These two large handwritten leather-bound ledgers hold the service records of 1,700 Australians and New Zealanders engaged in the Commonwealth Naval Forces between 1903 and 1911. These records were kept by the Royal Navy, which, from 1903 till the formation of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 1911, maintained a squadron of ships called the Australian Squadron. The records were donated by the British Ministry of Defence to the Australian War Memorial in 1994.
A genealogical treasure trove, these volumes flesh out the story of Australian naval history, providing much information about each individual, including place of birth, conduct, training, promotions, and movement between ships. Length of service is also recorded, and it is noted when an individual continued to serve in the RAN after 1911.
Taken together, the individual records provide a vivid image of navy life. Physical descriptions of the men describe such details as their tattoos, which ranged from traditional anchors to Buffalo Bill and ballet girls. The entries on previous employment span typical occupations of the time: farmers, labourers, painters, butchers, bookmakers, fishermen and seamen. And some of the more unusual professions: hat-blocker, rope-maker, book-clicker, confectioner, tea-blender. Collectively, the records also reveal the problems of naval life; for example, the high level of desertions that occurred in this period, and the penalties and punishments that were meted out.