Bankruptcy: what the files can tell you

Bankruptcy files contain lists of creditors that the bankrupt person owed money to and debtors that owed money to the bankrupt person. Through these lists they show commercial connections in a town, between towns and with Sydney. The bankrupt person provides a statement about why they became bankrupt often providing a picture of what is happening in the town and beyond. The files of bankrupt people in the town collectively show what sorts of businesses where operating.

Digitised bankruptcy files

The bankruptcy files in our Collection date from 1888 to 1928. These files below were digitised as part of the Archives in Your Town program.

A publican in Broken Hill

Elijah Alexander was the licensee of the Freemasons Hotel in Broken Hill. A sequestration order was made against Elijah Alexander’s estate on 21 February 1893. Elijah Alexander took the licence of the hotel in October 1891. He attributed his bankruptcy to a range of causes – sickness in the family; the drought in 1891-1892; the Broken Hill strikes “by which my house was boycotted”; and losses on a contract to provide food for the “free workers” on the mines during the strike. Elijah Alexander had assets of over 54 pounds and liabilities of 2,480 pounds. The matter was complicated by the owners of the hotel taking action in court against Elijah Alexander.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

Elijah Alexander

NRS-13655-1-[10/22838]-6136 AF00165606

A blacksmith in Dubbo

Hector McLean was a blacksmith in Dubbo. He was in business with Alexander Russell. Hector McLean was declared bankrupt on 21 October 1892. Hector McLean and Alexander Russell both borrowed money to buy a blacksmith business. Hector McLean stated that one of the causes of his bankruptcy was the reduced number of wool teams coming to Dubbo. This was due to a dispute between the graziers of the Coonamble district and the Carriers Union of Dubbo. The Coonamble graziers did not send any of their wool to Dubbo Railway Station for transport to Sydney. Instead they sent their wool to Nevertire Railway Station. He also stated that neither he or his partner Alexander Russell understood book-keeping. The partners’ unsecured liabilities were over 118 pounds and their unencumbered assets were 62 pounds. Hector McLean also had 9 pounds of debts. His bankruptcy was discharged in 1896.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

Hector McLean

[10/22817]-5704 AF00106650

A Storekeeper & stable keeper in Kiama

David Power is described as a storekeeper and livery stable keeper in his Bankruptcy file. David Power describes himself as a labourer. He provided money for his wife to purchase goods for the store that she ran. Neither David Power or his wife kept books other than day book.

David Power attributed his bankruptcy to “not being able to procure work and to bad times”. He was in business for 4 years and most of the debts had been incurred in the previous 18 months. David Power owed over 829 pounds and had debts owed to him of 26 pounds. The sale of his assets raised over 56 pounds.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

David Power


A photographer in Tamworth

George Albert Solomons was a photographer in Tamworth. He was declared bankrupt on 29 August 1893. George Solomons stated that the cause of his bankruptcy as “falling off of his business, sickness in his family and through not being able to collect his debts.” His unsecured liabilities were just over 114 pounds and his unencumbered assets 84 pounds. Very little was realised as his creditors allowed him to retain his household furniture, tools of trade and wearing apparel. George’s wife Annie and two of their children (Lilla and Archibald) died of typhoid in 1892. Some of his debts related to this - doctors’ fees, headstones and coffins. Nearly 40 pounds of small quantities of money were owned by various people across New England possibly for photographs. The 1890s were a time of depression across Australia, possibly the most severe in our history. His bankruptcy was discharged in 1900.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

George Albert Solomons

NRS-13658-[10/22889]-7081 AF00106663

A fireman and engine driver in Tweed Heads

William Helmood was a fireman and engine driver but was out of work at the time of his bankruptcy. His wife was ill and had been treated by the doctor for two and a half years "off and on". They had two children and had lost one child during that time. His income over the previous three years was 320 pounds and his expenditure 400 pounds. His creditors were butchers, bakers, storekeepers, nurses, doctors and a land holder. The total owing was 76 pounds.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

William Helmood


A dairyman in Wagga Wagga

Thomas William Milne was a dairyman in Wagga Wagga. Thomas Milne was declared bankrupt on 22 August 1898. He had been carrying out the business of a dairyman for 18 months. Thomas Milne didn’t keep account books just a diary. Thomas Milne gave the cause of his bankruptcy as bad seasons which meant he was not able to supply milk to many customers. The bad seasons caused stock losses and expenses in keeping stock alive. He also was not able to gain sufficient employment. His bankruptcy was discharged 1908.

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screenshot of pages from a bankruptcy file

Thomas William Milne

AF00169678 NRS-13655-1-[10-23192]-12530