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Immigration records

Sooner or later most Australian family historians will come to the end of the line of ancestors born here. This page provides details and examples of the different types of shipping records you may find.

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NRS 906: Health Officer's Report for the German immigrant ship 'Aurora', 1855 [4/7170] NRS 906: 'Second Class Dietary Scale' [4/7170] NRS 906: Form of Agreement with Emigrants [4/7170] NRS 905: Emigration poster c.1883 [formally enclosed with letter 84/3397, [4/861.2] now at [Document 93]  NRS 905: Printed immigration regulations relating to the payment of bounties, 28 October 1835 [4/2272.2]

Where to go for shipping records

InformationSooner or later most Australian family historians will come to the end of the line of ancestors born here. For instance, you may locate a death certificate showing the number of years the person had lived in the Colony, or colonies. By taking the number of years spent in the colonies from the date of death, you can determine an approximate year of arrival.

We hold many different types of shipping records, including sources on passengers arriving in and departing from NSW up to 1922.

Information leaflets

For specific details and for microform references please consult the Shipping Guide, which is available in the reading room, and any of the following Archives in Brief:

Flowcharts and worksheets

We have developed some Archives in Brief flowcharts to assist you in how to research assisted immigrants and free passengers arriving.

Our Family History Worksheet was designed to help you keep track of your research, including immigration records. Simply print it off at home and bring it into the reading room with you.


We have gathered together some resources for immigrants arriving in NSW from many regions and countries.

Types of shipping arrival records

There are four main ways that people arrived in NSW:

  1. free arrivals, either assisted or unassisted
  2. crew
  3. military, or
  4. convict.

1. Free arrivals, either assisted or unassisted

Assisted immigrants

QuestionsAssisted immigrants were passengers who had all or part of their passage paid for them by an agent, a private individual (often a relative), the government, or a combination of all three. It is an advantage to be searching for assisted immigrants because there are indexes to the passenger or shipping lists.


All arrival records of assisted immigration from 1828-96 have been indexed. Also check the Index to bounty immigrants arriving in NSW, 1828-42 on Reels 30-37 and the Index to assisted immigrants (miscellaneous), 1828-42, in book form in the reading room.

These records generally contain more personal details than those relating to paying passengers. Assisted immigration continued after 1896 but these immigrants are often listed with paying passengers and there are few other details.

References in the Assisted Immigrants Indexes

You may notice that when you have searched the assisted immigrants online indexes two reel references are provided. These reels are the passenger lists: the Entitlement Certificates and Agent immigration lists, or Boards Immigrant Lists where they have survived.

QuestionsWhen an immigrant arrived in NSW they appeared before a Board appointed by the Governor to examine the testimonials of character they had to bring with them. If the documents were in order and the Board was satisfied that the immigrants would be useful members of society, a certificate to that effect would be granted. The certificate entitled settlers to the sums due to them under the assisted immigration scheme.

There were also wage agreements and entitlement certificates in 1844-45, which recorded the conditions under which an immigrant was to work for his or her sponsor. Check the Shipping Guide for more details.

The Agents Immigration Lists provide the following information: name, age, sex, calling, marital status, native place and education. Agents had the responsibility of finding eligible immigrants and a list of the immigrants was made before they sailed. These lists can sometimes include details of parents' names and relatives in the colony.

Layout of the Assisted immigration lists: Usually married couples and their children will be listed first, followed by single males, then single females.

Arrivals to other states

We have some arrival records to Moreton Bay (Queensland) and Port Phillip (Victoria) when they were still part of NSW. The Boards Immigration lists for Moreton Bay cover the period cover 1848-59 only.

Port Phillip has Agents lists for the period 1838-51 only. All the passenger lists that we hold are listed in the Shipping Guide.

Free or unassisted immigrants

If an immigrant is not listed in the Indexes to Assisted Immigrants it is likely they were unassisted passengers who paid their own fare, or perhaps they arrived in NSW via another State. If you do not know the name of the vessel, but can guess at the approximate year of arrival, then you can go through the microfilm reels of passenger lists month by month, and year by year in an attempt to pick up the names you are searching for. If you do not know the name of the vessel or an approximate year of arrival you may be in for a time consuming search.

Passenger lists for unassisted immigrants exist for the period 1792-1922. However, it is important to note that for the period 1792-1825 very few lists have survived. These lists are noted in the Shipping Guide and have been indexed as the Index to miscellaneous early shipping, both of which are available in the reading room.

