Harbour Master and Shipping

The State Records Office holds historical sets of harbour master and shipping records.

The control of ports and shipping in Western Australia was one of the earliest administrative functions performed by the Colonial Government of WA. Pre-dating the founding of the Swan River Colony, ports were first directed by the Royal Navy until, on 1 August 1829, a Harbour Master was appointed at Fremantle and control passed to the Colonial Secretary. Consequently, many of the earliest records relating to lighthouses, customs, harbours and shipping in Western Australia can be located through the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO).

The Colonial Secretary retained this responsibility until 1880 when the Harbour and Light Department was established to take control of the operation of ports and lighthouses.

Harbour Master - Fremantle

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The first Fremantle Harbour Master was appointed in August 1829 to be responsible for pilotage and light services at the port of Fremantle. Control of these functions passed briefly to the Harbour and Light Department, created in 1880, before being vested in the Fremantle Harbour Trust upon its establishment in 1903.

The Fremantle Harbour Trust was replaced in 1964 by the Fremantle Port Authority.

The records of the Fremantle Harbour Master are listed through our online catalogue.

Selected examples of the types of records created by the Fremantle Harbour Master include:

Later records for Fremantle Harbour can be located through the records of the Harbour and Light Department (1880-1903), the Fremantle Harbour Trust (1903-1964), and the Fremantle Port Authority (1964 to present) via the catalogue.

Harbour Master - Albany

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The Albany Harbour Master was appointed in 1830 to be responsible for pilotage and light services. Control of these functions was ultimately passed to the Harbour and Light Department in 1880.

The records of the Albany Harbour Master  include:

Harbour & Light Department

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The Harbour and Light Department was constituted in 1880 under the Chief Harbour Master, Fremantle. The Department was responsible for control of all maritime matters, including lighthouses and other navigation aids and the administration of the shipping and pilotage legislation. The Department controlled the ports of Albany, Vasse (Busselton), Bunbury, Geraldton, Port Irwin and Cossack and it operated lighthouses at Bunbury, Bluff Leading Light, Breaksea, Cossack, Fremantle, Point Moore, Port Irwin, Point King, Rottnest Island and Vasse.

The following are examples of some of the more significant series of records available. Full details of available Harbour and Light Department records can be located via the catalogue.

Later records concerning the functions of the department can be located through the files of the Department of Marine and Harbours (1982-1993) and those of the Department of Transport (from 1993 onwards).

State Shipping Service

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The State Shipping Service was established in 1919 as the successor to the State Steamship Service (1912-1918). In 1965 the WA Coastal Shipping Commission was created to control the operations of the State Shipping Service (which later became known as Stateships in 1979).

The following selected examples provide an indication of the broad range of State Shipping material held by the State Records Office:


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Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth, the collection of customs was the responsibility of the Colonial Secretary. Early records relating to the collection of customs can therefore be located in the Colonial Secretary's Office records.

Other records held by the State Records Office relating to the collection of customs may be located in some instances through the records of the Resident Magistrates. Examples include:


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Information on Western Australian lighthouses can be located within a number of collections, particularly within the Harbour & Light Department records and the records of the Fremantle Harbour Trust. It is also possible to identify information on lighthouses for the period prior to the establishment of the Harbour and Light Department by searching the indexes of the Colonial Secretary's Office.

The following are selected examples of the types of lighthouse related records available from within the State Records Office's collections:

In 1912, responsibility for lighthouses was handed over to the Commonwealth Government and further records relating to lighthouses are held by the National Archives of Australia.

The names of merchant seamen arriving and departing Western Australia can be traced through a variety of records contained within the collections of the Harbour & Light Department and its successor agencies, as well as through the records of local courthouses and Resident Magistrates. The following are selected examples of the types of records available:

  • Resident Magistrate - Busselton, Ships Manifests, 1851-1900, Series 1593: Manifests of ships arriving and departing Busselton including details of both crew and cargo.
  • Geraldton Courthouse, Shipping Book 1897-1926, Acc 932, Item 1: Lists seamen and apprentices discharged from British ships or reported dead. Details include name of ship, name of seamen, age, nationality, rating, wages.
  • Harbour & Light Department, Returns Respecting Seamen - Discharged, Deserted, Dead, 1914-1966, Acc 1316, Item 5, AN 16/9: Provides name of seaman, age, nationality, name of ship etc. Also available for the same period are returns of seaman discharged deserted or dead.
  • State Shipping Service, Ships' Crew Lists, 1909-1956, Series 1617: Ships' crew lists showing details of one voyage for a particular ship. Details include name of crew members, dates of departure, and arrival and names of ports. Other information may include age, nationality, home address, and details of previous employment, wages and details of any deaths on board.

The names of merchant seamen can also be located in some instances through passenger lists.

Shipping Registers

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Most of the major Western Australian ports maintained shipping registers to keep track of vessels arriving and departing. These records give valuable information on the arrivals and departures of ships, as well as information on the destination, origin, and cargo of the vessels.

The State Records Office holds the following registers for the major ports of WA, although it may be possible to locate others for some smaller ports.


  • Albany Harbour Master, Registers - Ships, 1884-1942, Series 1537: The registers show the date of arrival, name of ship, commander, where from, cargo, colours, rig, tonnage, draught, date of departure, where bound for and remarks.
  • Albany Harbour Master, Shipping Registers, 1868-1884, Acc 1074
  • Albany - Arrivals and Departures of Ships 1881-1896, 1902, Acc 112




  • Fremantle Harbour Master, Fremantle Shipping Registers, 1833-1984, Acc 1076, AN 16: Provides details of all ships arriving in the port of Fremantle, including the name of the ship, date and time of arrival and departure, place of origin and destination.
  • Revenue Department, Shipping Registers - Port Charges, 1910-1954, Series 119: Name of vessel, date of arrival, tonnage, country of origin, captain's name, and other details required for calculating the applicable port charges. 

Other Shipping Records

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Other records relating to shipping and harbours can be found in the records of Resident Magistrates for various coastal districts as well as in the records of other departments. The following are examples of some of these records:

Page reviewed 3 February 2021