14 sources of death information

NSW Death 1873/3798

I was inspired recently by William Dollarhide’s article (reproduced here) giving a checklist of documents to be acquired for the death of every one of your ancestors and their siblings and children. William is American and his list is necessarily American in focus, so I thought I would write one for Australians and New Zealanders.

  1. Death Registration - a death certificate should always be obtained if the death occurred after civil registration was introduced in the colony (see dates below). The information varies from state to state, and may not have been filled in even if requested. Bear in mind that the information has been provided by someone other than the deceased, and that the more distant the relationship the less reliable the information is. In general, though, a death certificate may be the most useful document you can find about your ancestor, containing parents, children, birthplace and time in the colony.
  2. Church burial - if your ancestor died before civil registration was introduced then the church record of burial is all you will be able to find. Even if you have the death certificate it is worthwhile to find the entry in the burial register, as their may be more information listed than was required by civil registration, particularly in small communities where the minister was likely to have known the deceased personally. If you don’t know what religion they were, find out; it will be useful when looking for the grave, particularly in a large cemetery.
  3. Funeral director’s register - these are not always available or easy to find but may pay you for your perseverance, especially if you haven’t found the more obvious records. Some societies have indexed these or copied them on microfilm. It’s worth asking.
  4. Headstone - the grave in the cemetery can tell you so much. Information on a headstone can tell you where they were born, when they arrived in the colony, who was buried with them, who their spouse and children were. Look at the graves around your ancestor’s grave; there may be other family members you didn’t know about buried nearby. If indexed then check for all others with the same surname or that of the spouse or married daughters. Bear in mind, though, that the information on a headstone has been provided by the family to the funeral director who then may have passed it on to the stonemason’s office, who then passed it to the stone mason. There  is a lot of room for errors. The headstone may also have been raised by descendants many years after the death, or only when younger descendants were buried in the same grave. Even so, it’s something to go on that can be corroborated by other sources. The headstone may be indexed and even photographed by a local family history society or volunteer.
  5. Cemetery register - the cemetery register can tell you where in the cemetery the grave is located, which can be enormously helpful for large cemeteries. In cases where no headstone was erected the cemetery register may be your only proof that your ancestor is buried in that cemetery. The family may not have been able to afford a headstone, particularly if the father of the family died relatively young.
  6. Obituary or death notice - a notice of the death may appear in the local paper. An obituary will only appear if the deceased was notable in some way in the town or district, and a death notice will only appear if the family put one in. There may be both. Don’t just rely on Trove to find the notice, as many local newspapers have not yet been digitised. Most local newspapers have been microfilmed but complete runs may not be available. The Ryerson Index is a good place to start.
  7. Funeral notice - the funeral notice is usually separate from the death notice and advises friends and relatives where the funeral is to take place. These are not common in local papers that were only published two or three times a week, as it was impossible to give enough notice of a funeral before publication. The funeral notices may appear on the same page as the death notices so make sure you look for both. Funeral notices can also be given more than once, as family and  organisations your ancestor belonged to, such as unions or clubs, may have paid for separate notices.
  8. Death noticesNewspaper article about death - if your ancestor died in unusual circumstances or was well-known in the district there may be a news article in the local paper about the death. Be prepared for graphic detail that may be upsetting.
  9. Probate or intestate estate - probate (proving the will) or intestate estate files can give much information. If there was a will it should be in the file, along with the date that probate was granted. The executors may have been family members, perhaps even siblings you knew nothing about. Sometimes the death certificate and newspaper death notice will be in the file.
  10. Deceased estate (death duties) if death duties were payable at the time of your ancestor’s death it is worthwhile to find the file and see what assets they had. Sometimes assets are listed in some detail, down to the cost of furniture and pictures on the walls, and references to land and property that can be used to find titles and parish maps. There may also be declarations from relatives about their ability to pay the death duty on behalf of the deceased, so you can find out a lot about the economic circumstances of siblings and children.
  11. Inquest - again, if you ancestor died in unusual circumstances there may have been an inquest. The death certificate will usually indicate whether an inquest was held or dispensed with. The file may not have survived but the entry in the inquest register may. The file may have nothing more than a verdict, or it may contain graphic descriptions and transcriptions of evidence, and large glossy photographs of the scene of the crime or accident, so be prepared. The inquest may also have been reported in the local newspaper, and often much more detail is available in the newspaper article than in the inquest register.
  12. Military service file - if your ancestor died in military service the file may be able to tell you more. The National Archives of Australia holds military service files and are digitising them and making them available online as fast as they can. All Word War I files are available, and they are working their way through World War II. If your ancestor’s file is not yet digitised you can pay to have it done early (currently $16.50, or more if you want them to send you colour copies). Other wars are also represented.
  13. Broken Hill Miners' MemorialMemorials - every town has a war memorial, listing sons and daughters of the town that gave their lives in wars and conflicts. It can be very moving to find your ancestor’s name on a memorial. There are other memorials to look out for, for example, Broken Hill has a Miner’s Memorial (see this panoramic display) listing names and causes of death by year. In addition, some cemeteries now have a Children’s Memorial, when parents can pay tribute to the children they’ve lost.
  14. Hospitals and asylums - not all hospital records have survived, and not all surviving records are on open access, but if you can find them you might find out more about the cause of death and the last days of your ancestor. You may also find information you didn’t expect. In South Australia the admission registers of the Royal Adelaide Hospital recorded age, residence and ship of arrival, which may be just the breakthrough you need to distinguish your ancestor from others of the same name.

