Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes

Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes are an enormously rich source of information for family historians. They can be useful for filling in some of the detail about the lives of our ancestors, and in many cases can solve mysteries.

NSW Government Gazettes

Government gazettes contained all the administrative detail that affected the lives of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives – such as laws and regulations, licenses, land auctions and sales, unclaimed mail, and much, much more. Records of convict assignments and absconding may appear nowhere else but here. Sailors who deserted their ships are listed, as are government employees. Court notices of probate and bankruptcies, livestock brands, and petitions.

Your ancestor should be in a government gazette if he or she:

  • leased, purchased, forfeited land
  • worked for the government
  • tendered for public works
  • died
  • went bankrupt or insolvent
  • had unclaimed mail
  • was a convict
  • was assigned a convict
  • had a livestock brand
  • had a license to run a pub, sell liquor, cut timber
  • signed a petition

Notices of this type were published in the local colonial newspaper until a regular government publication was established:

  • New South Wales – 1832
  • Tasmania – 1825
  • Victoria – 1843 (Port Phillip)
  • Queensland – 1859
  • South Australia – 1839
  • Western Australia – 1836
  • Northern Territory – 1927
  • Commonwealth – 1901

All are still published today, although mostly online rather than printed, and with much less of interest to family historians.

Police gazettes are where the juicy stuff was going on. They were published weekly and distributed to police stations for the information of the local constabulary in order to help them with their work – describing offenders, listing licensees, and so on. Later gazettes in the early-to-mid twentieth century contain lists of known offenders with photographs, for the information of police who may come across them.

In many States publication ceased in the 1980s, as methods of electronic distribution of information became available. Some States publish them to this day, but access is still restricted.

The contents of police gazettes vary slightly by state, but they contain most of the following:

  • Warrants for arrest and details of crimes
  • Arrests, convictions, discharged prisoners
  • Property stolen and recovered
  • Stolen cattle and horses, including brands
  • Escaped prisoners, ship’s deserters
  • Missing friends
  • Deaths reported to police
  • Police appointments, instructions, lists
  • Magistrates, Justices of the Peace
  • Licensed sellers of liquor, wine and tobacco
Police Gazettes were published in the following years:
  • New South Wales – 1862-1982
  • Tasmania – 1861-1933
  • Victoria – 1853-1994
  • Queensland – 1864-1982
  • South Australia – 1862-present
  • Western Australia – 1876-present (restricted)
  • Northern Territory – 1900-present (restricted)
  • Commonwealth – 1 January 1901-present?

It is important to look for your ancestor in other colonies/states, as people travelled over the borders as easily as we do today, particularly if they didn’t want to be found.

Photo of NSW Government Gazettes from the 1850s taken by the author at the Society of Australian Genealogists headquarters in Kent Street, Sydney.

Atlas of New South Wales

NSW Lands Atlas ExplorerI remember the old Reader’s Digest Atlas of Australia that my mother had when I was young. Half of it had detailed maps of the country, but the first half showed New South Wales with different overlays to show the distribution of different things – people, minerals, spoken languages, and so on.

Now there is a similar atlas online, and it’s absolutely marvellous!

NSW Land and Property Information, or the NSW Lands Department as we know them, have set of maps online for historians and other researchers to play with. It’s called the Atlas of New South Wales.

There is quite a bit of contextual information on the site. The most important part, though, and the most fun, is the Atlas Explorer. This  allows you to view, in map or satellite image form, the State of New South Wales or Australia as a whole. For example, you can look at the Changing State Borders map and move the slider along the timeline to see when the different colonies were established and the borders of New South Wales changed as a result.

NSW Lands Atlas borders 1851

You can zoom in and out, choose different types of information within each map, and for some maps you can slide along a timeline to see how things have changed over time. Here is a list of the broad categories of maps available:

  • People
    • Populations
    • Health
    • Housing
    • Religion
    • Indigenous Population
    • Social Inclusion
    • Crime
  • Economy
    • Labour Force
    • Labour Underutilisation
    • Economic Sectors
    • taxation and Revenue
    • Agriculture
    • Forestry
    • Fruit and Vegetables
    • Oils and Grains
    • Livestock
  • History
    • Heritage Properties
    • European Settlement
    • Changing State Borders
    • Goldrush
    • Elections
  • Environment
    • Geology
    • Soils
    • Vegetation
    • National Parks
  • Census 2006
    • Populations Distribution
    • Indigenous Population
    • Housing Costs
    • Income
    • Dwellings
    • Religion
    • Languages

