The control of ports and shipping in Western Australia was one of the earliest administrative functions performed by the Colonial Government of WA. Pre-dating the founding of the Swan River Colony, it was first directed by the Royal Navy until, on 1 August 1829, a Harbour Master was appointed at Fremantle and control passed to the Colonial Secretary. Consequently, many of the earliest records relating to lighthouses, customs, harbours and shipping in Western Australia can be located through the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO).
The Colonial Secretary retained this responsibility until 1880 when the Harbour and Light Department was established to take control of the operation of ports and lighthouses.
The following list contains records, held by the State Records Office, created by the various agencies which have been responsible for harbours and shipping in Western Australia.
Harbour Master - Fremantle
The first Fremantle Harbour Master was appointed in August 1829 to be responsible for pilotage and light services at the port of Fremantle. Control of these functions passed briefly to the Harbour and Light Department, created in 1880, before being vested in the Fremantle Harbour Trust - upon its establishment in 1903.
The Fremantle Harbour Trust was ultimately replaced in 1964 by the Fremantle Port Authority.
The records of the Fremantle Harbour Master can be located through our online catalogue.
Selected examples of the types of records created by the Fremantle Harbour Master include:
- Harbour Master's Journals - Fremantle, 1860-1909, Series 1615, Consignment 1056, Items 49-52
Fremantle Harbour Masters Journals, recording day to day work and weather conditions.
- Letterbooks - Inward & Outward, 1834-1912, Series 1613, Consignment 1056
These volumes contain copies of correspondence sent and received by the Fremantle Harbour Master. Correspondence is primarily directed towards the Colonial Secretary's Office and the Fremantle Harbour Trust. The original index to the outward letterbooks is also available.
Later records for Fremantle Harbour can be located through the records of the Harbour and Light Department (1880-1903), the Fremantle Harbour Trust (1903-1964), and the Fremantle Port Authority (1964 to present) via the catalogue.
Harbour Master - Albany
The Albany Harbour Master was appointed in 1830 to be responsible for pilotage and light services. Control of these functions was ultimately passed to the Harbour and Light Department in 1880.
The records of the Albany Harbour Master include:
- Letterbooks, 1902-1948, Series 1538, Consignment 726, Items 27-59
Office copies of the Albany Harbour Master's outward correspondence concerning the day-to-day administration of the port.
- Ledgers - Pilotage & Light Dues, 1874-1903, Series 1559, Consignment 122, Item 1
Record of pilotage and light dues levied on ships using Albany Harbour. Gives ship's name, tonnage and amounts charged.
- Logbooks, 1876-1947, Series 1539, Consignment 726, Items 1-26
Daily log of weather, shipping and various occurrences at the port of Albany.
Harbour & Light Department
The Harbour and Light Department was constituted in 1880 under the Chief Harbour Master, Fremantle. The Department was responsible for control of all maritime matters, including lighthouses and other navigation aids and the administration of the shipping and pilotage legislation. The Department controlled the ports of Albany, Vasse (Busselton), Bunbury, Geraldton, Port Irwin and Cossack and it operated lighthouses at Bunbury, Bluff Leading Light, Breaksea, Cossack, Fremantle, Point Moore, Port Irwin, Point King, Rottnest Island and Vasse.
The following are examples of some of the more significant series of records available. Full details of available Harbour and Light Department records can be located via the catalogue.
- General Files, 1894-1983, Series 2357, Acc 1066, 5970, 5972, & 6654
The general files represent the main series of records created by the Harbour and Light Department and as such deal with all aspects of the Department's activities. Several consignments of general files are held by the State Records Office.
- Correspondence - Inward & Outward, 1851-1904, Series 1614, Consignment 1056
Copies of inward and outward correspondence of the Fremantle Harbour Master. Letters are largely concerned with personnel and accounting matters.
- Monthly Summary - Shipping, 1945-1970, Series 574, Consignment 4068
Summary of vessels with particulars from intra-state ports.
Later records concerning the functions of the department can be located through the files of the Department of Marine and Harbours (1982-1993) and those of the Department of Transport (from 1993 onwards).
