was first made by the Act 11 Vic. No. 39, based on the Imperial Act 7 & 8 Vic. c.66, which abolished the need to resort to special Acts for individuals and instituted the granting of certificates of naturalization by the Home Secretary. The New South Wales Act which came into force in 1849 provided that such certificates should be issued by the Governor after considering the memorial of the applicant. Such certificates if granted gave the naturalized person all the rights of a natural born British subject, except the right to be a member of the Executive or Legislative Councils. In 1858, these disqualifications were removed by the Electoral Act 22 Vic. No. 20.

The Act 11 Vic. No. 39 also granted aliens the right to lease land for twenty-one years. The separate oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, and the Declaration against Transubstantiation were abolished and replaced by an oath of Allegiance and Abjuration. The Act also provided that 'such certificates shall be enrolled for safe custody as of record in the Supreme Court of the said colony, and may be inspected and copies thereof taken under such regulations as a Judge or Judges of the said Court shall direct'. The Colonial Secretary also kept a Register of Certificates of Naturalization until 1859. This was probably due to the belief, which then obtained, that it was legally necessary for the Colonial Secretary to keep a full record of instruments passing the Great Seal of the Colony.

That from 1849 to 1876 the official records of naturalization were those in the Supreme Court is clear from a report of the Prothonotary in 1886 (SRNSW ref: 4/6672) where it is stated in regard to the naturalization records

I was last month applied to by a Mercantile firm of Sydney for a certified copy of a certificate of Naturalization of a certain Chinaman who was naturalized in the year 1873.' 'The certificates of naturalization up to the year 1876 are kept by Mr Read and it is his duty to preserve them in proper order. They were on the contrary in the greatest state of confusion and were exhumed, with difficulty, from various places in his office. A week was consumed by other clerks in endeavouring, but in vain, to find the required certificate.'

The Act 17 Vic. No. 8 simplified the oath to be taken to one of Allegiance and provided that it could be sworn before any magistrate or duly authorized person and the certificate to that effect forwarded to the Supreme Court. In 1876 the New South Wales Act 39 Vic. No. 19, modelled on the Imperial Act of 1870, came into force. Among other things it granted aliens the right to hold property on the same conditions as British subjects. It also introduced residence of five years as a prerequisite for naturalization and simplified further the oath of Allegiance to be taken. At the same time it provided that the 'Colonial Secretary shall keep for safe custody all certificates of naturalization granted under this Act … and shall cause to be made proper indices to such certificates and shall permit any person desirous of so doing at all reasonable times to inspect the same'. The reason why the Colonial Secretary rather than the Supreme Court was charged with the duty of keeping the naturalization records and of preparing indices to them may well have been a result of the unsatisfactory state of affairs revealed in the Prothonotary's report quoted above in regard to the naturalization records of the Supreme Court from 1849 to 1876.

In 1898 the Naturalization and Denization Act 1898 (No. 21) consolidated the legislation on these subjects and incorporated the substance of 9 Geo. IV No. 6 regarding denization into the Act. The Commonwealth Naturalization Act No. 11 of 1903 came into force as from 1 January 1904. It is stated in Section 13 of the Act,

From the commencement of this Act the right to issue certificates of naturalization in the Commonwealth shall be exclusively vested in the Government of the Commonwealth, and no certificate of naturalization issued after the commencement of this Act under any State shall be of any effect.'

Records after this date are held by the National Archives of Australia.

Description of the records

NRS 1038, Letters of Denization, 1834-47 *ARK [4/1172]
Reel 128A
Under the terms of Act 9 Geo. IV No. 6 it was required that the

'Chief Justice or other Judge ... shall cause such Letters of Denization and the certificate so to be endorsed thereon to be recorded in the Supreme Court of the said Colony and a certificate of such record shall be deemed and taken in every Court within the said Colony and its Dependencies to be a sufficient proof of the person to whom such Letters of Denization shall have been granted as aforesaid being a denizen subject of Great Britain to all intents and purposes whatsoever'.

