These sources in the museum library and beyond will help you answer all your questions about immigration sailing ships, the specifications of each and the voyages made.

Registers of shipping

Tips for using registers

It's often difficult to identify a vessel with a common name when searching registers, so information such as the approximate tonnage and the name of the master can be very useful, especially when using the British Register of Ships. Finding out the (approximate) year that the vessel was built will also help considerably. Searching two or three years after the build date will probably yield results if the approximate year search does not. Even searches five years on can be useful.

Lloyd's Register of Shipping

A yearly, alphabetical listing of mainly British owned vessels by name compiled by Lloyd's of London. Gives technical specifications of each vessel, dates and place of build, names of owners and masters, and details of voyages made (up to the 1850s).
The library holds 1776-1880 (microfiche) and 1880 onwards in hardcopy on the reference shelves.
REF 387.5

For a fee, Lloyd's Register Historical Research Service will search ship histories and yacht plans/survey reports. Its website says: "We can provide information on Lloyd's Register classed ships from 1784 and on merchant ships of more than 100 gross tons, regardless of class dating from the mid-1870s".

Online ship registration information transcribed from Lloyd's Register is available at the Register of ships website maintained by Gilbert Provost.

If you are researching 20th century sailing ships, the PortCities Southampton site is well worth a look. It has digitised pages from Lloyd's Register of Ships from 1930 to 1945. You can search the database and browse the original registers.

Registre Veritas

A similar listing to Lloyd's for vessels registered with the Bureau Veritas. Contains a mixture of European, British and some American vessels. A good source to try if the ship you are researching doesn't appear in Lloyd's.
The library holds 1829-1980 on microfilm.

Digitised copies of registers of ships including Lloyds and American Lloyds from libraries around the world are becoming more readily available online, see Mystic Seaport Museum.

Shipping arrivals and departures information

Shipping arrivals and departures Sydney 1788-1844.
Shipping arrivals and departures Victorian ports 1798-1855.
Shipping arrivals and departures Tasmania 1803-1842.
Shipping arrivals and departures Adelaide 1627-1850.
REF 387.209946
A series of books providing brief entries on voyage by date. Also indexed by vessel name and passenger names.

Shipping index inwards [Victoria] 1839-1900.

Victoria. Public Record Office. [microfilm]

Shipping Master's Office index to vessels arrived, [1837-1925]

Sydney: Archives Authority of New South Wales, 1985. [microfilm].
A transcript of this has been compiled by Mary-Ann Warner and is available to search on the State Records website.

Both the above sources are listed alphabetically by name of ship and provide information such as ship type and arrival date.

Arrivals Fremantle (Battye) 1829-90 [microfiche]

Perth. State Library Service of Western Australia.
Compiled by the Battye Library. Lists vessels and dates of arrival at Fremantle.

Comber index of NZ migrant ships 1839-1889: shipping to New Zealand

Compiled by William Charles Comber. Wellington.Wellington Harbour Board Museum, 19--.
REF 387.20993 COM
For those tracing arrivals in New Zealand.

Online shipping arrivals information transcribed from a variety of sources can be found at the Ozships Australian shipping on the net website. This listing by year includes over 60,000 shipping movements, mainly for Australia. Only some New Zealand information is included.

Passenger lists

The museum library doesn't hold copies of passenger lists for vessels arriving into Australian ports. However we've put together some information to help you locate them.

A general rule of thumb to apply is, if your ancestors arrived before 1923, the passenger lists can be found at the state archives or records office of the port where they arrived (see the links below).

For post-1923 arrivals, the lists will be held at the National Archives Office under the state where they arrived. Fact sheets on the holdings of passenger records and other materials of genealogical interest can be found on the website.

Check the relevant state/territory website for research guides to their holdings and do some preparation work for your visit. Familiarize yourself with what sort of records are available and identify which ones you want to search.

Passenger arrivals - web sources

Over the last few years many state archive authorities have added indexes to passenger arrivals to websites and large genealogy sites like

Check the website or with your State Library or Genealogical Society for more details on what's currently available and how it's accessible. Some indexes of Australian passenger arrivals on the web are listed below.

Always worth checking to see what’s new has a growing number of Australian passenger lists available to search and link to original documents acquired through digitisation programs with the various state records authorities.

Many family history groups and individuals have been transcribing passenger lists and contributing them to various websites. The Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters website holds transcripts from State Records NSW lists, including overseas, coastal and whaling voyages (focusing mainly on the 1870s). Another site that aims to help family historians locate online passenger lists for migrant ships to Australia and New Zealand is Online sourcing of passenger lists. In addition to the database, there are links to other passenger indexing projects.

