In Australia most of us are descended from immigrants to Australia. In the 1800s the majority of immigrants came from the UK by one of four methods:

  • Assisted immigration – their passage was paid for by the New South Wales Government
  • Unassisted immigration – they paid their own passage
  • Convict transportation – their passage was enforced by the British Government!
  • Military and ships’ crew – their passage was part of their job

Assisted Immigrants

Sailing shipMany passenger records survive and the most useful information for family history comes from the paperwork required for assisted immigrants. Assisted immigrants had their passage paid or subsidised through one of the many immigration schemes, and questions were asked of them to ensure their usefulness in the Colony.

The Immigration Board’s lists are the most informative, although Agents’ Lists, sponsorship deposit journals and “bounty” immigrants passenger lists are also useful, especially where there is no Board’s List. Assisted immigration records for New South Wales cover the period 1828 to 1896.

Unassisted Immigrants

Unassisted passengers were required to give very little information and it is often difficult, even impossible, to find their arrival in Australia for certain. Most passenger lists are not yet indexed, and those that are may only record the passenger as “Mr J. Smith” or “Mr Jones and family”, and may list only their nationality (English, Irish, Scottish, Other), and sometimes the occupation of the head of the family. If your ancestor can be identified because of an unusual surname, or multiple given names were recorded, then at the very least you will have the name of the ship and date of arrival. You will also know something about the economic prosperity of your ancestor, especially if he could pay for a cabin!

See State Records New South Wales Archives in Brief No. 1 and Archives in Brief No. 24 for more information about the passenger arrival records they hold.