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.

Births, Deaths and Marriages in Parish Registers

St Paul's Anglican Church Carcoar

Civil registration in NSW

Here in New South Wales we are fortunate in the detail to be found in our birth, marriage and death certificates. and in the indexes available online. Births include parents full names, with the  maiden name of the mother, the date they were married, and previous children born. Marriages usually show the names of both sets of parents. Deaths are best of all, showing parents, spouses and children.

Civil registration began in New South Wales on 1st March 1856, with District Registrars appointed to record all births, marriages and deaths in their districts. The responsibility for notifying the District Registrar fell to a parent, for a birth; the minister, for a marriage; or the owner of the house, for a death when one of these events took place.

In the early years it was often difficult for people to get in to town to register a birth or death. There was also some distrust of the government and unwillingness to provide information.

Parish registers

Before that time the only record of births, deaths and marriages in the Colony was in the parish registers of the churches. Initially only the Anglican Church was recognised, so Catholics and others had to be baptised, married and buried by the Anglicans or not at all.

The Registry has collected information from churches for the pre-registration period on a number of occasions to complete their records but this process is still incomplete, with missing information on many records, especially marriages, and missing records. Most of these early registers have been microfilmed and are available in many libraries – these are the Early Church Records, identifiable by the V in the reference when you search on the NSW BDM website. Photocopies are not allowed, but you can write down the information you find. Make sure you record where you found it!

Of course children were still baptised, couples were married in church, and burials were performed according to the rites of the religious denomination of the deceased, after civil registration began and so the parish registers continued.

Why look at the parish register?

The Registry has attempted to collect information that may be present in a parish register and not in the Registry. After the initial introduction of civil registration in 1856 two further attempts were made, in 1879 and 1912, to collect baptisms and marriage information not recorded in the Registry, but the process of reconciling the two was never finalised.

This means that there are entries in some parish registers, and in rare cases whole registers, that do not appear in the Registry. Marriages in the Registry may lack information that the parish register contains. It’s worth looking at the parish register, then, even if you have the certificate from the Registry.

Even the remote possibility that there is some new information somewhere makes it worthwhile to seek these registers out.

The parish register will also contain the original signatures of the parties concerned, whereas the copy sent to the Registry has been written out by the minister or a clerk and does not contain original signatures. This is especially valuable for marriages, where the bride and groom, and any witnesses, had to sign.

Parish Registers on microfilm

The Joint Copying Project of the Society of Australian Genealogists, the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia has been working for more than 25 years to microfilm parish registers. Many Anglican registers have been filmed, with the Diocese of Bathurst added earlier this year. Many Catholic and Presbyterian registers have also been filmed.

Microfilms are available in the Society of Australian Genealogists and the Mitchell Library in Sydney, and the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Check their online catalogues for details of what is available; more are being added all the time. A search by the name of the place and the words “parish register” should give you what you need. You can usually make individual copies of single entries for research purposes.

In the Mitchell Library the card catalogue is available in the Special Collections area – ask the librarian behind the desk. The films are on open access on the shelves.

In the Society of Australian Genealogists the online catalogue includes the filmed parish registers. You may also find books of transcribed entries for specific churches.  There is a also a book that lists all the microfilms in the Society’s collection, but keep in mind that this book will not contain any parish registers that were filmed after 1990.

What if the parish register hasn’t been filmed or transcribed?

Parish registers that have not been filmed will be found either in the central archives of the church concerned, or remain in the parish.  Some parish records have undoubtedly been lost or destroyed, especially small churches where the minister had to travel long distances to administer to his flock.

Most parish priests and ministers are very helpful to family historians and will usually provide what you need for a small donation to cover their time and expenses.

Sources

Nick Vine HallParish Registers in Australia, published by the author, 1989.

Nick Vine Hall, Tracing Your Family History in New South Wales, 5th edition. CD. Adelaide: Archive CD Books, 2006.

NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, History of the Registry’s Records. Website. http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/familyHistory/historyRecords.htm.

Richards, J. A., Garnsey, H.E., and Phippen, A., Index to the Microform Collection of the Society of Australian Genealogists. Sydney: Society of Australian Genealogists, 1990.

Society of Australian Genealogists, Bascis on church records (Australia). Website. http://www.sag.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48.

State Library of New South Wales, Getting started: Church Records. Downloadable PDF document. http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/research_guides/docs/church_records.pdf.

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