Blue Books (Returns of the Colony) 1822-57

The Returns of the Colony ('Blue Books'), NRS 1286 consist of sets of statistical returns of the Colony of New South Wales and of areas under its jurisdiction compiled annually from 1822 to 1857 by the Colonial Secretary for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. View the NRS (Item) List.

Historical background

Until 1839, at least four copies were made of each Blue Book: two were sent to the Colonial Office, one went to the Governor and the other to the Colonial Secretary. After 1839, the fourth copy went to the Legislative Council instead of to the Colonial Secretary, and from 1855 to 1857 an additional copy was placed before the Legislative Assembly.

The set in our collection, which has been filmed, mainly comprises copies from the Colonial Secretary's Office (transferred from the Government Statistician), although some volumes are from other sources.

A search of the "List of Colonial Office Records preserved in the Public Records Officer, published by HM Stationery Office, 1911, suggests that there was no Blue Book compiled prior to 1822 nor for the year 1824. However the volumes continued to be compiled after 1857 until 1870, but were then printed instead of being written out by hand and contain much less information, only the returns of the Civil and Ecclesiastical Establishments.

Before 1822, statistical returns (eg. returns of agriculture, livestock, duties levied, population, persons holding civil and military appointments), which were compiled from annual general musters held in the colony, were sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. These returns were sometimes, but not always annual, and similar returns continued to appear in the Blue Books.

The Blue Books were compiled retrospectively from groups of returns sent out from the Colonial Secretary's Office, which were filled in by the various officials, and then sent back to the Office. These returns may be found among the Colonial Secretary's Special Bundles (listed in Appendix F of the published inventory). Working papers used in the compilation of the volumes for 1831 to 1854 are located at SRNSW ref: 4/6288-89.

In the Blue Books from 1837 to 1850 the returns either include Port Phillip information or there is a separate return of each type for the District. In the 1851 volume it is noted that "Although Port Phillip was not separated from New South Wales until the 1st of July, 1851, the Returns contained in this Book have reference exclusively to New South Wales Proper, excepting only the Abstracts of Revenue and Expenditure".

Summary of Returns in the Blue Books

Returns in the Blue Books comprise the following main sections:

(With the exception of Convicts and Shipping, the dates indicated are those of the Blue Books in which the sections appear. In many cases, related returns appear earlier and under different sections such as in the appendices to the 1825, 1826 and 1827 Blue Books.)

Civil Establishment (1822-57)

This section lists officers in the Civil, Judicial, Police, Penal, Medical, Ecclesiastical and Educational Establishments. Information given includes: position, date of first appointment and salary.

An alphabetical list of officers appears at the beginning of the section. Exceptions are 1828 when the list follows the Recapitulation of the Establishment and 1825 which does not contain a list.

From 1828 there is a Recapitulation of the Establishment which records expenditure on various establishments.

Convicts (1822-57)

This is not a heading used in the Blue Books but has been included here on the basis of the significance of this aspect of Colonial development.

Returns relating to Convicts, and the administration of the Convict system, can be found in various sections such as: Population, Revenue and Expenditure and the appendices to the 1825, 1826 and 1827 Blue Books.

From 1834 there are a number of returns relating specifically to expenses incurred on account of Convicts. Included in these is a return of Convicts in the Colony on 31st December of each year.

Exchanges, Monies, Weights and Measures (including Banks) (1822-57)

Includes details of the course of exchange, and shows the amount of coin and paper currency in circulation.

Fees (1822-57)

Schedules of fees of office such as those charged by various offices relating to grants of land, Coroners' fees and fees taken by the various courts.

Imports and Exports (1822-57)

These returns include description, quantity and value of all goods imported from and exported to Great Britain, British colonies and foreign states.

Military Expenditure (1822-57)

Returns of works of defence, armaments, expenditure and personnel. For the years 1826 and 1827 there is a statement of Colonial pay received by staff and army officers in which the name of each officer appears.

Population (1822-57)

Estimates of population of the Colony, return of births, deaths and marriages, and return of native population in the settled districts. By 1840 births, deaths and marriages are entered in greater detail under sex, faith and locality. Population figures are also more detailed and taken from returns of last census (figures of native population omitted). By 1851 census figures include abstracts of statistics on religion, education, country where born, occupation etc.

For many years there are also returns relating to immigrants and convicts arrived.

Revenue and Expenditure (1822-57)

A detailed account of net receipts and expenditure of the Colony. From 1828 there are Comparative Yearly Statements of Receipts and Expenditure which compare the current year with the previous year(s).

Shipping (1822-57)

Returns relating to shipping can be found in various sections such as: the appendices to the 1825, 1826 and 1827 Blue Books; Imports and Exports; Manufactures, Mines and Fisheries; and from 1840, in the Printed Statistical Returns.

Information contained in the various returns includes number and tonnage of vessels built and registered, accounts of convict ships arrived, and number and tonnage of shipping inwards and outwards.

Taxes, Duties, Fees and all other Sources of Revenue (1822-57)

Schedules of duties, rates, tolls, fees etc levied under Acts of both the British and Colonial legislatures such as wharfage rates, licences and postage dues.

