Researching your ancestors' occupations

How to identify your ancestors' occupations and find more information their employment history.

The Public Service in Victoria

The European settlement of Victoria officially began in 1836, with the establishment of the Port Phillip District. The District came under the administration of New South Wales so public service lists for that period were the responsibility of the New South Wales government.

In 1851 the separation of the Colony of Victoria from New South Wales occurred, however a fully representative government, complete with public sector departments and authorities, wasn't established until 1855. Victoria became a state in January 1901, with the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia.

For government records relating to the Victorian public service please see -

For government records relating to Victorians employed in the Commonwealth Public Service records please see -
Australian Public Service records 1901 onward.

Civil servants in front of the Spring Street government offices, Melbourne, Victoria.
[ca.1900 - ca. 1930]. H81.94/1

Public Service lists 1851 onward

Lists of employees in the Victorian Public Service were published in the Victoria government gazette between 1863 and 1975.

Statistical register of Victoria 1868–1916

Published annually it includes a section usually labelled the “Blue book” which lists people such as the governor, ministers, members of Parliament, judges, some officers of the police and defence forces, university professors and some senior officers not employed under the Public Service Act.

The Blue books are online via the Victorian Parliamentary Papers Database.

Please note: some years have more information than others. For example in the issues from 1887 to 1891, the Blue book included most public servants.

Civil establishment of Victoria 1863-1867

Also known as the “Blue book”. This list includes; governors, ministers, members of Parliament, judges, senior offices in the police force, officers of the defence forces, most public servants and senior government officials not employed under the Public Service Act.

They are available online via the Victorian Parliamentary Papers Database.


There is a civil establishment section listed in the table of contents of the Statistics of the colony of Victoria for the years 1856-1962.

They are available online via the Victorian Parliamentary Papers Database.

Online - 1851-1855
Available online at the Library in the Ancestry Library Edition eresource. Part of 'Victoria, Australia, selected trial brief and correspondence registers and other images, 1837-1993'. Look for 'Blue Books', then sections in each book labelled 'Civil establishment' and 'Pensions'.

Online - 1863 to 1883
Searching the Victoria government gazette with the subject "Civil Service" and the keyword "lists" will return most lists from 1863 to 1883. These are not complete lists but include 'classified officers'. (Note that employees of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works were listed elsewhere).

There are a small number of lists available online through the Victorian Parliamentary Papers database with intermittent coverage spanning 1851-1891. 

Online - 1886-1965
Searching the Victoria government gazette with the subject "Public Service Act" and the keyword "lists" or "persons employed" will return most most years from 1886 to 1965.

Until 1944 the list was usually published in the gazette on 31 January, or a few days prior, so you could browse those gazettes for the list. From 1969 to 1975 it was published in late May. 

See the tab above for more on Government gazettes.

Microfilm/print - 1837-1989
The Library holds the following in print/microfilm:

'Blue books 1851-1855', part of the Colonial microfiche series, in the Family History & Newspapers Room at LTMF 53 (V4). Look for sections in each book labelled 'Civil establishment' and 'Pensions'.

Victorian government/public service records, 1837–1900 (on microfilm - some gaps) includes-

  • Government officers 1837-1854 (from Blue Books) - IN 63-64
  • Civil establishment of Victoria 1853 - IN 97
  • Civil establishment of Victoria 1854 -1855 IN 98
  • Civil establishment of Victoria 1861-1866,  1876, 1879, 1882-- IN 99
  • Victoria. Classified list of officers of the Civil Service, 1862-1863, 1866-1883 -- IN 100
  • Victoria. Persons employed in the Public Service, 1884-1894 -- IN 101
  • Victoria. Persons employed in the Public Service, 1895-1900; Victoria. Public Service List.-- IN 102

Return of persons employed in the Public Service, 1884–1975 ('Blue books', print)

List of officers in the Public Service, 1884–1989 (print)

Use online and microfilm options in preference to print where available.