The National Archives hold passenger lists for ships arriving in all ports of Australia from Britain, Europe Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific between 1924 and 1964. Passenger information can be obtained from the records search option on the website in different ways - by passenger name from the Index to passenger arrivals available as a menu option within the records search screen and by ship name or year from the passenger arrivals function. When using record search, type the ship name or year in the keyword field and then A907 in the reference number field. This will restrict your search to passenger lists only.

Passenger departures from UK ports

The UK National Archives have an online database of Series BT 27: Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Outwards 1890-1960. These records cover the names of people leaving UK (and Ireland) for ports outside Europe and the Mediterranean. This record series can also be searched through

Passenger arrivals at UK ports

UK incoming passenger lists for 1878 to 1960 (Series BT 26) are available online at These records from the National Archives contain information on both immigrants and tourists who arrived in the UK by boat from ports outside of Europe and the Mediterranean. Free to search with a charge to view the full entry and download images.

Books: Ship Histories

The following books give brief histories of sailing vessels in the Australian immigrant trade. Many include illustrations.

Colonial Clippers

Basil Lubbock. Glasgow. James Brown, 1924.
623.8224 LUB
Covers clipper ships employed in the Australian trade.

Blackwall Frigates

Basil Lubbock. Glasgow. James Brown, 1922.
623.8224 LUB
Covers many vessels on the Australian run.

The Passage Makers

Michael Stammers. Brighton.Teredo Books, 1978.
387.50941 BLA
Covers the history of the Black Ball Line from 1852 to 1871.

Emigrant Clippers to Australia: the Black Ball Line, its Operation, People and Ships 1852 – 1871

Michael Stammers. Barnoldswick: Milepost Research, [2013?]
387.50941 BLA
An enlarged updated edition of the above title.

Merchant Sailing Ships 1775-1815; 1815-1850; 1850-1875

David MacGregor. London. Conway Maritime Press, 1984-1985.
623.8224 MAC
A good general source for information and portraits of merchant sailing ships.

The Old East Indiamen

E. Keble Chatterton. London. Rich & Cowan, 1933.
387.50941 EAS
Many early vessels to Australia were East Indiamen.

Migrant Ships for South Australia 1836-1866

Ronald Parsons. Gumeracha, S.A. Gould Books, 1999.
387.5420994 PAR
Also includes a historical details of immigration to South Australia, plus the types of ships that arrived there and where they docked.

Fast Passage to Australia: The History of the Black Ball, Eagle and White Star Lines

Dave Hollett. London. Fairplay, 1986.
387.50941 BLA
Covers some of the major lines operating to Australia. Check this first if your relatives arrived in Brisbane.

As many sailing ships to Australia were built in America and North America particularly, the following books on clipper ships are also very useful.

British and American Clippers: A Comparison of Their Design, Construction and Performance in the 1850s

David R. MacGregor.London. Conway Maritime Press, 1993.
623.8224 MAC

American Merchant Ships, 1850-1900 (2 vols)

Frederick C. Matthews. New York. Dover Publications, 1987.
387.2240973 MAT

American Clipper Ships 1833-1858 (2 vols)

Octavius T. Howe and Frederick C. Matthews. New York. Dover, 1986.
623.82240973 HOW

In the Wake of the Windships

Frederick William Wallace. London. Hodder and Stoughton, 1927.
623.82240971 WAL
Covers North American built ships.

The Charley Man: A History of Wooden Shipbuilding at Quebec 1713-1893

Eileen Reid Marcil. Kingston, Ont. Quarry Press, 1995.
623.82009714 MAR
The definitive reference on Quebec shipbuilding.

Buying books? Shop online at the museum store.

Online Sailing Ship/Shipping Company Histories

A very useful website for finding information and career summaries of sailing ships from the later part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century is the Maritime History Virtual Archives. Includes a wealth of other information about ships of the sailing ship era, such as nautical terms and transcripts of old texts.

Another well respected site containing information about shipping lines, individual ship histories and a myriad of other information related to immigrant shipping is The Ships List. The Ship Descriptions section includes histories of ships with information gathered from books and various sources posted to the list from researchers around the world. The site has information of Australian and worldwide interest.

The Miramar ship index is a New Zealand based indexing project listing merchant powered ships of about 100 gross register tons, naval ships and iron/steel sailing ships. Information is taken from sources like Lloyds Register and added to the database. indexes information about specific ships from books and has a large number of entries.

