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Almanacs and directories: History of South Australian postal directories and almanacs

Post Office directories and almanacs are a valuable source of information for family historians.

South Australian postal directories and almanacs

The first South Australian postal directory was published by the South Australian Register newspaper in 1839. The last was published by the Melbourne-based stationers, Sands and McDougall in 1973.

The State Library of South Australia has digitised directories from 1864-1973. These can be searched online (see the tabs above).

Commercially published directories and almanacs are a particularly valuable source of information for family historians. Often they may be the only way to track movements of individuals and families, simply because electoral rolls are incomplete and the 1841 South Australian census is the only one which has preserved names.

The term 'almanac' refers to the calendar of statistical and other information usually included in these publications. This includes important dates and holidays, tide times, phases of the moon, etc.

However, the most useful component for researchers is the main directory section, listing the residents of South Australia. Directories generally listed only the heads of households, giving address, and, usually, occupation. Many of the early directories concentrated more on businesses, simply because they were compiled as a tool for businesses and government departments, rather than for personal use within households.

The first 100 years of South Australian directories are available in the Library's Family History area in hardcopy formats. These include two sequences:

An incomplete set of original copies of South Australian directories for the years 1872 -1973 is also shelved in the Family History area.

History and arrangement

Thomas and Co., publishers of the South Australian Register newspaper, published the earliest directories in 1839 and 1840. In the 1840s and 1850s, other printers and individuals also published directories, so that in some years there were two or even three directories published. These early directories varied in their content from year to year, and between publishers. In particular, the name lists vary considerably in usefulness.

Josiah Boothby

In December 1863 Josiah Boothby published the first of his directories, "to supply a want long felt." Boothby was Chief Clerk and Government Statist from 1859 to 1881, and no doubt saw the need for a directory particularly in relation to his own work. Boothby published comprehensive directories for South Australia between 1864 and 1883.

Sands and McDougall

Founded as Sands & Kenny in Melbourne in 1853, Sands and McDougall established offices in each capital, arriving in Adelaide in 1883. Taking over the work of Boothby, they published their first South Australian directory in January 1884.

Lists of officials and other professions

From the first, the directories included mercantile, ecclesiastical, legal, and other occupational and trade listings. Like modern telephone books, this eventually developed into a comprehensive 'trades and professions' section.

An interesting single issue National directory of South Australia, was produced by a Melbourne publisher in 1867/1868 and included a 'squatters' directory' as a separate list from the main list. James Allen's South Australian almanack and general colonial directory for 1849 included a useful list of occupiers of crown lands, together with section numbers.

Arrangement within the directories varies over the years. From the early 1870s the directories contained one alphabetical name sequence for the state, although there were usually also separate country township sections and street sections for the Adelaide metropolitan area, and mercantile, society, ecclesiastical, legal, government and municipal listings. The 'Government and official' section of the directories expanded over time, and includes lists of government officials, members of parliament and ministries, consuls, officers of the volunteer forces, departmental heads, etc. The 'Mercantile' section includes detailed statistical information including population, exports, etc.

Detailed listings of societies and clubs were also included by the 1880s.

Street listings

In 1873 Josiah Boothby introduced, at the front of the directory, a street by street listing for the city. Working up and down the city streets, he compiled a list of all those businesses and private dwellings by location. This list continued being published in all subsequent directories until the last produced by Sands and McDougall in 1973. It is a particularly useful aid for those tracing the history of houses or suburbs. Note that street numbers in the city have been changed on occasion - in particular in the mid 1880s when the pattern of odd and even numbering was standardised, and again in 1920, to incorporate the many subdivisions of city acres which had taken place since settlement.

Country and suburban listings

The second South Australian directory, published by Thomas and Co. in 1840, divided its directory listing into three geographical sections - Adelaide, Port Adelaide and the country. From this time, the directory listings came to be broken up into increasingly specific geographic sub-sections as population increased. In 1848 John Stephens' directory included a separate suburban listing for the first time.

In 1870 Boothby published the first combined name list for the whole of South Australia since 1839, and did away with separate city and country lists. Sands and McDougall re-introduced separate country listings when they took over the publishing in 1884, in addition to the main combined list. These town and district lists included useful information in the preamble, such as population, church lists, etc. Occasionally details for the same person vary between the main listing and the suburban or country listings, suggesting the directories were not fully updated each year.

Other South Australian postal directories

For a few years between 1895 and 1906, publishers H. Wise (Adelaide and Perth) and Kelly and Co. (London) jointly published South Australian postal directories. These were quite expensive, the 1895/96 edition being priced at £2/7/6  - or something like a labourer's weekly wage. For a complete list of postal directories check the Library catalogue under the subject Postal Service - South Australia - Directories. These postal directories have not been digitised at this time, and need to be requested from storage for viewing in the Somerville Reading Room.

How were the directories compiled?

In 1839 Robert Thomas placed various advertisements in his newspaper, the South Australian Register, relating to the publishing of South Australia's first almanac and directory - including requests for those wishing to be listed in the directory to send their details to the printing office. (South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, 26 January 1839, p. 3, etc.) The first directory sold for five shillings, and a 'sheet almanack for counting houses' was available for one shilling. (op. cit.)

It appears that the early directories were compiled from information provided voluntarily to the publishers. An advertisement for John Stephens' 1846 directory requests that, "Merchants, traders, town residents, or country settlers, who may be desirous to procure the correct insertion of their respective names and addresses in the city, suburban or country directories ... are requested to furnish at their earliest convenience, the requisite particulars, in writing ..." (South Australian Register, 9 August 1845, p. 1)

An advertisement in 1853 for the coming 'Town directory' states, "The ms. copy of the directory … now lies at this Office, and residents of the Town and Suburbs are invited to examine the same, in order to its being made as correct as possible previous to its going into the hands of the printer. Great care has been taken by its compiler, Mr E.J. Eyre (South Australian Register, 17 October 1853, p. 2)

It was clearly in the interests of business people of all kinds to have their details listed in the directories. The publishers also sold advertisement space, and in addition, Sands and McDougall charged five shillings for anyone wishing to have their name listed in block capitals.

A useful source for some of the early directory advertisers is Index to miscellaneous information and advertisements contained in South Australian almanacks and directories, 1839-1872

Josiah Boothby as Government Statist no doubt had access to data useful for compiling his directories. Sands and McDougall in New South Wales are known to have employed collectors who walked up and down city and suburban streets to gain information for the residential listings. (Barbara LeMaistre, Using directories in local historical research, Royal Australian Historical Society Technical Information Service, 1987)

Copies of the directories could be purchased by businesses or individuals, but were not cheap - Sands and McDougall charged twelve shillings and sixpence for their 1890 directory. (South Australian Register, 10 January 1890, p. 2) Copies of directories held in the Library include the names of the original owners, such as Chief Justice Samuel Way, Judge J.P. Boucaut, Dr William Wyatt, as well as government offices and departments. Places such as libraries and hotels apparently often had copies that could be consulted by members of the public.

Maps in directories


Often maps of the city were included in directories. Not all of these have survived due to their fragility, and the various uses that the State Library's set of original directories has had over the years. (The Library set has been compiled over a long period, from a variety of sources. For example, the 1866 Boothby directory was originally owned by the Crown Solicitor's department, and contains copious hand-written annotations and markings in its margins, presumably made by employees of the department at the time.)

Some of the directory maps have survived. A handful are still contained within individual directories and others have been catalogued into the State Library map collection and are in the process of being digitised. Staff have compiled a full list of these maps.


Goodhugh's 1852 directory contains twelve engravings of city buildings, and James Allen's 1854 directory includes several fine engravings of Adelaide churches.