Look for records in all of these places. They may not always exist, but you won’t know if you don’t look, and you won’t know what’s in them if you don’t try to find them. I can’t guarantee that you will find something useful in all of these sources, or even that you will find all of these sources. The more information you can find, the more likely you could make that breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

Even if you don’t find anything you didn’t already know, you will have the confidence that comes from finding confirmation in a number of sources that what you have is correct. That’s what family history is all about.

Headstone

Dates for civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in Australasian colonies:
ACT – 1 Jan 1930 (see NSW to 1929)

NSW – 1 Mar 1856

NT – 24 Aug 1870 (see NSW to 1863; see SA to 1870)

QLD – 1 Mar 1856 (as part of NSW)

SA – 1 Jun 1842

TAS – 1 Dec 1838

VIC – 1 Jul 1853

WA – 1 Sep 1841

NZ – 1 Jan 1848 (births and deaths); 1 Jan 1854 (marriages)

 

A Timeline of Land Ownership

Researching New South Wales land ownership is complicated by the changing regulations and historical events of the time, and it pays to know what regulations were in force at the time of purchase or transfer of ownership.

Here is a brief timeline of the land regulations and events that affected land holders at the time.

1788 - First settlers arrived in Sydney Cove. Governor Phillip was empowered to grant 30 acres of land to freed convicts, with an additional 20 acres if married and 10 acres per child.

1789 - Non-commissioned officers and privates were entitled to receive an additional 50 acres to encourage them to settle.

1792 - First free grants of land were made.

1810 - Many land grants had been made before Governor Macquarie’s arrival to replace the deposed Governor Bligh. Macquarie revoked many of these, although most were reinstated.

1825 - Orders received for a general survey of the 19 Counties of the Colony. Introduction of fees for large grants of land.

1826 - Land could only be taken up within the ‘limits of location’ within the 19 Counties.

1831 - Free grants abolished; land had to be purchased through public auction.

1833 - The Encroachment Act allowed for the appointment of 13 Commissioners of Crown Lands in an attempt to curb the settlement of Crown land (squatting) outside the 19 Counties.

1834 - Survey of the 19 Counties completed.

1836 - First act passed to formalise grazing rights beyond the 19 Counties for leases of £10 per year.

1847 - Colony was divided into Settled, Intermediate and Unsettled categories, with leases available for one, eight and fourteen years respectively.

1856 - Responsible Government granted to the Colony of New South Wales. Requests for land dealt with by Surveyor General rather than the Colonial Secretary.

1859 - Lands Department established under John Robertson.

1861 - Crown Lands Alienation Act introduced ‘free selection before survey’, or Conditional Purchases. The Crown Lands Occupation Act allowed all Crown land to be selected for purchase, including the pastoral leases of others.

1862 - Real Property Act introduced Torrens Title, a centralised, government-guaranteed, system of land title to replace the British Common Law system.

1884 - Crown Lands Act set out a comprehensive system of land tenures, including conditional leases for land adjoining conditional purchases, occupation licenses, homestead leases, and special purpose leases. Land districts were established and superceded the local land agents.

1900 - Real Property Act consolidated previous acts. Still in force today.

1907 - Closer Settlement Act allowed for land to be purchased by the government within 15 miles of a proposed railway line for division into small lots for farming purposes. Later acts followed.

1916 - Returned Soldiers Settlement Act relaxed the restrictions on the type of land resumed and allowed returned soldiers to settle on it.

1919 - Conveyancing Act established ‘good root of title’ for Old System land, requiring only a thirty year chain of title instead of all the way back to the first land grant.

1941 - War Service Settlement Act allowed for land to be set aside specifically for servicemen or ex-servicemen. A training certificate had to be obtained before land was allocated.

1961 - Strata titles commenced with the  Conveyancing (Strata Titles) Act.