Logs and Diaries

The library does have some copies of logs, letters, journals and diaries of voyages to Australia. They are indexed under the ship's name in the subject index of the library catalogue and by the author's name.

Log of logs: A catalogue of logs journals shipboard diaries, letters and all forms of voyage narratives 1788 to 1988. 3 vols.

Compiled By Ian Nicholson. Yaroomba, Qld. Ian Nicholson, [1990-1998]
REF 387.5099 NIC
This excellent publication is highly recommended for information on logs, diaries and letters.

The following two books are good compilations of 19th century travellers diaries in the age of sail:

No privacy for writing: Shipboard diaries 1852-1879

Edited by Andrew Hassam. Carlton, Vic. Melbourne University Press, 1995.
910.45 HAS

Sailing to Australia: Shipboard diaries by nineteenth-century British emigrants

Andrew Hassam. Carlton, Vic. Melbourne University Press, 1995.
910.45 DIA

The National Library's Trove manuscripts letters diaries search is the best way of sourcing diaries and manuscripts from Australian collections and includes diary transcripts held in the museum library.


Good quality contemporary ship illustrations are not very common, especially for early immigrant sailing ships as this was before popular photography.

Our research guide, Pictures of ships in the Australian trade may help you locate pictures and offer advice for when you can't locate the images you need.


Shipping movements recorded in the newspapers provide quite a bit of information on a vessel, its cargo and passengers and sometimes about the voyage. They can also yield articles about new or significant ships visiting Australia as well as wrecks and other shipping disasters.

The library holds the following newspapers:

  • Sydney Morning Herald (microfilm) 1831- February 5, 1921; 1942. Also available online at Trove newspapers 1803-1954
  • Argus (microfilm) 1846-1895 (Melbourne). Also available online at Trove newspapers
  • Sydney Gazette (microfilm) 1803-1842. Available online at Trove newspapers
  • Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List (microfiche) 1844-1860. Also available online at the National Library's Ferguson Project
  • Australasian Shipping News (microfilm) 1877-1900
  • Sydney Mail (microfilm) 1860-1871
  • Daily Commercial News (microfilm) Jan-Jun Jan 2, 1895-Jun. 29, 1895 ; Jan. 2, 1900-March 31, 1971

Newspapers: Web-based Sources

The Trove newspapers site at the National Library is an online gateway to digitized Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1945. More issues are being added all the time. Remember to look further than the shipping arrivals as vessels new to the Australian trade might receive a short write up about their design, accommodation and sailing qualities on their first voyage to Australia.

Books: the Migrant Experience

The books below explain what it was like to travel to Australia during the age of sail - the types of ships, route taken, food eaten, accommodation styles, descriptions of life on board and so on. They also provide historical information on emigration schemes and include illustrations and excerpts from diaries.

The Long Farewell: The Perilous Voyages of Settlers Under Sail in the Great Migrations to Australia

Don Charlwood. Ringwood, Vic. Allen Lane, 1981
994.02 CHA

Perilous Voyages to the New Land

Michael Cannon. - rev. exp ed. Mornington, Vic. Today's Australia, 1997.
910.45 CAN

Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the Migrant Ships 1870-1885

David Hastings.- Auckland, N.Z. Auckland University Press, c2006.
304.893041 HAS
Covers immigration and ocean travel to New Zealand in the later part of the 19th century.

The Leaving from Liverpool website at the Merseyside Maritime Museum explores the experience of immigration to Australia in 1858.

Other Sources

Directory of Archives in Australia

Canberra. Australian Society of Archivists, 1992.
REF 025.17102594 DIR
A list of Australian Archival Institutions can also be found online at National Archives of Australia.

Finding Families: The Genealogist's Guide to the National Archives of Australia

Compiled by Margaret Chambers. Sydney. Hale & Iremonger, 1998.
REF 929.934 NAT

Archives, Resources, Kits on Microfilm

Some of these resources on microfilm may now be available online through digitisation projects so it always pays to check the institution’s website first.

The State Records of New South Wales office produces an Archives Resources Kit (ARK) which consists of microfilm copies of major records held that are of interest to family historians (including passenger arrivals information). The kit is available at libraries around NSW (see a map showing locations).

Similar kits or records on microfilm from the records of other states, including Queensland and Victoria are similarly available. Check your State Library or State Records Office for holdings near you.

We encourage people conducting genealogical research to consider joining their local Genealogical Society or family history group for support and access to a huge range of shared resources and expertise (that could save you time and money).