QuestionsFrom 1826-1922 most lists have survived but from 1826 to the mid-1850s, these lists are not very helpful. Not every unassisted passenger was listed and there are a significant number of entries recording the numbers of passengers only (for example, 10 men, 9 women, 3 children). Sometimes names are mentioned with no other identifying details, such as Mr and Mrs Wilson and infant.


Also check the Index to unassisted arrivals to NSW, 1826-83 on Reels 1358-1372 in the reading room.

2. Crew records

QuestionsVery few records relating to crew prior to 1854 have survived. Passenger lists from 1854-1922 include the names of crew members, their position on board and their nationality (follow the information above in 'Free or unassisted immigrants' to search for crew records). It was often difficult for a ship to retain crew as a voyage could mean great hardship. Few officials took much time in checking the identity of the person offering to join the ship's company, and consequently many crew arrived in Australia under false names.

Articles of Agreement

The Articles of agreement of crews, 1878, 1880-1922 are arranged chronologically by year and then by the first letter of the vessel's name. Each agreement provides brief details of the vessel and its crew. The information about crew members is arranged under the following headings: signature; town or country where born; ship in which he last served; date and place of joining this ship; in what capacity engaged; amount of wages; and particulars of discharge.

There are many records relating to the licensing, certification and qualifications of the various categories of seamen and related officers, including Masters, Mates, Engineers, Pilots, Marine Surveyors and Watermen. See the Shipping Guide for more details. The certificates usually record the name, address, date and place of examination and port and date of issue.


If a mariner decided to jump ship or stay behind at a port, the master should have advised the local police, who would attempt to return the deserter to the ship. However, this seldom happened. As long as there were plenty of men to fill his place, the captain could save money as he didn't have to part with the accumulated pay of the deserter.

If the captain did want the deserter returned a notice would usually appear in the Government Gazette. Jim Melton's book Ships Deserters 1852-1900 lists approximately 10,000 notified desertions and other absences by seamen taken from notices in the Government Gazette and Police Gazettes (this book is available in the reading room).

3. Military

QuestionsMany settlers to NSW, particularly in the early part of the 19th century, were veterans of the various British regiments who served in the colony. They were under the control of the British Government, so we do not hold many records relating to the regiments. It will help your research if you know the name of the regiment in which your ancestor served.

Copies of the Muster and pay lists are available as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) at the Mitchell Library. Also check the Index to Unassisted Passengers Arriving, 1826-53 on Reels 1358-1372 under 'Military' and the individual names of officers. As many soldiers settled in NSW with a grant land you may also find references to them in the petitions and memorials for land in the Index to the Colonial Secretary's Letters re Land, 1826-56.

4. Convicts

For information on how to research convicts consult the following:


The earliest surviving departure list is dated 1794, however apart from the Ships musters, 1816-25, outward passenger lists were not regularly maintained until 1898. The outward passenger lists are not indexed and do not provide much detail. See the Shipping Guide for more details.

Some abbreviations you may see in the records

born on voyage, in quarantine etc.
born and died on voyage, in quarantine etc.
child(ren) on board (listed separately)
died on voyage, in quarantine etc.
parent(s) on board (listed separately)
travelling with


State Records holds a limited number of records related to shipwrecks:

There are also a number of reference books by Charles Bateson and Jack Loney on the subject of Australian shipwrecks that may be consulted.

Other sources

Immigration deposit journals, 1853-65, 1875-1900

These journals record money deposited in the Colony by people wishing to sponsor the immigration of a nominated person or group of people, often a relative or someone they wished to employ. They have been indexed by immigrant as well as depositer.

Reports by the Immigration Board on complaints of immigrants about their passage, 1838-87

These reports concern both assisted and bounty immigrants and are indexed by the name of the ship. The reports relate to the conduct of the ships officers and crew, and to the quality of food, water and quarters. Medical journals are occasionally found as part of the Report.

Reports by the Immigration Agent on condition of immigrants and ships on their arrival, 1837-95

These reports provide statistical details about the ship, the passengers and their voyage, such as date embarked and disembarked and the number of deaths. Many reports reveal the false pretences that some immigrants went to.

Naturalization records

If your ancestor was not British you may be able to locate them in the Naturalization index. Naturalization certificates and registers can provide details of the name of the ship the person arrived on and the year. For more information consult Archives in Brief 3 Naturalization records.

NSW Government Departments relating to immigration and shipping