1975 - government reorganisation brought the Torrens Title (Land Titles), the Deeds Registration, and the Crown Titles Branches into the Department of Lands when the Registrar-General’s Office was transferred. The name of the Land Titless Office has been changing ever since.

Sources and Bibliography

Hepburn, S. Real Property Law, 3rd edition. Pyrmont, NSW: Thomson Legal and Regulatory Australia, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, A Guide to Searching New South Wales Land Title Records in the Queens Square Office of Land and Property Information Department of Lands – User Guide – Searching the Records of the Registrar General. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, From Crow Quill to Scribbling, History of Pre Computer Mapping, Lands Department New South Wales. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2005.

Ryan, R.J. (editor). Land Grants 1788-1809, A record or registered grants and leases in New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and Norfolk Island. Five Dock, NSW: Australian Documents Library, 1981. First published by Keith A. Johnson and Malcom R. Sainty, 1974.

State Records NSW. Archives in Brief 93 - Background to conditional purchase of Crown land.

State Records NSW. Short Guide 8 – Land Grants, 1788-1856.

Early Censuses and Musters

From fairly early in the history of the Colony of New South Wales there have been counts made of the number of people living in it. People were named individually, making censuses and musters useful to us when trying to find out where a person was living and what they were doing.

Here is a rather poor copy of a page from the 1837 Muster of Convicts:

Page from the 1837 Convict Muster
Page from the 1837 Convict Muster

In the early days of the colonies of Australia censuses involved nothing more than gathering every person together in one place and counting them. This was called a ‘muster’, and is similar to the process used to count sheep before herding them off to the stockyards.

The first census as we know it, where people were counted in their homes, was in New South Wales in 1828. It had been brought to the Governor’s attention that free settlers could not be forced to attend a muster…

As more information was required, more questions were asked. An important consideration in the beginning of the new colonies was whether there was enough food to go around, so the early musters indicate whether each person was dependent on government stores for food. Only heads of households were listed by name, with dependent wives, children and servants counted but not named. As the inhabitants started to grow their own food it was important to know what they were growing, so these questions were asked.

Here is a list of the early censuses and musters available for New South Wales with their availablity to researchers.

1800-1802

A muster was taken between Jul and August 1800, when Governor Philip Gidley King assumed control of the colony. Additional musters were taken at the same time of year in 1801 and 1802.

Baxter, Carol J. Musters and Lists, New South Wales and Norfolk Island, 1800-1802. Sydney: ABGR, 1988.

Governor King’s Lists 1801 can be found on PRO Reel 10 and the Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1802 on PRO Reel 14.

1805-6

A general muster of prisoners and freemen was taken on Tuesday 12th August 1806, with the landholders mustered on Thursday 14th August. The muster gives information on ‘how employed’ or ‘with whom lives (females)’, which is information that is available nowhere else. A Land and Stock Muster was collected on the same day, containing acreages of the different crops, numbers of horses, cattles, sheep, goats and hogs, numbers of bushels of wheat, maize and barley on hand, and the numbers of persons and whether victualled by the government, with remarks about residence.

These musters have been transcribed in:

Baxter, Carol J. Musters of New South Wales and Norfolk Island, 1805-1806. Sydney: ABGR, 1989.

The Norfolk Island Muster of 1805 has been transcribed in the same volume, as has Samuel Marsden’s Female Muster 1806. The Reverend Samuel Marsden collected information on the females of the colony, probably from the original 1806 muster. This muster classifies the women as ‘concubine’, ‘married’ or ‘wife’, and records, where possible, where the woman was married and numbers of legitimate and ‘natural’ children.

Images of the 1806 muster is available on PRO Reel 72 and on Ancestry. Marsden’s muster is at the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

1811

The muster was taken between 5 February and 5 March 1811. Individuals are listed alphabetically within category – male convicts, female convicts, free men and free women. Information listed:

  • Name
  • Ship
  • When convicted
  • Where convicted
  • Sentence
  • Remarks

There is a transcription in:

Baxter, Carol J. General Muster of New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen’s Land, 1811.Sydney: ABGR, 1987.

The NSW version of the 1811 census can be viewed on SRNSW Reel 1252, and the British version on PRO Reel 61 and on Ancestry.

1814

The 1814 muster was taken between 17 October and 16 November 1814, and gives a brief description of occupation and whether on or off the stores. A transcription is available in:

Baxter, Carol J. General Muster of New South Wales, 1814. Sydney: ABGR, 1987.

The original records can be viewed on SRNSW Reel 1252.

1819

A general muster taken in November 1819 can be viewed on SRNSW Reel 1252. There is no index or transcription.

