Chelsea Pensioners in Australia

Receipt for Pension Payment

WO 22, Piece 291, 1878, New Zealand – AJCP Reel 1160

Chelsea Pensioners in Australia

The following article was written and presented by me at the Fourth Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry held in Canberra in 1986, and was published in the Congress Proceedings titled “Bridging the Generations”.

Chelsea Pensioners in Nineteenth Century Australia

by Grahame Thom

My paper sets out to explore the various pension records available in Australasia and the Public Record Office, London (now The National Archives at Kew), relating to people who had served in the British Army in the 19th century and on discharge received a small pension. Many of these pensioners settled in Australasia. It is not an indepth examination but a paper which examines some aspects of researching 19th century pension records.

The reason why I consider pension records to be a valuable source for family historians is that a researcher may find an ancestor who had served in the army but cannot establish the name or number of the regiment. This is so important in tracing a soldier’s career. Two common sources indicating a connection with the army are a death certificate or an obituary notice stating that the deceased had been a “chelsea Pensioner”. This paper only addresses records relating to “other ranks” as tracing officers is an easier task because of the publication of yearly lists of officers.


A “Chelsea Pensioner” refers to a retired soldier who had either lived as an in-pensioner at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, or who had become an out-pensioner of the Hospital by living elsewhere while receiving pension payments.

The Royal Hospital was founded by Charles II and the first in-pensioners took up residence in 1692. Until as recently as 1955 the Royal Hospital was responsible for the administration of all British army pensions. Prior to 1806 many senior officials administering the pension system took advantage of their access to funds and the passing of the Pensions Act in 1806 ended a period of parsimony and injustice.

This Act made all pensions a legal right instead of a bounty proceeding from the Crown. Men who had previously received five pence a day now had a legal right to as much as two shillings depending on length of service, nature of wounds, degree of disability and service locations. Before the passing of the Pensions Act at the end of 1806 and 21,000 out-pensioners were receiving 180,000 pounds per annum. After the passing of the Act these pensioners received about 357.000 pounds. By 1826 the number of out-pensioners had increased to around 83,000 costing about 1.4 million pounds a year.

This greatly increased cost together with a view that commanding officers were discharging bad soldiers early, caused the Government to repeal the Pensions Act. This eliminated the legal right to a pension but increased pension rates. By these new measures the Government hoped to better control grants of pensions.

Since payments to out-pensioners commenced in 1685 each pensioner contributed a “poundage deduction” towards the cost of maintaining the Royal Hospital. In 1833 Lord John Russell, as Paymaster General, reduced the poundage from one shilling to sixpence a day and introduced quarterly payments in advance. Then from 1847 out-pensioners received their full pension when poundage deductions were abolished.

In the late 1800s there were three parliamentary inquiries into the viability of the Royal Hospital but it survived until 1955 as the administration centre for pensions. But the Caldwell reforms, in particular the Short Service Act of 1870, had an immediate effect on the out-pension arrangements, because they changed the entire basis of qualification through the introduction of limited engagement as a soldier.

In 1870 the Vivian inquiry into the Hospital reported that there were 538 in-pensioners and 64,000 out-pensioners. Many of these retired soldiers were living in Australasia having either arrived as a pensioner or retired from a regiment on a tour of duty. The last British regiment to serve in Australia, the 17th, left in 1870.

Pension Records

There are many useful records available at the Public Record Office, London, for research relating to British Army pensioners and the following are examples of the more important sources.

Admission Books (WO 116 and 117) – there are 154 volumes covering the period 1715 to 1882 of out-pensioners in chronological order according to the sitting date of the pension board (which approximates the date of discharge). This record usually gives a brief description of the pensioner, his age, place of birth, particulars of service, and reason for discharge.

Pension Registers (WO 23) – cover the period 1805 to 1895 in 123 volumes, and includes reports for the period 1830 to 1844 giving age, period of service, place of birth, rate of pension or reason for rejection, and place of intended residence.

Regimental registers (WO 120) – 70 volumes covering the period 1715 to 1857 with pensioner details by regiments (last served). The details up to 1843 are similar to WO 116. Volumes 52 to 70 (1845 to 1854) give date of granting the pension, the rate, and district where payment was made. From about 1812 dates of death were noted.