These letters of denization presumably were transferred from the Supreme Court to the custody of the Colonial Secretary some time after 1886 along with the naturalization records. Originally the Colonial Secretary only maintained a record of the letters of denization: at the time of issue they were entered by his staff in the Registers of letters patent (believed to have been destroyed).
The letters of denization recite the various rights and privileges conferred on the grantee, such as the right to own land, and the restrictions, such as the clause forbidding him to own or to be master of a British ship. They are signed by the Governor, sealed with the Great Seal of the Colony, and certified by the Colonial Secretary as having been entered in the Registers of letters patent. On the back of the letters is the certification of the Chief Justice or other Judge that the oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, and Abjuration of the Descendants of the Pretender have been sworn and, in addition, in the case of Protestants, the Declaration against Transubstantiation. Roman Catholics were exempted from the Declaration against Transubstantiation. Attached to the letters of denization are the signed copies of the oaths and declarations sworn.
Correspondence concerning the granting of letters of denization can be found in other records of the Colonial Secretary, particularly in the Main series of letters received, CGS 905. This usually includes the application or petition requesting that letters of denization be granted (often giving personal details of the proposed recipient), a copy of the despatch from the Secretary of State authorising the granting of the letters of denization, and correspondence reporting that the relevant fee had been paid.
To locate this correspondence the Colonial Secretary's Indexes and registers to letters received NRS 922 should be checked under the name of the individual or under the term 'denization' to establish the final registration number of the letter.
The letters of denization for Auguste Pierre Clement de Guerry Chevalier de Laurent, granted in 1842, are located with Colonial Secretary In-letter (CSIL) 45/6047, presumably because the oaths prescribed by law were not administered.
In addition, the letters of denization for Frederick Brequet and David Louis Pettavel, issued in 1847 and 1848 respectively (see CSIL 48/2196), do not appear to be held by State Records.

Name & Number Year Reel Item
Edward Austin; 47/1 1847 128A 4/1172
Francois Chretien; 42/2 1842 128A 4/1172
Burchard Frericks; 42/4 1842 128A 4/1172
John Christian Simon Handt; 44/4 1844 128A 4/1172
Nicholas Hyeronimus; 43/2 1843 128A 4/1172
Henry Isler; 43/1 1843 128A 4/1172
Nathan Mandelson; 44/5 1844 128A 4/1172
Henry Ludwig Miller; 34/1 1834 128A 4/1172
Jean Meillon; 42/3 1842 128A 4/1172
Henry Albert Meinertzhagen; 44/3 1844 128A 4/1172
Frederick Peterson; 44/2 1844 128A 4/1172
Josephine Bridget Coymanc Rens; 36/1 1836 128A 4/1172
Charles William Roemer; 37/1 1837 128A 4/1172
Francis Nicholas Rossi; 44/6 1844 128A 4/1172
Severin Kanute Salting; 44/1 1844 128A 4/1172
George Starbuck; 42/1 1842 128A 4/1172
NRS 1039, Certificates of Naturalization, 1849-76 [4/1173-81, X11990, 4/1183-95, 4/1197-99]
Reels 2688-2699
These are the certificates of naturalization ordered to be enrolled in the Supreme Court by the Act 11 Vic. No. 39. The certificates were prepared in the Colonial Secretary's Office and then forwarded to the Supreme Court. Some time after 1886 they were transferred from the Supreme Court to the Colonial Secretary's custody (see Introduction). Each Certificate states the name, native place, age, occupation, date of arrival in the colony, name of the ship, present place of residence and reason for seeking naturalization. They are signed by the Governor and Colonial Secretary and sealed with the Great Seal of the Colony. Attached to each certificate is the signed and attested oath of allegiance required by the Acts 11 Vic. No. 39 and 17 Vic. No. 8.
Investigation has shown that the personal details relating to the recipients of certificates of naturalization cannot be totally relied upon; in particular, in many cases, details of the name of the ship and the year of arrival have proved to be erroneous.
The certificates are arranged alphabetically within each year.

