Biographical Database of Australia

Victualling Lists

Index :

General Information

Victus: food, sustenance. Victual: Whatever is normally required or may naturally be used for consumption to support life; food or provision of any kind. [The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, ed. C.T. Onions, George Newnes Limited, London, 1933].

It was essential that government provide all persons on the First Fleet with food and clothing upon arrival, and also for many others arriving in the early years of the colonies. The non-arrival of the storeship Guardian nearly led to the starvation and abandonment of the new colony at Sydney during 1790. [Ref: The Last Voyage of the Guardian – Lieutenant Riou, Commander 1789-1791. Edited with an introduction by M.D. Nash. Pub. By Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, 1990].

A Government store was set up which housed imported provisions, clothing, bedding and utensils. As the colony began to grow food, the store bought produce from private farmers. From about 1804 some government clothing was made by convict women at the Parramatta Female Factory.

Initially the entire colony was “on stores” (that is, rationed from the public stores). As convicts were distributed to private citizens as servants or farm labourers, they were taken off stores and supported by their employers. Some land grantees and their families were allowed to remain on stores for a limited period while they cleared their land and began to grow food.

As the colony expanded, government stores were established in the towns such as Parramatta, Windsor, Liverpool, Bathurst etc. and each kept their own stores victualling list. Peoples’ names were added as they went ‘On’ and were crossed through when their time to receive stores expired – ‘Off’ stores. A number of musters show if a person was ‘On’ or ‘Off’ stores.

Exactly one month after the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove Commissary Andrew Miller drew up a document titled “A List of Persons who have been Victualled from His Majesty’s Stores, commencing the 26th day of February 1788, with the Births, Deaths and Discharges  to the 17th November 1788”.

The list did not include:

  •  The small contingent of 23 settlers (seamen, marines, convicts and two surgeons), despatched to settle Norfolk Island earlier in February.
  • The crews who remained on the fleet’s naval and merchant ships anchored in Port Jackson (the crews were victualled separately from their own ships’ stores).
  • Some male convicts and one female convict who absconded into the bush almost immediately after landing. Several probably sailed with La Perouse’s French ships. The rest died in the bush, with the exception of John Wilson, who learned survival skills from from the Aboriginal population and was accepted by them.

But the list was in effect the first complete muster of the population, comprising more than 1,000 officials, marines, convicts, wives and children who were to remain in the colony. The document allowed the commissary to account for public expenditure on rations, clothing, utensils and other store items distributed to the people from temporary storehouses near the shores of Sydney Cove. Each individual was allocated to a mess of six persons who collected the rations and clothing on behalf of the others in an orderly roster similar to routines followed on the ships. Cooking was done at communal kitchens.

Between 1788 and 1795 returns of the civil establishment were compiled and in November 1791 a return, signed by Commissary John Palmer, was sent to England giving a population count at Sydney and Norfolk Island. It gave the numbers of the militia, civil establishment, settlers, convicts and people on rations – either fully or in part dependent. [Ref: HRA, (I) I, p.298]. Similar returns were made in 1792, 1793 and 1794.

Between 1792 and 1796 a victualling list was kept for Norfolk Island listing convicts, the military, settlers, free persons, civil officers and all children. A similar list survives for the island for 1802. Yet another Norfolk Island list survives from 1805, though it has been labelled (perhaps wrongly) as a muster. On the mainland a victualling list dated roughly 1812-1822 has survived for the Windsor district.

Information page compiled by Malcolm Sainty and Michael Flynn, August 2013.

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