Immigration & shipping guide

Key records and available indexes, relating to passengers arriving in New South Wales, 1788-1922.

While most of the records relate to passengers disembarking in Sydney, departure records are also listed, as are arrivals in other ports.

Tips to find an arrival

Obtain the death certificate

If the person died in New South Wales, the death certificate may show the number of years spent in the colony or colonies where he/she had spent their time. By taking the number of years spent in the colonies from the date of death, an approximate year of arrival can be determined.

Check all available indexes & records for arrivals

If two records exist for one arrival, always check both as the information may differ slightly, or one record may be more comprehensive.


After 1922, immigration became the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government and the records are held by the National Archives of Australia. Copies of the passenger lists 1923-1966 are also held in our reading room.

Types of passenger arrivals

1. Unassisted (free) passengers

Also known as free settlers, unassisted passengers paid their own way to New South Wales.

We hold records of free settlers from 1792-1922 and most of these records relate to arrivals in Sydney.

Indexes to check

Ships at Millers Point 1936

Unassisted immigrants index 1842-1855

Unassisted (or free) passengers came to Australia at their own expense, including ships' crew and military

Ocean liner in Sydney Harbour

Vessels arrived in Sydney 1837-1925

If you know the name of the ship, this index will be useful to check or confirm the date of arrival

Tips to remember

  • Until 1854, many unassisted passengers (particularly steerage passengers) were not listed individually on a passenger list. ​Newspapers for this period (see National Library of Australia's Trove website) often reported a ship's arrival and these may contain a list of passengers
  • Passenger lists are arranged chronologically by arrival of the ship. As there are no comprehensive indexes to passengers arriving after 1855, and if the name of the ship and the exact year of arrival are unknown, try to determine the date of arrival from other sources listed in this guide.
  • After 1922, immigration became the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government and the records are held by the National Archives of Australia.

The website Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters is digitising and indexing lists of unassisted passengers arriving in Sydney between 1845 and 1922.

The passenger lists are also available on the Ancestry website. We and many public libraries in Australia provide free access to Ancestry to members of the public.

2. Assisted passengers

This term refers to people whose passage was subsidised or paid for through one of the assisted immigration schemes that operated in New South Wales.

We hold records of assisted immigrants from 1828-1896. These records generally provide valuable information on each assisted immigrant such as native place and parents' names.

Passengers arriving in Newcastle

We hold records of some assisted immigrant arrivals to Newcastle which are listed in the index Assisted Immigrants Index. Later records of passengers arriving in and departing from Newcastle, 1865-1935 are held by the National Archives of Australia.

Indexes to check

Assisted Immigrants Index 1839-1896

Assisted immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle 1844-59, Moreton Bay 1848-59 and Port Phillip 1839-51


Digitised shipping lists 1828-1896

If you know the ship your assisted passengers arrived on you can search & view the digitised shipping list

Immigration deposit journals

NRS-5264 Immigration deposit journals, 1853–1900

These records relate to assisted immigrants and are a record of monies paid by depositors towards the cost of an immigrant's fare

Printed sources Log of Logs

  • Ian Nicholson. Log of Logs — a catalogue of logs, journals, shipboard diaries, letters and all forms of voyage narratives, 1788-1988 for Australia and New Zealand and surrounding oceans, Aranda, ACT, Roebuck, 1990.
  • Ian Nicholson. Log of Logs Volume 2 — a catalogue of logs, journals, shipboard diaries, letters and all forms of voyage narratives, 1788-1988 for Australia and New Zealand and surrounding oceans, QLD, I. Nicholson, 1993.
  • Ian Nicholson. Log of Logs — a catalogue of logs, journals, shipboard diaries, letters and all forms of voyage narratives, 1788-1998 for Australia and New Zealand and surrounding oceans, QLD, I. Nicholson, 1998.

Digitised copies also available on the Zenoob website as part of the ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions across Earth) data rescue effort.

