British Army Ancestors
A guide to researching British Army personnel serving in Australia to 1870
In 1788, four companies of British Marines arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the six ships of the First Fleet. Their duties were to defend the colony from attack, to guard convicts and provide policing in the colony.
The Marines were volunteers from the Royal Navy Divisions and initially engaged for a period of three years. Many stayed in the colony after their duties were handed over to the New South Wales Corp in 1792. Detachments of Marines continued to serve in Australian until 1913.
After the departure of the New South Wales Corps in 1810, 24 different regiments were stationed in Australia, until the last left in 1870. After that time the colonial governments raised their own troops.
How do I know I have a soldier in my family?
You may find evidence or clues that your ancestor has been in the military from:
- family stories, photographs or memorabilia
- mentions in official documents such as censuses or official correspondence
- a military occupation given on birth, marriage or death certificate
To find information about your military ancestor, you need to know his regiment and a rough idea of when he served.
Finding his Regiment
Look for your subject’s name in The British Army in Australia 1788 - 1870: index of personnel, an alphabetical index of army personnel, and note the regiment/s for his name. See mc N 1446, in Compartment 7 of the Newspapers and Microforms Reading Room.
Discovering his Service Record
The Muster Rolls and Pay Lists for British regiments were compiled quarterly and as well as listing officers’ names and locations, list other ranks names and army numbers, whether they are detached to some other place, or with the Mounted Police or in hospital or jail etc. Other lists in the return record names of other ranks that deserted, died or were discharged, and give their occupation and date of enlistment and place of birth.
Official records for the British Army are stored at The National Archives in the UK. For regiments that served in Australia or New Zealand, Army records have been copied and can be found in the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) microfilm.
To find the reel number for the regiment’s Pay Lists and Musters use How to research your military ancestor in Australia and New Zealand or consult the AJCP Handbook Part 4: War Office.
The microfilms of the AJCP are found in the Newspapers and Microforms Reading Room.
My ancestor John Hurst served the Army in Australia in the 1830s, I would like to know when he enlisted and where he was born.
- Check the (Index to) British Army in Australia. A John Hurst was in the 17th Regiment.
- Use the AJCP War Office Handbook to find the reels for the 17th Regiment's Muster Books and Pay Lists (WO 12) or read the section about that Regiment in "How to Trace your Military Ancestors in Australia and NZ, for the reel numbers.
- Read through each quarterly return until you find the voucher that lists the "Disposal" of John Hurst.
- In Dec 1835, John transferred to the 28th Regiment. His native place, date of enlistment and his occupation are listed in that entry.