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.

Family history travels

I’ve just spent two weeks travelling – doing family history, attending AFFHO‘s 13th Australasian Congress in Adelaide, and playing tourist in outback South Australia and New South Wales. Now that I’m home I have nearly 4000 photos to deal with, as well as all the books and brochures I collected along the way.

To attend the Congress in Adelaide my husband, Keith, and I decided to make a holiday of it. I have family history to investigate in Albury; we both have gold field ancestors; and he has ancestors who immigrated to South Australia and then moved to western Victoria; so we took the long way around, staying in Albury, Ballarat and Warracknabeal (western Victoria).

Albury is a lovely town, with many of its historic buildings remaining. I was disappointed to see that the old Mechanics Institute had been demolished, as my ancestor James Simpson was the caretaker there, but a visit to the library gave me a lot of new information on my Stewarts to follow up.

Albury Pioneer CemeteryWe visited cemeteries, churches and small towns and creeks all along the way. My ancestor Peter Hannah Stewart settled on the Indigo Creek near Barnawatha, Victoria, before moving to Albury where his elder brother had settled, and now I know what it looks like.

Indigo Creek

We then travelled down through Chiltern and Bendigo to Ballarat. I had been to other pioneer villages over the years but I’d never been to Sovereign Hill at Ballarat, and it was a revelation! I have so many wonderful photos that it is difficult to chose one. Sovereign Hill has actors in costume to give visitors a taste of how things were in the old days. As you walk around the place you can follow its history, from the early days when thousands of miners set up tents and panned for gold, to the establishment of shops, houses, churches and banks, to the large scale industrial mining once the surface gold ran out.

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

I had never been through Western Victoria before, and what I can say about it is that it’s flat. Very flat. We found some cemeteries and churches from my husband’s family history.

Minyip Cemetery

On to Adelaide. I spent most of the four days attending sessions and talking to other genealogists, and making short visits to local repositories such as State Records South Australia, the Supreme Court and Land Services. Keith spent much of the four days researching, with only some of his time attending sessions. He got a lot done in that time! He transcribed over 50 birth, marriage and death registrations at the Genealogy SA library, and obtained copies of wills from the Supreme Court.

Keith made a breakthrough on his early South Australian pioneer ancestor John Jones from Wales by finding he was listed in the Royal Adelaide Hospital Admissions Index 1840-1904 on the computers at State Records. This index states the name, age, residence and ship of arrival and was enough for Keith to make the breakthrough he never expected with such a common name. Had it not been available on the computers there he may never have sought it out to check it, as he had no reason to believe that the Joneses, who lived in the McLaren Vale, would ever have had reason to go to hospital in Adelaide. It just shows, you must always check indexes even if you think there’s no reason to.

Adelaide Congress 2012

If you have never been to a Congress consider the next one, which will be in Canberra in 2015. They are only held every three years and are shared around Australia and New Zealand. Four days of concentrated family history is just too good to pass up.

We then drove north to Lyndhurst, with a detour through Mount Pleasant and Lyndoch for some more cemeteries and churches. Lyndhurst is at the end of the bitumen road towards Lake Eyre, and we had a flight booked over the lake and a room booked at the pub. It was April Fool’s Day when we arrived and they tried to tell us there was no room!

The flight was magnificent. The lakes had water, with algae growing that made them look pink in places. There is no multitude of birds like you see on TV documentaries; they are all at Birdsville, and it isn’t the breeding season. But it was a brilliant sight all the same. It looks like it should have flamingoes in it.

Lake Eyre

It is amazing country up there. Every few kilometres along the road you cross another dry creek bed, and flying over it you can see why. When it rains it really rains, and the countryside is covered by a network of creeks that drain into the lakes. One of the creeks we crossed had water in it, and when we got out of the car to take photos we could see small silver fish trying desperately to swim upstream across the road in an inch or two of water. Keith caught two and helped them to the other side.

Water on road

Broken Hill was next. We spent three nights there so we could have a good look around and go out to the Menindee Lakes, which also has water in them. The road into Kinchega National Park was closed, but we saw quite a bit. We went out to Silverton, and old mining town that is pretty much a tourist village and movie set now, particularly the Silverton Hotel, which has Mad Max vehicles parked outside.

Mad Max

There is a lot of history in Broken Hill. We tried following the self-guided heritage trail and took lots of pictures of churches and old mines. The Miners’ Memorial, up on the Line of Lode next to the lookout, costs $2.50 to visit but is worth it for a taste of the dark side of the mining industry. The names and causes of death listed are a stark contrast to the self-congratulation found in most other displays around town.

Miners' Memorial

As I said, I have nearly 4000 photos to deal with. I spent some time last night sorting them into folders named by date and place, which makes the whole business of culling and processing much less daunting. Many of them are research-related and will need extra analysis, but even the tourist shots have to be sorted or I will have to buy another hard drive to keep them all.

I will post some more of the highlights on Google+ as soon as I can.

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

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