Understanding the NSW 1828 census

I realise this is of minority interest, but for the record – even if it’s only my record – here is how to find your way through the 1828 New South Wales census.

Online resources are wonderful, but they aren’t always complete, as I’ve recently discovered.

As an example the New South Wales census of 1828, which was the first comprehensive census of all the inhabitants of the new colony, convict and free, is available online in its original form – ie, handwritten – through ancestry. So far so good.

Mary Johnston 1828 census marked
Mary ‘Johnston’& family 1828 census (ancestry)

I was looking for my three times great grandmother Mary Johnson, nee Moore (GM Pitt’s mother in law). Searching through ancestry I came upon a one-page facsimile of the census (above) listing her as ‘Mary Johnston’, her age (40), status (FS – Free by Servitude), the ship she arrived on (Eolus), sentence (7 yrs), occupation (shopkeeper) and place of residence (George Street, Sydney), and her children. Yet my genealogical aunt Barbara seemed to find evidence of two servants who were working for her, who I could find no trace of online. So I went in search of the book.

The book, painstakingly edited by Malcolm R Sainty & Keith A Johnson (Public Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1980) and available in the British Library contains copious instructions and forewords and introductions, and no fewer than three indexes. It also spells out exactly what the 1828 census set out to discover, viz:

What are the respective names, ages and conditions of the persons residing with you in your dwelling-house?

What are the respective names, ages, conditions and residences of all such other persons, as may be in your service and employment?

Specify the respective years and ships in, and by which, all of such aforesaid persons as originally came to the  Colony Prisoners of the Crown, arrived?

What are the respective numbers of horses, horned cattle, and sheep, of which you are the owner; and in whose possession, and in what district are the same respectively?

What is the number of acres of land of which you are the proprietor, in what district is the same, how much thereof is cleared, and how much cultivated, and in whose possession is the same?

So if you think your ancestor may have had anyone working for him or her, here is what you do:

  1. Look up their surname in the main index. This will give you the page number where you find out their basic details (name, age, status etc, as illustrated above).
  2. Look up their surname in the cross reference index. Against their name you will find other references, such as – in Mary’s case – R381 and R1480.
  3. Look back through the main index for, in this case, R381 and R1480, and you should find the names and details of people working for Mary (or whoever): viz ‘Thomas Rowland, 40, GS (Govt servant), arrived Tottenham, 1818, L (life), P protestant, occupation Pipemaker, employed at Mary Johnston, George St Sydney’.

That’s it. Easy when you know how.

NB: Names are often spelt differently – in this case Mary appears as both Johnson and Johnston; two of her convict servants appear under Johnson, one under Johnston, and one has no employer specified. So yes, we could be talking about two Mary Johnson/Johnstons here, both living in George Street. But that is a conundrum I have yet to solve…

Patsy Trench
London August 2016

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Understanding the NSW 1828 census

  1. What a fascinating journey! No mention of the crime Mary Johnson committed, or what she did to transit into ordinary life. Australian annals must be full of stories like hers. I’ve always marveled at the human spirit evident in Australian’s history!

  2. It was a minor crime, like many others – she stole a few items of clothing, valued at not much more than a pound. Yet within a relatively short time in the new colony she was listed as a shopkeeper with people working for her. It looks like for the convict/emancipists with spark – and who made sure they kept the right side of the law – there were opportunities there they would never have had in the old country. Only goes to show what people are capable of given the chance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s