Discharge Documents for Pensioners (WO 122).

Documents of Soldiers Awarded Deferred Pensions 1838-1896 (WO 131).

But the most useful War Office class for researchers to use to establish a pensioner’s regiment is WO 22 – Out-pension Records, Pension Returns 1842-1883. Luckily most of these returns relate to pensioners living in the colonies and generally cover the period 1845 to 1880.

For Australasia these records are available for research in Australian and New Zealand major public libraries through the good work of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP). The following quote is taken from AJCP Handbook Part 4, War Office, page 11.

WO 22 “This Class consists of periodical returns of pensions paid or payable, arranged by district. Also included are receipts for pensions paid, certificates of death, etc. Information is included on the date of admission and residence for each military pensioner.”

Attachment A sets out a listing of the material available on the AJCP reels for WO 22. I will now comment on some aspects of this Class. The format of the pension returns generally provides in regiment order :

* Surname and given name
* Rate per day
* Date admitted (at first payment)
* Period of payment
* Calculation of pension
* Remarks

Records are grouped by colony, e.g. Victoria, Tasmania, New Zealand, for a particular period, see Attachment A. The first period for New South Wales covers 1845 to 1848, the second 1849 to 1853 and son on. The appearance of a pensioner’s name results from either being transferred from another register (from overseas or another colony) or from being admitted as a pensioner after discharge from a regiment in the colony.

The records usually indicate where and to when a pension was paid od date of ceasing regimental pay prior to being admitted. If a pensioner moves to another colony or country, the date of transfer is given and on occasions a date of death is recorded.

The recorders of these registers also noted other matters affecting the amount paid in a convenient space on the document, e.g. any gratuity paid, any deduction for amounts due to the army.

The following are some examples from the returns for New South Wales 1849 to 1853 (piece 272):

* James Bulger, 49th Regiment, paid at Limerick to 31 December 1849, received pension in New South Wales from 1 January 1850 to 30 June 1850, then transferred to Van Diemans Land.

* James Carney, 5th Artillery Regiment, paid at Plymouth to 31 March 1850, received pension in New South wales to date of death 22 September 1850.

* William Lane, 11th Regiment, regimental pay to 30 November 1850, paid pension from 1 December 1850 to the end of the period 31 December 1853 (payment continued in the next period).

I have prepared an alphabetical index for New South Wales 1849 to 1853 covering about 850 pensioners and includes one female, Judith Carr, who served in the East India Company. Click on the link below to see this index.

I might mention here that AJCP reel 3918 (WO 22, Piece 257) provides details of mercantile and marine pensions for 1871 to 1875. Also a number of pensioners were recruited in 1825 in England for the New South Wales Royal Veterans Corps. The Corps was reduced in 1830 and disbanded in the colonies in 1833. Many of these veterans would have once again become pensioners and so appear in the colonial returns.

Other Sources in Australia

Besides the microfilm records of the Australian Joint Copying Project, the various State Archives may hold pension records. I am aware of the following sources :


* Imperial pensions inwards letter book 22 April 1872 – 30 June 1913, reference A6820, provides date, from whom, address, subject and result.

* Imperial pension register 11 July 1872 – 16 June 1926, reference A6810-6817, provides date, name, service, amount, etc.

* Imperial pension registers 18 April 1872 – 16 October 1912, reference A6808-6809, provides personal information about the pensioner, alphabetical in part.

New South Wales – possible sources

* Colonial Special Bundles 1826 – 1963)

* Land and buildings for military veterans settling in various districts 1829 – 1836, reference 6/1039.

* Auditor General, Accounts of the Colonial Agent, London, 1824 – 1828, reference 2/843-44.

South Australia

* Pension returns 1 July 1843 to 31 December 1844, reference GRG 122/4. pp 83-88, details are the same as WO 22 above.


* During 1831 and 1832 a number of Chelsea pensioners arrived with their families at Hobart under an arrangement where they had commuted their pensions for a cash payment on the basis that they become settlers on small grants of land. Attachment B sets out nominal lists of those of the passengers that the Archives Office of Tasmania could clearly identify as Chelsea pensioners.

