In this section
Immigration - Steamships & 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.
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.
A good series on passenger liners.
Ships that passed
By Scott Baty. French's Forest, N.S.W. Reed, 1984.
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.
Covers vessels on the trans Tasman trade.
Emigrant ship to luxury liner
By Peter Plowman. Sydney. University of New South Wales, 1994.
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.
Will Lawson. Glasgow. Brown Son and Ferguson, 1927.
A general book on steam navigation in the Pacific.
20th century passenger ships of the P&O
Neil McCart. Wellingborough. Patrick Stephens, 1985.
Passenger ships of the Orient line
Neil McCart. Wellingborough. Patrick Stephens, 1987.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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].
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]
Arrivals Fremantle (Battye) 1829-90
Perth. State Library Service of Western Australia. [microfiche]
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).
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.
- State Records of New South Wales
- Archives Office of Tasmania
- Northern Territory Archives Service
- Queensland State Archives
- Public Record Office of Victoria
- State Records of South Australia
- State Records Office of Western Australia
For post-1923 arrivals, the lists will be held at the National Archives Office 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.
- Unassisted Arrivals Victoria British & Foreign Ports 1852-1923
- Assisted British Immigrants Arriving Victoria 1839-1871
- Assisted Immigrants Port Phillip 1839-1851
- Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852-1886 (Victoria)
- Assisted immigrants search (State Records of New South Wales) includes Port Phillip 1839-51 and Moreton Bay (Brisbane) 1848-59
- Browse Persons on Bounty Ships at State Records of New South Wales
- Unassisted Immigrants (State Records of New South Wales)
- Miscellaneous immigrants (State Records of New South Wales) are also available to search at ancestry.com
- Queensland State Archives Immigration this includes assisted immigrants 1848-1912 and Register of immigrants 1864-1878
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 Online sourcing of passenger lists. In addition to the database there are links to other passenger indexing projects.
The National Archives 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, you can search the dtabase for free but a small charge applies to view the records.
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 Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts is now incorporated into the National Library's Trove discovery service and is a very good way of sourcing diaries and manuscripts
from Australian collections and includes the Vaughan Evans Library's holdings of diary transcripts.
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.
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 Australian Newspapers site. A searchable database of digitized newspapers from around Australia, it currently houses publications dated from 1803 to 1954. It's in the beta (testing) phase at present and new issues are being added regularly.
The library holds the following newspapers on microfilm:
- Sydney Morning Herald 1831-February 5, 1921; 1942. Also available online at Australian newspapers 1803-1954
- Argus (Melbourne) 1846-1895. Some issues are available online at Australian newspapers 1803-1954
- Sydney Gazette 1803-1842. Available online at Australian newspapers 1803-1954
- Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List 1844-1860. Also available online at the National Library's Ferguson Project website
- Australasian Shipping News 1877-1900
- Sydney Mail 1860-1871
- Daily Commercial News Jan-Jun 1895; 1900-1929
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
the mountains of the sea: Life on the migrant ships 1870-1885
David Hastings.- Auckland, N.Z. Auckland University Press, c2006.
A very good book on immigration and ocean travel to New Zealand in the later part of the 19th century.
Archives resources kits
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). Some libraries around Australia with partial holdings are also listed.
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.