Included in this collection are transcripts and images of the original coastal passenger lists, which are held by Public Record Office Victoria. Transcripts will generally be able to provide you with the following information about your ancestor and the journey to Australia:
Viewing the provided image of the original documents may offer you additional insight into your ancestor. On the images you may find other family members travelling with your ancestor and possibly details such as their declared Scottish, Welsh or Irish ancestry. These details give you more clues to find your ancestors in records prior to their sailing.
Public Record Office Victoria houses the original records as series VPRS 944 Inward Passenger Lists (Australian Ports). This collection includes both those travelling from overseas and those travelling locally (from coast to coast). These coastal passenger lists can provide a missing link in your ancestor’s journey if you’ve been unable to find out how they arrived at their known Australian residence. Across the decades covered in this collection, the occupation most frequently listed is either some version of tourist or gentleman / lady.
The years covered in this collection are significant as it includes the years of the gold rush period, which occurred between the 1850s and 1860s and saw a large spike in immigration into Victoria as a result. In the early 1850s, one of the top occupations listed was some version of gold digger. In 1852, there were 5,005 individuals who specified some version of gold digger as their occupation. This number grew in 1853, with 5,824 listed. In 1854, there were 1,824 and 1,134 in 1855. The numbers continued to decline through the latter years of the 1850s with only 88 in 1856 and 75 in 1857 specifying gold digging as their occupation. A slight uptick in 1858 saw 293 gold diggers in the passenger lists. In 1859, only three individuals specifically listed gold digging as their occupation and the following year saw 94 gold diggers arrive. However, miner and digger continued to be top occupations listed for arrivals throughout the decade.
Further highlighting the draw of the goldmine during this decade is the great disparity in numbers between male and female passengers arriving in Australia: in 1852, over 38,000 men arrived and only around 4,500 women. A decade later, with the end of the gold rush era, you can see the drastic change in the proportions of men and women arriving: the year 1862 saw around 5,000 men and 2,000 women.
Some of those rushing out to Victoria’s gold fields were those that had been working the gold fields in the United States. As such, these records may be particularly significant as they may be the only surviving documentation that links an ancestor from the United States to Australia. This collection is all the more valuable when the itinerant lifestyle of gold miners is taken into consideration.
The gold rush was a defining period of time for Victoria; Melbourne became a key boomtown of the era and subsequently became the center of Victoria, with train lines running through and out to other ports and areas. Melbourne has maintained its significance to Victoria, even after the end of the gold rush, and is now its capital.
Dame Nellie Melba, the famed soprano, is found in these records at the age of 50 travelling alone from Sydney to Melbourne in June 1915. The year prior, Melba had travelled to her home in Australia, but with the outbreak of the First World War, she was unable to return to Europe. During the war, Melba became active in fundraising and used her vocal talents to aid such organisations as the Red Cross by performing in charity concerts. She was consequently made a Dame for her wartime efforts. A notice of this appointment can be found in Findmypast’s newspaper collection, printed in The Era on 20 March 1918: ‘In the latest list of appointments to the Order of the British Empire the name of Madame Melba appears as a Dame Commander. This honour has been bestowed on the famous Australian in recognition of her “services in organising patriotic work”’.
Additionally, you can find notices of her performances from the early twentieth century in Findmypast’s newspaper collection. In the Portsmouth Evening News on 1 September 1920, an advert reads, ‘positively only appearance this Season of the World’s Greatest Prima Donna’. On 8 November 1930, only a few months before Dame Melba died of septicaemia, the Hull Daily Mail printed the following update: ‘Dame Nellie Melba, who is ill on board the P. and O. liner Cathay, is stated to be still indisposed. Her illness, however, is not considered serious’. On the day of her death 23 February 1931, the Western Morning News printed the following update: ‘Reuter’s correspondent at Sydney was informed yesterday morning that the condition of Dame Nellie Melba was very serious. She is conscious, but, says the message, is not expected to last through the night. Her near relatives are remaining at her bedside’. The King and Queen attended her memorial service, where some of Dame Melba’s favourite hymns were sung, including ‘Ave Maria’.
