Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Births, marriages and deaths records of Western Australia, with reference to other states, (Part 1)

P. E.C. de Mouncey

de Mouncey, P. E. C. 1928, 'Births, marriages and deaths records of Western Australia, with reference to other states, (Part 1)', Early Days, vol. 1, part 3: 33-45.

See also: Part 2.

[Read before the Society, May 25, 1928]


In writing this paper in support of the consolidating of the records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths in Western Australia up to February 1841 and after, but more particularly up to 1841, the date of the first act of Registration of such passed in this State, I have made a lengthy research starting with the early history of Australia and bringing in all the States and New Zealand as regards the registration of births, marriages and deaths, as no legislation could be enacted until the country was properly annexed and settled.

To make my subject more complete, it was necessary for me to refer to the early history of this continent and to the acts of Registration of New South Wales as will be seen during the reading of the paper. I have referred to the different events in the order of the dates in which they occurred irrespective of the State in which they did occur.

There being at present no official records of births, marriages, baptisms and deaths, prior to 1841 in this State and therefore no official information obtainable of them from 1826 to 1841, I have prepared this paper in support of having the existing church and other records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths if any in this State up to 1841 and later, consolidated and preserved in the Registrar General’s office for official use, and public search and information, and from an historical point of view, by Act of Parliament, thus having those records as complete as possible.

I have been unable to discover in any history on Australia where it states that any person actually landed on the east coast of Australia prior to the visit of Captain James Cook at Botany Bay on the 30th April 1770. It has not been definitely stated that persons did not actually land on the east coast of the continent prior to 1770 nor is it definitely recorded that Captain Cook was actually the first person and an Englishman to land there and the second Englishman to visit Australia.


This question seems to have always been avoided, for the want of more definite information, no doubt, and for the reason it is not known for certain perhaps whether Captain Cook was the first person to land on that coast or not. Certainty however, has never been expressed in any historical book on Australia, although I have searched especially for the information.

For instance, it is stated definitely in the history of this country that Captain William Dampier was actually the first Englishman to land in Australia, in 1688 and that it was on the North-West coast of New Holland as it was then called.

Abel Janszoon Tasman landed in Van Diemen’s land in 1642 whence he sailed and later discovered and named New Zealand. It is not recorded he landed on the eastern mainland of Australia.

Dutch adventurers landed on the northern coast of Australia, prior to the visit of Captain Cook to the eastern coast of the country.

By January, 1770, Captain Cook had annexed the north and south islands of New Zealand to the British Crown.

On the second of May, 1770, a seaman named Sutherland of Captain Cook's ship the Endeavour died and was taken ashore at New South Wales to be buried, he was probably the first British subject buried on Australian soil. The grave is still preserved at Botany Bay.

On the 23rd August, 1770, Cook proclaimed British Sovereignty only over what are now the eastern parts of New South Wales and Queensland. New Zealand was included in this territory on the 12:10:1786, although Cook's annexture of the New Zealand dominion was not given proper effect to until 1840.

Formal possession on behalf of the British Crown of the whole of the eastern part of the Australian Continent and Tasmania was not taken until the 26th January, 1788. It was not known by the early colonists until 1798 that Tasmania was not joined to the mainland, Bass and Flinders discovering the fact in that year. The date of the issue of Governor Phillip’s com-


mission in England was the 12:10:1786 and on 26:1:1788 it was read in New South Wales to the people whom he had brought with him to the new settlement in the first fleet. My great great grandfather arrived at Sydney in June, 1790, by the second fleet, in the ship Scarborough as a lieutenant with that military organisation known as the “New South Wales Corps.” He was afterwards Major of the corps and later Acting Governor of Tasmania.

In Governor Phillip’s commission it was stated that the boundaries of the new colony extended westward to the 135th merridian, a line cutting through a little eastward of the centre of the present State of South Australia and the Northern Territory. In 1791 Captain Vancouver, R.N., hoisted the British flag at King George’s Sound in the western half of New Holland. In 1803 by an Imperial Act a civil court was established at Sydney, New South Wales. In the same year (1803) a permanent settlement was effected in Tasmania and in 1814 a settlement in New Zealand took place.

In this year also by the recommendation of Captain Matthew Flinders to the British Government the continent became officially known as “Australia” which had hitherto been known as "New Holland.”

In 1824 a permanent settlement was effected in what is now called Queensland and on the 8th September, 1824, over 36 years after the first settlement had taken place in New South Wales the first act of Parliament was passed at Sydney. The statute is referred to 5 Geo. IV No. 1, or the first act passed in New South Wales and in the fifth year of the reign of George IV. It was an act to make promissory notes and bills of exchange payable in Spanish dollars available as if such notes and bills had been drawn payable in sterling money of the realm. This act was later repealed. All the Imperial acts were used in the new colony and in fact still are in the various States where the local acts do not apply.

