Australia was a vast place, well away from civilised society in England. However I think that sending people that predominately lived in the city to do manual and agricultural labour in a country like Australia was not a smart idea. Australia couldn’t survive on the convict labour to start a new colony. For the first few years, there was barely enough food to go around. They needed free settlers who were also skilled workers. When the Australian government worked that out, many schemes were started to encourage skilled workers to the country. Some skilled workers thought that they were worth the money that the government had paid to bring them out when they refused to pay it back. I would have to agree. Those unassisted passengers still lived in the harsh conditions and although not convicts, I’m sure many worked as hard.
Unassisted passengers were those that paid their passage themselves. What we generally think of as free settlers? Assisted passengers were also free settlers, whoever they had their passage paid or subsidised, to encourage them to settle in Australia. Immigrants were government assisted, bounty or assisted through other schemes. These schemes were generally funded through the sale of land.
If they were government assisted, this started in 1828 and people could apply for full or part passage. There were restrictions on age, health and whether they had suitable work skills. Immigration records can then show what occupation, level of literacy and age of the person for the immigration board. Initially the government wanted to be paid back, however many people refused, so the government then made it free passage.
Bounty passages started in 1836, they were to attract agricultural labourers, tradesmen, mechanics and other skilled workers. The restrictions obviously covered occupation, but also included whether passengers had character references and how many children they had. The ships were chartered from the UK and passengers had to apply to the ships agent to fill up the ships. When the ship got to Australia, the immigration board would interview passengers and deem them suitable or not. If the passengers were suitable, then the agent was paid. If the passenger was too old, sick or dead then the agent didn’t get paid.
Other schemes were generally organised by private individuals or societies. Two examples are the Wakefield plan and the Highland and Emigration Scheme. In South Australia, the Wakefield plan was used to attract immigrants. Wealthy landowners bought large tracts of land and this subsidised passage for immigrants to South Australia. The Highland and Emigration Scheme was used to attract Scottish families. Money was raised through wealthy benefactors in England and then Scottish Highland families were offered paid passage.
Tips for finding the shipping records
To work out what year your ancestor may have arrived in Australia, look at their death certificate where it says number of years in the colony. It may not be exact, but it’s a good starting place.
To find your ancestors shipping records you need to know what port they may have entered or arrived at. This can be tricky as for example if their boat arrived in Freemantle before coming to Sydney, it may have been allocated as a Freemantle arrival. On the first and last page of shipping lists can be the ports of call for the ship, important to check this as it may give you a clue on checking other ports.
Also many immigrants may have used schemes to get them to a certain port, then travelled overland to get to somewhere else. For example, I have a Scottish ancestor that said they would work in South Australia to get on the Highland and Emigration Scheme. However after getting to Adelaide the family travelled to New South Wales to be with her brother. Many South Australian immigrants did the same, but generally got on another ship to Melbourne. Check whether they may be other relatives already out in Australia by looking at shipping agents lists.
When searching for your ancestors also look through all the records of their shipping as one may be the agents records leaving the UK and one may be the immigration boards records when arriving in Australia. For example, when you look on the NSW State records, there may be two reel numbers, this means that the records may contain two different sets of information.
Websites for shipping records
http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-online – From the beginning, many arrivals come through NSW. Even after the states were formed records may still be in the NSW Records. Look through immigration and shipping.
www.ancestry.com.au – Ancestry has many immigration records, covering Victoria(Port Phillip), Queensland (Maryborough), Tasmania, Western Australia (Freemantle).
http://guides.slsa.sa.gov.au/immigration – State Library of South Australia gives good information on immigration to Australia and has a search tool to search records based on the year of arrival.
http://prov.vic.gov.au/research/family-history – Although NSW may have some Victorian records, well worth looking at the Victorian public records office records that start from 1852.
www.theshipslist.com – This covers not only Australia but other countries. It also has information on the ships and shipwrecks.
www.trove.nla.gov.au – The newspapers quite regularly printed information on ships that had arrived. Very useful to have a look.
http://www.angelfire.com/ns/bkeddy/HIES/1.html – The Highland and Emigration scheme dedicated website.
I like finding the shipping records of my ancestors. I feel like the moment they boarded the boat they became Australian. I’m sure they didn’t feel the same way for quite a while. They may have even regretted the decision to some extent on a hot day in the outback. But they were definitely brave souls that took a gamble for a better life. I think today we can see that that gamble paid off. I feel very lucky to be able to call Australia home. The only boat I think Australians would board anymore is to go on a cruise boat. lol.