3. Convicts

We hold records concerning the convicts who were transported to New South Wales, 1788-1842. Correspondence relating to convicts may often reveal the ship and year of arrival of an individual.

Some useful series and indexes relating to arrival include:

NRS 906
(Reels 2417-2428)
Colonial Secretary: Special bundles
Convict ships - musters of convicts and other papers, 1790-1849
(Fiche 5557-5559, 5736-5738, 5907-5909, 5955-5957, 5966-5968, 6069-6074, 6127-6129, 6433-6435, 6448-6450, 6453-6455)
Index to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence: Convicts and Others​

This indexes letters relating to convicts in NRS 905, Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received, 1826-88
(Fiche 5912-5914, 5921-5925)
Index to the copies of letters sent re convicts by the Colonial Secretary
(Fiche 5270-5277)
Index to convict marriage banns
Convicts wanting to marry needed to seek permission from the Governor. An application to marry often included personal details about both parties, even if one was not a convict.
NRS 12212
(Fiche 780-802)
Principal Superintendent of Convicts: Registers of convicts' applications to marry *ARK
NRS 5321
(Reel 699)
Wives and families of convicts on bounty ships *ARK
These records provide name, age, marital status, calling, native place, religion and education, as well as the relationship to the convict.

Sources to check

Convicts index 1791-1873

140,000+ entries of certificates of freedom, bank accounts, deaths, exemptions from Government Labor, pardons, tickets of leave & tickets of leave passports

Convicts Guide

Between 1788 and 1842 about 80,000 convicts were transported to New South Wales

Convict transportation to NSW

A history of convict transportation to New South Wales and related records such as trial records and records of the voyage and arrival

Other immigration sources

Musters and papers of convict ships

Lists of immigrants on convict ships can be located in the musters and papers of those vessels.


Colonial Secretary

The Colonial Secretary was one of the most important and influential government officials throughout the 19th century, especially in the period up to 1856. Surviving correspondence created by the Colonial Secretary's Office can be invaluable for all types of research. It is one of the main alternative sources to be used to determine arrival details.

A useful series for arrivals

Letters re migration to NSW 1838-1857

These letters were sent by the Immigration Agent in response to complaints, transport arrangements, advertisements and financial arrangements relating to migration between 1838 and 1857. This index covers the names of individuals found in the letters


The Immigration Agent's correspondence may be useful for locating an immigrant's arrival. See the Immigration Agent agency information in the our catalogue for further details.


Indexes to these reports, arranged by the names of the ships, are available in the Reading Room.

Reports by the Immigration Agent on condition of immigrants and ships on their arrival, 1837-1895
Reports by Immigration Board on complaints of immigrants about their passage, 1838-1857

Passengers arriving in other states

Because of the changes to colonial boundaries in the nineteenth century, we hold assisted immigration records to Port Phillip (Victoria), 1839-51 and Moreton Bay (Queensland), 1848-59. Other records of passengers arriving in other states are usually held with the local state archives organizations, and later the National Archives of Australia.

Printed sources

  • PA Pemberton, Pure Merinos and Others: The 'Shipping Lists' of the Australian Agricultural Company. Canberra, Australian National University Archives of Business and Labour, 1986.
  • Ian A Hughes, Index to passengers to Port Phillip from Commonwealth and foreign ports, 1838-51. Ian A Hughes, Melbourne, 1981.
  • Ian A Hughes, Index to passengers to Port Phillip from Scotland, 1839-51. Ian A Hughes, Melbourne, 1980.
  • Ian A Hughes, Index to passengers to Port Phillip from Southern England and Ireland, 1839-51. Ian A Hughes, Melbourne, 1981.
  • Ian A Hughes, Index to passengers to Port Phillip from Liverpool, 1839-51. Ian A Hughes, Melbourne, 1982.
  • Ian A Hughes, Index to coastal passengers to Port Phillip, 1839-42. Ian A Hughes, Melbourne, 1983-84.
  • Other sources that may document later events in an immigrant's life can be useful sources for arrival information. Many records may mention a ship and year of arrival, including mental hospital, gaol records, naturalization, census and some occupation records. These and further records are covered in other guides and finding aids.

