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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' based on a plan devised by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Robert Gouger, land in the colony was sold rather than given away and the money raised used to 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 19th century shipping lists were published in newspapers.

These 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. 

Photographs of ships

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

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 by the name of the ship. The best approach is to do a keyword search. For example, for images of the HMS Buffalo type: 'buffalo ship'.

Arrivals in South Australia from Victoria

From the 1850s onwards, many immigrants for South Australia arrived via Melbourne, then journeyed to Adelaide by coastal vessels.

The Public Record Office of Victoria has Melbourne passenger lists searchable online.

See also the page: Travel between Australian colonies (Horner and Hodge indexes).

Listen to historians tell the story

Listen to Professor Angela Woollacott discuss the growth of the settler society in Australia (includes a 12 minute introduction to the History Council of SA).