In the Newspapers and Family History zone a selected collection of reference items are available on open access. A number of these reference titles are related to shipping and immigration and have call numbers such as:

'Shipping 1', 'Shipping 2' etc

Other items commencing with RF are available in the Main Reading Room General Reference Collection. All other items can be requested through the online Catalogue and are available via the Main Reading Room.


Information about ship's arrivals and departures, lists of passengers, ship's cargo and descriptions of voyages can often be found in the digitised Australian historic newspapers in TROVE.


Capper, Henry.  The Australian colonies : where they are and how to get to them / by Henry Capper  Groombridge and Sons London  1855

People watching as a steam ship with bunting sails through the harbour, Sydney, ca. 1920s


Prior to 1924 the administration and recording of shipping and passenger arrivals was the responsibility of each Australian Colony or State. The surviving original records are now held in each respective State Archives or Public Records Office. The Library either holds copies of these records or provides access to them. After 1924 immigration became the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government and as a result all subsequent records relating to immigration and naturalisation now are held and are available through the National Archives of Australia.

Many indexes and an increasing number of digitized passenger lists are now available online and can be accessed through the Library's subscription databases or networked resources. Many passenger lists held by the Library are on microfilm or microfiche and are located in the Newspapers and Family History zone of the Main Reading Room. 

Searching the passenger indexes

Names can appear on passenger lists in varying forms.  Some lists provide the full names of each passenger whereas other lists may simply state a surname, with or without an initial, or with title such as Mr or Mrs only.  The names of children may be listed in full or merely as a number of persons accompanying their parents. Steerage passengers may not be named with only the total number of persons provided.

Once you have found a possible immigrant on a passenger index, note down all the details given and the title of the resource indexed. A copy of the original passenger list may be held by the Library and listed in this guide.

What information will I find?

Passenger lists contain varying amounts of information depending on the type of travel and the time period. Early passenger lists may have scant detail recorded. 

Information on unassisted passenger lists can vary from just a name; to include name, age, occupation and nationality.  The port of embarkation and disembarkation are sometimes also noted. 

Information on assisted passenger lists can be more comprehensive and may, in addition to the above, also contain native place, parents' names and relations in the colony.

What do I need before I start research?

  • An estimate of arrival date - The earliest known family event found occurring in Australia such as a marriage or birth is generally a a good clue. Death certificates from some states may also record how long a person has been in Australia.
  • An idea of the colony or state of arrival - Early events for the family in this country are a guide to a starting point for research, but bear in mind that the traveler may have arrived in another state or colony and traveled overland to his final residence.
  • An idea of your ancestor's occupation - A person's means may help you determine whether he might have paid his own fare.
Detail from Passengers and crew on board the S.S. Orient on the way to Australia, ca. 1885

Detail from Lindt, J. W. Passengers and crew on board the S.S. Orient on the way to Australia, ca. 1885 [picture] / J.W. Lindt  1880


Worsley, William. and De Gruchy & Co.  The S.S. Orient galop [music] / composed by W. Worsley  188-?] 


Shipping and migration : research on the internet / Cora Num.  Cora Num Moruya Heads, NSW  2013

Arrivals in Australia from 1788 / Kerry Farmer.  Unlock the Past St Agnes, SA  2015

How to Find Shipping and Immigration Records in Australia / Cora Num.  Cora Num Pearce, ACT 2002. 
An invaluable guide to finding records in Australia. The indexes, arranged by state, include a diary index, place index, ship index and subject index. 
Call number: RX Shipping 20

Not sure where to start?