This index of crewmen and passengers arriving in Sydney from 1 January to 31 March 1881 is a census substitute for those missing from the 1881 British census. Currently in progress is an index for the period 1 April to 30 June 1881. The index has been created from the State Records of New South Wales microfilm SR reels 444, 445, and 446 – Shipping Master’s Office: Passengers Arriving. Additionally, there were a few stowaways identified and included in this collection.
The original forms for the inward crew lists from which these transcripts were created included the headings ‘seamen’s names’, ‘station’, ‘age’, ‘of what nation?’, and ‘voyage’. In transcribing, the following fields have been created: first and last names, job, age or year of birth, origin, and ship name and arrival date.
Each result will provide you with a transcript of pertinent details. The amount of details will vary from transcript to transcript, but you should expect a combination of the following fields:
First name(s) – we have attempted some standardisation of the names but have preserved the originally transcribed name in the field ‘name as transcribed’
Name as transcribed – where there is an ellipsis (…), it means a string of letters were illegible. Where there is a bracket, it means an assumption was made about certain letters in a name (e.g. [Jos]eph). Where there is a question mark following a name, this means there was some uncertainty as to the accuracy. Where a question mark precedes a name, it means the starting initial was illegible.
Type – passenger, crew, or stowaway
Class (of the individual) – such as steerage
Ship departure port
Place where registered
The index is primarily concerned with those crewmen of British origin or with a western-style name.
During this time period, it would have taken about 3 months for a ship to travel from the British Isles to Australia. Therefore, if your ancestor is found arriving in Sydney during this time frame, it is likely they would have been absent for the 1881 British census, which took place on 2-3 April 1881. Depending on the nature of work the crewmen were engaged in, their absence may have been temporary or permanent.
Keep in mind that the process of emigration during the 1870s and 1880s was much looser than it is today. It would have been easy for an individual to travel under an alias. As such, be creative in your searching and check under any associated family names.
These records pertain to British and non-British crewmen arriving at Sydney from 1 January to 31 March 1881. While there are a plethora of reasons why someone may be missing – or appear missing – in the 1881 British census (death, misspellings and, transcription errors, for example), temporary absences and migrations would result in an individual being absent from the census. Emigration was perhaps more common than assumed – over 4 million individuals are estimated as emigrating from the British Isles (including Ireland) between 1853 and 1975. If your ancestor has disappeared in your research, it may be due to emigration.
Determining if your ancestor emigrated is not without its challenges – many passenger lists that have survived into present day have yet to be transcribed and some of those that have only provide surnames. Unlike passenger lists, crew lists for emigrant ships would usually provide more details such as full names, ages, and places of origin.
Find out more
If you discover a likely relative in the index, here are some additional resources that may help you find out more:
British merchant seamen’s records, held at Public Record Office in Kew, has several collections that may prove useful, despite there being no system in place for recording British merchant seamen from 1857 to 1913.
PRO Readers’ Guide 20, Kew, 1998: Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen by Kelvin Smith, C T Watts, C J Watts
PRO Handbook 19, 5th ed., Kew, 1999: Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office by Amanda Bevan
Ancestral Trails by Mark D Herber (Stroud, 1997)
The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny (Salt Lake City, 1984)
Masters, Mates & Engineers 1866-1921: An Index to Certificates of Competency Issued by the Marine Department of New Zealand (1995), compiled by Denis Hampton and available on microfiche
Records from the Marine Department, held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington – includes original certificates for masters, mates, engineers, pilots, and compass adjusters
Passenger Ships of Australia and New Zealand vol 1: 1876-1912 by Peter Plowman (Auckland, 1981)
Ships’ Pictures Index 1491-1991: An Index to Ships’ Pictures in Print by Nick Vine Hall (Melbourne, 1995)