On the 14th June, 1825, Van Diemen’s land became separated from New South Wales as a separate colony. This was the first territory to become politically separated from the original colony.


As Albany was apparently included in the territory of New South Wales it did not form part of the territory annexed by Captain Fremantle, as on the 7th March 1831, Albany was handed over to the administration of the Swan River Settlement by New South Wales. I have been unable to discover the area of the territory forming the Albany Settlement, at that date, or how far eastward, westward or northward it extended, it would be interesting to know the area taken over by the Government at Perth. A dispute has arisen as to whether 1827 or 1829 was the year of the foundation of this colony. It would appear that as the Swan River Settlement, taking in the whole of the western side of the continent (excluding Albany until 1831), was established on the 2nd June, 1829, and having a separate governor and officials, that that date might be considered as the foundation of the New Colony, although Albany had been settled in 1826, from New South Wales but governed from there, and considered a part of that State until 1831.

Dr. Alexander Collie was appointed Government Resident at Albany in 1831 and the convict portion of the population was removed to Van Diemen’s Land.

Unfortunately the Registration Act of New South Wales of 1825 causing the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths did not later extend to the colony of Western Australia when founded in 1829 or as it was often called the Swan River Settlement. Up to 1831 births, marriages and deaths (if any) at Albany would no doubt have been preserved by the Parish as laid down by the New South Wales Act of 1825. When that State withdrew its administration from Albany it would be quite likely that births, marriages and deaths would have still been recorded, as lately required by New South Wales, but then purely voluntary no doubt for about 10 years until 1841, when the first act of registration was passed in the State of Western Australia.

It is also likely that some births marriages and deaths would have gone unrecorded, as when New South Wales withdrew its jurisdiction from Albany, registrations would not then be compulsory until the West Australian Act was passed in 1841.

It will be noticed the name of "New Holland” was used by Captain Fremantle when taking possession of


the country in 1829, although the continent had been officially recognised by the name of “Australia” since 1814. It is evident the name even up to 1829, fifteen years later, had not come into general use. Charles Darwin in his book The Voyage of the Beagle which ship touched at Albany on the 6th March, 1836, refers to the country by the name “New Holland” so it would appear that this name was only gradually dropped, until it went finally quite out of use to be superseded eventually by the name “Australia.”

The First West Australian Stastute

In the second year of the reign of William IV and two and a half years after the settlement of the Swan River Colony, the first act of Parliament in Western Australia was passed, namely 2 Wm. IV No. 1, passed the 10th day of February, 1832, establishing a court of Civil Jurisdicature. The act, among other matters, provided for the proving of wills, and the granting of letters of administration in deceased persons estates. The Supreme Court, as it is now called, is one of the earliest institutions of the State in which some record of the early settlers are preserved.

In 1834 the first settlement in what is now known as Victoria was established, and in 1836 one was established in South Australia the latter territory being separated from New South Wales as an independent State on the 28th December, 1836. The New South Wales act of 1825 for the better regulating and preserving of parish registers of births, deaths and marriages would no doubt apply to these new settlements within the territory of New South Wales, until the new settlers formed themselves into separate colonies, when New South Wales would cease to have any jurisdiction over them.

It was not until February, 1841, over eleven and a half years after the first settlement of the Swan River Colony that by acts 4 and 5 Victoria No. 9 provided for the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the Colony of Western Australia. John Hutt was then the governor of this territory.

These acts have been amended from time to time, the first some six years later 10 Victoria Nos. 17 and 18,


1847, until entirely repealed by new acts of later and more recent dates.

Of the persons who died in Western Australia before 1841. fifty-one are recorded in the Probate Office of the Supreme Court in connection with their estates. The earliest recorded death there is a person by the name of John Ferris who died on the 3/10/1830, sixteen months after the foundation of the colony. But application for Letters of Administration in his estate was not made at the Court until after the 8th January, 1833, while the first application to be lodged after the establishment of the Court was granted by it on the 12th May, 1832, in the estate of the late Charles Heal of Guildford who died intestate on April 23, 1831. He is described as “Lieutenant, Royal Navy, and publican.” The last deceased person recorded at the Court before February 1841 appears to be a William Temple Graham. A number of deceased persons are also recorded who were passengers by the Parmelia.

The First Will Proved

The first will proved in the Civil Court, and on which probate was granted to the executor was on the 16th August, 1832. It was the will of William Gaze Labourer, and is dated the. 15th day of June, 1832, and begins as follows:—

“This is to certify that I the undersigned William Gaze of the colony of Swan River Western Australia, having been badly wounded by the natives and my life being at risk do hereby make this my last will and testament.

“I have at the house of John Butler of Freshwater Bay three boxes of cloths,” et cetera. His property was left to an Emanuel Gaze of Mucclecote, near Gloucester England. There appears to have been no relatives of his, in the State at that time.

