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Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825

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Arranged by surname and subject this is the most comprehensive index of early NSW settlement.

Accessing the records | Historical background | How the Indexing was compiled | Feedback

Search and browse the original text-based index

The Papers include:
  • petitions by convicts for mitigation of their sentences;
  • requests for permission to marry;
  • memorials attesting to the worthy character of potential settlers;
  • applications for land grants or leases;
  • reports on official visits;
  • information about court cases and lists of assigned servants
- in fact anything to do with the colonial administration of the day.

Digital copies of the Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788-1825 can now be viewed free of charge on - you  will be asked to complete a guest registration but access is free.

Accessing the records

Microfilm copies of the Correspondence can be viewed in our reading room. Printed versions of the index are also available in the reading room.

Alternatively, the Archives Resources Kit, which comprises the core of the State's historical records is available in 40 community access points including our Regional Repositories throughout country New South Wales. A number of other institutions and organisations around the State also hold parts of the kit and copies of State archives.

You can also order copies of the records via a print-friendly order form.

Historical background

The powers of the first Governors of New South Wales under the terms of their commissions and instructions embraced almost everything necessary for the exercise of government in a remote and virtually independent command. Thus the scope of the surviving records maintained by their Secretaries is wide, reflecting all aspects of the administration of the infant colony.

Ten different men served as Secretary to the Governor, or to the colony, or 'to Government', in the 22 years before Governor Macquarie arrived, with an average tenure of office of less than two years, allowing for vacancies. The arrangements were not conducive to good record-keeping.

The arrival of Governor Macquarie at the end of 1809 brought to the office of Secretary to the Governor probably the ablest and most experienced man who had yet filled it, one who was to hold it for the longest period, and who, as its last occupant under the old style, was to be the link between the older casual system of court appointments and the new method of permanent appointment by commission from the Crown. In his 11 years of office, the methodical John Thomas Campbell greatly improved the situation in respect of the public records of the colony, and the greater part of the surviving records date from this period.

Generally, a new order and regularity was established in the performance of the public business during the 12 years of Macquarie's administration. He was succeeded by Sir Thomas Brisbane on 1 December 1821.

How the Indexing was compiled

What has been included? | What has been excluded? | Indexing procedures

What has been included in the index?

Letters received

NRS 897, Main series of letters received, 1788-1826 *ARK
Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072
This includes letters from Government officials and private individuals; copies of agreements; despatches; general orders; instructions; ordinary regulations; proclamations; memoranda; reports and returns. Letters received from establishments at Bathurst, Moreton Bay, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Van Diemen's Land are also included. See Appendix B of the interim guide for full details.

NRS 898, Special bundles, 1794-1825 *ARK
Reels 6020-6040, 6070; Fiche 3260-3312
These relate to a particular subject or topic. Government and General Orders and other administrative instruments are included in this category. See Appendix C of the interim guide for a full list of titles.
For a full list of titles see the Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. An electronic listing of the Special bundles is available in the reading room.

NRS 899, Memorials to the Governor, 1810-26 *ARK
Fiche 3001-3162
These mainly comprise applications for land grants, leases and Tickets of Occupation. Requests relating to other matters such as applications for assigned convicts or to be victualled from the Stores are also included. Memorials frequently contain some background history or other details to support the applicant's case. See the Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence.

NRS 900, Petitions to the Governor from convicts for mitigations of sentences, 1810-26 *ARK
Fiche 3163-3253
These are principally petitions from convicts, or from family members or other persons on their behalf, for some mitigation of sentence such as a ticket of leave or a pardon. These documents often contain information as to the convict's general conduct and history including the name of the ship of arrival, colonial employment and family details. For full details see the Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence.

NRS 901, Copies of letters sent and received, mainly within the Colony, or 'Document Books Nos.1-3', c.1817-27 *ARK
Fiche 6016-6017
These contain copies of correspondence and enclosures; reports of boards; public notices and proclamations; returns; bonds and specifications and licences.

NRS 903, Lists of memorials, letters etc. received, 1822-25 *ARK
Fiche 3254-3259
These comprise nominal lists of memorials, letters etc. received and a memorandum of papers handed over from the Private to the Colonial Secretary at the end of the year 1825.

Letters sent

NRS 933, Copies of letters sent by Lieutenant Governor Foveaux, administering the colony, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 4 Sep 1808-7 Nov 1809, and to Governor Bligh, 28 Jul 1808-5 Jan 1809 *ARK
Reel 6001

NRS 934, Copies of letters sent and received by Lieutenant Governor Paterson, Dec 1808-Nov 1809 *ARK
Reel 6001
The correspondence was conducted mainly with persons within the colony. At the opposite end of the volume are copies of letters from Paterson addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

NRS 935, Copies of letters sent: local and overseas, 28 Dec 1809-28 Dec 1813 *ARK
Reel 6002
Copies of letters addressed to officials, individuals and corporate bodies in and around for example, Sydney, Parramatta, and the Hawkesbury. There are also a few letters to overseas countries.

