About the Index
- Record series in the index: Colonial Secretary; NRS 905, Main series of letters received, 1826-1896.
- Entries in the index: 205,863
The Colonial Secretary was the pre-eminent figure in public life during much of the 19th Century. The papers of this office are among the most valuable sources of information on all aspects of the history of the Colony and the State of NSW. This select index, compiled by Joan Reese, Linda Bowman and Aileen Trinder, indexes the Colonial Secretary's main series of letters received for the years 1826-1896.
Please note the Letters Received, 1826-1896 are not digitally available. However you can order copies to be digitised via our Copy Order Service and receive them via email or Dropbox.
Digital copies generated via the Copy Order Service will become available in our catalogue in due course.
Ordering copies from this index
If you are ordering entries from this index please be aware that there may be multiple names associated with one letter. Where there are multiple entries with the same letter number you only need to request one of the entries for your copy order. If you order multiple entries with the same letter number you will end up purchasing multiple copies of the same letter.
Searching the index
Prior to the 1850's the index is very selective and contains mostly the names of convicts and others of interest who had written to the Governor or the Colonial Secretary on various matters. From the 1850's and onwards a much wider range of material is covered.
Use the asterisk * wild card to search the whole index (Full Search) for terms such as "theatr*" for theatre or theatrical licenses or spelling variations. Although every care was taken, identification of letters such as K instead of H, or T, J and I was problematic. Use of the asterisk * wild card when searching is recommended.
Name entries and spelling variations
For entries relating to convicts the ship and year of arrival is shown. Where the ship name is not clear or the person was not a convict, other identifying information is provided, for example residence, occupation or approximate year of arrival. Descriptions of the correspondence are not provided.
The spelling of names can vary for one individual and across the correspondence. Names are recorded as shown in the correspondence. For example John Coffey may be recorded as Coffee, Cofy or Coughy.
One entry could refer to a short sentence in a letter or many pages or many related letters. Only the 'top' letter number is recorded as all letters regarding that particular matter should be filed together.
Unregistered letters have no letter number. These letters have been recorded in the index by the date of the letter; e.g. 20 Feb'26. If no date is on the letter, "No date" is shown in the Letter reference field.
Limitations of the Index
Some correspondence contains many names and not every name in the correspondence has been indexed. If lists contained up to 20 persons and were legible, they were indexed individually. Otherwise, the list was entered under a generic name.
Many letters from the years 1838-1842 were not able to be indexed due to their fragile state.
Priority was given to convict names and those free persons who may not be recorded in the series Colonial Secretary; NRS 922, Registers of letters received, 1826-1921. Correspondence indexed in the Index to Convict Marriage Banns, 1826-1842 (available on microfiche) is not included.
The index is not a complete list of all material within the series NRS 905. For a more comprehensive search of the papers, check NRS 922, Indexes and registers to letters received, 1826-1921.
Examples of matters included in the correspondence:
- applications for remission of gaol sentences and later offences
- applications from convicts for their wives and families to be sent out at government expense
- Norfolk Island prisoners and events (1838-1845), including an alphabetical list of 778 convicts on Norfolk Island with the date of their Colonial conviction [4/2698.1], Reel 770
- passenger lists and lists of free women and children on some convict ships
- applications from colonists for the assisted immigration of friends and family
- applications for naturalization
- reports of inquiries regarding inappropriate conduct of passengers or crew
- Admission and discharges of children into and out of orphan schools and the industrial and training schools
- Warrants for admission to and notification of death/discharge from asylums
- Memorials or petitions from inhabitants of towns and villages including their signatures
- Applications for burials in the Devonshire Street and Camperdown cemeteries
- Government employees
- Lists of Aboriginal people in particular areas and lists of blankets distributed to Aboriginal people
- Maps, plans, sketches and tracings
- Apprehension of bushrangers and runaways
- Reports, printed circulars and By-Laws for various localities
- Military, Military Forces and Regiments
Abbreviations used in the Index
First Name or Forename may be abbreviated (i.e. Wm), an initial, Mr/Mrs/Miss or Constable, Sgt, Capt etc or (Constable) as originally transcribed.
|Capt||Captain||NSW||New South Wales|
|CF or (CF)||Came Free||NZ||New Zealand|
|Ch or Chn||Child or children||OIC||Officer in Charge|
|Co||Company||QLD or Qld||Queensland|
|Enc||enclosure (usually noted in the Other Information field and relates to the In Letter number in the In Letter reference field being an enclosure with a different In Letter where it can be found)||RC||Roman Catholic|
|ENG or Eng||England||Regt||Regiment|
|In Letter or IL||NSW] Colonial Secretary's In Letter, or Letter Received||Snr||Senior|
|In Ltr||In Letter||TAS or Tas||Tasmania|
|Jnr||Junior||USA||United States of America|
|JR||Joan Reese||VIC or Vic||Victoria|
|LB||Linda Bowman||WA||Western Australia|
We are thrilled and so pleased to be able to provide online access to the Colonial Secretary: Index to Letters Received, 1826-96 (the Joan Reese Index).
The index is an extraordinary achievement and has been a real labour of love for three people.
The first is Joan Reese. Joan was an avid family historian and researcher who started her involvement with the State Archives Collection in the 1980s. Like so many other people, she was captivated by the Collection and commenced various indexing projects of key records. The Colonial Secretary’s Letters Received was her largest project and one which she spent one day per week, every week compiling. This was in the days before any significant technology such as laptops so Joan would spend her time going through box after box of correspondence and handwriting index entries.
Joan’s 'Convict and Others’ index was first published on microfiche in five year spans as she completed the work for each period.
To this day, Joan’s work is deeply valued and appreciated by researchers around the country. The index is not complete, Joan never intended it to be, but is a fine entry point to arguably the most valuable area of the State Archives Collection.
In 1999, we were so pleased to successfully nominate Joan for a Premier’s Seniors Achievement Award for her ‘contribution to history and genealogy’ by compiling indexes to material’ held by us. Her work was even more widely recognised in 2009 when, posthumously, she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her ‘service to the study of early Australian history and genealogy through research and indexing’.
Following her passing in 2009, at her request, her daughter Linda Bowman commenced carrying on with the indexing work. Linda had to pick up where Joan left off and ‘learn the ropes’, a not insignificant challenge! Linda continued this work but, inevitably, had other life commitments that took priority including the arrival of grandchildren – triplets!
In Linda’s own words, then along came a ‘saving grace’ in the person of Aileen Trinder. Aileen is known to researchers the world over for her work on Pastkeys indexes. This includes indexes of some of our most popular records in the State Archives Collection, particularly immigration records. Over a number of years, Aileen has continued Joan and Linda’s work bringing to it her fine attention to detail and determination to correctly interpret and present 19th century records. This resulted in Aileen publishing the first and second editions of Joan’s index in electronic form, increasing its appeal and usefulness.
To all three, Joan, Linda and Aileen, our great thanks and appreciation for all the work that has been done on this extraordinary finding aid to this most valuable part of the State Archives Collection.
While we have the index on our website, the CD/USB version is available for sale. All enquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org