Australia Research Guide | Immigration Records
For most Australians, the arrival of their ancestors is a pivotal moment in their family history. They may have travelled here alone or with family, as an unassisted or assisted passenger. They may have been a member of a ship’s crew, in military or naval service, or as a convict. No matter how they arrived, finding the arrival of an ancestor represents a vital link to our family’s origins.
Over 1 million people immigrated to Australia between 1788 and 1900. The majority of them were from the United Kingdom, but some came from Europe and Asia as well.
Prior to 1900, there were four types of Australian immigrants:
Convicts – From the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay in January 1788 to the last shipment of convicts to Western Australia in 1868, over 162,000 convicts were transported to Australia.
Bounty Immigrants – The NSW government Bounty Scheme ran between 1824 and 1842, encouraging individuals to move to Australia in order to aid in the colonisation of the country. Initially, immigrants from the United Kingdom were recruited, and a bounty payment system was established to encourage individuals to migrate. Details from these records include the immigrant’s name, the names of his or her parents, employment, age or birthdate, birthplace, relatives with them, employer, remarks, and ship name.
Similarly in South Australia, the South Australia Company was established to encourage labourers and skilled workers to migrate here. These early colonists received financial incentives (bounties) to join the new colony and arrived on what is now known as the First Fleet of South Australia, 1836 (not to be confused with the First Fleet of 1788).
Unassisted Passengers – Also known as free settlers, unassisted passengers paid their own way to Australia. Unfortunately, many unassisted passengers, notably those travelling in the steerage class, were not recorded on a passenger list. However, newspapers typically announced the arrival of a ship, which may provide a passenger list.
Assisted Passengers – Assisted Passengers had their passage subsidised or paid for under one of Australia’s supported immigration schemes.
Immigration records, with the exception of unassisted steerage passengers, generally provide a wealth of information. Many records contain information on each individual, such as their name, age, native place, trade or occupation. Some also include a physical description, marital status, and the number of children.
Prior to 1923, shipping and associated passenger records in Australia were kept in the state in which the vessel landed. The National Archives of Australia holds records for all ships that landed after 1923.
Australia also kept records of those who left the country as emigrants. These records include the names of passengers and crew members, as well as occasionally other information such as an individual’s age, marital status, employment, and country of origin.
Pictured: Twofold Bay, New South Wales – Oswald Walters B. Brierly (1817-1894)