Having trouble finding immigrant arrivals in the 1860s?

Did you know that many of the passenger lists for arrivals into Queensland in the 1860s were destroyed or badly damaged during the 1893 Brisbane floods? The lists that survived were transcribed, mainly containing just immigrants’ names and age. These lists are held by Queensland State Archives (QSA). They were originally microfilmed and have now been made digitally available online through QSA’s index Assisted Immigration 1848-1912 [Index topics < Immigration < Assisted Immigration 1848-1912].

Flying Cloud (ship), From an original painting by C.R.Patterson, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 19316 

But what if your ancestor can’t be found in those lists? Where else might you look? Here are some other resources that are available to help you with your search.

Queensland immigration records 1848-1915

Held at State Library of Queensland, the Queensland immigration records 1848-1915 on microfilm contain the above-mentioned digitised lists. The immigration records are accompanied by a name index, also on microfilm, which contains names from the official passenger lists, as well as names included in the Colonial Secretary’s Office material 1860-1869. What’s important is that this material has not been digitised, and therefore is not available online. It includes crew lists, immigrant agents’ lists and quarterly statements of receipts and expenditures for 1865-1866, which links people to immigrant ships where the lists themselves have been lost. The microfilm and the handbook to the Queensland public records historical resource kit, part 1, which explains these records, are held on Level 3.

National Archives of Australia: J715 series - Ships passengers lists - Brisbane – inwards, 1852-1964

These passenger lists have been digitised and are available through National Archives of Australia (NAA). They have not been indexed and can be found through NAA’s RecordSearch, using the ’advanced item search’. The passenger lists, from the Customs Department, are arranged by date, name of ship, and port of arrival or departure. While these lists are not complete, they are a valuable addition to what already exists.

The Queensland Family History Society have indexed the names of passengers between 1852 and 1899. This index can be accessed at State Library on level 3 via 2 CDRoms: Queensland Customs House shipping index – passengers & crew 1852-1885; 1886-1899. State Library’s volunteers are currently indexing the voyages to make it easier to locate the digitised list of a specific voyage.

Passenger list, Flying Cloud, 1963, Series J715, Roll 1, NAA.

They came direct

The They came direct series of booklets compiled by Eileen Johnson, cover immigration ships arriving in Queensland during the 1860s and early 1870s. Queensland immigration records are inconsistent, specifically for the 1860s. The booklets cover all known information relating to the voyage of a particular vessel that could be located at time of publication. Information was sourced from newspapers and government sources held at the Queensland State Archives, such as land order registers.

Emigrants from Hamburg 1850-1879

German passenger lists were often not included in immigration schemes, therefore not all of these lists are available through Queensland State Archives, and those that are available aren’t as detailed. Transcribed from the official Hamburg emigration records, the details given in Eric and Rosemary Kopittke's Emigrants from Hamburg 1850-1879, include original place of residence, age, and occupation. Names on the lists appear in original order to reflect friends and family travelling together. Extracts from shipping intelligence columns published at ports of arrival provide additional details on each voyage.


Passenger arrivals were recorded in the newspapers under “Shipping intelligence” and would include unassisted passengers’ names. You may also find lists of passengers’ names where passengers from specific voyages contributed to a testimonial to the captain. The Immigration Office may also have put lists of passengers from specific voyages in the newspaper. Ships’ names may also appear in obituaries, anniversaries, ship reunions, deaths, pioneers, and missing people notices. Newspapers from the 1860s have been digitised and are available for searching or browsing through Trove.

Example of testimonial to Captain Griffiths, of the ship Golden Dream, 1863,
1863 'Classified Advertising', The Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 - 1864), 3 June, p. 3.

For more detail on 1860 shipping resources you can read ‘Lost’ lists of the 1860s’ immigrants to Queensland, from 2019 Waves in Time 2019 Family & Local History Conference. The paper was written by Stephanie Ryan, Research Librarian at State Library of Queensland.

Research enquiries about immigration and shipping records

To demonstrate, here is an example where staff were able to answer an enquiry that came through the Ask Us Enquiry service using some of the resources listed above.

Enquiry: I am trying to find out immigration details of my ancestor Thomas Lawson born in Bowness on Solway, Cumberland on 24th December 1811. I believed he migrated from Maryport, Cumberland, England in the 1860’s, to Brisbane Qld. I am unsure if all of the family members migrated with him.

A search of the QSA Assisted Immigration 1848-1912 was done without success. The next step was searching the name index on microfilm for Queensland immigration records 1848-1915. From this a reference to a Thomas LAWSON, arriving in 1866 was found. The reference is from a "Register of migrants arriving, Quarterly statements of receipts and expenditure, 1865-66". In December 1865 a Thomas LAWSON and family is listed, Agent is Kenyon, Place Maryport, passage Free, the ship was the 'Rockhampton' and 4 individuals were listed.

Next, a search of Trove digitised newspapers revealed  an article confirming the arrival of Thomas LAWSON and some of his family in a letter that he wrote to the Agent back in Maryport. The Agent listed in the letter matches the shipping information. The letter was written in April 1868 and published in May 1869. It also mentions two sons of Thomas Lawson, confirming Thomas came over with at least two of his children, the youngest two boys Jonathan and James Dobie as per the 1861 Census.

Left: Entry for Thomas Lawson in Register of immigrants arriving, Quarterly statements of receipts… 1865-1866.
Right: Parts of the letter published in The Courier, 11 May 1869, p.3.

So, if you are having trouble finding some of the “lost lists” of the 1860s or just want some help with locating an ancestor’s arrival, be sure to check out these resources. You may also want to access our family history research guides under the 'Travel and migration' tab: Immigration and shipping: getting started; Immigration and shipping: more than lists; and German immigrants and immigration.

The following blogs could also be helpful:

August is Family History Month

Get involved in our Family History Month activities.

  • Visit State Library during the month of August to see our collection display, and get expert help with your family history research
  • Share your story with us. State Library would like to hear your stories of discovery and share them as an inspiration for others during Family History Month 2022.
  • Have fun exploring our family history month page, with access to resources, research guides and blogs

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Great to read this blog. The 1860s is a problem time for me.