(Comment November 2009 – It will be appreciated that each State Archives Office has a web site and searches can be made for a record series. Also the numbering system may have changed. Therefore when using their online search facility it may be better to search using words, eg, Imperial pensions, rather than the reference number in this paper.)

In relation to the arrangement applying to pensioners arriving in Tasmania in 1832 I have found that at least six ships arriving in Sydney in 1832 carried Chelsea pensioners. It would be reasonable to assume they arrived under the same arrangements. These reports are included in the Colonial Secretary Reports of vessels arrived, Sydney, reference AO reel 1264; further research may reveal the names of these pensioners. The ships are :

* Sovereign arrived 2 April 1832 with 45 pensioners.

* Alexander arrived 30 April 1832 with 25 pensioners, wives and children.

* Sir William Wallace arrived 1 May 1832 with 23 pensioners, wives and children.

* Waterloo arrived 20 August 1832 with six pensioners, wives and children.

* Madeline arrived 21 August 1832 with 27 pensioners, wives and children.

* Wellington arrived 7 September 1832 with 34 pensioners, wives and children.

I hope this paper will prove useful to researchers having a Chelsea pensioner ancestor. By using these records to establish your ancestor’s regiment, steps can be taken to examine the various regimental records held by the Public Records Office, London, and on AJCP reels, such as Description and Succession Books (WO 25) and Muster Rolls (WO 12).

Appendix A

Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook, Part 4, War Office, page 22.

WO 22 Returns, Out-pension Records, Royal Hospital Chelsea

Pension Returns

Reel No. – Piece No. – Date – Description

3918- 208 – 1852-1862 – Miscellaneous
3918 – 226 – 1862-1867 – Pensioners on Convict Ships
920 – 227 – 1876-1880 – Australia
3918 – 234 – 1863-1870 – Black Pensions
1302 – 248 – 1845-1854 – Colonies, miscellaneous, (SA, WA, NSW, Port Phillip)
1162, 1302 – 249 – 1845-1854 – Colonies, miscellaneous, (NZ, VDL)
1302 – 250 – 1854-1862 – Colonies, miscellaneous, (VDL)
1302 – 251 – 1854-1862 – Colonies, miscellaneous, (NZ)
3918 – 256 – 1845-1854 – Colonies, miscellaneous, Mercantile
3918 – 257 – 1871-1875 – Colonies, miscellaneous, Mercantile & Admiralty, (Aust & NZ)
3918 – 260-1 – 1871-1876 – Consuls
3918 – 262 – 1877-1880 – Consuls
3918 – 263 – no date – Consuls summary
3918 – 266 – 1865-1867 – India Office (incl Aust & NZ)
3918 – 267 – 1871-1875 – Indian commuted pensions (incl Australian & NZ)
920-921 – 272 – 1849-1853 – NSW
921 – 273 – 1854-1862 – NSW
921-922 – 274 – 1871-1875 – NSW
922 – 275 – 1876-1880 – NSW
1155-1160 – 275-292 – 1875-1879 – NZ
1160-1161 – 293 – 1876-1880 – Summary
3918 – 297 – 1876-1880 – Queensland
3918 – 298 – 1876-1880 – Tasmania
3918 – 299 – 1873-1875 – Transfer of pensioners
3918 – 300 – 1876-1880 – Victoria

Appendix B

Archives Office of Tasmania

Nominal lists of passengers who can be identified as Chelsea Pensioners.

Science arrived Hobart 8 May 1832, carried pensioners but none could be identified.

Cleopatra arrived Hobart 2 May 1832

Daniel Carran and wife
John Collins
James Costello and wife
Thomas Dowde, wife and child
William Fawcett, wife and child
John Fitzpatrick, wife and child
Thomas Foster and wife
Benjamin Gilmore, wife and child
John Gready, wife and child
John Harman
John Hays
Alexander Jackson, wife and child
Patrick Jenkins, wife and two children
John Keenaghan, wife and child
John Keenan, wife and child
Daniel Kelly and child
Lawrence Kirwan, wife and child
John Langley and wife
Michael Lock, wife and child
Stephen McGrath
James McGee, wife and child
Thomas Meagher and wife
John Mealy and wife
Andrew Morgan, wife and child
Thomas Moore, wife and child
Mrs Plunkett
John Reily, wife and child
Mrs Reily and child
B Ridgeway, wife and child
Thomas Rossitor and wife
James Runton
M Runton, wife and child
John Staines
Michael Stoney, wife and four children
Charles Taaffes
Henry Tedford, wife and two children
Henry Tuton and wife
Andrew Vincent, wife and two children
William Wells and wife
Michael White, wife and child
George Wilson

