The long history of the Office of the Colonial (later Chief) Secretary, and its close association with all aspects of the administration of NSW, meant that it was responsible for the creation of records of major importance to all researchers. The correspondence of the Colonial Secretary is one of the most valuable sources of information on all aspects of the history of the Colony and the State of New South Wales.
Digital copies of the Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788-1825 can now be viewed free of charge on Ancestry.com - you will be asked to complete a guest registration but access is free. Photocopies of entries in the index can also be ordered online here, or via the Colonial Secretary copy order form, as part of our Copy Order Service.
About the Index
Arranged by surname and subject this is the most comprehensive index of early NSW settlement. It is one of the most valuable sources of information on all aspects of the history of the Colony and the State of New South Wales for the period 1788-1825.
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.
- Records series in the index:
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:
- 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.
- NRS 1155, Musters and other papers relating to Convicts Ships, 1790-1849 [2/8240-82] *ARK
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.
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:
- Main series of letters received, 1821-25 [4/1752-3, 4/1756-94, 4/1798-1813, 4/1815-6, 4/1818]
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.
- Main series of letters received - Van Diemen's Land, Mar 1804 - Jul 1821 [4/6576-9]
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.
- Naval Officers' Quarterly Reports, 1810 - 30 June 1824 [X698-701]
Some personal entries have been made, but the ships have not been indexed.
- Returns of births, deaths and marriages, 1811-25 [2/8293-8303 pt]
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.
- Applications for free passengers for wives and families of convicts, 1824-5 [4/1112.1A]
Only the applicant's name has been indexed. Names of wives, children, clergymen, etc have not been included.
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
For a particular word, the order is:
Ships of that name;
Individuals, for example:
|"RICHMOND". Convict transport|
|RICHMOND see also HAWKESBURY DISTRICT|
|RICHMOND, Watch House|
|NEW LIGHT. Public House in Kent Street|
|NEW NORFOLK, Van Diemen's Land|
|NEW SOUTH WALES ALMANAC|
|NEW SOUTH WALES CORPS see ONE HUNDRED AND SECOND (102nd) REGIMENT|
|NEW SOUTH WALES NEW ZEALAND COMPANY|
|NEW ZEALAND see also various references|
|NEW ZEALAND, Bay of Islands|
|NEW ZEALAND, WangaroaHarbour|
|NEW ZEALANDER. Public House in Sydney|
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
- Free persons, and convicts where ship is not known, arranged chronologically by the date of the first entry; and
- 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.
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:
|BURNE see also BURN; BURNES; BURNS; BYRNE; BYRNES|
|NEALE see also NEAL; NEIL; NEILLE; NIEL; O'NEAL; O'NEALE; O'NEILL; O'NEILL|
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.
The spelling of the names of many convicts, but not all, have been verified against the Convict Indents. Either theIndent 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.
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.
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.