Australia Naturalization and Citizenship
|Australia Research Topics|
|Local Research Resources|
"Citizenship" is a relatively recent category in Australian law and record-keeping. Australians only became citizens on the 26th January 1949 after the commencement of the first Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth). A proposal to have the term included in the Australian Constitution (1901) was rejected by a drafting convention and reference is made only to "subjects of the Queen" colloquially known as "British subjects" and the disqualification of any "citizen of a foreign power" from eligibility for Parliament. From 1949 until 1984, Australians were simultaneously citizens and British subjects: citizen status became exclusive after 22 November 1984 and British nationals who had not become Australian citizens lost a number of their rights. Formal restrictions on Australians enjoying dual citizenship were removed in 2002 although there were some circumstances before then under which Australian citizens might have acquired or retained another citizenship.
On early shipping lists passengers are usually listed as either "British subjects" (BS) or "foreigners". Documents listing a person as being "British" does not necessarily mean that they were born in Britain, merely that they were British subjects. To distinguish as between British subjects, the concepts of "native" and "resident" were used: a British subject native of Australia was a person born in one of the Australian colonies or, after 1901, in the Commonwealth of Australia; an Australian resident was a person whose usual place of domicile was Australia.
Foreigners did not enjoy the same rights as British subjects: for example, they could not vote (so their names will not appear on voter rolls), they could not own land, they could not be employed as public servants including as teachers and police.
Denization and naturalization
Until the passing of a general enabling statute, a subject of a foreign power (an "alien") could only be granted "naturalization" by a special Act of the legislature. However, some of the rights of a natural born British subject could be acquired by the process of "denization". In particular, a denizen could purchase or inherit land (although not be granted land by the Crown). However, denizens were ineligible to hold any office of trust such as a military command or public office.
Denization fell into disuse after the passing of statutes which simplified the naturalization procedure in each jurisdiction.
Applications typically provided the full name, native place, place of residence, occupation and age of the applicant. The date and ship of arrival were usually requested but this information is often omitted or is found to be incorrect. Applicants were usually men from China, the United States of America, South America and continental Europe: persons born within the British Empire (such as Canada, New Zealand, Ireland) were already British subjects. In some cases, the applications have not survived but you may find the oaths have survived.
From 1 January 1904, the Commonwealth assumed jurisdiction exclusive of the States to issue certificates of naturalization.
Commonwealth of Australia
Records are held in the National Archives of Australia. Naturalisation records held in Canberra are described in Fact sheet 68, naturalisation and citizenship records in Fact sheet 187. Access is open after twenty (20) years.
New South Wales
All surviving records are held by State Records, New South Wales. See their guides and indexes - Naturalization and denization records, 1834-1903.
In New South Wales (which, at that time, included what is now Victoria and Queensland), an alien could apply to the Governor for denization and, if granted, swore certain oaths before a Judge of the Supreme Court and these records were kept in the Supreme Court.
Although the denization procedure was not formally abolished until 1898, there is no record of the issue of letters of denization after 1848.
From 1849 a person born outside the British Empire and who had lived in New South Wales for at least five years could apply for naturalization. Records were kept in the Supreme Court and, until 1859, a register of certificates issued was kept by the Colonial Secretary. From 1876 until 1903, naturalization records were kept by the Colonial Secretary.
In 1834 a trial in Van Dieman's Land (Now Tasmania) was aborted when it was discovered that one of the jurors was an alien: an act enabling the Lieutenant Governor to grant letters of denization was passed in 1835; it remained in force until 1861. Records are held by the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO): see Naturalisations: records relating to naturalisations; and Series: SC415 : Copies of Certificates of Denization and Naturalisation Enrolled in the Supreme Court, 14 May 1835 to 27 Oct 1905.
All surviving records from 1848 - 1903 were transferred to the National Archives of Australia and are kept in their Adelaide office. The registers were microfilmed in 1963 and copies held in the Family History Library: Registers of certificates of naturalization for South Australia, 1849- 1903.
Maureen M Leadbeater has researched the area: "Non-British Colonists and Naturalization : South Australia's Early Days", Adelaide Co-operative History, 2013; she has also compiled an online searchable database: South Australian Naturalizations 1839 to 1903.
All surviving records (1852 - 1903) were transferred to the National Archives of Australia. The registers were microfilmed in 1963 and copies held in the Family History Library: Registers of certificates of naturalization for Victoria, 1858-1903.
Copies of oaths of allegiance, naturalisation certificates, and references to lists of naturalised aliens in the Queensland Government's Votes and Proceedings have been microfilmed. An index is available online at the Queensland State Archives: Index to Naturalisations 1851-1904. There is a Queensland State Archives Brief Guide 15 Naturalisation Records (PDF).
Naturalisation records were held by the Colonial Secretary and have been transferred to the State Records Office: Registers - Naturalisation, 1871-1903, Series 1547, Consignment 1157.
Finding guides by nationality
Some researchers have compiled indexes arranged by nationality.
A list of Chinese naturalized in New South Wales was compiled by Terri McCormack and the database is online as part of the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation Project: Chinese Naturalisation Database, NSW 1857-1887.
The names of 165 Dutch settlers naturalized in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland between 1849 and 1903 appear in a index compiled by Edward Duyker and entitled Early Dutch immigrant naturalizations: an alphabetical index 1849-1903 (1987) (ISBN: 0731600576).
Records relating to Italian migration held in Sydney – Fact sheet 100, Records relating to Italian migration held in Brisbane – Fact sheet 236, Maritime records held in Hobart – Fact sheet 37, Passenger records held in Canberra – Fact sheet 38, Passenger records held in Perth – Fact sheet 56 and Migrant selection documents held in Canberra – Fact sheet 66
Most citizenship records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
AUSTRALIA, [STATE], [TOWN] - NATURALIZATION AND CITIZENSHIP