Item list for NRS 1039:

Contents Dates Reel Item
1849 2688 [4/1173]
1850 2688 [4/1173]
1851 2688 [4/1174]
1852 2689 [4/1174]
1853-54 2689 [4/1175]
1855-56 2689 [4/1176]
1857 2690 [4/1177]
(A-Kircher, Jacob) 1858 2690 [4/1178]
(Kinzig, Michael-Schweobel, Adam) 1858 2690 [4/1179]
(Seib, Adam-W) 1858 2691 [4/1179]
(A-L) 1859 2691 [4/1180]
(M-Petersen, Andrew George) 1859 2691 [4/1181]
(Petersen, John Richard-Z) 1859 2692 [4/1181]
1860 2692 [X1990]
1861 2693 [4/1183]
(A-P) 1862 2693 [4/1184]
(R-Z) 1862 2694 [4/1184]
1863 2694 [4/1185]
(A-J) 1864 2694 [4/1186]
(K-Z) 1864 2695 [4/1186]
1865 2695 [4/1187]
(A-Langenb?er, Philipp) 1866 2695 [4/1188]
(Lawson, Charles-Z) 1866 2696 [4/1188]
1867 2696 [4/1189]
(A-N) 1868 2696 [4/1190]
(O-W) 1868 2697 [4/1190]
1869 2697 [4/1191]
(A-Rehm, Hyeronimus) 1870 2697 [4/1192]
(Riedt, Gustav-Z) 1870 2698 [4/1192]
1871 2698 [4/1193]
1872 2698 [4/1194]
(A-Shea, John Hong) 1873 2698 [4/1195]
(Sites, William-Z) 1873 2699 [4/1195]
1874 2699 [4/1197]
1875 2699 [4/1198]
1876 2699 [4/1199]
NRS 1040, Registers of Certificates of Naturalization, 1849-59, 1876-1903 *ARK [4/1200-01, 4/1204-16]
Reels 128A-141A
These volumes contain a complete copy of each certificate of naturalization, certified as having been entered on record by the Colonial Secretary or Under Secretary. In many cases, particularly from 1890 onwards, the certificates are annotated with the relevant Colonial Secretary In-letter number of the memorial requesting the naturalization.
The volumes covering 1849-59 were probably maintained because it was thought necessary that a full record of instruments passing the Great Seal of the Colony should be kept in the Colonial Secretary's Office. From 1876 to 1903, under the provisions of Act 39 Vic. No. 19, the Colonial Secretary was specifically charged with the duty of keeping the naturalization records.
The final certificate of naturalization granted in New South Wales was issued on 31 December 1903, although it was not entered on record until 7 May 1904.
The certificates are numbered within each volume, and there is an alphabetical index in the front of each. The certificates are also indexed in the series Index to Registers of Certificates of Naturalization and Lists of Aliens to whom Certificates of Naturalization have been issued 1849-1903, CGS 1042.
The memorial or application for the certificate of naturalization can be found within the series Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received, CGS 905. In addition to the memorial itself, the correspondence may include: the declaration by the applicant for a certificate of naturalization, a minute paper for the Executive Council recommending that a certificate of naturalization be granted, and certification that the Oath of Allegiance had been taken. When the Colonial Secretary In-letter number is not noted on the copy of the certificate, the relevant correspondence can be located by searching the series Colonial Secretary: Indexes and registers of letters received, CGS 922 under the name of the individual.
Item list for NRS 1040:
Dates of Certificates Numbers Vol. Reel Item
26 Jul 1849 - 22 Jul 1851 1-330 1 128 [4/1200]
22 Jul 1851 - 20 May 1857 330-846 1 129 [4/1200]
3 Jun 1857 - 9 Mar 1859 1-601 2 129 [4/1201]
24 Jul 1876 - 19 Sep 1878 1-250 5 130 [4/1204]
30 Sep 1878 - 5 Mar 1879 251-295 6 130 [4/1205]
5 Mar 1879 - 11 Apr 1881 295-899 6 131 [4/1205]
19 Apr 1881 - 23 Jan 1883 1-247 7 131 [4/1206]
23 Jan 1883 - 14 Mar 1883 1-64 8 131 [4/1207]
14 Mar 1883 - 17 Feb 1884 64-450 8 132 [4/1207]
17 Feb 1884 - 25 Mar 1886 1-470 9 133 [4/1208]
27 Mar 1886 - 18 Jun 1890 1-502 10 134 [4/1209]
26 Jun 1890 - 19 Sep 1890 1-20 11 134 [4/1210]
25 Sep 1890 - 22 Jul 1893 21-496 11 135 [4/1210]
22 Jul 1893 - 4 Dec 1893 1-75 12 135 [4/1211]
4 Dec 1893 - 13 Dec 1895 75-501 12 136 [4/1211]
13 Dec 1895 - 20 Aug 1896 1-113 13 136 [4/1212]
20 Aug 1896 - 8 Jun 1898 113-501 13 137 [4/1212]
8 Jun 1898 - 16 Dec 1898 1-157 14 137 [4/1213]
16 Dec 1898 - 27 Aug 1900 158-498 14 138 [4/1213]
25 Aug 1900 - 19 Feb 1901 1-201 15 138 [4/1214]
19 Feb 1901 - 31 Jul 1901 202-500 15 139 [4/1214]
31 Jul 1901 - 22 Mar 1902 1-262 16 140 [4/1215 ]
10 Oct 1902 - 25 Aug 1903 1-299 17 140 [4/1216]
25 Aug 1903 - 31 Dec 1903 300-468 17 141 [4/1216]
NRS 1041, List of Aliens to whom certificates of naturalization have been issued, 1859-76 *ARK [4/1202-03]
Reel 130
Although during this period the legal records of naturalization were maintained in the Supreme Court, applications to the Governor for the issue of certificates were made through the Colonial Secretary's Office. These two volumes give the following particulars concerning persons to whom certificates of naturalization were issued: annual number of certificate, age, ship by which the person arrived, year of arrival, place of residence at the time the certificate was granted, date of certificate, Colonial Secretary In-letter number of the memorial asking for naturalization, and 'remarks' such as the date of the letter enclosing the certificate of naturalization or the date that the oaths were administered and sent to the Prothonotary.
The memorial or application for the certificate of naturalization can be found in the series Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received, CGS 905.
Dates of Certificates Numbers Vol. Reel Item
18 Mar 1859 - 17 Mar 1875 1859/40-1875/76 3 130 [4/1202]
25 Mar 1875 - 6 Mar 1876 1875/77-1876/41 4 130 [4/1203]