Agriculture (1828-57)

Includes returns of land granted, cleared and cultivated, stock held and slaughtered, crops and produce and average prices. The appendices to the 1825, 1826 and 1827 Blue Books also contain such returns.

Ecclesiastical Returns (1828-57)

Returns of the number of Churches, Livings etc. Information given includes name of parish, name of minister and salary, situation of church or chapel, number of persons it contains and number of persons generally attending.

Education (1828-57)

Includes a return of the number of schools which gives situation of school, whether private or free, name of school master or mistress and salary, number of scholars, mode of instruction, whether supported by government or by voluntary contributions and the expenses of each school. From 1852 to 1856 this section includes a return of the University of Sydney which lists staff, salaries, fees and number of students.

The 1857 Blue Book contains a special series of reports and returns relating to the University of Sydney, Sydney Grammar School, Denominational Schools, Church of England Schools and National Schools. The University of Sydney returns give names of students graduated in 1856, names of prize winners and names of winners of scholarships.

Gaols and Prisoners (1828-57)

Schedules of total number of prisoners able to be kept in individual prisons, number of prisoners confined at certain times (male or female, black or white, tried or untried), rough classification of offence (eg. felons, misdemeanours and debtors), number of prisoners committed previously, punishments for offences within the prison, and deaths during the year.

The 1826 and 1827 Blue Books contain a return entitled "State of Crime" which gives the number of offenders convicted by the Supreme Court of Criminal Jurisdiction. The 1837 Blue Book has ground plans of Sydney, Maitland, Parramatta, Windsor, Goulburn, Berrima, Bathurst and Newcastle Gaols. The 1850 Blue Book has a plan of Brisbane Gaol and its environs.

Grants and Sales of land (1828-57)

There are returns relating to grants, from 1828, and sales, from 1832. Names of grantees receiving in excess of 500 acres are always given, and until 1852, names of those who purchased land.

Local Revenues (1828-57)

Revenue and expenditure of any municipal body not accounted for in the general revenue of the Colony. Revenue of the Corporation of the City of Sydney and various Road Trusts are included. Local Revenues do not appear every year.

Manufactures, Mines and Fisheries (1828-57)

Tables of numbers of factories, mines and quarries, returns of ships built and registered with their tonnage, and returns of produce from fisheries with details of ships concerned. The appendices to the 1825, 1826 and 1827 Blue Books contain returns relevant to this section.

Pensions (1828-57)

Returns of pensions paid out of the general revenue of the Colony and the military chest. Name of pensioner, amount of pension, authority under which pension granted, date pension commenced, and former position of the pensioner are recorded.

Public Works (1828-57)

Includes a return of all public works, roads, bridges, etc not of a military nature undertaken during the year.

Legislation (1832-57)

Schedule of all laws, proclamations etc issued during the year under review. Each schedule shows date of law, summary and date transmitted to England.

Council and Assembly (1836-57)

Returns of members of the Executive Council and the elected and non-elective members of the Legislative Council. The returns show name of person, when elected, whether holding any civil or military office. In case of elected members of the Legislative Council the district which the member represents is also shown. From 1856 members of the Legislative Assembly are included in the returns.

Security for Discharge of Duties (1836-57)

Return of officers who have given security for the proper discharge of their duties. Amounts of security, names of sureties and the sums for which sureties are responsible are shown.

Printed Statistics of the Colony (1840-57)

From 1840 the printed Statistics of New South Wales are included at the back of each volume. They were compiled from returns in the office of the Colonial Secretary.

Foreign Consuls (1843-57)

Returns show name of consul, country represented and date of exequator (eg. date of recognition by foreign government).

Charitable Institutions (1855-57)

Return shows parish or district in which the institution is situated, type of institution (hospital, asylum, etc), number of inmates, and how supported (by government and/or voluntary contributions).

Miscellaneous Numerical Returns (1855-57)

These contain overall annual figures for various districts in respect of number of: saving banks, friendly societies, freeholders, paupers, immigrants, emigrants, children employed in agriculture, persons paying direct taxation, persons living in villages built since the Emancipation.

Political Franchise (1855-57)

Return includes conditions of franchise, name of electoral division, number of elected representatives, number of registered electors, number of voters at last General Election and date of last General Election.

Public Debt (1855-57)

Schedule provides details of debts incurred to support major public enterprises and works such as immigration, railways, water supply and sewerage schemes.

The Blue Books for 1833 to 1857 include a contemporary index to the Contents, which is alphabetical from 1843. When microfiching the Blue Books we also compiled a Contents List of each volume which is filmed at the beginning of each volume and at the bottom right hand frame of each fiche.

Information in the annual returns covers the calendar year, 1 January to 31 December, except in the Blue Books of 1841 and 1842, when the period is from 1 October of the previous year to 30 September of the current year (eg. for the 1842 Blue Book returns are for 1 October 1841 to 30 September 1842). There are two Blue Books for 1843, one for the year ending 31 December and the other for the year ending 30 September; only the volume for the calendar year has been produced on microfiche.