Research Guides

Immigration - Steamships and Passenger Liners

Here is a list of sources in the museum library and beyond that will help you research the voyages made by immigration steamships and passenger liners.

Books

North Star to Southern Cross

John Maber. Prescot, Lancs. T.Stephenson and Sons, 1967.
REF 387.50994 MAB
Check this first for steamships coming to Australia covers up to the mid 1960's.

Great Passenger Ships of the World series. Vols 1-6

Arnold Kludas. New York. P.Stephens, 1985-1986.
387.2432 KLU
A good series on passenger liners.

Ships That Passed

By Scott Baty. French's Forest, N.S.W. Reed, 1984.
387.24320994 BAT
Covers passenger liners on the Australian run.

Passenger Ships of Australia and New Zealand Vols 1 (1876-1912) and 2 (1913-1980)

By Peter Plowman. Sydney. Doubleday, 1981.
387.20994 PLO
Covers vessels on the trans Tasman trade.

Emigrant Ship to Luxury Liner

By Peter Plowman. Sydney. University of New South Wales, 1994.
387.20994 PLO
Another useful book by Plowman covering passenger liners from the end of WW2 to the present which is well illustrated and gives a potted history of the vessel's career.

Australian Migrant Ships 1946 – 1977

Peter Plowman. Dural, N.S.W : Rosenberg Publishing, 2006
387.2430994 PLO
An updated edition of the above book.

Across the Pacific: Liners from Australia and New Zealand to North America

Peter Plowman
[Kenthurst, N.S.W.]: Rosenberg Publishing, 2010.
387.2432 PLO
Deals with passenger liners in the North American trade.

Pacific Steamers

Will Lawson. Glasgow. Brown Son and Ferguson, 1927.
387.24 LAW
A general book on steam navigation in the Pacific.

20th Century Passenger Ships of the P&O

Neil McCart. Wellingborough. Patrick Stephens, 1985.
387.50941 MCC

Passenger Ships of the Orient Line

Neil McCart. Wellingborough. Patrick Stephens, 1987.
387.50941 MCC

The library also holds books on many other shipping lines including the prolific Duncan Haws and his series Merchant fleets. Check the catalogue under the name of the line in the subject index for a full listing.

Shipindex.org indexes information about specific ships from books and has a large number of entries.

Online ship and shipping company histories

A well respected site containing information about shipping lines individual ship histories and myriad other online information related to immigrant shipping is The Ships List. The Ship Descriptions section includes histories of ships with information gathered from books and various sources posted to the list from researchers around the world. The site has information of Australian and worldwide interest.

The Miramar ship index is a New Zealand based indexing project listing merchant powered ships of about 100 gross register tons, naval ships and iron & steel sailing ships. Information is taken from sources like Lloyds Register (see below) and added to the database.

Another website with similar short histories of ships (and a North American focus) is the Palmer list of merchant vessels.

Registers of Shipping

Tips for using registers

It's often difficult to identify a vessel with a common name when searching registers, so information such as the approximate tonnage and the name of the master can be very useful, especially when using the British Register of Ships. Finding out the (approximate) year that the vessel was built will also help considerably. Searching two or three years after the build date will probably yield results if the approximate year search does not. Even searches five years on can be useful.

Lloyd's Register

A yearly alphabetical listing of mainly British-owned vessels by name compiled by Lloyd's of London. Gives technical specifications of each vessel, dates and place of build, names of owners, masters and details of voyages made (up to the 1850s). Between 1890 and 1947 sailing vessels and steamers were listed separately. The most well known of all registers of ships with the most comprehensive coverage for vessels on the Australian run.
Library holds 1776-1880 (microfiche) and 1880 onwards in hardcopy on the reference shelves.
REF 387.5

For a fee, Lloyd's Register Historical Research Service will search ship's histories and yacht plans/survey reports. Its website says: "We can provide information on Lloyd's Register classed ships from 1784 and on merchant ships of more than 100 gross tons, regardless of class dating from the mid-1870s".

  • Online ship registration information transcribed from Lloyd's Register is available at the Register of ships website maintained by Gilbert Provost.
  • The Plimsoll Ship data database at PortCities Southampton has digitised pages from Lloyd's Register of Ships from 1930 to 1945. You can search the database and browse the original registers.
Registre Veritas

A similar listing to Lloyd's for vessels registered with the Bureau Veritas. Contains a mixture of European, British and some North American vessels. From 1882/83 the register is divided into two sequences. Navrires a voiles (sailing vessels) and Navires a vapeur (steamers). A good source to try if the ship you are researching doesn't appear in Lloyd's.
Library holds 1829-1980 (microfilm)

Digitised copies of registers of ships including Lloyds and American Lloyds from libraries around the world are becoming more readily available online see our delicious bookmarks for links.

Arrivals information

Shipping arrivals and departures Sydney 1788-1844
Shipping arrivals and departures Victorian ports 1798-1855
Shipping arrivals and departures Tasmania 1803-1842
Shipping arrivals and departures Adelaide 1627-1850
REF 387.209946
A series of books that provides brief entries on voyage by date and is also indexed by vessel and passenger name.

Shipping Index Inwards [Victoria] 1839-1900

Victoria. Public Record Office. [microfilm]
MIC SHI

Shipping Master's Office Index to Vessels Arrived, [1837-1925]

Sydney: Archives Authority of New South Wales, 1985. [microfilm].
MIC SHI
A transcript compiled by Mary-Ann Warner is available to search on the State Records website.

Both the above sources are listed alphabetically by name of ship and include information such as type of ship and arrival date.

Alphabetical index to ships carrying passengers arriving at Sydney. January 1923-December 1951. C3109

Sydney: National Archives of Australia, 1999. [microfilm]
MIC ALP

Arrivals Fremantle (Battye) 1829-90

Perth. State Library Service of Western Australia. [microfiche]
MIC BAT
Compiled by the Battye Library. Lists vessels and dates of arrival at Fremantle.

