Series VPRS 945
Release Books (Mercantile Marine Office)
About this Series Related Series Accessing the records in this Series
Date Range: Series ? 1857 - 1922
  Series in Custody 1857 - 1922
  Contents 1857 - 1922
Public Access: Part Open
Location: North Melbourne
Format of Records: Physical
 
Agency which created this SeriesAgency which created this Series
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Date Range Agency Title Agency Number
1857 - 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
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Description of this SeriesDescription of this Series
  • How to use the Records
    The releases were recorded in date order. Separate volumes were used to record the releases for Intercolonial/Australian or Foreign voyages and for steamer voyages. Consult the consignment details 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 (VPRS 558) 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 release books (this series) 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.

    Release Books 1857 to 1922

    This series comprises a record of the mutual release signed by ships masters and seamen after discharge and settlement of wages at the termination of a voyage. The release applied to all claims between the two parties in respect of the engagement on the particular voyage.

    The series appears to have commenced in April 1857. It ended in 1922 when the Commonwealth Mercantile Marine Office assumed responsibility.

    It is assumed that before Federation the releases were recorded upon the discharge in Melbourne of the crew of all British ships, whether they were registered locally or in the United Kingdom. The separation of some of the books into Australian and Foreign releases relates to the area of trade of the ship and not the origin of the ship. Further research is required, however, into the scope of the records.

  • Recordkeeping System
    The releases were recorded in date order. Separate volumes were used to record releases according to the area of trade (ie. Intercolonial/Australian or Foreign voyages) and for steamer voyages.

More research resourcesMore research resources
    PROVguide052 Immigration Records
    PROVguide049 Ships' Crew
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Consignment Number Contents Date Range Public Access No. of Units
P0000 1857 - 1922 Part Open 87
Indexes and RegistersIndexes and Registers
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More research resourcesMore research resources
    PROVguide052 Immigration Records
    PROVguide049 Ships' Crew