The State Shipping Service was established in 1919 as the successor to the State Steamship Service (1912-1918). In 1965 the WA Coastal Shipping Commission was created to control the operations of the State Shipping Service (which later became known as Stateships in 1979).
The following selected examples provide an indication of the broad range of State Shipping material held by the State Records Office:
- Correspondence Files - Ships, 1912-2000, Series 1720, Consignments 5237 & 5238
Correspondence received and despatched by the Manager State Ships concerning routine matters. After 1940 an individual file is created for each voyage undertaken.
- Log Books - Ships, 1910-1946, Series 1616, Consignment 1056, Items 73-173
These records are the official logbooks of ships operated by the State Shipping Service, each covering one voyage only. Information provided may include: name of ship, tonnage, name of master, port and date of commencement of voyage, nature of the voyage, port and date of termination of voyage, list of crew and the nature of their employment on board, report of character and details of any major occurrences on board.
- Port Registers, 1960-1990, Series 1745, Consignment 5285
Record of voyages by each ship. Shows voyage number, ports of call with date and time of arrival and departure.
- Port Sheets - Summary of Cargoes Carried, 1951-1977, Series 1747, Consignment 5286
Summary of cargoes carried between ports. Shows tonnage for different categories of cargo and numbers of livestock. Earnings for freight and passages are also given.
- Transhipment Reports, 1929-1940, Series 1734, Consignment 5245
Record of freight carried by each ship between ports and charges incurred.
Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth the collection of customs was the responsibility of the Colonial Secretary. Early records relating to the collection of customs can therefore be located in the Colonial Secretary's Office records.
Other records held by the State Records Office relating to the collection of customs may be located in some instances through the records of the Resident Magistrates. Examples include:
- Resident Magistrate - Albany, Customs and Revenue Ledgers, 1858-1865, Series 1682, Consignment 346
Details of customs duties and revenue collected by the Sub-Collector of Customs who was also the Resident Magistrate, Albany.
- Resident Magistrate - Albany, Shipping & Customs Records Albany, 1834-1906, Series 1643, Cons 346, Items 188 & 190
- Resident Magistrate - Busselton, Customs Vouchers, 1880-1898, Series 1598, Consignment 594
Completed forms providing details of shipments of goods and the duty paid on them.
Information on Western Australian lighthouses can be located within a number of collections, particularly within the Harbour & Light Department records and the records of the Fremantle Harbour Trust. It is also possible to identify information on lighthouses for the period prior to the establishment of the Harbour and Light Department by searching the indexes of the Colonial Secretary's Office.
The following are selected examples of the types of lighthouse related records available from within the State Records Office's collections:
- Fremantle Harbour Trust, Woodman Point Lighthouse Journal, 1932-39, Series 112, Consignment 3480
A daily log recording activities at the lighthouse. Entries include: time of lighting and extinguishing lights; weather; damages; repairs; maintenance (eg, glass cleaning).
- Harbour & Light Department, Watch List - Breaksea Island Lighthouse, 1886-1902, Series 1612, Consignment 767, Item 7
Breaksea Island Lighthouse watch list detailing name of officer on each watch. Also includes a list of Royal mail steamers passing the lighthouse between 1904-1908.
- Harbour & Light Department, Logbooks - Breaksea Island Lighthouse, 1904-1920, Series 1608, Consignment 767, Items 1-3
Logbooks from Breaksea Island Lighthouse near Albany. Details include daily weather conditions, shipping movements and lighthouse work-related activities.
- Maintenance Registers - Bunbury Lighthouse, 1909-1934, Acc 1876, AN 16/9
- Harbour & Light Department, Shark Bay Lighthouse Keeper - Letterbook, 1941-43, Acc 1298, Item 2, AN 16/6
- Lighthouse Plans - Public Works Department
The Public Works Department Plans contain a number of plans for lighthouses from throughout the State.
Please Note: In 1912 responsibility for lighthouses was handed over to the Commonwealth Government to be maintained by the Department of Shipping and Transport. Records for this department can be obtained through the National Archives of Australia.
