Australian South Sea Islanders – putting a personal face on the record

South Sea Islanders on the deck of the Moresby Queensland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 23829

Family history research for Australian South Sea Islander can be quite daunting given the rather scattered nature of the available records. However, there are a couple of lesser known and freely available items that can assist in tracing an ancestor’s island of origin and/or the name of the vessel that brought them to Queensland:

Persons called before Queensland Government Committees Part 1 (1860-1901) and Part 2 (1902-1920) online at the State Library’s family history e-resources webpage.

People from all walks of life were called to give evidence before Queensland Government Committees of Inquiry and the names of South Sea Islanders who gave evidence to inquiries into the labour trade are recorded here. The place of origin and ship of arrival was usually recorded as part the identifying information for each of these witnesses. Reading the actual words they spoke in evidence can also be quite revealing about the characters of the individual witnesses.

Digitised Australian historical newspapers online via the National Library’s Trove website. Two of State Library’s dedicated volunteers have been hard at work tagging articles related to the labour trade. This is still a work in progress but will facilitate the finding of information published in the newspapers about South Sea Islanders and the locations, individuals, islands and vessels associated with ‘blackbirding’. In addition, the inclusion of historical issues of the Mackay Mercury newspaper will shortly make Trove an even more valuable resource for Australian South Sea Islander research.

As we move closer to the 150th Anniversary in August of the first arrival of South Sea Islanders in Queensland we can look forward to more of these resources becoming available.

Eileen Dwane - Librarian, State Library of Queensland

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