What were they paid?

Despite the advice that you shouldn’t discuss what you earn, this topic generates plenty of curiosity amongst our readers. 


Are you interested in discovering what your ancestors may have been paid? Or are you looking to add historical accuracy to a novel you're writing?

Here are some resources to help you find who earned what.

Seamen Wages 1941

Seamen wages 1941, The Official Year Book of New South Wales

NSW Year Books

The Year Books offer detailed statistics and analysis on everything from commerce and labour to health and food prices. The index lists occupations such as policemen, carpenters, labourers and cooks, and paints a picture of the variety of historic jobs in NSW.  You can find NSW Year Books through the ABS website and, of course, here at the Library.  For example, the 1940/41 year book includes the monthly wages of Seamen on Coastal and Interstate Vessels.

Blue Books or Public Service Lists 

In the Blue Books you can find the name, position, salary and date of appointment of those working for government, and each of them  tells their own story.  In 1929 Jessie Enid Chestnut was a shorthand-writer and typist at the Mental Hospital Gladesville. She made £165 per annum and was first appointed to the position on the 28th December 1926.  

Later Blue Books (1871-1960) can be found on the OpenGov NSW website. For 1871 – 1894 search by the title ‘Blue Book for the year’. After 1897 search by the title ‘New South Wales Public Service List’.  Similar records for years earlier than 1871 can be found on microfiche or on Ancestry.com.


Trove contains a wealth of context on wages and salaries in both the newspapers and Government Gazettes.

In the newspapers section, you can find court cases about amounts of unpaid wages, or job advertisements with pay rates. In 1945 we can see that Casino Free Library decided to employ a new librarian and would pay £240 for a male and £180 for a female. A letter appears a few weeks later from a concerned citizen, remarking that the librarian “is offered 12 pounds a year less than is paid to any man in NSW working for the basic wage, which buys the minimum requirement of food, clothing and shelter”. 

The NSW Government Gazettes publish regulations, including pay rates for government workers. In April 1913, the Regulations under the Public Service Act 1902 listed the rates of salary, allowances and increments of officers of the Prisons Department. Chief Warders earnt a maximum yearly salary of £226 whilst Probationary Female Warders earned £110. 

Darlinghurst Gaol

Entrance to Darlinghurst Gaol 1887, SPF / 169

Before the official Government Gazette began in 1832, government notices were placed in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser,  Australia's first newspaper.  In Australia’s early days convicts arrived in the colony with skills from their previous professions. Some of these previous professions in the convict indents which are available here in the Library to view, on microfilm or on Ancestry.com

Well known convicts who used their previous professional training were William Redfern (surgeon) and Francis Greenway (architect). Alongside Francis Greenway on the General Hewitt were brickmakers, shoemakers, labourers and butchers. Convicts were paid £10 per annum for work done after they had finished their mandated hours for their assigned masters. This government notice in the The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser also shows that female convicts were to be paid £7 per annum from December 1816. 

Find out more about convicts and their work in the Library's research guide Convicts: Life in the colony or in the book Convict workers: reinterpreting Australia's past edited by Stephen Nicholas.

Camden Park Estate, 12 June 1944 / photographed by Ivan

Camden Park Estate, 12 June 1944 / photographed by Ivan

ON 388/Box 019/Item 068


The Library's manuscript collection includes the papers of various businesses and companies such as the records of Camden Park Estate. In 1805 John Macarthur was granted land in the ‘Cowpastures’ area and named it Camden Park after his patron Lord Camden. It became a thriving estate which played an important role in the early years of the Australian wine and wool industry. The collection we have includes various wages registers, ledgers and pay sheets. The wages register from October 1938 shows that family groups appeared to be employed together at Camden Park. There were four from the Sharpe family, two from the Luck family and two from the Holdsworth family.

If you search for the term 'wages' in the Library's Manuscripts, Oral History and Pictures catalogue you will find entries for the following collections: 


NSW Industrial Awards 

From 2010, most federal and state awards were streamlined into 122 modern awards which now cover most Australian workplaces. Use the Fair Work Ombudsman's Award Finder tool to search an award. Prior to 2010 awards were published in the New South Wales industrial gazette which we hold here at the Library. The Library's NSW Industrial Awards Research Guide have more information on how to use the gazettes .