New item listing: Applications by women for assisted passage as 'Domestic Helpers' (GRG7/8)

What is a new ‘item listing’?

The State Records archive holds about 13 million items and most of these are not listed as items in our catalogue ArchivesSearch. When we create an item listing these file titles can be found by searching ArchivesSearch. This is helpful for those searching for information on specific events or people.

Extra information can be added to item listings when it will be useful for our researchers. When listing these Applications a new Archivist was able to list both married and maiden surnames of women who married shortly after migrating. This can be a valuable link to maternal ancestors and surnames, which are often difficult to trace.

What are these Applications and where did they come from?

After the success of early farmhand immigration schemes and the need for more women and domestic workers in Australia, the Commonwealth and UK governments began the joint ‘Domestic Helpers’ migration scheme.

The files in this collection were compiled by the Migration and Settlement Department in London and the South Australian Intelligence and Tourist Bureau Department. The original applications, filled out by women in the United Kingdom wishing to seek employment in Australia, were processed in London and became known as the ‘London File’. Women were typically unmarried young adults (although some were widows) and they usually had experience undertaking domestic work. Applicant number 57, widow Henrietta Hawkins, was granted special permission to travel with her 13-year-old daughter Evelyn Ellen, as the department expected Evelyn to be starting domestic work herself within the next few years.

As part of their agreement for assisted passage the applicants had to agree to undertake only domestic work for 12 or 24 months and stay in Australia for at least two years. The applicants typically had little money of their own, with many needing to borrow both the half of their passage fee that was their responsibility as well as the £2 ‘landing money’ for their arrival.  In mid-1927, the Commonwealth and UK Governments began covering the full passage cost, with no requirement for repayment. Domestic work was defined as work within private households as well as hospitals, hospitality venues and light farm work.

When women married before their obligation to undertake domestic work or repay their loaned portion of the passage cost was over, they and their husbands were initially required to repay the outstanding debt. After some challenges from husbands, who considered being a housewife as undertaking domestic work, and some who were not informed of their wives’ debts before marriage, the department began waiving the debts upon seeing a marriage certificate in 1929.

What is in these Applications?

The application files hold the initial application and correspondence between the government and the women while they are subject to the scheme. From 1924 the applications include a photograph with a certificate of identity and appearance information.

  • The ‘London File’ folder is coloured based on the state that Immigrants were offered assisted passage to and orange was used for South Australia. Where a file has the note ‘forwarded to’ another state, the related London file is not in the application. These files can include;
    • Application form filled out by the applicant including personal information, employment history, next of kin, financial circumstances, location preferences and any contacts in Australian states. Signed by the applicant and if under 21, their parent.
    • Medical examination form; containing medical officer’s notes on the medical history, physical and mental state of the applicant, as well as notes from dentists or optometrists stating what care was given to rectify minor medical issues.
    • Booking confirmation with amounts charged for passage and to whom.
    • (Arrivals before mid-1927) Agreements for the repayment of loaned portions of the passage fare.
    • (After 1924) Certificate of identity with a photo and appearance information, date of departure and customs stamps.
    • (1930s files) Reports from the ship’s matron on the applicant’s behaviour and character, as observed on the passage to South Australia.
    • (Some files) References from previous employers or clergymen.
  • Information on medical care or changes in personal circumstance shortly after arriving in South Australia.
  • Copies of correspondence relating to the applicant, which can include;
    • Notification of arrival ship and estimated date, sent to family and friends in South Australia nominated in the application form, sometimes with requests for help finding suitable work for the applicant.
    • Communication with employers, ranging from notifications of assignment to complaints and instruction to garnish wages for repayment of the loan.
    • Correspondence between state immigration departments, discussing the location and any potential location or contacts of the immigrant.
    • Correspondence with the women police, friends, family members and former employers when trying to locate the immigrant or their husband.
  • Correspondence with the applicant, which can include;
    • Passport clearance to leave Australia, either with correspondence or as a note stating the date clearance was issued.
    • Immigrants requesting early departure without having to repay the whole passage cost, usually in the case of an ill relative back in the UK or destitution due to illness or injury in Australia.
    • Communications with Miss Jean Anderson and later Miss Atkinson, from the Immigration Department, usually updating her on their circumstances, employment experience and opinions of South Australia and requests for assistance finding different employment.
    • (Arrivals before mid-1927) Details of repayments made by post or in person, requests and reminders for repayment, outstanding balances or discussion of circumstances causing non-payment.

What is so interesting about these files?

Apart from the great value to family history researchers, these files can tell us a lot about the day to day lives of working-class women in early 20th Century Australia. Before 1927, when applicants had to agree to repay some of the cost of their passage, these is a lot of correspondence detailing the financial positions of domestic workers and married couples. Some immigrants had children shortly after arriving in South Australia, and if the father was not present, they would sometimes write to the department and request work that would allow a child with them or request their repayment schedule be delayed due to the cost of keeping their child in a ‘babies home’.

Other records

For more information on immigration schemes, please see our Immigration Schemes page.