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Brief Guide No. 18

Records Relating to Tasmanian Aboriginal People

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It should be noted that this guide can only serve as a general indication of sources as references to Aboriginal people occur through a large number of records of many government agencies over the past two hundred years. If it is family history that is of interest then our guide to Records Useful for Genealogical Research should be used in conjunction with this document. The guide can be found on the Archives Office website at

Except for a Committee established in 1830 Tasmania did not have an agency with specific responsibility for Aborigines until the 1970’s. Those agencies are listed below –

  • TA 261 Committee for the Care and Treatment of Aborigines. 1830 – 1833
  • TA 1557 Office of Aboriginal Affairs. By 1989
  • TA 393 Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs 1982 – 1985
  • TA 1427 Office of the Minister assisting the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs 1989 – 1992
  • TA 307 Aboriginal Affairs Study Group Apr 1977
  • TA 327 Tasmanian Aboriginal Research Trust 1979 - 1985

When using indexes to Government files it is important to remember to look under the terms that the civil servants would have used at the time, for example “half caste” is a term that was in common use for many years.

Records of government administration with a focus on Aboriginal matters

There are very few records prior to 1824 so for this period you will need to rely on published sources such as the books by Dr Brian Plomley and Historical Records of Australia. The registers of St David’s Church of England and the early newspapers will also provide some information. The main source post 1824 is the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office later Chief Secretary’s Department. A guide to the use of the Colonial Secretary’s records has been published by the Archives Office as Section 1 Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania. The present Office of Aboriginal Affairs is placed within the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the earlier records of the Premiers Office are also a useful source.  

Listed below are some of the more specific series of records relating to Aboriginal matters.

·         CSO 1/316 – 332 File 7578 is a large file (one metre of records) “relating to the Aboriginals” within the general files of the Colonial Secretary’s Office created during Governor Arthur’s administration 1824 – 1836.  Further files will be identified in the various indexes to these files.

·         CSO66 Copy of an itinerary of Lieutenant Governor Arthur during the campaign against the Aborigines.  1830 

·         AB 694/1 p600 - Bonwick transcripts – examination paper given to children on Flinders

·         CSO89 Reports made by the Visiting Magistrate, Surgeon and Chaplain when making calls on the Aboriginal Establishment at Oyster Cove.  July 1855 – Aug 1869 

·         ED156 Records of the Cape Barren school 1898 - 1971 (TA1136)

·         PD1/237 file 108 for 1911. This is a file within the Premiers Department relating to CapeBarren Island. It contains a considerable amount of correspondence between the Islanders and the Government plus returns of people living on the Reserve and in other parts of the Furneaux group.

·         LSD187 Lands Department: Applications to occupy agricultural blocks under the Cape 1912. 1913 – 1945 (Alphabetical register see LSD 189)

·         LSD188 Lands Department: Applications to occupy homestead blocks under the Cape. Jan 1917 – Dec 1950  (Alphabetical register see LSD189)

·         POL205 Flinders Police – Record of Occurrences and daily activities. 1917–1973 (gaps)

·         LSD51 Lands Department: Correspondence concerning the administration of Cape Barren Island. Jan 1936 – Dec 1956

·         POL203 Flinders Police – General Correspondence – Cape Barren Island 1955 – 1959

·         AD771 Records of the Director of Public Prosecutions representing Tasmania before the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.  Dec 1986 – Oct 1989

Records of general government administration 

Records held on behalf of Agencies such as Social Welfare and Health, which provides a service for the whole of the Tasmanian community, will as part of that include Aboriginal people. For example:   

·         The general correspondence files of the former Lands Department will contain files on Cape Barren Island (LSD1),

·         The case files and administrative records of the former Department of Social Services will contain relevant information on Cape Barren Island and individuals although they will not usually be identified as Aboriginal people  (SWD1, AA226, AD203 and AD245) The register of children admitted to the Orphan School contains references to Aboriginal children (SWD26).

·         The administrative files of the former Health Department will have files on services such as bush nursing on the Islands (HSD 5 and HSD6).

·         The administrative records of the Education Department and records of schools on the Tasmanian mainland will contain information on all children who attended school including Aboriginal children but they will not be identified as Aboriginal.

·         Records created by the courts, prisons, police, and hospitals may be relevant but once again in these earlier records in particular it will not indicate that a person is an Aboriginal.  

Researchers should also note the issues mentioned in Brief Guides No 16 Documenting Tasmanian Aboriginal descent and No 17 Issues in Documenting Aboriginal Genealogies



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