It would be interesting to know what became, or how deceased persons estates were wound up between the 2nd of June, 1829, and the 10th February, 1832, two and a half years before the establishment of the Civil Court. Was their property allowed to go to waste? Or was it taken possession of by the first persons who happened to be on the spot? Did the Colonial Secre-


tary at that time have the power to deal with it? Or was Probate and Letters of Administration granted form England during the two and a half years prior to the establishment of the Civil Court in Western Australia? Or did the Governor of the State take charge of all deceased persons’ property during that time? These questions I am not in a position to answer.

No sooner was the court established than applications for either Probate or Letters of Arministration in deceased persons estates were made to it. Six applications were made for Probate and Letters of Administration in the first year of the court’s establishment one or two of the deceased persons having died prior to 1832. In the year 1926, 1093 applications were made at the court, while from February 1832 to the 31st December, 1926, there were preserved in the vaults of the Supreme Court, about 13,764 wills and about 8,755 records of intestate estates making a total of about 22,039 separate records of deceased persons’ estates handled by the Probate office in 94 years, not many considering the numbers of persons who have lived and died in Western Australia since 1829. These figures would go to show that not many of the people have possessed real estate, or attained affluence.

A farmer by the name of David Cundell of Green Hills, died on April 6, 1872. The death of this individual is not recorded as registered with the Registrar General as a search has revealed no record in that Department It would be interesting to know if this burial is recorded anywhere in the State, whether in a Parish register or elsewhere?

On the 23rd May, 1841, New Zealand became a colony separated politically from New South Wales, while Victoria on the 1st July, 1851, became a separate colony. Queensland followed suit in 1859 and on the 1st January, 1911, the Northern Territory was handed over by South Australia to the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Consolidating of Records

On the 3rd December, 1855, an Act establishing a General Registry and of a Registrar-General of Births, Marriages and Deaths in New South Wales and num-


bered 19 Vic. No. 34, was passed. Fourteen years after a similar Act in Western Australia. On the 28th January, 1879, nearly twenty-four years after the establishment of the Registrar-General’s office of New South Wales an Act numbered 42 Victoria No. 5, New South Wales, brought about the consolidating of the records of births, marriages and deaths under one head. It was an act to transfer to the office of the General Registry certain registers of marriages, births and deaths. It was called “Births, Deaths and Marriages, Clergy Returns Transfer Act.” I have appended a full copy of the Act to this paper to show how the transfer from the church office to the Government was effected.

My object in writing this paper is to bring the New South Wales Clergy Returns Transfer Act to the notice of the Historical Society in the hope that this society might move in approaching the West Australian Government in bringing this State into line with New South Wales in having all its records of Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths before February, 1841 (including some after that date also which have not been recorded) kept arid preserved in the Registrar-General’s Office at Perth.

I believe that this has already been done in Victoria, as well as New South Wales, where all such records for the State of Victoria are centralised with the Registrar-General in Melbourne.

All the States when separated from New South Wales established and maintained their own Registrar-General’s Offices. I know that the States or some of them possess records even before the date of separation. Whether New South Wales handed the records of the territory from which the new States were formed, back to the new administration, or whether the records were retained in the particular districts prior to the date of separation or whether duplicates were kept, I do not know as research in that regard I have not up to the present undertaken. There may of course have been a Clergy Transfer Act in Victoria also before the one enacted in New South Wales in 1879.

It would appear that the Registers kept as required by the New South Wales Act of 1825 were preserved in each particular Parish and on the formation of a new State the records oi Births, Baptisms, Marriages and


Deaths of these Parishes were no doubt later centralised in the office of a Registrar-General, by the Government of each particular State. Western Australia was excepted, as the Act of 1825 never extended to this colony when founded. Albany was only affected by it no doubt, as that town was later settled and governed for a time from New South Wales.

In conclusion I might add that it might be made compulsory for the police to give information to the Registrar-General’s Office in the case of births, marriages and deaths, where it is likely at times these have not been recorded there.

For instance, in the case of death by drowning off the coast as often happens in the case of a capsize of a yacht, or a death of a person through being lost in the bush or other causes and where the bodies have not been recovered, such information as regards such deaths, or supposed deaths, could be recorded with the Registrar-General. Then again regulations could be tightened up and enforced to make persons give full correct and complete information in the recording of the births, marriages and deaths.

I have known information as regards these records to be hopelessly inaccurate, incomplete and misleading, when such records should be absolutely correct in every detail, for legal, official and public use.

For instance, I have seen written across the columns provided for information in a death certificate, the word “unknown,” “unknown,” “unknown” when the information could easily have been obtained from the relatives of the deceased person whose death had been recorded by the undertaker. There should, I think, be a better method in vogue therefore in supplying information to the Registrar-General than at present.

