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Tasmania's Heritage
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Brief Guide 31: records relating to defence

British Regiments 1803 – 1870

The Regiments were used to maintain civil law and order and to provide guards and overseers for the convict system. The Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) has lists of the Regiments that served in Tasmania but there are no details of the members of the Regiments because these records remained with the Regiments and are now available from the National Archives, Public Record Office, UK. Some series have been filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project. The most useful are the paylists however as these are arranged by Regiment it is necessary to know the Regiment in which an individual served.

Military Pensioners

Military pensioners came to Tasmania in the late 1840s, often as guards on the Convict ships, in response to a decision of the Imperial Government to settle military pensioners in the colonies in villages near major towns so that they could be available for service at short notice.

The most frequently consulted records for information on these military pensioners are the returns filed in the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office – arranged under the name of the ship on which they came - details include name, age and religion of the pensioner, indication of whether a wife arrived – her age is sometimes given and the sex and ages of any children. TAHO staff have indexed the returns and the cards are in one of the indexes in the search room.

Defence Forces of Tasmania

The main source for records relating to the colony’s involvement with the Military are the records of the Colonial – later Chief Secretary’s Department. These records start with the arrival of Governor Arthur in 1824. When using the indexes to these files it helps to be a little imaginative as headings such as – Brigade Major, Military, Batteries, Artillery and gunpowder have been used for the period 1824 – 1874. For the later period heading such as Torpedo and Defence are used. 

In the late 1850s a volunteer movement began in Tasmania with the passing in 1858 of an Act of Parliament which provided for the formation of a volunteer Corp. A Corp was formed in Hobart in Dec 1859 and another in Launceston in June 1860. In 1885 the Defence Act repealed all previous ‘volunteer’ Acts and a reserve was formed with 4 companies on Hobart and one in Launceston, the whole under the command of Col. H Barnard. . The Archives Office has some records of the Volunteer Forces (Agency TA01105) for the period 1863 – 1885 and the Defence Forces of Tasmania (Agency TA676) 1885 – 1901 including records of officers services, nominal rolls, letterbooks and drill and order books. Listed below are the records which relate to individuals.

Volunteer Forces/Defence Forces of Tasmania

COM1/15 Records of Officers Services, Tasmania Command Jul 1877 – Dec 1912
COM1/16 Index to Records of Officers Services Jul 1877 – Dec 1912
COM1/46 Nominal Roll of Volunteers, Launceston Artillery Apr 1878 – Apr 1884
COM1/17 Register of Officers of the 12th Australian Infantry Regt with details of their appointments and services May 1878 – Jan 1921
COM1/20 Registers of volunteers enrolled in the Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery with details of equipment issued and subsequent history, A Battery. Aug 1879 – Jun 1899
COM1/21 Registers of volunteers enrolled in the Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery with details of equipment issued and subsequent history, B Battery. Aug 1879 – Jun 1899
COM1/22 Registers of volunteers enrolled in the Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery with details of equipment issued and subsequent history, Reserve Battery. Jul 1887 – May 1903
COM1/47 Nominal Roll Books, 16th Battery AFA Launceston Jan 1889 – Dec 1916
COM1/23   Register of volunteers in the Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery Jan 1899 – May 1903

Boer War

Tasmania sent eight contingents, totalling 36 Officers and 821 men to South Africa however TAHO does not have records of the service of these people. There is a series of correspondence relating to the War in the records of the Chief Secretary’s department (CSD26) These four volumes of correspondence deal with all aspects of the war ranging from wives receiving their husband’s pay to the transporting of the troops to South Africa. Correspondence about the War can also be found among the records of the Premiers Office.

Post 1901

Responsibility for defence transferred to the Commonwealth in 1901 however it is an area that each State Government had an interest in particularly in times of War – communication between the federal government and the states in these matters was via the Premier's Office and it is here that official records will be found.

Among our extensive holdings of Public Works Department records are plans for Anglesea Barracks, barracks in Launceston and Norfolk Island and of the various batteries. Also among the files of the Public Works Department are records relating to work done on defence buildings for the period 1893 to 1952.

TAHO has a few examples of records relating to recruiting and exemptions from military service during World War 1, for example -

  • A letterbook relating to military recruiting for 1916 from the Beaconsfield Council

  • Registers and certificates for men seeking exemptions from military service from Ross, Longford and Beaconsfield for the period 1916 - 1917

  • Correspondence relating to military service in 1915 to 1918 for Ulverstone district.

Ship building is an area where there was a shared responsibility between the State and the Commonwealth – TAHO has correspondence within the records of the Public Works Department relating to the Operations of the Commonwealth Shipbuilding Yards for the period 1942 - 1946 and we also hold Minutes of Meetings of the of the Wooden Shipbuilding Board 1942 – 1944. The Board had Control of the Prince of Wales Bay shipbuilding yard that constructed small wooden steamships for the armed forces.

The Soldier Settlement Scheme, administered in Tasmania by the Closer Settlement Board is another area where there was joint Commonwealth State responsibility. TAHO holds general correspondence relating to the scheme, applications relating to land selection, leases and tenders contracts and plans relating to the construction of dwellings on lands leased by returned soldiers to give a few examples.

The Civil Defence Legion was a Government sponsored body set up in 1939 to take measures for the defence of the civil population against possible air attack. TAHO has a large number of records created by the legion including minutes, correspondence, reports, press - clippings, maps and plans.

TAHO holds diaries and reminiscences written by those who participated in the various campaigns and an interesting collection of private records relating to war- time and post war associations including the 15th and 47th Battalion Association 1925 – 1974, Royal Australian Signals Association 1945 – 1995, Rats of Tobruk Association 1945 – 1999 and the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Fathers Association of Australia, Tasmanian Branch 1941 – 1947

TAHO has a large collection of photographs and film footage of military sites, events and people.