Colonial Secretary's Office

The records of the Colonial Secretary's Office held at the State Records Office forms a major historical resource for research into Western Australia in the 1800s.
Last updated: 12 October 2022

The Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) originated with the appointment of Peter Broun as first Colonial Secretary on 30 December 1828. 

The CSO was established as the chief administrative office for the new Colony with the Colonial Secretary responsible for conducting the business of the Governor with the various government departments of the day as well as with the Colonists, collectively and individually.

The Colonial Secretary was a member of both the Executive and Legislative Councils from their formation in 1832. Following the granting of self-government in 1890, the position of Colonial Secretary was held by a Minister, with the Under Secretary becoming the administrative head of the department from that date.

The CSO was responsible for / had oversight of a variety of functions including surveys, expeditions, customs, post offices, shipping, harbours, prisons, etc. The CSO records also contains extensive information about Aboriginal people throughout the 1800s. The Colonial Secretary dealt directly with England in matters concerning the Colony.

After Federation in  1901, the Office of the Colonial Secretary continued, although the scope of its functions were reduced as many of the CSO's responsibilities passed to the Commonwealth and State Governments. In 1924, the CSO was renamed the Chief Secretary's Department and the Minister in charge was titled the Chief Secretary. By 1980, its responsibilities had been limited to prisons, astronomical services, Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Correspondence Despatch Office and it ceased to exist as a separate department in 1983.

Colonial Secretary's Office - General Correspondence

The Colonial Secretary's Office records represent one of the most diverse and comprehensive historical resources available for the early years of the Swan River Colony. These records comprise inward correspondence from both settlers and officials to the Colonial Secretary's Office, as well as the relevant outward correspondence, and cover the period 1828-1973. Letters received cover a range of topics reflecting the influential role of the Colonial Secretary in the running of the Colony. Subjects covered in the correspondence include matters connected with Aboriginal people, Resident Magistrates (by District), Police Magistrates, Police, paupers, Comptroller General (for Convicts), Mining, Harbours, Pensioners, Land and Military to name a few.

The original indexes and registers are held for both the inward and outward correspondence on microfilm on the 3rd floor of the State Library /State Archives.

Inward letters to the CSO are divided into three series, each covering a distinct period and detailing a different organisational scheme. For details on how to access the CSO correspondence and a breakdown of the available indexes and registers, refer to the appropriate guide sheet for the period required:

Please Note: Most correspondence between the years 1828-1878 has survived, however after this period many of the letters and files are missing, either lost or destroyed.

Colonial Secretary's Office Card Index

In addition to the original indexes, a detailed card index is available on microfiche on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives to assist in accessing CSO correspondence for the period 1828-1830s (as well as some later references). This alphabetical card index contains references to inward and outward correspondence, arranged by name of writer or official position of writer. Also indexed are references taken from the Swan River Papers and the Exploration Diaries (1827-1871), as well as articles from the Journal of the Western Australia Historical Society (1927-1945) and other publications. 

Other Colonial Secretary's Office Records

Not all records created by the CSO can be found within the main correspondence series. Some registers, minutes, accounts, unregistered files and other miscellaneous records have been received by the State Records Office as distinct series, separate to the general correspondence. Examples of some of the other CSO records available include:

Files - Censorship, 1948-1985, Series 995

A collection of files relating to various censorship matters.

Files - Unregistered, 1870-1964, Series 949

This series contains approximately 224 unregistered files and confidential papers. There is no apparent order to the records which are listed as found. A wide variety of subjects are covered.

Register - Marriage Declarations, 1943-1954, Series 735

Register of declarations by couples wishing to marry. Details include name, age, address and whether there is any impediment to the marriage.

Letterbooks - Defence Matters, 1889-1900, Series 1412

Hand-pressed copies of letters regarding matters of general defence.

Statistical Returns, 1849-1868 & 1876, Series 969

Statistical returns used in the preparation of the Blue Books. Includes amongst other things statistical information on the military, education, prisoners and public works.

Registers - Naturalisation, 1871-1903, Series 1547

Alphabetical registers of persons naturalized in WA up to 1903. The Commonwealth took on the function from 1 January 1904.

Card Index, 1919-1949, Acc 1274, AN 24

Card index recording the history of every file allocated a number by the Chief Secretary's central registry between 1919 and 1949. Cards list the file title and notes the disposition (whether the file was destroyed, archived or transferred to another department).