Researchers should consult our catalogue as well as the Guide to Shipping and Free Passenger Records (Shipping Guide), available in the reading room.

Passengers Departing

With Respect to the Departures and Deaths of Convicts and Settlers, I have to Inform Your Lordship that no regular Account of these Circumstances has been ever deemed Necessary to be kept here in a Separate or distinct Form. The Departures are only registered in the Musters of Ship's Companies…[1]

Governor Macquarie's despatch to the Earl of Liverpool dated 17 November 1812 stated that:

The earliest departure list is dated 1794 but apart from the Ships musters, 1816-25 (NRS 1289), outward passenger lists were not regularly maintained until 1898.

These registers appear to have been kept as the series Returns of persons originally convicts, who have been cleared out of the port of Sydney in the year 1826 and 1827 are abstracts from them. The series NRS 1289, Ships Musters, 1816-25 is the 'Musters of Ship's Companies' referred to in the second paragraph.

Given the paucity of the records, it seems likely that the practice of maintaining the registers of former convicts departing the colony and the musters of ship's companies was not continued beyond the late 1820s.

The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 stated 'the master of every ship carrying steerage passengers… should before demanding a clearance for his ship, sign in duplicate a passenger list… setting forth the name and other particulars of the ship and of every passenger, whether cabin or steerage on board thereof'.

In accordance with this requirement, lists of departing passengers were kept in New South Wales from the beginning of 1898 until 1922. Responsibility for this function was transferred to the Commonwealth Government in 1923.

Select list of record series relating to departures

(Fiche 5287-5289)
[T1/728]; PRO Reel 3555
List of passengers and invalids returned to England on the Kitty
5 Feb 1794 

Colonial Secretary

NRS 897[4/1737] pp.272-85; Reel 6046
List of passengers to go to England on the Kangaroo *ARK
Apr 1817
Special bundles
Returns of persons, originally convicts, who have cleared out of the port of Sydney in the year 1826 (Mitchell Library A1198 pp. 440-47)Returns of persons, originally convicts, who have cleared out of the port of Sydney in the year 1827 [2/8319] pp.1-9 Reel 2278
NRS 1289[4/4771-4775]; Reels 561-562
Ships musters *ARK
These list both passengers and crew. For the crew, details of their position on the ship and for passengers, details of their status for example 'free by birth', 'free by certificate'.
Dec 1816-1825

NRS-13279 Shipping Master's Office, 1898-1922

[X465-604]; Reels 563-579, 3149-3205

Vessels and persons departing (outward lists). These records contain ship's name, master, where bound, date, passengers' names, and occasionally the port where the passengers planned to disembark.

Other sources


As there are no official lists for the period 1826-98 alternative sources, such as newspapers, can be of assistance as impending departures were frequently advertised for the benefit of creditors. 19th Century newspapers are available on the National Library of Australia's Trove website. Original copies of newspapers may be held by the State Library of New South Wales.

Departures from Sydney after 1922; from Newcastle 1865-1935

The National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds Sydney outward passenger lists from 1923 onwards and lists of departures from Newcastle between 1865 and 1935.

Indexes in the Reading Room

Early Shipping (Unassisted Passengers) 1792-1826

Unassisted Passengers Arriving Jul 1826-1853

  • Available on Reels 1358-1372. Includes military (check under 'Military')

Bounty Immigrants to NSW (Assisted Passengers) 1828-1842

  • Available on Reels 30-37 *ARK

Assisted Immigrants (Miscellaneous) 1828-1842

  • Available in book form. This indexes ships not covered in the Index to bounty immigrants arriving in NSW 1828-42

Registers of discharge of seamen 1859-87 by Kaye Vernon & Billie Jacobsen. 