In the examples below I have looked at the maps for European settlement and moved along the timeline from 1820 to 1830. This maps shows how far Europeans settlement had spread in 1820:

NSW Lands Atlas European settlement 1820

This map shows the spread in 1830:

NSW Lands Atlas European settlement 1830

You can see how far Europeans had spread in ten short years. It had already overrun the Nineteen Counties and the Limits of Location. Port Macquarie had been established, and the spaces in between were being filled in. Compare this map with the Map of the Nineteen Counties on the State Records NSW website.

There is much, much more in the Atlas than I can describe here. Have a look around and let us know what you find.

Other resources:

Archives in Brief No. 22 Occupation of Crown Land Prior to 1856

Map of the Nineteen Counties

Scottish convict records at the National Archives of Scotland

National Archives of ScotlandDid you know that you can search for your Scottish convict by name in the catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland?

I didn’t until recently. I am researching one John Graham who, it was claimed on his death certificate, arrived in the colonies when he was about 16 and spent may have spent some time in Tasmania. A search of all the usual arrival options to New South Wales proved unsuccessful but there was a suitable candidate transported to Van Diemen’s Land at a young age.

Further research at the excellent Archives Office of Tasmania digitised content website showed that this John Graham came from Scotland. His 7 year term was timed perfectly for him to serve it, move to New South Wales, get married and start his family.

The catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland has indexed convict trial records by name. A search for the name John Graham gave far too many results to be useful, but narrowing the date range down to when I knew (from the Tasmanian records) that his trial took place, and there he was. Twice.

The precognition (AD14/39/95) showed that he was tried with Thomas McKay, who appears next to him on the convict indent. Under the heading  ’Accused’  they are both named, as is his father and his father’s occupation, and their residence:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee

The trial papers (JC26/1839/5) give even more information:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.

Requesting copies of these records is not so straightforward, but it can be done. It appeared that the only way to do so from the other side of the world was to request a quote by email, so I wrote to the enquiry email address enquiries@nas.gov.uk asking for one, giving the first reference that I’d found.

I got an email back a few days later with a very detailed list of what was in both files:

Precognition (ref: AD14/39/95)

A Precognition is the written report of the evidence of witnesses to a crime, taken before the trial in order to help prepare the case against the accused. This particular Precognition contains the following items:

  • Bound Precognition, this includes the witness statements and the declarations of both John Graham and Thomas McKay [74 pages]
  • Printed Indictment [7 pages]
  • Inventory of Papers in Precognition [3 pages]
  • Schedule [2 pages]
  • Petition [6 pages]
  • Letters [2 pages]
  • Supplementary Schedule [2 pages]

74 pages of witness statements and declarations! Priceless!

The Court Process Papers (ref: JC26/1839/5) contain the following items:

  • Handwritten Indictment [13 pages]
  • Diligence [2 pages]
  • List of Assize [2 pages]
  • Execution against John Graham [2 pages]
  • Execution against Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Execution against witnesses [4 pages]
  • Declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • Declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • Extract Conviction [5 pages]
  • Complaint against Robert Burt, James Downie, Duncan Carswell, James Robertson and Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Extract Certified Copy Complaint [4 pages]
  • Complaint against Archibald Paterson & John Graham [2 pages]
  • Complaint against John Graham [2 pages]

I was also given the option of a Minute Book entry:

The Minute Book Entry (ref: JC11/86)

This is a handwritten summary of the proceedings in court, and includes the charge, the plea and the sentence handed down [2 pages]

The quote was given separately for each file, and was not for the faint-hearted, although considerably cheaper than a trip to Edinburgh. We are going ahead with it, so I’ll report on what comes back when the package arrives.

Payment is by cheque on a British account (which I don’t have) or an international money order, or by credit card over the phone. They hope to provide online payments in the future. Postage and packing is included.

As much as I wish that they offered a similar service to the National Archives of Australia where you can pay a small amount to have something they intend to digitise scanned early, such as the World War II service files, I am still impressed that I was able to do so much from my PC here in Sydney.

I can’t wait for the copies to arrive!

Image by courtesy of the National Archives of Scotland

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