Electoral rolls can provide valuable information, indicating where a person lived over a period of time.
Initially, the Governor, as Chief Magistrate of the colony and Commander-in-Chief, was responsible for almost all aspects of the inhabitants' lives. In time, most activities were carried out through the Governor's senior officers, including the Colonial Secretary. Commissioner Bigge's report on the colony led to the passing of the Judicature Act in 1823, which made provision for a Legislative Council and a Supreme Court for New South Wales.
In 1823 the Legislative Council was established, and it consisted of five, six or seven members appointed by the Governor. The four official members of the Legislative Council also constituted the Executive Council which officiary came into existence on 20th December 1825. On the 25th July 1828 the provisions of the 1823 Act were amended and the membership of the Council was increased to between 10-15 members.
In 1843 a Legislative Council of 36 members, which included 24 members elected by colonists was constructed and first met that year. This was the first time that colonists had been able to vote for members of the Legislative Council, effectively beginning representative Government in New South Wales. The franchise was limited by a property qualification to men owning freehold property of a value exceeding £200 or leasing property with an annual value exceeding £20. However, in 1851 this was reduced to £100 and £10.
In 1856 New South Wales received responsible government. The New South Wales Constitution Act, 1855 gave the Legislative Council the power to establish a bicameral legislature, or two houses/assemblies. The Upper House (Legislative Council) consisted of members elected for life, whilst the Lower House was modelled on the British House of Commons with its members elected at a general election.
Those eligible to vote were:
- Possessors of freehold estates of the clear value of £100 within the electorate
- Persons holding licences from the government to depasture lands within the electorate
- Occupiers of houses of the clear annual value of £10 in the electorate, and
- Possessors of leasehold estates of the annual value of £10, the leases of which at the date of registration had not less than 3 years to run.
In 1858 the franchise was extended to all adult males who had lived in an electorate for the preceding six months and were either British citizens by birth or had been naturalised for five years and had lived in the colony for the preceding two. Police, serving members of the armed forces, paupers and prisoners were barred from voting. The property qualification was retained and allowed a man to vote in every electorate where he had the necessary property.
In 1893 the property vote was abolished as well as the six month residence requirement, which in effect gave the vote to itinerant workers and shearers. In 1902 the vote was given to women. In 1934 the Legislative Council in New South Wales was replaced by a body indirectly elected by the members of the Lower House. Since 1978, members of the Upper House have been elected at general elections along with members of the Lower House.
Chronology of who had the vote
This chronology shows major changes to legislation. For more detailed information see the Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Responsible Government (Guide 3).
- Men (over 21 and British subjects) owning freehold property to a value exceeding £200, or
- Householders occupying a dwelling house with an annual value exceeding £20.
A man could vote in every electorate where he held the necessary property for at least six months.
- Property qualifications were reduced to men owning freehold property to a value exceeding £100
- Householders occupying a dwelling house with an annual value exceeding £10, or a pastoral lease.
- Franchise qualifications were extended to include men receiving an annual salary of £100 and to those paying £40 per annum for board and lodging and £10 for lodging only.
- All adult males who had lived in the electorate for the preceding six months and who were British subjects by birth, or had been naturalised for five years and had resided in the Colony for three years
- Holders of miners rights were allowed to vote in three Gold Fields electorates
Unable to vote:
- Police, serving members of the armed forces, paupers, prisoners and persons of unsound mind were barred from voting.
- The property vote was abolished: each elector was allowed to vote in one electorate only
- The six months residence requirement was reduced to three months, which effectively meant that shearers and itinerant workers could vote
- Residency requirements meant that British subjects by birth had to live in the Colony for one year and naturalised British subjects had to live in the Colony for a year after naturalisation.
- Police regained the right to vote.
- Women received the vote.
Whilst South Australia led the British Commonwealth in granting votes for women in 1894, women gained the right to vote in both Commonwealth and New South Wales elections after the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 and the (NSW) Womens Franchise Act of 1902.
- Absentee voting was introduced
- Members of the armed forces regained the right to vote.
- Electors of either sex had to be British subjects by birth or naturalisation and be aged 21 years or more
- In the case of New South Wales, electors must have lived in Australia for six months, in the state for three months and in the relevant electoral sub-division for one month before enrolment.
Until 1970, "adult" was defined as over 21 years of age, but by 1974 the Commonwealth and other states had amended this to include people aged at least 18 years.
There may be times when some people are excluded from the electoral rolls. Disqualifications common to State and Commonwealth were:
- unsoundness of mind
- attainder for treason (now obsolete), and
- being under sentence after conviction for an offence punishable by imprisonment for a year or more.
A number of early manuscript and printed electoral rolls can be located in the records of the Colonial Secretary's Office. Please note that our holdings are not complete for all electoral wards and years.
The rolls show the electoral district and ward, year, name, nature of the qualification to vote, where the property affording the qualification is situated and occasionally the residence. The rolls are arranged by electoral district and ward.
Available at various locations as part of the Archives Resources Kit and on the Ancestry website.
The rolls are arranged by electoral district and ward.
For an item list, see Guide to Responsible Government: Appendix 1 Electoral Rolls, 1843-1890 (PDF, 70kb)
Selected Commonwealth and State electoral rolls covering 1903-1980, excluding South Australia, are available on the Ancestry website.
State Library of NSW
The State Library of New South Wales holds both State electoral rolls from the late 1860s and Commonwealth electoral rolls dating back to the beginning of this century.
Electoral rolls are held by the Family History Section of the State Library of New South Wales. These include:
Electoral rolls (NSW)
1842-63 (copy of the records held by us)
State electoral rolls
1859-1900 (there are gaps in these records)
Commonwealth electoral rolls
Joint Commonwealth and State electoral rolls
Any research into electoral rolls should take into account the fact that they were not updated every year, but names are listed alphabetically by division until 1990. After 1990 it is possible to obtain a listing that is alphabetical by state.State Library of New South Wales
Family History Section
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9273 1414
The John Phillips Library at the Western Sydney University holds a copy of the New South Wales section of the 1903-28 electoral rolls. The address is:The John Phillips Library (Building T)
Western Sydney University
Phone: (02) 9852 5353
Penrith Library holds copies of old electoral rolls.Penrith Library
Penrith Council Building
601 High Street
Penrith NSW 2750
The NSW Electoral Commission holds a microfiche set of current electoral rolls for NSW. These are in one alphabetical listing for the whole State. Members of the public can visit the Office to check these rolls. The NSW Electoral Commission will not check the rolls over the phone.NSW Electoral Commission
Level 25, 201 Kent Street
Sydney NSW 2000
GPO Box 832
Sydney NSW 2001
Phone: 1300 135 736
Website: NSW Electoral Commission
There is an Australian Electoral Commission office in every electoral division in Australia. You can find the address of the office nearest you by calling 13 2326. Every office holds a copy of the current Australian Electoral Roll.
The Australian Electoral Commission holds current electoral rolls for the whole of Australia. There are two listings: one arranged alphabetically by State; and one arranged alphabetically by electoral division. The public can come in to the offices and check the electoral rolls. The office will not check the rolls over the telephone.
The rolls are updated for the elections and with occasional additional updates.See the Australian Electoral Commission website for the address of the office nearest you.