1822

A general muster was taken on the 2-13 September 1822, and a Land and Stock muster taken around the same time. The General Muster gives:

  • Name
  • Age, including an indication the parents of children
  • Arrival Status
  • Present Status
  • Ship of Arrival
  • Colonial sentence
  • Sentence
  • Occupation
  • Employer
  • Where

The Land and Stock Muster gives:

  • Residence
  • Name
  • How land held
  • Whether resident on farm
  • Acres in wheat, maize, barley, oats, peas/beans, potatoes, garden or orchard
  • Numbers of horses, cattle, sheep, hogs
  • Bushels in hand of wheat and maize

Both the General Muster and the Land and Stock Muster have been transcribed:

Baxter, Carol J. General Muster and Land and Stock Muster of New South Wales, 1822. Sydney: ABGR, 1988.

Images of the General Muster is available on PRO Reel 72 and on Ancestry. The Land and Stock Muster is only available on SRNSW Reel 1252.

1823-25

In 1823 a General Muster was taken in September 1823, and a muster book compiled by the Colonial Secretary’s office. Subsequent musters in 1824 and 1825 were taken at the same time of year, but instead of compiling new lists the decision was made to update the 1823 list instead, resulting in a much more complete and more accurate list. Additional details were added up to 1832.

The muster includes:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Status
  • Ship of arrival
  • Ship year
  • Sentence
  • Occupation, Employer, etc

The 1825 muster was the last muster. Free settlers were increasingly unwilling to attend musters, and the government  realised it had no power to compel them.

A transcription can be found in:

Baxter, Carol J. General Muster List of New South Wales, 1823, 1824, 1825. Sydney: ABGR, 1999.

Ancestry has digitized images of the muster books, which are also available on PRO Reel 66.

1828

The 1828 Census was taken in November 1828, although returns straggled in early the next year. This was the first census to be taken in Australia and the only census to survive in its entirety to the present day. About a quarter of the householders’ returns survive.

Both colonial and British copies survive, as do most of the householders’ returns. There are differences in each, so it is important to check them all if possible.

Malcolm Sainty and Keith Johnson (editors) have compiled a database on CD 1828 Census Revised Edition which collects data from both the Australian and British versions of the census together with the returns of the householders themselves. This is the most complete list available, as there were many transcription errors in the compiling and copying of the lists, and some people were left out of the lists completely.

1837

The 1837 Convict Muster is more of a compilation than a traditional muster, and as such is more accurate. The new governor, Sir George Gipps, needed to establish an accurate count of the convicts in the colony as it was likely that transportation would soon cease.

The muster includes:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Ship
  • Year
  • Where Tried (often not filled in)
  • Master
  • District
  • Remarks (such as ‘Ticket of Leave’ or ‘Married’)

The muster has been transcribed:

Butlin, N.G., C.W. Cromwell and K.L. Suthern. General Return of Convicts in New South Wales, 1837.Sydney: ABGR, 1987.

Images are available on PRO Reels 71 and 72, and on Ancestry.

The 1841 and later censuses will be covered in  future post.

How to search for probate files at State Records NSW

SRNSW Western Sydney Records CentreProbate is the process of proving that a will left by a deceased person is genuine. Probate files are created by the NSW Supreme Court (or equivalent in other States) and transferred gradually to State Records NSW. They are more commonly called ‘probate packets’, since all the documents are folded in three into an envelope.

Probate packets can contain all sorts of goodies, including a copy of the will, an inventory of assets, affidavits from family members, and sometimes a copy of the death certificate and newspaper notices.

State Records NSW holds probate packets up to the 1960s, but to find them involves searching the index on microfiche created by the NSW Supreme Court.  State Records NSW has been gradually adding each packet to it online catalogue, Archives Investigator, so that we can search from home.

The latest Now and Then, the State Records NSW newsletter, describes the packets that have been listed so far and how to find them, and I can do no better than to quote the article here.

More probate packets listed in Archives Investigator Over 300 000 individual (NRS 13660) Probate Packets are available in Archives Investigator! Listed so far are:

•             Series 1: April 1817 to c. May 1873

•             Series 2: 1873 to 1876

•             Series 3: 1876 to c.1890

•             The years 1928-54 from Series 4 – Series 4-152152 (probate granted June 1928) to Series 4-419994 (probate granted July 1954).

To check if the details of your ancestor’s Probate Packet is now available online just go to Archives Investigator - Simple Search, key in the name of your ancestor followed by the word ‘death’ and click on the ‘Search’ button. If you locate a relevant result you then have the option to order a photocopy of the probate or preorder the probate packet to view in person at the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC).

Search for your elusive ancestor today http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/

Do a search for all your New South Wales ancestors, male and female, and plan a trip out to the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC) at Kingswood. Take your digital camera, or be prepared to pay for photocopies if you can’t deal with the folded up pages. You won’t regret it!

