Registers of coroners' inquests and magisterial inquiries, 1834-June 1942
Inquests are investigations by the Crown into a person's cause of death and may be undertaken by the government when the dead person is unidentified, has died from suicide or homicide, if the cause of death is unclear or if the person died in state care, such as in hospitals or asylums. The Registers of Coroners' Inquests may provide useful information such as the name and age of the deceased, the finding (including cause of death) and, sometimes, place of birth, place of death and property owned at time of death. A guide to inquest and coronial inquiry records held at State Records NSW for the period 1796-1942 (Archives in Brief 4) is available on their website.
How to find out about a convict's death
You will first need to search a guide to find location details to access the indexes to the Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial inquiries. Then, you will be able to search these records.
To search these records you need to know the approximate date of your convict's death as inquests are usually (though not always) held near the date of death. If you are unsure of their date of death you could use the last known recorded date when they were still alive as a starting point and work forward through the records from there.
Be aware: The indexes can be difficult to access, aren't comprehensive and not all years are indexed. Some of the inquest registers are extremely hard to read - they are all handwritten and the quality of the original records varies widely. Ask a librarian if you require assistance.
- STEP 1
Find the Guide to the NSW Archives Resources Kit or Using the Archives Resources Kit (see full catalogue details for this item) on the 'NSW Archives Kit' shelves in the Family History Service (or you can access it at State Records NSW or any of the community access points which holds the Archives Resources Kit).
- STEP 2
Turn to the 'Contents' page and find 'Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial inquiries' and its associated page number in the guide. Turn to this page for some background information on the registers as well as a list of the State Records NSW reel numbers covering these registers, the date ranges and inquest numbers (Inclusive No's) that each reel covers and the location of available indexes to these records (not all records are indexed).
- STEP 3
Using the date of death of the person you are researching, consult the table in the guide under the indexes section to see if there is an index available for the timeframe that you are searching.
Note the reel number associated with the relevant index, eg if you are searching for 'William Kenyon' who died in 1891, you would look in the table for a date range covering this year and note down the associated reel number which contains the index.
Reel Dates Item No. Register Indexed 2224 1889-1891 (5/7934) (4/6620)
In this example you would search Reel Number 2224 which will contain the index covering the years 1889-1891.
- STEP 4
Now find Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial inquiries (see full catalogue details for this item) on microfilm reels (Reel numbers 2921-2927, 2224-2225 and 2763-2769) on the microfilm shelves in the Family History Service in the State Library of NSW. This makes up part of the Archives Resources Kit.
- STEP 5
Select the box labelled with the reel number that you noted from the Guide to the NSW Archives Resources Kit. Load the microfilm from the box into the microfilm reader. The reel may contain a number of different indexes covering different date ranges. The start of each index is labelled clearly with the date range that it covers. Move forward through the microfilm until you find the start of the index that corresponds to the year/s you are searching.TIP
For the period May 1859-March 1864, the indexes are the only records which have survived, as the original inquest registers have been destroyed. Other indexes are available only on cards at State Records NSW (plan a visit).
- STEP 6
Each index is arranged alphabetically, using the first letter of a surname. However, within an alphabetical grouping the names are not alphabetically arranged and you will need to search through all entries for that letter of the alphabet until you find the person you are looking for. If searching for 'William Kenyon', for example, you would need to search through all entries under the letter 'K' until you find his entry. First names are not generally given and some entries consist only of surname and inquest number. Locate the person who you are researching in the index. An example of an index entry is as follows:
Inquest No. Inquest Medical Coroner 150 Kenyon William A.R. Hosts 9th Feb H.J. Chisholm
- STEP 7
Consult the Guide to the NSW Archives Resources Kit or Using the Archives Resources Kit (see full catalogue details for this item) again which you located in Step 1. Using the inquest number noted from the index entry, consult the table in the guide under the 'Item List' section to see which reel you will need to search to find the register entry of the person you are searching.
From May 1838-1866 the inquest records are arranged numerically by inquest number (1-200069). Beginning in 1867, the first part of the inquest number tells you which year the inquest was held in and the second number is the inquest number, eg 67/1 would represent inquest number 1 of the year 1867. So, using 'William Kenyon' as an example, you would combine the date of his inquest with his inquest number to form the number 91/150 as his date of inquest was after 1866.
- STEP 8
Note down the reel number associated with the relevant inquest numbers, eg if you are searching for 'William Kenyon' whose inquest number is 91/150, you would look in the table under the 'Inclusive Nos.' column for a range of numbers covering this inquest number and note down the associated reel number which contains the register with the entry you are searching.
Reel Dates Inclusive Nos. Item No. 2925 1891-1894 91/1-94/1330 (4/6620)
In this example you would search Reel Number 2925 which will contain the registers covering the years, 1891-1894, and the inquest numbers, 91/1-94/1330.
- STEP 9
Now find the microfilm reels for Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial inquiries (see full catalogue details for this item) again which you located in Step 4. Select the box labelled with the reel number that you noted from the Guide to the NSW Archives Resources Kit in Step 8. Load the microfilm from the box into the microfilm reader.
For 1838 to 1866 the registers are arranged chronologically, by inquest number. All registers after 1866 are arranged chronologically by year and then by inquest number within a year. Move forward through the microfilm until you find the inquest number you noted from the index entry.
If the inquest you are looking for happened after 1866 you will first need to find the correct year on the microfilm and then find the inquest number within that year. An example of an entry is as follows:
No. 150 Date when received 11th (Feb 1891) Coroner or Magistrate before whom held H.J. Chisholm Where held Yass Gaol Date 9th (Feb 1891) Name of deceased William Kenyon Age 67 Where born England Locality of death Yass Gaol Verdict Haemorrhage caused by a rupture of a blood vessel in the neck produced by cancer Cash or property possessed by deceased 1/6 Remarks