Peter Lalor, a key player and leader in the Eureka Stockade, is found on numerous records in this collection, detailing his travels between states. Lalor is famously the only outlaw in Australian history who made it to parliament. During the gold rush period, resentment began to build between miners and the colonial forces in Australia. One point of contention raised by miners being the expense of obtaining a licence for mining. This was a rallying point for the disgruntled miners, who banded together to form a rebellion force to oppose the colonial authority. In need of leadership, the rebellion forces elected Lalor as a leader and, shortly thereafter, a mass burning of licences commenced. The Eureka Stockade, a battle of the Eureka Rebellion (which is more commonly known as the Eureka Stockade), was between miners and colonial forces at the end of 1854. It lasted no more than half an hour but claimed the lives of 27 individuals, 22 on the rebels’ side, which had been severely out matched against the colonial forces. During the siege of the stockade (which was a structure built by the miners during the rebellion as a makeshift enclosure), Lalor was shot in the arm (which was subsequently amputated) and smuggled out. Having escaped, Lalor was never officially caught or tried for his role in Eureka. Lalor was seen as a hero by many and was elected, unopposed, to stand for Ballarat in the Legislative Assembly in 1856. In writing about his recent success in the election, the Stirling Observer on 13 March 1856 referred to his former status as an outlaw: ‘A reward was offered of £400 for his capture, and it was said that the Government knew of his whereabouts, but that they had captured more than the law officers of the crown could successfully deal with, and after the first acquittal Peter Lalor was left to his own devices. He was wounded in the attack on the stockade, and has had his arm amputated at the socket. This is the new member for Ballarat, and his leadership in the insurrection and his lost arm—“lost (of course) in defence of the liberties of the country”—now constitute his political capital’.
Of those that made up the rebels at the Eureka Stockade, a substantial number of them were Irish. Research shows that the miners who manned the stockade were predominantly Irish. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that the issue of Irish home rule started to play a role in the Eureka Rebellion – or, at the very least, was in the rebels’ consciousness. For instance, the password chosen for the ‘night pass’ on 2 December by Lalor, who was himself Irish born, was Vinegar Hill, which was the name of a battle during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Additionally, it has been posited that the rebel flag, described as being the Southern Cross on a blue background (conspicuously missing the Union Jack), was, in fact, depicting an Irish cross. For those who were not Irish born or who were uninterested in the Irish home rule debate, this suggestion of dual motivations was unappealing and the rebellion lost some manpower as a result.
While ultimately a loss for the rebels, the rebellion and its aftermath did result in meaningful change with the passing of the Electoral Act of 1856, which gave the right to vote in elections for the lower house of the Victorian parliament to all white males.
Lalor’s baptism record can be found in our Ireland Roman Catholic parish baptisms collection. Peter Fintan Lalor was of the parish Raheen in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin and his baptism date was 11 February 1827. His parents’ names were listed as Pat and Ann Lalor.
Furthermore, you can follow Lalor’s career and life in Findmypast’s newspaper collection, linked to in the Useful links and resources section.
Sir Henry Parkes crops up several times in these records as he travelled between states. Parkes, an Englishman who moved to New South Wales in 1839, was an early vocal proponent of uniting all the states of Australia and is consequently known as the father of federation. This monumental act of unification created the structure upon which present-day Australia is built and run. Parkes was also vocally against Britain’s convict transportation scheme. He was first elected Premier of New South Wales in 1872 and, to this day, holds the record for serving in that position for the longest non-consecutive amount of time, having won five of the eight elections in which he ran for office. In one of the records for Parkes in this collection, he is listed simply as a traveller.
You can find mention of Parkes in Findmypast’s extensive newspaper collection. In May 1890 when Parkes broke his leg, the British newspapers kept the public apprised of his recovery (‘Sir Henry Parkes continues to make favourable progress’ as noted in the York Herald on 22 May 1890) and ultimate return to work: ‘Sir Henry Parkes, the Premier, has resumed his official duties, after his recent severe accident’. This was posted in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser on 26 August 1890.
When Parkes fell ill in April of his final year, the London Evening Standard on 22 April 1896 printed the following: ‘Sir Henry Parkes is suffering great pain, and the greatest fears are entertained as to the issue of his illness’. After a brief ten-day battle with bronchitis and inflammation of the lungs, Parkes died on 27 April 1896. The following day, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer printed a lengthy article on Parkes saying, in part, the following: ‘Sir Henry Parkes removed from the public life of Australia one of its most picturesque personalities—a man of great natural endowments, singular versatility, and even to the end of his days, of almost unbounded vigour. The architect of his own fortunes, he had a large share also in the making of the colony with whose public life he has been identified for a period approaching fifty years, and his comparatively sudden decrease marks an epoch in New South Wales history’.
First names were not always recorded. Occasionally, only a title and last name were included (e.g. Mr Doyle). If you are not having success searching by your ancestor’s full name, try searching by last name only.
Some first names, where recorded, were abbreviated. Try searching by a first initial or abbreviation if you are not able to find your ancestor using a full first name (e.g. searching by Wm for William).