Colonial Secretary's Office Records

Peter Broun, First Colonial Secretary, c. 1840s.	 [003117D]The Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) originated with the appointment of Peter Broun Esq. as first Colonial Secretary on 30 December 1828. The CSO was established as the chief administrative office for the new Colony with the Colonial Secretary responsible for conducting the business of the Governor with the various Government Departments of the day as well as with the Colonists, collectively and individually.

The Colonial Secretary was a member of both the Executive and Legislative Councils from their formation in 1832. Following the attainment of Responsible Government in 1890 the position of Colonial Secretary was held by a Minister, with the Under Secretary becoming the administrative head of the department from that date.

The CSO was responsible for an ever increasing variety of functions including customs, post offices, shipping, harbours, prisons, and Aborigines. The Colonial Secretary dealt directly with England in matters concerning the Colony.

After Federation the Office of the Colonial Secretary continued, although the scope of its functions were reduced as many of the CSO's responsibilities passed to the Commonwealth and State Governments. In 1924 the CSO was renamed the Chief Secretary's Department and the Minister in charge was titled the Chief Secretary. By 1980 its responsibilities had been limited to prisons, astronomical services, Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Correspondence Despatch Office and it ceased to exist as a separate department in 1983.

Some Chief Secretary's Office records are still only listed in AN 24.

Additional records of relevance include a brief listing of miscellaneous CSO records at AN 141 and the records of the Friendly Societies Office at AN 372 which was to eventually come under the control of the Chief Secretary's Office.

Colonial Secretary's Office - General Correspondence

The Colonial Secretary's Office records represent one of the most diverse and comprehensive historical resources available for the early years of the Swan River Colony. These records comprise of inward correspondence from both settlers and officials to the Colonial Secretary's Office, as well as the relevant outward correspondence, and cover the period 1828-1973. Letters received cover a range of topics reflecting the influential role of the Colonial Secretary in the running of the Colony. Subjects covered in the correspondence include matters connected with Aborigines, Resident Magistrates (by District), Police Magistrates, Police, paupers, Comptroller General (for Convicts), Mining, Harbours, Pensioners, Land and Military to name a few.

Inward letters to the CSO are divided into three series, each covering a distinct period and detailing a different organizational scheme. The guide sheets provide details on the types of indexes and registers available for each series and detail the steps required to access these records.

The original indexes and registers are held for both the inward and outward correspondence. All indexes and registers are available for use on microfilm from the State Records Office's Microforms Area, while several of the original volumes are available for use in the Search Room.

For details on how to access the CSO correspondence and a breakdown of the available indexes and registers please refer to the appropriate guide sheet for the period required:

Please Note: Most correspondence between the years 1828-1878 has survived, however after this period many of the letters and files are missing, either lost or destroyed.

CSO Indexes and Registers. Colonial Secretary's Office Records

In addition to the original indexes archives staff have compiled the Colonial Secretary's Office Card Index to assist in accessing CSO correspondence for the period 1828-1832. This alphabetical card index contains references to inward and outward correspondence, arranged by name of writer or official position of writer.

Also indexed are references taken from the Swan River Papers and the Exploration Diaries (1827-1871), as well as articles from the Journal of the Western Australia Historical Society (1927-1945) and other publications. The index is available for use in the State Records Office Search Room. Furthermore, a listing of all files held for 1919-1973 has been compiled and can be located in AN 24 and a general subject guide to the 1828-1878 correspondence is available at the back of AN 24 Vol 1.

Other Colonial Secretary's Office Records

Not all records created by the CSO can be found within the main correspondence series. Some registers, minutes, accounts, unregistered files and other miscellaneous records have been received by the SRO as distinct series, separate to the general correspondence.
"Resident Fremantle" Entry from the CSO Subject Index - Official Correspondence Received, 1862-1871, Acc 51, Item 8Examples of some of the other CSO records available include:

  • Files - General, 1933-1976, Series 675, Consignment 1597
    This small collection of files created by the Chief Secretary's Office deals principally with the issue of licences to collect money under the Charitable Collections Act. Other subjects covered include uniform censorship of films and obscene publications.
  • Registers - Civil Service Appointments, 1840-1884, Acc 488, Item 21-22, AN 24
    Lists all government appointees for the period given, alphabetically by surname.
  • Returns - Bank of Western Australia, 1837-1880, Acc 49, Item 20, AN 24
    Annual quarterly and monthly returns received by the CSO.
  • Magisterial Reports, 1856-1859, Acc 40, AN 24
    Weekly accounts of the business transacted by the district Resident Magistrate, including details on places visited and orders given to police.
  • Immigration - Arrivals, 1902-1912, Acc 489, AN 24
    Statistical information on immigration during the period breaking down numbers of immigrants arriving by port of arrival and by country of origin. Names of vessels bringing immigrants are also given.
  • Charitable Collections Files, 1945-1974, Acc 1597, AN 24
    Files relating to charitable associations, particularly branch offices of RSL clubs.
  • Card Index, 1919-1949, Acc 1274, AN 24
    Card index recording the history of every file allocated a number by the Chief Secretary's central registry between 1919 and 1949. Cards list the file title and note the disposition (whether the file was destroyed, archived or transferred to another department). A complete listing of surviving CSO files for this period can be found in AN 24/2.

Further Information

State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide assistance in accessing the records of the Colonial Secretary's Office. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, via email at or in person.