Retrieval orders for probate packets are only sent at certain times of the day, so you can save time by preordering up to four packets a day or two before your visit, to be waiting for you when you arrive.

My grandfather served in World War Two after all

I have written previously about how I hadn’t realised my grandfather had a defence forces service file until I saw his name in an index. The file hadn’t been digitised when I searched for it, so I ordered it and waited.

I recently got an email from the National Archives of Australia to say that my file was ready to download.

It turned out to be 16 pages. Richard Norman Eason of Hill Street, Blayney, farmer and grazier, was taken on strength of the 26th Battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corps in March 1943.

Mobilization Attestation Form

He joined the VDC, or Volunteer Defence Corps. According to Wikipedia:

The Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) was an Australian part time volunteer military force of World War II modelled on the British Home Guard. The VDC was established in July 1940 by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and was initially composed of ex-servicemen who had served in World War I.[1] Thegovernment took over control of the VDC in May 1941, and gave the organisation the role of training for guerrilla warfare, collecting local intelligence and providing static defence of each unit’s home area.[1] General Harry Chauvel, who had retired in 1930, was recalled to duty in 1940 and appointed Inspector-General of the VDC. Chauvel held this position until his death in March 1945.[2]

Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Government expanded the VDC in February 1942. Membership was open to men aged between 18 and 60, including those working in reserved occupations. As a result, the VDC reached a peak strength of almost 100,000 in units across Australia.[1]

As the perceived threat to Australia declined the VDC’s role changed from static defence to operating anti-aircraft artillerycoastal artillery and searchlights. Members of inland VDC units were freed from having to attend regular training in May 1944 and the VDC was officially disbanded on 24 August 1945.[1]

Service and Casualty Form

According to his Service and Casualty Form he was trained at the Millthorpe School of Instruction for a few days. I would love to know what sort of training he received.

There are no further entries on the form until the disbanding of the unit in September 1945.

This does explain why my grandfather was sent off to look for escaped Japanese prisoners of war during the Cowra Breakout. I guess those sorts of orders don’t appear here.

You can see more about the Australian defence forces here.

NSW Lands Department User Guides

The NSW Lands Department, or Land and Property Management Authority as they prefer to be known [or Land and Property Information as they are now known - 2012], have reformatted and republished their collection of User Guides. Here is a complete list, blatantly lifted from their website:

First Stop Guide to the Records of the Registrar General (PDF 1.2MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

The First Stop Guide is the first of five publications that detail the history of and information about searching and accessing land titling records in NSW. This guide aims to be your “First Stop” in helping you decide which publication(s) suits your particular searching needs.

A Brief History of the Records of the Registrar General (PDF 3.1MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This publication offers a brief history of the Office of the Registrar General since its inception in 1843 and the records it holds which date back to 1792. It also describes how land was initially acquired and consequently managed.

Old System Information and Search Guide (PDF 9.8MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide explains the intricacies of Old System land title and offers advice and tips on how to search the indexes and documents that have been registered with the Registrar General since New South Wales (NSW) was founded.

Searching the Registrar General’s Maps and Plans (PDF 4.7MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide has been prepared to provide a reference guide to Land and Property Information (LPI) mapping and plan resources and as a research tool for historical inquiry.

Torrens Title Information and Search Guide (PDF 5.0MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide describes how Torrens title information has been recorded historically and offers practical information on how to locate current and historical Torrens title information.

I haven’t examined them in detail as yet, but on first inspection they appear to be much more manageable and more concise than the old ones. The Old System Information and Search Guide is 45 pages and is much clearer and more friendly than the old 148-page User Guide to Old System Searching published in December 2009.

Here is an example. This is the first page of Chapter 1 of the old (2009) and new (2011) versions:

NSW Lands old Old System Guide Chapter 12009

NSWLands Old System Guide Chapter 12011

No comparison really. The descriptive text appears to be the same, at least in the first few pages, but the explanations are much clearer.

I recommend you go and find these guides if you have any interest in land and property in New South Wales. Researchers from other States are also likely to find the explanations useful, as the types of land records are similar in all States.

With grateful thanks to the NSW Land and Property Management Authority

If there’s an index, check it!

My mother had always said that her father didn’t serve in either of the world wars. The stories I remember were that he was too young in the First World War and too old in the Second World War, and that he was a farmer and needed at home to grow food. He was born in late December 1900, and was a farmer and grazier all his life, so I accepted these stories without question.

There was also a story about how he had to go to help search for the Japanese that broke out of the camp at Cowra during World War II. I don’t know if he ever found any; probably not or it would have been more of a story.