NRS 1042, Index to Registers of Certificates of Naturalization and Lists of Aliens to Whom Certificates of Naturalization have been issued, 1849-1903 *ARK [4/1217]
Fiche 757-767
This volume was probably compiled in accordance with the provision of Act 39 Vic. No. 19 that the Colonial Secretary 'shall cause to be made proper indices to such certificates' (of naturalization). For each person issued with a certificate of naturalization, it shows: name, native place, date of certificate, the relevant register number, and page number in the register.
In the front of the volume is a list of persons to whom letters of denization were granted and a copy of a circular relating to naturalization certificates.
There is a microfilm copy of the index on open access in the reading room (SR Reel 128 and Fiche 757-67). Photocopies of the original volume are also available in the reading room.
» Search the online Index to Naturalization, 1834-1903

*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.

About this guide

State Records' Short Guides are designed to provide easy reference to record series relating to a particular subject or area of research. This guide provides information on records of the Colonial Secretary relating to naturalization and denization. It was previously published as Guide to the State Archives of New South Wales No. 2 - Colonial Secretary: Naturalisation and Denization Records, 1834-1903.

The granting of letters of denization or a certificate of naturalization conferred on its recipient, with some limitation, the rights and privilege of a natural born British subject within New South Wales. The naturalization and denization records described in this guide contain details of citizenship rights granted to aliens of non-British origin between 1834 and 1903. These people came from a wide range of national backgrounds — Chinese, Danish, French, German, Italian and Polish to name a few. These records therefore reflect the great cultural diversity of immigrants who came to New South Wales in the nineteenth century.

This is a guide to the official archives of the State of New South Wales. The State's archives are a unique and irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage. They document the business of government in New South Wales, and its interaction with people and groups in our society, from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 until today.