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Immigration to South Australia: Home

This State Library of South Australia guide has information on passenger lists, newspaper indexes and immigration schemes. It includes some resources about immigration to other states.

Why they came

It was envisaged that South Australia would be a self-supporting 'province'. Founded as an experiment in 'systematic colonisation' using a plan devised by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Robert Gouger, land in the colony was sold rather than given away, and the money raised funded free immigration for 'worthy' labourers and their families.

The first land purchasers were either middle class families seeking religious freedom or simply better opportunities, or absentee speculators who quickly drove up land values.

The  majority of those who came to South Australia in the 19th century were economic migrants - a situation which continued through the 20th century.

A small number were German and Polish religious and intellectual refugees from Prussia.

Ship images

Illustration from the training manual, The Log of a Merchant Officer (1854)

TROVE - searching online historic newspapers

The most comprehensive shipping arrivals for the 19th century are lists published in the newspapers of the time.

These lists can be searched for free on the Trove website of digitised historic Australian newspapers, including the major South Australian newspapers of the time.

Newspapers such as the South Australian Register, Adelaide Times and South Australian Advertiser contain the most detailed shipping lists.

A simple keyword search such as 'shipping arrivals surname' is a good place to begin. You can also add a year range to the search, e.g.

'shipping arrivals marshall 1850-1860'

Getting started

It is helpful to begin with a rough idea of when your ancestor arrived.

For example:

  • Did they arrive as a single person and get married in Australia?
  • Is there an obituary or death notice that gives an approximate arrival date or number of years living in South Australia?
  • When did their name first appear in Directories/Telephone books/Council rate records or other resident lists?

It can be very difficult to find conclusive shipping arrival information. Lists may lack exact details, or quite often there are no lists at all.

State Library staff can suggest other possible sources. The Library has a good collection of ships' diaries written on the voyage, and has access to records such as crew desertion lists and other printed and online sources which may help pinpoint your ancestor's arrival. 

Searching for ship's images

The State Library has two major collections of ships images: the AD Edwardes Collection (19th century) and the Arbon/Le Maistre Collection (20th century).

You can search in the catalogue for photographs of the ship your family arrived in.

Remember that photography did not begin until the 1850s. Before this date  a painting or drawing of the ship may exist.

You can do a keyword search of the State Library catalogue for ship's images, for example 'buffalo ship'.

Online shipping lists

We estimate only between 10 and 15% of 19th century South Australian shipping lists have survived. The original copies of these are held at State Records of South Australia and have been digitised:

State Records of South Australia, passenger lists 1845-1940

Copies of these lists, with name indexes for the period 1845-1886 can also be searched by visiting the State Library in person, or placing an enquiry with our ASkUs service:

Official Passenger Lists mainly of immigrants arriving in South Australia under United Kingdom Assisted Passenger Schemes 1845-1886

The Bound for South Australia database 1836-1851 compiled by the late Diane Cummings from many primary and secondary sources can be searched on the State Library website.

In the 20th century immigration was handled by the Commonwealth government.

Shipping arrivals for 1897-1966 can be searched on the National Archives of Australia website.

For later arrivals contact National Archives of Australia (SA Office) or visit them in person at the State Library, Tuesday-Friday, 10-5.

Podcasts of Interest

Explore more about the history of South Australian immigration with Professor Eric Richards.

Listen to Professsor Angela Woolacott as she explores the growth of the settler society in Australia, with particular reference to South Australia (includes 12 minute introduction to the History Council of SA).

Arrivals from Victoria

Particularly from the time of the 1850s Victorian gold rush, many immigrants arrived in Melbourne and then journeyed to South Australia by coastal vessels.

The Public Record Office of Victoria has digitised information from Victorian passenger lists on their website.