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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

In 1834 the South Australian Colonization Act was passed, leading to the colonization of land that is now the state of South Australia.  The Act strove to establish a colony that was the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society. This meant no religious discrimination, unemployment or convicts.  South Australia was to be a utopia for free settlers only. 

To finance this lofty ideal, large areas of land were offered at a fixed, but reasonable price, to the wealthy as an investment or to companies wishing to establish themselves in the new colony.   The money paid for the transport of labourers who would work the land.  These immigrants from England, Wales and Ireland were chosen for their skills and trades, as well as being "honest, sober, industrious and of general good character". 

Immigrants who worked hard could eventually earn enough money to own land or establish their own businesses.  This promise of better opportunites, particularly for the working classes, was very attractive and led to a rush of applications for free passage to the new colony.

By 1835, enough land had been sold to finance immigration to the colony. Between January 1836 and December 1840, over 9,000 applications had been received and, by December 1840, almost 5,000 immigrant labourers had arrived in South Australia. 

Not all of South Australia's early immigrants were British or Irish or arrived under the free immigration schemes.  Many either paid for or worked their passage to start a new life in South Australia.  A large group of early settlers came from the Kingdom of Prussia fleeing religious persecution.

Since the early days of the colony, thousands of immigrants from a variety of different locations have arrived on our shores seeking fresh opportunities for themselves and their families. These brave men and women who sought new lives across the sea helped to determine the character of South Australia today.


Offical lists may not have survived, however many names of passengers where recorded in the newspapers of the day.  As the National Library of Australia has commenced digitizing Australian papers on their website TROVE, why not see if you can find your ancestor there.

Getting started

Searching for your family in the immigration records can be quite challenging.

For more effective searches, try to determine basic information before you start such as

  • the name of the individual
  • their approximate date of arrival - for example: during the 1920s or between 1836 and 1840
  • which colony they arrived in

As well as passenger lists that are indexed by passenger name, be prepared to consult passenger listings printed in newspapers, diaries written on the voyage, government records, church records, crew desertion lists or even obituaries that may list the name of your ancestor's ship. 

Searching for images

You can search in the catalogue for photographs of your family or the ship they arrived in. However, if they arrived in the 1800s,  a painting of the ship is more likely.

You can do a Keyword search using your family's name or the name of the ship. For example "Stevens family" or "buffalo ship".


Even if you have the basic details, you may still be unable to locate information since some passenger lists have not survived to present day.  Over time, a number were lost or accidentally destroyed. Fires caused by lamps and candles were responsible for the destruction of many early South Australian records.

Passenger lists for ships travelling between the colonies are scarce as these records were not required by immigration and remained the property of the shipping companies.  As ship travel declined, shipping companies either closed or amalgamated and their records were lost in the process.

The movement of people travelling overland within Australia, as a general rule, was either not recorded or has not survived.  The State Library does hold a limited amount of information regarding immigration to some of the other colonies.

Despite these limitations, thousands of immigrant names are available at the State Library for your perusal.

Podcasts of Interest

Explore the reasons for immigration in general with Professor Eric Richards.

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