Yesterday I was searching the NameSearch at the National Archives of Australia website for others of the same surname and there he was:

NAA NameSearch

My grandfather is the last one. As you can see by the lack of an icon in the “Digitised item” column, it hasn’t been digitised yet. If it had been I would be able to see, and download, the images of each page in the file straight away. I can pay $16.50 to have it digitised early, before its ‘turn’, or $25 to have it digitised and colour photocopies sent to me.

I’ve paid the $16.50, and now I wait. It may take up to 90 days for a file which is “Not yet examined”, but I can’t imagine there will be anything in there that would cause it to be restricted once it has been examined.

If only I’d searched earlier! Why didn’t I? I think because I accepted what my mother told me. I don’t always believe what people tell me, but parents are different. Of course, my mother also told me that the Easons came from Wales and I have proven that they came from County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. Talking about her own father is different, I guess.

So the lesson for today is – If there’s an index, search it! What have you got to lose?

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

The Colonies of Australia were often discussed in the British Parliament, and much of the relevant correspondence and reports were printed and distributed for the information of the Members. The success of the colonies, convicts, immigration, churches; all were subjects of interest to the  Parliament. Although rarely mentioning individuals by name these reports can be very useful to historians.

The Parliamentary Papers for the British House of Commons have been digitised and categorised for the use of researchers. The website is http://parlipapers.chadwyck.co.uk but you need to have a login and password to enter it.

Fortunately, if you have a Library Card from the National Library of Australia you can access the site for free. Just go to the Library’s homepage and click on eResources in the top right hand corner. Here you can enter your Library Card number and your family name. If you don’t have a Library Card you can request one, and it will be posted within a couple of weeks.

Once you’ve logged in using your Library Card go down to Find a resource and type in ‘House of Commons’. Accept the terms and conditions. If you then Browse Subject Catalogue you need to get down to The dominions and colonies:

Parliamentary Papers for Australia and New Zealand

I suggest you have a good look around in here, depending on your interest. If we open the Australian settlementswe can see:

Australian settlements

Here is a partial list of results for Convicts:

1834 (82) Secondary punishment. (Australia.) Correspondence, on the subject of secondary punishment.

1834 (614) Secondary punishment. (Australia.) Further correspondence on the subject of secondary punishment.

1841 Session 1 (412) Secondary punishment. (New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.) Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 7 June 1841;–for, copies or extracts of any correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Governor of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, on the subject of secondary punishment.

1851 (130) Convict discipline and transportation. Copies of all petitions on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, which have been presented to the House of Commons from any part of Australia or Van Diemen’s Land since the year 1838, with the number of signatures attached to each petition.

1851 (280) Convict discipline and transportation. Copies of all petitions on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, which have been presented to Her Majesty, from any part of Australia or Van Diemen’s Land, since the year 1838, with the number of signatures attached to each petition.

1854 [1795] Convict discipline and transportation. Australian colonies. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation (in continuation of papers presented July 18, 1853.)

1854-55 [1916] [1988] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented May 1854.)

1856 [2101] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented August 1855.)

1857 Session 1 [2197] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented 2 June 1856.)

1860 (454) Convicts (Western Australia, &c.). Returns of the total cost to the Imperial Treasury of the convict establishments in Western Australia, including the expense of transporting convicts thereto, and the military charges thereat; the estimated European population in each of the Australian colonies, &c.; also, copies of the acts now in force in the several Australian colonies and the Cape of Good Hope for preventing the introduction of persons convicted of felony.

1861 [2796] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation.

1863 (505) Transportation (Australia). Copies of memorials received by the Secretary of State for the Colonies since 1 January 1863, in favour of or against transportation to any part of Australia; of addresses to Her Majesty from the legislative bodies in Australia on the same subject; of minutes or addresses by executive councils in Australia on the same subject, which have been transmitted to the Secretary of State; and, of the resolution adopted by the conference of delegates from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, which recently met at Melbourne.

1864 [3357] Transportation. Copies or extracts of despatches lately received from the governors of the Australian colonies. With petitions against the continuance of transportation.

1865 [3424] Correspondence relative to the discontinuance of transportation.

Here is a partial list for New South Wales settlements:

1810 (45) A return of the number of persons, male or female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales since the first establishment of the colony: specifying, the term for which each person was transported;–the date and place of conviction;–and the time of embarkation to New South Wales: (except 607 persons, who were transported as criminals to New South Wales in the spring of 1787.)

1810-11 (38) A return of the number of persons, male or female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales since the month of August 1809; specifying the term for which each person was transported;–the date and place of conviction; and the time of embarkation.

1812 (97) A return of the number of persons, male and female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, since the month of July 1810; specifying, the term for which each person was transported; the date and place of conviction; and, the time of embarkation.

1814-15 (354) An account of the number of persons, male and female,–(distinguishing and stating the ages of those under 21 years of age,)–who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, in the years 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1815. 1.

