Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Chinese Naturalisation Database, NSW 1857-1887: A Research Tool for Chinese-Australian History


Developed by Terri McCormack

The Chinese Naturalisation Database is based on the Naturalisation records and the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence held by the State Records Office of New South Wales. The original Database was compiled by consultant historian Terri McCormack, with technical assistance from Peter Gallen. It was compiled in association with Shirley Fitzgerald's book Red Tape, Gold Scissors (NSW State Library Press, 1996 and updated for reissue by Halstead Press, 2008), which was commissioned by the Sydney City Council. The current version has been made available on the web by the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation Project.

Most Chinese became naturalised to acquire the rights of a British subject to vote and to hold land in NSW. Others already farmed land and desired to make their title legal. Some had business interests which were limited by their alien status. And some had Australian wives and families and desired to settle. The Database lists the names of those Chinese who were naturalised prior to the NSW Chinese Restriction Act of 1888. Earlier legislation prevented Chinese naturalisation from 1850 to 1856 and from 1859 to 1867. The Database format allows for the manipulation of data in ways which give new perspectives on the Chinese who settled in Australia before the White Australia policy came into effect.

The Chinese Naturalisation Database consists of 971 entries. Each entry contains eighteen fields of information about each naturalised person. Chinese names have been entered exactly how they appear in the archival records. This means that Chin Kin Try will be entered under 'C', as will Charles Moy Hing. If you are unsure of the exact name or correct order, you can search with partial criteria or any combination of names. Most Fields in the Database reflect the information contained in Certificates of Naturalisation. There is considerable variation in the amount of detail included. The Certificate Year field enables chronological searches while the fields for Certificate Date and Date of Application can be compared to indicate the time taken to process the application. Note that the Age field refers to the applicant's age when he first applied, not when he received his Certificate of Naturalisation. Chinese applicants used agents to process their applications and it is often the agent's address which appears in the Address field. Occupations change over time and where more than one occupation is noted this appears in the Secondary Occupation field.

The Memorial Number, consisting of year and file number, and other details are derived from the file numbers of original applications in the Colonial Secretarys Correspondence. It is included to provide ready access to this complex material. In the Source field, Colonial Secretary's (Col Sec) and Memorial file or box numbers are preceded by AONSW, referring to the Archives Office of NSW, the former name of State Records. There are two Yes/No fields: The Sydney field indicating whether or not the applicant lived in Sydney, and the Reason field where those who have provided a non-standard reason for applying for naturalisation are noted. The standard reason for application was "the desire to possess all the rights and liberties of a British Subject". The Remarks field includes these other reasons for application, additional information from Certificates, Application Forms, and accompanying documentation, the name of the agent or referee, references to land holdings, families and business interests, and other relevant details or comments supplied by the compiler from other sources.

In addition to the web based version of the Database digital copies of the database are also for sale.

System Requirements:

  • The Database was compiled as a Flat-File dBASE using *Paradox for DOS.
  • It is designed for IBM compatible computers, 80386 or better, with minimum 4MB RAM.
  • It consists of two three and a half inch floppy disks to be installed on your hard drive.
  • It occupies four and a half megabytes of disk space.
  • It is designed for DOS but can also be run on Windows.
  • All necessary files are contained on the disks, no special programs are required.
  • Data can be exported to any word processing or database program if desired.

Copies available from:

Terri McCormack
PO Box 105 Balmain NSW 2041
Ph: 02 9810 4421