Waterloo arrived Hobart 7 August 1832

Bradshaw, wife and three children
Davis and wife
Mrs Marshall
Stansfield, wife and child
White, wife and child
Whittam, wife and child
Winterbottom, wife and two children

Wellington arrived 10 August 1832

Thomas Barber
L Burn, wife and three children
C Butler and wife
Thomas Daly, wife and four children
Richard Devenport and wife
John Donildson and daughter
James Downie, wife and two children
George Elsop
William Hobson and wife
Samuel Perseval and wife
Wm Shone, wife and three children
B Smedley and wife
Waterson, wife and four children
Samuel Wilkinson
J Wood and wife

Manfield arrived 23 August 1832

Thos Adey
R Grantham
Jos Larking
Geo Maskerall
Thomas Miller


“Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook, Part 4, War Office”, National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales, Canberra, 1974

Ascoli, David, “A Village in Chelsea”, an informal account of the Royal Hospital, William Luscombe Publisher Ltd.

Austin, M., “The Army in Australia 1840-50. Australian Government Publishing Service , Canberra, 1979

Austin, M., “Army Records in Australia”. Papers, 1980 Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry, Adelaide, 1980.

Cox, J. and Padfield, T., “Tracing your ancestors in the Public Record Office, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1983.

Hamilton-Edwards, G., “In Search of Army Ancestry, Phillimore, London, 1977.

Mather, F., “Army Pensioners and the maintenance of civil order in early nineteenth century England”, Army Historical Research, Vol 36, 1958, p110.

Oliver, R. M., “War Office District Pension Returns 1842-62”. Genealogist’ Magazine, Vol 21, No 6, pp 196-9, London 1984

Additional information and references

William Jardine arrived Hobart 14 November 1850 with the following army pensioners as convict guards (as listed by Richard Gould, see below)

Maurice Aherne
James Bale
James Brett
John Byrne
Alfred Clarkson
John Crine
Martin D’Arcy
Michael Donohoe
Edward Evans
James Fahey
Thomas Fogarty
John Glancy
John Halloran
Thomas Hayes
William Holmes
John Keenan
James Kennedy
John Magoven
William McOrmond
Robert McPherson
Patrick Murphy
Luke O’Hara
Patrick O’Neill
Charles Robinson
John Roche/Roach
Sam John Shaw
Michael Sheehy
Joseph Strangeway
Henry Westlake
Joseph Woodhead

Gould, Richard, Was your ancestor a convict guard on the William Jardine, Tasmanian Ancestry, Vol 30, No 3, December 2009, pp 174-176

Ring, Maree, Oatlands Military Pensioners, Oatlands District Historical Society Chronicle, No 4, October 2006, pp 33-34.

Crowder, Norman K., “British Army Pensioners Abroad 1772-1899”.

Broomhall, F H, The Veterans – A history of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia 1850-1880.

This note was added in January 2011. The National Archives recently added a new facility titled YourAchives. This enables anyone to enter data relating to the National Archives records. Esther Townes has indexed some Chelsea Pensioners in Australia records from WO 22, namely South Australia 1876-1880 (Piece 272) and New South Wales 1876-1880 (Piece 275). Links to these indexes with explanations can be found by clicking on the links below.

Home Page

Return to my home page

Australian Joint Copying Project

Background information on the National Library of Australia web site

The National Archives

TNA search page – Catalogue

Chelsea Pensioners in New South Wales

Index from AJCP Reel 920-921 for War Office Class 22 – Piece 272

TNA YourArchives

Information and index of data from WO 22/272 Pension Returns – South Australia 1876-1880

TNA YourArchives

Information and index of data from WO 22/275 Pension Returns – New South Wales Australia 1876-1880