NRS 936, Copies of letters sent to Van Diemen's Land, Newcastle and Norfolk Island, 6 Jan 1810-16 Dec 1813
Reel 6003
Copies of letters written by the Governor and his Secretary to officials and individuals usually residing at, or intending to go to, these places.

NRS 937, Copies of letters sent within the Colony, 1 Jan 1814-30 Jan 1827 *ARK [1814-25 only]
Reels 6004-6016 1814-25
Copies of letters addressed to officials including the Governor, corporate bodies and individuals in the Colony and its out-settlements.

NRS 938, Copies of letters sent and received, mainly within the colony, or "Document Books Nos. 1-3", c.1817-Oct 1827
Fiche 6016-6017

NRS 939, Copies of letters sent outside the Colony, 'foreign', 17 Jan 1814-21 Oct 1856
Reels 6018-6019, 2649 and 898-901
The letters are principally addressed to officials and individuals in England, to officials in India, the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius and Batavia. The letters to individuals are mainly in reply to enquiries about settlers and convicts. From 30 December 1823 letters to Van Diemen's Land are included.

What has been excluded from the index?

Material excluded from the Project

Two collections of papers have not been included in the project.  These are:

  1. Norfolk Island Papers, 1794-1813, 1825 [4/1167-70]
    The condition of these papers was too poor to allow them to be microfilmed to a satisfactory standard.
  2. NRS 1155, Musters and other papers relating to Convicts Ships, 1790-1849 [2/8240-82] *ARK
    Reels 2417-2428
    These papers are arranged alphabetically by ship and hence the relatively few early papers are interspersed with later material.
    The series is published as part of the Archives Resources Kit.

Limited Indexing

For various reasons, mainly relating to the time available, the indexing of some bundles has been more limited than others.  In particular, the following records come within this category:

  1. Main series of letters received, 1821-25 [4/1752-3, 4/1756-94, 4/1798-1813, 4/1815-6, 4/1818]
    Reels 6052-6069
    A number of volumes in this period have not been indexed in detail.  There is little subject indexing to these particular volumes unless the subject was a person.  The majority of entries are made under the author of a letter - either a public officer or a private individual.  Hence it is necessary to know who may have been writing on a particular subject and look under that heading.
  2. Main series of letters received - Van Diemen's Land, Mar 1804 - Jul 1821 [4/6576-9]
    Reels 6071-6072
    The indexing of these volumes, which were late additions to the project, is very incomplete.  For the most part only general entries relating to prominent persons have been made.
    The relevant section of the Summary of Colonial Records in the Colonial Secretary's Office, 1788-1826 (Reels 6071-6072; [5/2331]) has been filmed with the papers to assist in their use.
  3. Naval Officers' Quarterly Reports, 1810 - 30 June 1824 [X698-701]
    Reel 6023
    Some personal entries have been made, but the ships have not been indexed.
  4. Returns of births, deaths and marriages, 1811-25 [2/8293-8303 pt]
    Reels 6024-6025
    These Returns have been indexed:
    * by place (e.g. WINDSOR; SYDNEY; St James);
    * under the name of the signatory (clergyman); and
    * with block entries under BIRTHS; DEATHS; MARRIAGES.
    No entries have been made for the parties in marriage, on the basis that these have been adequately covered by the Index prepared by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and published on microfiche; and by the Mutch Index held and published on microfilm by the Mitchell Library.
  5. Applications for free passengers for wives and families of convicts, 1824-5 [4/1112.1A]
    Fiche 3285-3288
    Only the applicant's name has been indexed.  Names of wives, children, clergymen, etc have not been included.