1816 (314) An account of the number of convicts who have died in their passage to New South Wales, since the year 1810; distinguishing the names of the ships in which the deaths have occurred.

1816 (315) An account of the number of convicts landed in New South Wales, since the year 1810; distinguishing the ships in which they were conveyed from this country: so far as the same has been received. 2.

1816 (366) An account of the expense of victualling the several ships taking convicts to the settlement of New South Wales and its dependencies; and also of the provisions provided and sent by this department thither, in each of the years, from the year 1811, to the 11th April 1816.

1816 (431) An account of the annual expense of the transportation of convicts to New South Wales and its dependencies, and of the total annual expense of those settlements, since the year 1811; according to the form of the appendix to the report of the committee of finance, presented to the House of Commons, 26th June 1798. Whitehall Treasury Chambers 7th June 1816.

1816 (450) Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814.

1817 (237) 1. An estimate of the sum which may be wanted to defray the expense attending the confining, maintaining, and employing convicts at home; for the year 1817. 2. An estimate of the sum that may probably be wanted to defray the amount of bills drawn, or to be drawn, from New South Wales; for the year 1817.

1817 (276) Return of the number of persons, male and female;–distinguishing the ages of those under twenty-one years of age; stating their respective ages, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, since the 1st January 1812; specifying the term for which each was transported, the date and place of conviction, and the time of embarkation.

1818 (418) Return of the number of persons, who have been sent to New South Wales, under sentence of seven years transportation, from the 1st of January 1816, to the 1st of January 1818; distinguishing each year, also the sex of the prisoners, and classing them according to their respective ages.

1819 (191) An account of the annual expense of the transportation of convicts to New South Wales and its dependencies, and of the total annual expense of those settlements, since the year 1815.

The documents are all downloadable as PDF files, and some of them are quite large. Here is an example from 1816 (450) Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814:

Papers related to NSW 1816 page 12
HOUSE OF COMMONS PAPERS; ACCOUNTS AND PAPERS Volume/Page XVIII.299; Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814, Paper number (450), page 13.

These documents are indispensable to historians and are easily obtainable for Australian residents. Libraries and universities in other countries may have similar arrangements, so it’s worth checking. All colonies are represented.

Where did my convict die?

Most convicts lived to finish their sentences or obtain their conditional pardons and continued to live long and productive lives. Some didn’t live productive lives, and some didn’t survive to finish their sentences.

The Register of Convict Deaths lists convicts who were known to have died whilst still serving their sentence.State Records NSW: Chief Superintendent of Convicts; Convict Death Register. NRS 12213, SR Reel 690. It is available on Ancestry.

Many of these deaths do not appear in the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages online indexes. The pre-1856 records held by the Registry were collected from parish registers from around the colony, and so the conclusion has to be made that the convict who died was not given a Christian burial.

Convict Death Register

Perhaps the settler wrote to inform the Superintendent of Convicts that the convict had died and the means of death, and it is worth searching the indexes to the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence to see if such a letter was sent. He may have written to the Chief Superintendent of Convicts, but this correspondence has not survived.

Timothy Baverstock was a blacksmith and carpenter transported in 1832 and arriving in February 1833. According to the Convict Death Register he was assigned to a Mr Cobb at Hunter River and died the same year. You may be able to read his entry in the register above – he is about 3/4 of the way down the left hand page. You may also be able to see that his is the only entry that does not give a full date of death – just the year.

To see if Mr Cobb had written a letter to report the death I searched for correspondence to the Colonial Secretary. There is a name index prepared by Joan Reece over many years on microfiche. With great satisfaction I found the name Timothy Bavenstock for 1833, and I filled out the request form to inspect the letter. I was expecting a short note to explain that the convict had died, and perhaps a request for another one to replace him.

ColSecCorr 33-5055

I was quite surprised when it arrived to see a four-page document quite closely written in the left margin of the first page. The letter was not from Mr Cobb of Hunter River, as I had expected, but the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, complaining to the Colonial Secretary that assignees do not report the deaths of the convicts assigned to them.

ColSecCorr 33-5055 p3 detail

Timothy Baverstock is only mentioned because the Principal Superintendent used him as an example of  a convict whose death he would have remained ignorant except that the assignee, Mr Cobb, applied to be assigned another convict.

The letter reads in full:

I beg leave again to bring under the notice of the Government the fact of my being seldom apprized of the death of Convicts in the interior by Assignees; and to suggest the propriety should His Excellency the Governor approve of directing public attention to this matter thr[ough] the medium of the Official Gazette.

As cases in point, I beg leave to mentionthat it was only yesterday in looking over a file of applications in the Office of the Assignment Branch, I discovered the death of the two Convicts named in the margin hereof.