Relatives have to supply the details of a birth and the contracting parties of a marriage, and why not the relatives of a deceased person (as well as the undertaker), direct to the Registrar-General? And where the information is incomplete or unsatisfactory the Registrar-General’s Office to make further enquiries, as is at present in vogue with the Commissioner of Taxation in respect to taxation returns.


Where there are no relatives in the State of deceased persons, the information could be supplied by the police.

In the English death and other certificates, regulations are printed on the form showing the penalties provided should false information be given. This ought also I think be done with our forms of registration.

The following is printed at the foot of every English Death Certificate:—

Registration of Death Death Certificate England

The Act 3 and 4 Geo. V. Cap. 27, Sections 3, enacts that “Forgery” of the following documents if committed with intent to defraud or deceive, shall be a Felony and punishable with Penal Servitude for any term not exceeding fourteen years: Any register or record of Births, Baptisms .... marriages, deaths, burials . . . . which now is. or hereafter, may be by law authorised or required to be kept in the United Kingdom, relating to any Birth, Baptism, marriage, death, burial .... or any part of any such Register, or any certified copy of any such Register, or any part thereof.


[Births, Deaths and Marriages—Clergy Returns Transfer]

42 Victoria No. 5 (28 January, 1879)

An Act to transfer to the Office of the General Registry certain Registers of Marriage, Births and Deaths

[New South Wales]

Whereas by the Act sixth Geo. Fourth number 21 (1/11/1825) it was enacted that certain returns of baptisms marriages and burials should be annually transmitted by ministers of the Church of England to the Registrar of the Archdeacon’s Court to be kept arranged and indexed for public search and procurement of copies thereof on payment of certain fees in the said Act specified and whereby the Act third Victoria number 23 (19/11/1839) after reciting that the said Archdeacon’s Court had been discontinued since the establishment of the Bishopric of Australia it was enacted that the like returns should be for the. future transmitted to the Registrar Bishop of Australia who should be subject to the same duties and liabilities and entitled to the same fees as the Registrar of the Archdeacon’s Court under the said firstly vested act and whereas the said Act of* 6th Geo. 4th and 3rd of the Queen were repealed by the Act 19th Victoria No. 30 and whereas since the establishment of an office at the General Registry for N.S.W. by the Act 19th Vic. No# 34 (3/12/1855) it has become expedient that the said returns of baptisms, marriages and burials should be transferred to and deposited in the said office. Be it therefore enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative. Assembly of New South


Wales in Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same as follows:—

1. Upon a day to be fixed by the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council of whom 14 days previous notice in writing should be given to the Registrar of the Bishop of Sydney all returns of baptisms, marriages and burials and all transcripts registers and records thereof and every index of or to the same at present in the possession of Mr. Henry Kerrison James formerly a clerk in the office of the Registrar of the Bishop of Australia or of assignee or assignees claiming under him and contained in eleven demy volumes shall be taken possession of by the Registrar General for the purpose of the Act 19 Vic. No. 34 and the Registrar General shall thereupon keep and deposit the same in the General Registry of New South Wales and grant, certificates of certified copies thereof in like manner as under the several provisions of the lastly recited Act applicable to registration of marriages, births and deaths or incidental thereto in consequent therein and all such provisions shall have the same force and effect as if the same had been specifically enacted in the Act.

Certificate and Fees

2. It shall be lawful for the Colonial Treasurer under a warrant signed by the Governor to pay to the person in lawful possession of the documents and volumes mentioned in the preceding clause such sum of money by way of compensation for the transfer to be effected under the authority of the last preceding section as shall be awarded to him by two arbitrators appointed in writing one by the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council and the other by the person so in possession as aforesaid or in case of their disagreeing by aft umpire whom the said arbitrators shall appoint in writing under their joint hands before commencing the arbitration. And the said arbitrators and umpire shall have all usual powers and authorities of arbitrators as to summoning and examining witnesses upon oath if they shall think fit and as to the production before them of any documentary evidence relating to the said matter. As they may decide necessary for investigating and deciding upon the amount of such compensation and the award in writing under the hands of such arbitrators or umpire as the case may be shall be final and conclusive and binding on both parties and shall be a sufficient authority to the Governor for issuing such warrant and to the said Treasurer for making such payment and charging the same -upon the consolidated Revenue Fund Provided that this Act shall be deemed to be the submission to such arbitration. And may as such be made by either party thereto a Rule of the Supreme Court.

Certificate and Fees

3. All certificates or certified copies to be granted by the Registrar General as aforesaid shall be of the same and the like force and effect to all intents and purposes as certificates and certified copies of the registers of marriages, births and deaths granted under the said Act 19 Vic. No. 34 and the like fees shall be chargeable and paid for such certificates and copies respectively and for searches as are authorised by the said Act and schedule “B” thereto.

4 This Act may be cited as the Clergy Returns Transfer Act of 1878.

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