Series VPRS 558
Seamen's Discharge Certificates (Mercantile Marine Office)
About this Series Related Series Accessing the records in this Series
Date Range: Series ? 1882 - 1922
  Series in Custody 1882 - 1922
  Contents 1882 - 1922
Public Access: Open
Location: North Melbourne
Format of Records: Physical
 
Agency which created this SeriesAgency which created this Series
Display entries per page
Date Range Agency Title Agency Number
1882 - 1901 Department of Trade and Customs VA 606
1901 - 1922 Chief Secretary's Department VA 475
Agency currently responsible for this SeriesAgency currently responsible for this Series
Display entries per page
Date Range Agency Title Agency Number
Description of this SeriesDescription of this Series
  • How to use the Records
    The books of counterfoils are arranged in chronological order by the date of discharge and according to the area of trade of the ship (United Kingdom, Foreign, Intercolonial or Australian). Consult the Records Description List to determine the appropriate Unit.

  • Function / Content
    Overview of Engagement and Discharge of Seamen 1849 to 1922

    The usual definition of seamen has excluded masters, pilots and apprentices.

    In Victoria regulation of the engagement and discharge of seamen was initially subject to New South Wales legislation. An Act to amend and consolidate the Laws relating to Seamen in the Merchant Service of the Colony of New South Wales, and for keeping a Register of Seamen belonging to Ships registered in the said Colony (13 Vic., No.28) of 1849 introduced requirements for ships masters to enter into written agreements with seamen engaged by them as crew, specifying wages and provisions, the capacity in which they would serve and the nature of the voyage. It also required masters to issue to seamen certificates of discharge upon their discharge or upon payment of their wages. The 1849 Act applied only to ships registered in the Colony.

    In 1854 the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act was passed, which had application to all British ships except those registered in the Colony. Consolidation of the separate laws occured with the passing of the Seamen Statute 1865 (28 Vic.,No.245) which adopted Part III of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854 (17 & 18 Vic, C 104) (see Parliamentary Debates, Session 1, 22 February 1865). The Imperial Act, like the New South Wales Act before it, required the master or owner of every British ship, over a certain tonnage, to enter a written agreement for the engagement and discharge of seamen. The Articles of Agreement (VPRS 566) were to be made at the start of a particular voyage, although running agreements were able to be made for a defined period in which short and frequent voyages would be made.

    At the end of the voyage the discharge and release of the crew was recorded. The date, place and reason for leaving the ship, and the balance of wages paid upon discharge, were recorded in the articles of agreement. Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1854 each seaman discharged was also to be issued with a certificate of discharge (this series) giving particulars of the ship, period of service and the seamans capacity, ability and conduct. No seaman could be engaged to work on a ship unless he delivered to the person engaging him a discharge from his last ship or a permit to sign articles.

    In the articles of agreement and in the Release Books (VPRS 945) the crew were required to sign their release of the ship, master or owner from any claims to wages or otherwise in respect of the voyage. In the release books the master also signed a release of the crew from all claims.

    It appears that in Victoria licensed shipping agents were initially able to facilitate the engagement and discharge of seamen. From 1 April 1859, however, the function was to be performed entirely in the Government Shipping Office (Government Gazette, 29 March 1859). The Shipping Office, located in the Customs building, was established according to provisions within the Merchant Shipping Act 1854. Branches of the Government Shipping Office were subsequently established at Williamstown on 28 March 1860 (Government Gazette, 30 March 1860) and at Sandridge on 19 April 1860 (Government Gazette, 20 April 1860). The Imperial Merchant Shipping Act Amendment Act 1862 (25 & 26 Vic., C 63) changed the names of Shipping Offices to Mercantile Marine Offices and Shipping Masters to Superintendents of Mercantile Marine Offices. The change of titles took place in Victoria in January 1869 (Government Gazette, 29 January 1869).

    The role of the Shipping Office/Mercantile Marine Office was to facilitate and oversee the engagement and discharge of seamen and apprentices to the sea service. The facilities provided were subject to fees payable by ships masters. The Offices were located within the Department of Trade and Customs (VA 606) until 1901 and then within the Chief Secretarys Department (VA 475) to 1922. Responsibility for attesting master and seamen engagements and discharges transferred to the Commonwealth under Parts II and III of the Commonwealth Navigation Act 1912, which became effective on 1 March 1922 when the Navigation (Master and Seamen) Regulations were passed.

    Seamens Discharge Certificates 1882 to 1922

    This series comprises counterfoils (or stubs) of Certificates of Discharge issued to seamen upon their discharge or upon payment of their wages between 1882 and 1922. The Certificates were signed by the Master of the ship and authorised by the Mercantile Marine Office. The counterfoils record details about the ships, the birthplaces and ages of the seamen, the dates of engagement and discharge, and the capacity, conduct and ability of the seamen. A few of the Certificates are also included in the series which give additional details. It is supposed that these Certificates were not claimed or in some cases were found and handed in to the Mercantile Marine Office.

    It is not certain why the series commenced in July 1882. The series ends in January 1922 when the Commonwealth Mercantile Marine Office assumed responsibility.

  • Recordkeeping System
    The Certificates of Discharge were issued from books in chronological order by date of discharge according to the area of trade of the ship as follows:

    I = Intercolonial
    FG = Foreign Going
    AG = Aust General
    UK United Kingdom (British)
    G = General
    F = Foreign
    A = Australian


    The books of counterfoils are numbered consecutively from 1 to 843. Each Certificate of Discharge was also numbered. From book 1 to book 359 the Certificates were numbered consecutively from 1. From book 360 they were numbered from 1 to 250 within each book and therefore identified by the Certificate number and the book number.

    The few original Certificates included in the series (Units 40 to 42) have been bundled by year of issue and alphabetically by the name of the ship

More research resourcesMore research resources
    PROVguide052 Immigration Records
    PROVguide049 Ships' Crew
Indexes and RegistersIndexes and Registers
Display entries per page
Date Range Series Title Series Number
Controlled SeriesControlled Series
Display entries per page
Date Range Series Title Series Number
Previous SeriesPrevious Series
Display entries per page
Transfer Date Series Title Series Number
Subsequent SeriesSubsequent Series
Display entries per page
Transfer Date Series Title Series Number
List/s of records in this seriesList/s of records in this series
Display entries per page
Consignment Number Contents Date Range Public Access No. of Units
P0000 1882 - 1922 Open 42
Indexes and RegistersIndexes and Registers
Display entries per page
Date Range Series Title Series Number
More research resourcesMore research resources
    PROVguide052 Immigration Records
    PROVguide049 Ships' Crew