[in the margin] Timothy Baverstock 33/376 Camden 2, Carpenter & Wheelwright Complete

Job Nobbs 32/461 Isabella 4, Shoemaker Complete

The first named was assigned to Mr Cobb of Hunter River, and according to that Gentleman’s statement died the day after his arrival on the farm. The other was assigned to Mr HC Kurnell[?] of Argyle, who states that he also died soon after reaching his farm. Neither case would have been reported had it not been thought by the assignees it would strengthen their claims for others.

I never receive any reports of deaths from Coroners. I have the honour to be, etc etc

The Colonial Secretary wrote an “executive summary” in the margin of the first page for the Governor:

The Prin’l Sup Convicts represents that he is seldom apprised by assignees of the death of their convict servants, and suggests the propriety of directing public attention to the matter by means of the Gazette – adds also that he never receives reports of deaths from the Coroners.

All the Returns of Burials rec’d in this office are periodically sent to Mr Hely (see note below) for his confirmation. The several Coroners may be required to furnish a Death return, but as the bodies of persons on whom inquests are held are interred, then names doubtless included in a Clerical report of Burials, it would not appear that the non-transmission of the Return by the Coroners is productive of much inconvenience. As respects the notice to Assignees I am fearful that not much attention will be paid to it – but they might nevertheless be req’d to report to the Mag[istrate] the death of the Convict servant.

Timothy Baverstock had died the day after his arrival. As a blacksmith and carpenter Timothy Baverstock would have been valuable to a settler, and Mr Cobb would have wanted a quick replacement.

Without his assignee’s request for a replacement and the Principal Superintendent of Convict’s request to The Colonial Secretary, he would have disappeared from the records and we would never have known what happened to him.

Note Frederick Augustus Hely, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, held the post of Principal Superintendent of Convicts from 1823 until his death in 1836. He applied to retire on a pension but died before it was approved by the Colonial Office.

Sources
State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; NRS12213, Convict Death Register. SR Reel 690. Online version published by Ancestry.com.

State Records NSW: Colonial Secretary’s Office; NRS905, Main series of letters received, 1826-1982. 33/5055, Letter from Principal Superintendent of Convicts dated 1 Aug 1833.

Charles Johnson, prisoner and father

When the grandmother of one of my clients was born there was no father listed on the birth certificate. When she married she stated her father to be a Charles Johnson, but there was no other evidence of this, or indeed of any link between Charles and and the mother Isabella Staader.

At least there was a name to go on, and the place where the child was born. A search of the digitised newspapers on Trove had given a short account of a trial in which Charles was convicted in January 1887 of assault and sentenced to 12 months hard labour at Tamworth Gaol. The woman he assaulted was Isabella Staader.

SMH 18970201 p5 Johnson and Staader

Further searches revealed more information. The NSW Police Gazettes reported his arrest (without bail), sentence and release. He is the Return of Prisoners, showing his sentence:

Charles is about half way down. He was charged with “Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm” on Isabella Staader. He was tried at Tamworth Quarter Sessions on 29th January 1897, and sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour at  Tamworth Gaol.

Later in the same year he appears in a list of Prisoners Discharged to Freedom. The printing is even smaller than in the page above so I haven’t posted an image. It describes not only his crime, sentence and date and place of trial, but some additional information – his native place was Tamworth, NSW; year of birth was 1862; height 5 feet 5 inches; fresh complexion; brown hair and eyes; regular nose, mouth and chin; and this was his first conviction.

The Index to Gaol Photographs on the State Records NSW website does not include those taken at Tamworth Gaol, but there is a full index at the Western Sydney Records Centre. There he was: Charles Johnston in Tamworth Gaol. The presence or absence of the T in the name was a minor inconvenience – if they didn’t always spell names the same way there is no reason for us to be pedantic about it.

SRNSW Gaol Photograph 1897 Charles Johnston

The page is wrinkled where the photographs have been stuck on.  We now know quite a lot more about Charles Johnson, including some more accurate information, as I suspect the Description Book is more accurate than the Police Gazette. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, with a cut under his left eye. He weighed 130 pounds. He was Church of England and he could read and write.

We may not know exactly what was going on between Charles and Isabella, but we now have an idea of when it might have come to an end. Perhaps she took him back when he got out of gaol; certainly his child knew that he was her father.

Often the father of an illegitimate child can never be found. Sadly, if there was domestic violence, it may be possible to find out quite a bit about him.

The full citation for the page from the Description Book is :

State Records NSW: Department of Corrective Services, ‘Photograph Description Book, Tamworth Gaol, 1894-1929’, [3/5997]; item 49 for Charles Johnson.

The square brackets seem to interfere with the formatting in the picture caption.