Bankruptcy & insolvency guide

A brief overview of the administration of bankruptcy and a list of the main records series


Administrative background

The jurisdiction of insolvency was recognized in section XXII of the Act to Provide for the Better Administration of Justice in New South Wales, 1823 (4 George IV c.96) which gave the Supreme Court the authority to examine those unable to pay their creditors in full. Despite this act, insolvents were often imprisoned for debt.

In 1830 an Act for the Relief of Debtors and for an Equal Distribution of their Estates and Effects amongst Creditors (11 George IV No 7) combined the two British concepts of insolvency and bankruptcy.

The Bankruptcy Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was established under an Act to amend and consolidate the law relating to insolvency and bankruptcy (51 Vic No 19 1887). This act allowed for clearer guidelines over the process of bankruptcy, from the inability to meet creditors, to the distribution of the assets.

From 1888 insolvency records were combined with bankruptcy records.

The jurisdiction was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia in 1928 following the Bankruptcy Act 1924,which took effect on 1 August, 1928.

To locate records of bankruptcy proceedings that were commenced after 1 August 1928, please contact the National Archives of Australia.

List of main record series

Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy: Insolvency
Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy: Bankruptcy files
Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy: Court books
These show for each case: name and number of each bankrupt and notes of exhibits, examinations etc.
Supreme Court, Insolvency Jurisdiction: Insolvency Cause papers (incomplete)
A full listing is available in the reading room
1824, 1827-1828, 1830, 1835, 1838-1849, 1853-1855, 1857-1860, 1863, 1888
Supreme Court, Prothonotary: Term books (causes and matters in banco)
1889-1955, 1889-1935, 1935-1955
Registrar General: Bankruptcy Index
Registrar General: Copies of sequestration orders and memorandum of release relating to bankruptcyThese give the name, address and occupation of the bankrupt.
1912, 1914-1916
Sheriff: Record of debtors lodged in gaol
The volume shows date, name of debtor and gaol. This record is Closed to Public Access (CPA).
24 Oct 1909-21 Nov 1953
Corrective Services, Carters Barracks Debtors Prison: Copies of letters sent
This contains letters sent by the Gaoler to the High Sheriff, Police Magistrates and other public officers.
7 Dec 1835-7 Mar 1839
Corrective Services, Darlinghurst Gaol: Debtors books
These volumes list persons detained under civil process in Sydney and Darlinghurst Gaols

Additional Sources

Records generated by Judges in various courts are listed in the catalogue by name of the Judge. We hold notebooks for Judges presiding over hearings in the Court of Marine Inquiry and the Vice Admiralty Court.

Further records in relation to debtors are also listed in Archives Investigator under the agencies Sheriff's Office (Agency No. 6), Governor's Court of NSW (Agency No. 1045), and the various gaols including Carters Barracks Debtors Prison, Sydney Gaol and Darlinghurst Gaol.

How to access the records covered in this guide

  • Some of the files can be viewed online
  • Visit the Reading Room to view the original documents
  • Copy service - choose paper photocopies or digital delivery
  • Hire a researcher. We cannot undertake research for you. Please see our referral list of professional researchers