  • Available on the stand-alone computers in the Reading Room. This index covers crew discharged at the Mercantile Marine Office, Newcastle, 1859-87.

Additional Indexes

  • Grafton Family History Centre: Index of passengers and crew in and out of Sydney from Sydney newspapers, 1830-41 (Fiche 6085-6099)
  • Grafton Family History Centre: Free passengers & crew on convict ships into Sydney, 1830-40 (Fiche 5960-5962)
  • Pastkeys: Free railway passes (NSW) index, 1880-92 (Fiche 6118-6126)
  • Western Australian Genealogical Society: Passenger arrivals in Western Australia, 1839-90. Available on the stand-alone computers in the reading room.
  • Western Australian Genealogical Society: Fremantle Interstate Shipping Arrivals, 1885-1908 (Fiche 6436-6447)
  • Ancestors on Board website. Published in association with The National Archives (UK) and indexes departures from the UK, from 1890. Whilst there is a fee for viewing records, the online index is free of charge.
  • Western Australian Genealogical Society Passenger arrivals in Western Australia, 1898-1925. Available on the stand-alone computers in the reading room.
  • National Archives of Australia: Index to passenger arrivals, 1926-47. Available via the online database Record Search at National Archives of Australia.

Ships papers & notes

The following list was extracted from Appendix A of the Shipping and free passengers guide.

The list above includes records from the following series:

NRS-5328 Immigration Agent; Ships papers, 1835-1891


It should be noted that the Ships papers may not contain information about all the immigrants on board the particular ship.

NRS-5329 Immigration Agent; Letters received, 1846-1897

[9/6189-6260, 9/9169-9171]

This series includes Matrons diaries [9/6212-6213] 

(PRO Reels) Journals of Surgeon Superintendent

Consult the Convict Guide for the listing by the name of the ship.

NRS-5256 Immigration Agent; Reports by surgeons on health of immigrants during their passage (Medical Journals)1838, 1880, 1882-1883, 1886 

[4/4698. 1-.6], Reel 2852

NRS-906 Colonial Secretary, Special bundles, 1826-1982

Immigration: Disputes and inquiries.

  • Ships ‘Sir Charles Napier’ and ‘Panama’, 1842–53 [4/1149.1]
  • Immigrant ship reports — ‘Araminta’, ‘Plantagenet’, and ‘Sabrina’, 1854 [4/1881.3]
  • Immigrant ship "Rose of Sharon" — report of irregularities on board and arrival, 1855 [4/1881.6]
  • Inquiry by Immigration Board into conduct of surgeon of the ‘Samuel Plimsoll’, 1879 [4/817.2]


  1. Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, vol. 7, 17 November 1812, p.616.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

Census & musters guide

Population muster and census records, 1788-1901

Page 1 of a petition to the Colonial Secretary NRS 905 1-2231 letter 73-7867 for the mitigation of the gaol sentence of Thomas Toser, previously convicted of stealing a bullock from Timothy O'Mara in 1873. Three pages of signatures include Dalgety

Colonial Secretary: an overview

The long history of the Office of the Colonial (later Chief) Secretary meant that it was responsible for the creation of records of major importance to all researchers

Watch the webinar

Ocean liners in Sydney Harbour

Immigration & shipping

This webinar is an introduction to immigration and shipping records. Find out how to locate pre-1923 arrivals to Sydney including convicts, their families, free arrivals, crew and military

Family history guides

Liverpool State Hospital & Home guide

Patient records in our collection for Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute (1862-1933) and Liverpool State Hospital and Home (1933-1961)

Naturalization & citizenship guide

Naturalization records are a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant's arrival and native place. This guide lists the key records in our collection relating to naturalization, 1834-1903

Aboriginal resources: a guide to NSW State archives

A listing and description of records in our collection which relate to Aboriginal people

Aboriginal resources: an overview of records

A brief overview of the State archives that document the NSW government's interaction with Aboriginal people from 1788 until today