Colonial defence personnel records held in Melbourne – Fact sheet 134

The collection in Melbourne includes many personnel service records of the Victorian colonial defence force, which were transferred to the Commonwealth following Federation in 1901. Details of major records holdings are in the table below.

The Victorian colonial defence force

Volunteer Forces – The first colonial military unit in Victoria (separate to regular British units, which maintained a presence until 1870) was the Melbourne Rifle Regiment, formed in 1854. Subsequent expansion, often through private initiative, resulted in the creation of Cavalry, Artillery, Engineer, Torpedo and Signal units, with titles deriving from the localities in which they were raised. All units were 'volunteer', with service part time and unpaid. The volunteer forces were disbanded in 1884.

Militia Forces – A 'Militia' organisation replaced the volunteer forces from 1884. The Militia were paid, and enrolled for a fixed term. Although service remained part time, members were obliged to attend a number of full days training per year, in the form of annual camps, to qualify as effective.

Mounted Rifles and Victorian Rangers – The Victorian Mounted Rifles (not to be confused with similarly named contingents to the Boer War) were first formed in December 1885, with companies recruited in rural centres. The Victorian Rangers, an infantry equivalent, were raised in 1888. A small allowance only was paid to members, and Mounted Riflemen were required to provide their own mount. Members of country rifle clubs formed significant components of both corps. No service records are held for these units, but information may be found in correspondence records for the period.

Permanent Artillery Corps (or the Victorian Artillery) – This force was created in 1870 to provide standing garrisons for fortifications in the colony, and instructional staff for Volunteer Forces artillery units. Its numbers never exceeded 300 men.

Naval Brigade – First formed in 1859, this force contained a high proportion of ex-Royal Navy men. Service was part time and unpaid. Trained in infantry and artillery drill, both ashore and aboard ship, the brigade supplemented the small permanent navy. The Brigade was divided into Williamstown and Sandridge (Port Melbourne) divisions.

Permanent Naval Forces – These came into effective existence in 1867 with the acquisition of the obsolete, Napoleonic era, line-of-battle ship HMVS Nelson. Further vessels were added in subsequent years. Generally, Permanent Naval personnel formed only a portion of these ships' total complement, being supplemented by members of the Naval Brigade.

Personnel service records of the Victorian colonial defence force

All records have been digitised and can be viewed online through RecordSearch, with the exception of those records in series B5718 and B5549.

Other offices of the Archives, located in each capital city, also hold collections of passenger lists as both originals and copies on microfilm.

For more information

See the following fact sheets for additional information on defence records held in Melbourne:

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019