Indexing procedures

Basic arrangement | Arrangement of entries relating to individuals | Cross references | Spelling of names | Format of entries | Ships | Dating | Subject indexing

Basic arrangement

The Index is arranged on a word by word basis. Hence a space will take precedence to a letter, for example:

DE MESTRE, Prosper
DE PRATA, Francisco
DE ROCHES, Charles
DE TRE, Benedict
DEA, Thomas

For a particular word, the order is:

Ships of that name;

Places/subjects; and

Individuals, for example:

"RICHMOND". Convict transport
RICHMOND, Magistrates
RICHMOND, Watch House


NEW, Edward
NEW LIGHT. Public House in Kent Street
NEW NORFOLK, Van Diemen's Land
NEW ZEALAND see also various references
NEW ZEALAND, Bay of Islands
NEW ZEALAND, WangaroaHarbour
NEW ZEALANDER. Public House in Sydney
NEWBERRY, Catherine

Arrangement of entries relating to individuals

The entries for individuals are arranged in groups under each surname as follows:

  • Cross reference to variant spellings of that surname
  • Surname without any descriptor
  • Surname with title eg. Dr, Messrs, Miss, Mr, Mrs
  • Surname with forenames in alphabetical order, in two sequences under each forename
  1. Free persons, and convicts where ship is not known, arranged chronologically by the date of the first entry; and
  2. Convicts, arranged alphabetically by ship of arrival.

The entries in 1. are preceded by the undated entries although in cases where the date could be reliably estimated, the entries have been placed where they probably belong.

If only an initial is given, these entries precede the forenames beginning with that letter.

Names that have been arranged by the first forename only on the basis that second names are frequently unknown to researchers. Hence a 'Richard John' would be in the same sequence as 'Richard'. The only exception to this is 'Mary Ann(e)' which has been treated as a single name.

Surnames beginning with 'Mac' or 'Mc' are in one sequence before 'MAD', and are preceded by entries beginning with 'MAA' and 'MAB'.

'St' has been treated as 'Saint' and alphabetised accordingly.

Where it has not been possible to distinguish between all persons of the same name, occasionally a combined entry has been made, for example:

SMITH, John. Not fully identified. More than one person
UNDERWOOD, J. Not fully identified; could be either James or Joseph

Every care has been taken to keep all entries relating to the same person together, but identification was frequently difficult or impossible and decisions had to be made on the basis of the evidence available. It is possible that entries relating to two or more different people are listed together under the one name and conversely, that entries relating to particular individuals are dispersed.

Cross references

A great many, but not exhaustive, number of cross-references to subjects have been made.

With respect to individuals, in general, only cross-references between variant spellings of surnames have been made at the beginning of entries for that name, for example:


Hence users should check the beginning of entries for a particular surname for variant spellings, and also for entries where a forename is not given.

Cross-references have been made between the married and maiden name of individual women, where these were known.

Aliases have in most cases been cross-referenced.

Spelling of names

The spelling of the names of many convicts, but not all, have been verified against the Convict Indents. Either the Indent spelling or the most commonly used spelling of a name has then been adopted.

Cross references between variant spellings of surnames appear at the beginning of the entries for that surname (see examples above)

Within an entry, the spelling as it appears on the particular document is generally used. For example, the spelling 'Surrey' has been chosen for the headings relating to the ships of that name, but the spelling 'Surry' will frequently appear within entries.

Format of entries

A typical entry for a convict is:

MENSLOWE, John. Per "Duke of Portland", 1807
1813 Nov 6 Received certificate of freedom. To be struck off
victualling list; appears as Muntzler (Reel 6002; 4/3491 p. 591)

or for a person free on arrival:

EALES, John. came free per "Francis", 1823; settler in the Hunter's River district
1823 Sep 3 Request for a statement of the number of convicts he could support off the Stores for a grant of land in proportion to his means (Reel 6011; 4/3509 p.178);
Oct 7 Eales' reply (Fiche 3063; 4/1834B No. 98 p.601); to be granted 2,000 acres of land and six convict servants to be assigned to him (Reel 6011; 4/2509 p.379)

The components are usually the same: surname, forename, ship of arrival, other identifying information, date of entry, precis of contents, any variant spelling of name in entry and, in brackets, reference to the Index's Reel number or Fiche number, together with the location of the original item in State Records and page number.


It has not been possible to check the ship of arrival of every individual. Generally the information given in a particular document has been assumed to be correct unless proved to the contrary from other sources.

The names of ships are given in quotation marks, for example "Integrity". If the type of ship is known, such as brig, cutter etc, this is indicated. However, generally all entries relating to vessels of a particular name are merged without an attempt having been made to identify different ships.


The date of an undated document within the papers for a particular year, has been assumed to be the same as the others in the bundle, if there was no proof to the contrary.

Subject indexing

The approach of the Index is primarily a personal one, concentrating on the early inhabitants of our nation - the convicts, settlers, indigenous Australians and colonial officials. However, the Index does contain many entries relating to ships, subjects, towns and localities. These should be of value to researchers despite their limitations but the best results will probably be obtained by checking the entries for people who would have been involved in a particular activity.


We would appreciate any feedback and suggestions you may have on using the Colonial Secretary Index.

*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.