Public Service lists: 1836-1851

New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony (Blue books)
These volumes record sets of statistical returns of the Colony of New South Wales and of areas under its jurisdiction.They were compiled annually from 1822 to 1857 by the Colonial Secretary for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London.
Further information on this collection can be found on the NSW State archives website.

The Civil Establishment (1822-57) section includes lists of officers in the Civil, Judicial, Police, Penal, Medical, Ecclesiastical and Educational Establishments. Information includes: position, date of first appointment and salary. An alphabetical list of officers usually appears at the beginning of the section.

The Returns of the Colony can be found in the following collection -
Returns of the colony New South Wales: [microform] Colonial Secretary. Sydney.
Available in the Newspapers and Family history Reading Rooms - Call number  GMF 118  BOX 1

and can also be found in the following databases -

Port Phillip Expenditure Accounts

This series consists of expenditure authorities received and maintained by the sub-Treasurer of the Port Phillip District. Supporting documentation includes listings of staff at specific locations, for the payment of wages.Copies of the Port Phillip Expenditure Accounts are held at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). Many volumes have been digitised and can be accessed online through the PROV website.
There is no online index to the records however the following index is available at PROV.

Index to Public Servants as found in VPRS 29 Port Phillip Expenditure Accounts, 1841-1845; 1846-1848; 1851.
Microfilm copy of index cards, arranged by year and then in alphabetical order.


It is also possible to find a list of Victorian public servants from 1836-1839 in the following volumes of the “Historical Records of Victoria” Foundation series -

Beginnings of Permanent Government. Historical Records of Victoria. Foundation Series ; v. 1. 


Public Finance of Port Phillip, 1836-1840. Historical Records of Victoria. Foundation Series, v. 7. 

Public service legislation

Useful information on the establishment of the Victorian Public Service can be found in the following Acts:
The Act to regulate the Civil Service, 1862 lists the regulation of duties and salaries and the system of appointment, promotion, dismissal, leave and superannuation. This act was updated by the Public Service Act of 1883, which was later repealed by the Public Service Act of 1890. More recent acts can be found on the Austlii database (under Public Service).

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)

Although the records of many Victorian government agencies are held at the Public Record Office Victoria,  many records remain with the relevant agency, or may have been destroyed.

Try searching the PROV website for specific government departments and agencies or explore their series of online indexes, available for some of their larger collections of employment records, including:

Further information on various government areas can be found on separate pages of this guide i.e. teachers and transportation.

Public servants drill. 1940. H99.201/5069

Australian Public Service records: 1901 onward

The Australian Public Service was established with the Federation of Australia, on January 1, 1901. All appointments to the public service were made under section 67 of the Australian Constitution, which continued until the commencement of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902.

Commonwealth Government Gazette

Details of  public service appointments and vacancies can be found in the Commonwealth Government Gazette.

Digitised copies of the Commonwealth Government Gazette are available online through the  Trove database.
PDF copies can be accessed through the  Federal Register of Legislation.

Oct 2012 onward -
The following collections can be accessed through the Federal Register of Legislation.

For further information please see our Commonwealth government publications research guide.

Australia, Commonwealth Public Service Lists, 1904 and 1920

 35,000 records of persons who were listed in the 1904 and 1920 publications List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service. Details include, name, date of birth, date of appointment, class and salary.

Newspaper articles

The Trove Digitised Newspaper database provides full text access to a range of Victorian newspapers, published between 1803-1954.

Try searching Trove for a name, a name and place, or a name and department. Use quotation marks around keywords to search as an exact phrase, i.e. "William Ross Anderson".

Article on the retirment of a popular civil servant. Mr William Ross Anderson

Popular Civil Servant. The Herald, 3 June 1919, p. 1.


If the newspaper isn't on Trove you may need to explore the collections held in the State Library's Newspapers & Family History Reading Rooms.

Newspaper databases

Our Library subscribes to a wide range of current and historic Australian and international newspapers databases. They are available in the Library and many can be accessed offsite by Victorian residents who are registered State Library members.

More information can be found in our Newspapers research guides.