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The Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825, from the State Records Authority of

New South Wales

Part 1: Letters sent, 1808-1825

Part 2: Special bundles (topic collections), proclamations, orders and related records, 1789-1825
Part 3: Letters received, 1788-1825

Publisher's Note

"The Papers are the foremost collection of public records which relate to the early years of the first settlement and are an invaluable source of information on all aspects of its history."
Peter Collins,

former Minister for the Arts in New South Wales

From the First Fleet in 1788 to the establishment of settlements across eastern Australia (New South Wales then encompassed Tasmania and Queensland as well), this project describes the transformation of Australia from a prison settlement to a new frontier which attracted farmers, businessmen and prospectors.

The Colonial Secretary's Papers are a unique source for information on:

  • Conditions on the prison hulks
  • Starvation and disease in early Australia
  • Control of the convict system
  • The relationship of the colony with its distant 'home-land'
  • Relations with the aboriginal population
  • The exploration and development of new territories
  • The environmental impact of new settlement
  • Commercial development and trade licensing
  • Control of government stores and commodity prices
  • The issue of currency and bank regulation
  • Public health issues, liquor control and diet
  • Labour laws, convict labour and wage rates
  • The maintenance of public order
  • Mustering troops and militia
  • Establishing a new judicial system

The range of subjects covered is not surprising. The Governor was responsible for almost all aspects of the inhabitants' lives and these activities had to be recorded. The Papers take the form of letters sent by the colonial government, memoranda, regulations, proclamations, petitions, reports, returns and letters received. These document the arrival at Botany Bay, the relocation to Sydney, the initial struggles for survival under the governorship of Arthur Philip, the administrations of John Hunter and Philip Gidley King, the open rebellion that broke out during the governorship of William Bligh, and the more settled administrations of Lachlan Macquarie and Thomas Brisbane.

In The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes bemoaned the lack of research into and acceptance of Australia's convict past. The evidence gathered here will open up a fresh wave of research. There are details of clearing gangs, corporal punishment, escapes, executions, the 'female factory', the health of convicts, mitigation of sentences, rations, road parties, ships, solitary confinement, transportation and wages.

There is also much on the development of what has been seen as the biggest social experiment of all time. The social life of the colony is described as well as material on the importance of women for the success and development of the colony.

There is much on the planned and unplanned aspects of urban development in areas such as Parramatta, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sydney and Van Diemen's Land, and scholars may wish to compare this with sources documenting the development of other colonial settlements in Africa, the Americas and Asia.

Part 1 covers the out-letter books or 'letters sent' from the Governor and his principal aide, the Colonial Secretary to others within the colony or to 'foreign parts', which included England and other colonies. The letters date from 1808 to 1825 and tell us much about the way in which the colony perceived itself and the demands that were placed upon it.

Part 2 covers the 'special bundles' of documents, each relating to a particular subject or topic, in many cases reflecting the administrative importance of the matter at the time. Sample topics include:

  • The massacre in New Zealand of the crew of the Boyd
  • Correspondence with Charles Throsby regarding the discovery of new country and the building of roads
  • Medical Comforts shipped in London for the use of convicts
  • Returns of cattle and settlers due to receive government stocks
  • Minutes regarding orphan institutions

Part 3 comprises the main series of letters received by the colony from Government officials and private individuals, 1788-1825. In addition, this series includes copies of agreements, despatches, general orders, instructions, ordinary regulations, proclamations, memoranda, reports and returns.

The papers also benefit from the existence of a massive web-based index. Every letter and bundle has been analysed, resulting in more than 200,000 searchable entries, including c40,000 names of individuals and c2,600 subjects. Sample subjects include Aborigines, Banks and Banking, Convicts, Distilleries, the East India Company, Employment, Fines and Punishments, Hospitals, Inquests, Kangaroos, Land, Livestock, Manufacturers, Medical Supplies, Merchants, Minerals, Pilots, Potatoes, Religion, Russians, Ships and Shipping, Tolls, Victualling, Whales and Wheat.

The web index is available at:

Col Sec - introduction

Please note that the index refers to reels 6001-6072. These correspond exactly to reels 1-72 of this microfilm publication. References to microfiche in the index are to Memorials and Petitions, which are not included in parts 1-3 of this publication.



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