Immigration and shipping - more than lists: seamen and shipwrecks

Download the PDF version of Immigration and shipping - more than lists: seamen and shipwrecks family history info guide  (PDF 65.3 KB)

Records of seamen

For the 19th Century there are only scattered lists of ships’ crews. It is worth checking the NSW Genealogical Kit Handbook for relevant records as well as the One Search online catalogue for lists abstracted from newspapers. Some of the sources are:

  • Records of merchant shipping and seamen (G 387.50941 1998), by Kelvin Smith and Christopher J. Watts, is useful if the ancestor was a British resident who joined a ship in the UK using his correct name.
  • Trying to find a seafaring ancestor (PAM 929.1 1988), by Ronald Parsons, discusses some of the problems, the records available through the Public Record Office, and the Certificates of Competency which may be found through the AJCP records in the State Library.
  • Registers of Discharge of Seamen NSW [1859-1887] (FAMHIS 929.3944) compiled by Kate Vernon and Billie Jacobsen, and sourced from records held at State Records NSW, entries are arranged alphabetically by surname. Each entry provides date of discharge, the seaman’s surname and given names, the name of the ship, the ship’s master’s surname and given names, with the State Records NSW item number. The original record will mostly give the place of origin. Published in 3 volumes covering 1859-1869, 1869-1878 and 1878-1887.
  • Crew culture : New Zealand seafarers under sail and steam (G 387.54044 2001), by Neill Atkinson, provides information on the seafaring way of life. It includes clear, informative illustrations.
  • Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) Board of Trade Records contain registers of certificates of competency for masters and mates in the colonial trade at BT128. These records are on microfilm and a handbook to find the material is held at the Family History reference desk. An index is available on the Australian National Maritime Museum 'Seafaring Ancestors' info guide (Scroll down guide to ‘Registers and indexes to registers')
  • See also Records of merchant seamen 1861-1913 and Merchant navy seamen 1918-1941 on Findmypast. Onsite access only, available at the State Library of Queensland.

When trying to locate information about a seaman who deserted or who signed off a ship from overseas it is important to identify the port where he left the ship. Sources include:

Internet sites on crew and deserters include:


Australian shipwrecks: a pictorial history (910.452 2009) by Peter Christopher, draws together a unique collection of stories and photos. It is not just about the lost ships, but also the tragic and often heroic stories of the men, women and children aboard them, as well as their rescuers. Australian shipwrecks featured range from pre-colonial wrecks to modern steamships, with a special chapter dedicated to wartime losses.

Lance Paterson’s books Wreck-ollections : ships and shipwrecks in Queensland waters (FAMHIS 994.3 2002-) are a 3 volume series. It covers where and when a ship was wrecked and usually an account of the event. Sources are acknowledged.

Jack Loney was a prolific Australian writer on this subject. Many of his books provide information specific to locations, on particular ships, and include an atlas. The material he provides on dates and events is a good starting point for further research. The library holds nearly 30 titles of his work including:

Titles for shipwrecks for Australia and beyond include:

Download the PDF version of Immigration and shipping - more than lists: seamen and shipwrecks family history info guide  (PDF 65.3 KB)

Library membership

Become an SLQ member now to access our services, collections and facilities.

Library Shop online

Discover an eclectic range of books, gifts, reproduction prints and more at the Library Shop.