The names of merchant seamen arriving and departing Western Australia can be traced through a variety of records contained within the collections of the Harbour & Light Department and its successor agencies, as well as through the records of local courthouses and Resident Magistrates. The following are selected examples of the types of records available:
- Resident Magistrate - Busselton, Ships Manifests, 1851-1900, Series 1593, Consignment 594
Manifests of ships arriving and departing Busselton including details of both crew and cargo.
- Geraldton Courthouse, Shipping Book 1897-1926, Acc 932, Item 1
Lists seamen and apprentices discharged from British ships or reported dead. Details include name of ship, name of seamen, age, nationality, rating, wages.
- Harbour & Light Department, Returns Respecting Seamen - Discharged, Deserted, Dead, 1914-1966, Acc 1316, Item 5, AN 16/9
Provides name of seaman, age, nationality, name of ship etc. Also available for the same period are returns of seaman discharged deserted or dead.
- State Shipping Service, Ships' Crew Lists, 1909-1956, Series 1617, Consignment 1056, Items 182-461
Ships' crew lists showing details of one voyage for a particular ship. Details include name of crew members, dates of departure, and arrival and names of ports. Other information may include age, nationality, home address, and details of previous employment, wages and details of any deaths on board.
The names of merchant seamen can also be located in some instances through passenger lists. See also further information on passenger list records.
Most of the major Western Australian ports maintained shipping registers to keep track of vessels arriving and departing. These records give valuable information on the arrivals and departures of ships, as well as information on the destination, origin, and cargo of the vessels.
The State Records Office holds the following registers for the major ports of WA, although it may be possible to locate others for some smaller ports.
- Albany Harbour Master, Registers - Ships, 1884-1942, Series 1537, Consignment 726, Items 60-67
The registers show the date of arrival, name of ship, commander, where from, cargo, colours, rig, tonnage, draught, date of departure, where bound for and remarks.
- Albany Harbour Master, Shipping Registers, 1868-1884, Acc 1074
- Albany - Arrivals and Departures of Ships 1881-1896, 1902, Acc 112
- Resident Magistrate - Busselton, Arrivals and Departures of Ships, 1860-1866, Series 708, Consignment 114
- Colonial Secretary's Office, Shipping Registers - Derby, 1906-1964, Series 1528
Shipping registers from the port of Derby showing a ship's date of arrival, port of origin, captain's name, date of sailing and where bound.
- Fremantle Harbour Master, Fremantle Shipping Registers, 1833-1984, Acc 1076, AN 16
Provides details of all ships arriving in the port of Fremantle, including the name of the ship, date and time of arrival and departure, place of origin and destination.
- Revenue Department, Shipping Registers - Port Charges, 1910-1954, Series 119, Consignment 3474
Name of vessel, date of arrival, tonnage, country of origin, captain's name, and other details required for calculating the applicable port charges. Information provided differs slightly to that contained in the main Shipping Register series (Acc 1076).
Other Shipping Records
Other records relating to shipping and harbours can be found in the records of Resident Magistrates for various coastal districts as well as in the records of other departments. The following are examples of some of these records:
- Public Works Department, Fremantle Slipways Records, Cons 1661, AN 7, 1942-1976
Completed forms relating to vessels slipped at North Mole and South Mole Slipways. The forms detail all work carried out on every vessel slipped.
- Fremantle Harbour Trust, Steam Lifeboat - Lady Forrest, 1903-1967, Series 1016, Consignment 4628
This is an artificial series created by the State Records Office to include all files relating to the steam lifeboat "Lady Forrest".
- Colonial Secretary's Office, Boat Licencing Registers, 1879-1903, Series 4045, Consignment 1056, Items 55 & 56
- Colonial Secretary's Office, Journals of Immigrant Ships, 1875-1900, Acc 504, Items 1-15, AN 228
Consists of surgeon's and matron's journals for the following ships: Banffshire, Wooloomooloo, Lady Elizabeth, Daylight, Echuca, Port Phillip, Port Pirie, Gulf of Siam, Nairnshire, Warrrigal, and Cornwall.
- Department of Aborigines and Fisheries, Register - Ships Licences (Onslow), 1913-1922, Series 2583, Consignment 6568
Valuable information relating to the arrival of a particular ship may also be obtained by consulting the shipping arrivals databases available at the State Records Office
State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of harbours and shipping related records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person.