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Immigration to South Australia: Getting Started

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)

Finding the immigrants in your family

Do you have an ancestor whose death is registered in South Australia but no registration of birth in SA or any other state?  They may be an immigrant.  

Search like a librarian:

  • Search the library catalogue to see if there is a published genealogy that may include this family member.
  • Search for the family member's name in the Online Passenger Lists or Trove database listed in this guide.  
  • Ancestry is free to search at the State Library or your local public library and may have information on your family member or a family tree that a fellow enthusiast has developed.  Findmypast is another database available to search in the State Library which may have information on your family member.
  • An obituary or death notice may have information on their arrival or number of years lived in South Australia.

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'.

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).