Publicans' licenses guide

The earliest licensing records in the State archives date from 1798 Bench of Magistrates records. Other early records can be found in the records of the Judge Advocate's Office and the Colonial Secretary.

Historical Overview

Under Act 6 Geo IV no. 4 (1825) and later Acts, certificates for the issue of licenses were granted by a Justice of the Peace in the Court of Quarter Sessions. Publicans' licenses were issued from and registered in the office of the Colonial Treasurer upon the granting of the certificate by the Court.

Licensing Districts were proclaimed under the Licensing Act of 1882. Under the same Act Licensing Courts were established in each Licensing District.

In 1919 the Licenses Reduction Board was constituted under the Liquor (Amendment) Act. The Board was to reduce the numbers of publicans' licenses in New South Wales by selecting the public houses to be closed and fixing compensation payments. The Licensing Courts could still transfer licenses and in special cases, issue new licenses without reference to the Board.

The Licenses Reduction Board was reconstituted by the Liquor (Amendment) Act 1923. The Act also reconstituted the Licensing Courts, which were still held in each Licensing District. One tribunal now controlled all matters relating to the issue and reduction of licenses. In 1982 the Licenses Reduction Board was replaced by the Liquor Administration Board.

List of main record series


Care should be taken when using these indexes as there may be some duplication and some indexes are incomplete.

(Reels 1355-1356)
Index to publicans licensesThis is a partial index. Reel 1355 is indexed by name of hotel. Reel 1356 is indexed by name of licensee
June 1830-June 1847
(Reel 1357)
Index to Port Phillip publicans' licensesThis partial index consists of two alphabetical sequences; by name of hotel and by name of licensee.
NRS-14402[4/90], Reel 5063
Index to certificates of publicans' licensesThis volume contains an index of publicans and an index of hotel names.
Apr 1853-Mar 1855
(Reel 1374)
Index to certificates of publicans' licenses, This index is incomplete, and covers the names of licensees only.
1 Jul 1857-31 May 1860
Index to butts and certificates of publicans licencesAvailable electronically in the reading room. This index was prepared by the Richmond-Tweed Regional Library.
Publicans in NSWAvailable in book form in the reading room. This index was prepared by students of the Western Sydney University.


NRS-14401[4/61-83, 7/1501]; Reels 5049-5062, 1236
Butts of publicans' licensesThe butts contain details of the licence number, the date of issue, the name and address of the licensee and sign of hotel, period covered and amount of duty received.
Jun 1830-May 1849
NRS-14403[4/84-89, 7/1502-1513]; Reels 5063-5066, 1236-1242
Certificates for publicans' licensesThese certificates contain the details of: name of district, date of justices' licensing meeting, name of proposed licensee and type of licence issued, situation of Public House and sign, names and residence of sureties for licensee and signatures of justices.Please note this series also includes some miscellaneous licences such as those for confectioners, billard packet and steam packet licences.
1 Jul 1853-30 Jun 1861
NRS-14411(Reel 1243, COD 533)
Printed lists of licenses issuedThe lists have been extracted from the New South Wales Government Gazette and bound in chronological order. They record the name of licensee, location and sign of house, period of licence and from 1907 assessed annual rental.
1866-1882, 1895-1900, 1907-1910

Government Gazettes

Between 1866 and 1922 lists of publicans licenses were published in the New South Wales Government Gazette. A return arranged by District and published by the Treasury, was usually published in the August-September issue of the Gazette. Returns of licenses granted at Special Meetings prior to or after the Annual Meetings were also published. A set of the New South Wales Government Gazettes is held at the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC). Government Gazettes may also be accessed at the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library, and some university libraries.

The State Library of Victoria has digitised the NSW Government Gazette between 1836 and 1851, the year Victoria became a separate colony. Government Gazettes often contain details about publicans' licences and they may be helpful in searching for licences granted in NSW

Licensing Courts

NRS-9590 (plans)
Plans of licensed premises: Hotel plansThese are largely architect's plans of proposed hotels, and major and minor alterations and additions to existing hotels, submitted for approval. A full listing is available in a card index and on microfilm (Reels 1380-1389) in the reading room. See our Digital Gallery of Hotel Plans for examples

Licenses Reduction Board

Card index to publicans' licensesThese cards only relate to hotels in country areas and some Sydney suburbs and may not be complete. There is a separate card for each establishment. The cards are arranged by electoratal district, and list the licensing district, sign (name), situation, licensing history, name of licensee and information such as orders and repairs. A list of the electoratal districts and suburbs is available at the Reading Room desk (Information Leaflet No. 2).Now digisited and available to search and download by name of establishment or locality

Additional sources

Additional sources may also be found in our catalogue under agencies including:

  • Attorney General
  • Colonial Secretary
  • the various Courts of Petty Sessions and Licensing Courts
  • Licenses Reduction Board
  • Police
  • Supreme Court
  • Surveyor General
  • Treasury
  • Reading Room only guide - Interim guide, Publicans' Licenses