Comber index of NZ migrant ships 1839-1889: shipping to New Zealand

Compiled by William Charles Comber. Wellington. Wellington Harbour Board Museum, 19--.
REF 387.20993 COM
For those tracing arrivals in New Zealand.

Online shipping arrivals information from a variety of sources can be found at the Ozships Australian shipping on the net. This listing (by year) includes over 60,000 shipping movements, mainly for Australia (plus some from New Zealand).

Passenger Lists

The museum library doesn't hold copies of passenger lists for vessels arriving into Australian ports. However we've put together some information to help you locate them.

A general rule is if your ancestors arrived before 1923, the passenger lists can be found at the state archives/records office where they arrived. Links are listed below.

For post-1923 arrivals, the lists will be held at the National Archives of Australia in the arrival state. Fact sheets for holdings of passenger records and other material of genealogical interest can be found online. It's a good idea to check the relevant archives website for fact sheets and other guides to their holdings so you can do some preparation work for your visit. Familiarize yourself with what sort of records are available and identify which ones you want to search.

Passenger Arrivals - Web-Based Sources

Over the last few years many state archive authorities have been adding indexes to passenger arrivals to websites. Check these websites and/or with your State Library or Genealogical Society for more details on what's currently available and how it can be accessed.

Some online indexes of Australian passenger arrivals are below.

Ancestry.com.au has a growing number of Australian passenger lists available to search and browse original documents acquired through digitisation programs with the various state records authorities.

Many family history groups and individuals have been transcribing passenger lists and contributing them to various websites. The Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters website holds transcripts from State Records NSW that includes overseas, coastal and whaling voyages mainly made during the 1870s. Another site that aims to help family historians locate online passenger lists for migrant ships to Australia and New Zealand is Emigrants online sourcing of passenger lists. In addition to the database there are links to other passenger indexing projects.

The National Archives of Australia hold passenger lists for ships arriving in all ports of Australia from Britain, Europe Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific between 1924 and 1964. Passenger information can be obtained from the records search option using passenger names, ship names and years. When using record search, type the ship name or year in the keyword field and then A907 in the reference number field to restrict your search to passenger lists only.

Passenger departures from UK ports

The National Archives in the UK have launched a new search as part of their online records. The record BT 27 Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Outwards 1890-1960 is on the database and is regularly being updated. BT 27 covers the names of people leaving the UK and Ireland for ports outside Europe and the Mediterranean. Called AncestorsOnBoard,at Findmypast.co.uk you can search the database or browse by ship for free but a small charge applies to view the records. This record series can also be searched through Ancestry.com

Passenger arrivals at UK ports

UK incoming passenger lists for 1878 to 1960 (series BT 26) are available online at Ancestry.com. These records from the National Archives contain information on both immigrants and tourists who arrived in the UK by boat from ports outside of Europe and the Mediterranean. Free to search with a charge to view the full entry and download images.

Logs and Diaries

The library does have some copies of logs, letters, journals and diaries of voyages to Australia. They are indexed under the ship's name in the subject index of the catalogue and by the author's name.

Log of Logs: A Catalogue of Logs, Journals, Shipboard Diaries and all Forms of Voyage Narratives 1788 to 1988. 3 vols

Compiled By Ian Nicholson. Yaroomba, Qld. Ian Nicholson, [1990-1998]
REF 387.5099 NIC
This excellent publication should be your first choice for information on logs, diaries and letters. It's also a great time saver if you're not sure of dates when a particular vessel arrived or only know a little bit of information about the ship to start with.

The best way to of source diaries and manuscripts from Australian collections including the Vaughan Evans Library's holdings is through Trove diaries and manuscripts search.

Illustrations

Our research guide Pictures of ships in the Australian trade will help you locate photographs and illustrations of immigrant steamships and later motorships including passenger liners.

Newspapers

Shipping movements recorded in the newspapers provide quite a bit of information on a vessel, its cargo and passengers and sometimes a brief comment on the voyage itself. Look beyond the shipping column for articles on new vessels to the Australian trade, as they often received a short write up. These articles follow the vessel's first visit and describe design specifications, passenger accommodation and sailing performance.

To search newspapers online, try the National Library's Trove Australian Newspapers online. Search and browse digitized newspapers from around Australia dating from 1803 to 1954. New issues and titles from all around Australia are being added regularly.

The library holds the following newspapers on microfilm:

Additional Resources

Directory of archives in Australia

Canberra. Australian Society of Archivists, 1992.
REF 025.17102594 DIR
This is a guide to the collections of archival repositories around Australia. The Archives of Australia website is an online guide.

Finding Families: The Genealogists Guide to the National Archives of Australia

Compiled By Margaret Chambers. Sydney. Hale & Iremonger, 1998.
REF 929.934 NAT

Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the Migrant Ships 1870-1885

David Hastings.- Auckland, N.Z. Auckland University Press, c2006.
304.893041 HAS
A very good book on immigration and ocean travel to New Zealand in the later part of the 19th century.

Archives, Resources, Kits on Microfilm

Some of these resources on microfilm may now be available online through digitisation projects so it always pays to check the institution’s website first.

The State Records of New South Wales produces an Archives Resources Kit (ARK) which consists of microfilm copies of its major records that may be of interest to family historians (including passenger arrivals information). The Kit is available at libraries around NSW (the attached map shows locations).

Similar kits or records on microfilm are also available in other states, including Queensland and Victoria. Check your State Library or State Records Office for holdings near you.

We encourage people conducting genealogical research to consider joining their local Genealogical Society or family history group for support and access to a huge range of shared resources and expertise.