Australian Naval Force (ANF) Engagement and Service Records, 1903-1911

Accession Number AWM266
Collection type Official Record
Object type Official Record
Conflict British Navy Era, 1788-1911

Item copyright: Commonwealth of Australia copyright

Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

This series of eight large bound volumes, comprises 6 volumes of bound S.-55A forms, Form of Engagement or Re-engagement in the Royal Navy under terms of the Naval Agreement of 1903, and 2 volumes of personnel service records.

The service records contain entries for each individual, summarising the personal information recorded on their engagement form and lists the ships on which they served. The records date from the period immediately before the formation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911, but after Federation in 1901. Between Federation and the formation of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), responsibility for the protection of Australian waters was still primarily under the control of the Royal Navy's Australian Squadron, or the Australia Station originally established in 1859. During this period however, the Royal Navy's activities in Australia were partly funded by the newly formed Commonwealth government, which had no suitable ships of its own.

The records in this series kept by the Royal Navy relates to men, mainly residents of Australia and New Zealand who served in the Australian Squadron of the Royal Navy under the terms of the Naval agreement of 1903. The arrival in Sydney of seven new ships which were to form the fleet of the RAN in October 1913, brought the Royal Navy's responsibility for the Australia Station to an end, the Imperial ships remaining in Australasian waters and administration for the Royal Navy's activities in the Pacific region were transferred to New Zealand (An Outline of Australian Naval History (1976), pp 9-11, 26).

It is likely that the records were also transported to New Zealand and then sent back to England. In England they were kept by the Ministry of Defence in Middlesex. The records were then handed to the Australian High Commission in London in September 1994, forwarded to Australia and donated to the Australian War Memorial by the Royal Australian Navy in December of the same year.


The records contain a wealth of information on each individual engaged in the Australian Naval Force (ANF) between 1903 and 1911, including the ships they served on, date and place of birth, a personal description, including trade or occupation and scars and tattoos, and a note on any previous service history. In addition, for those individuals engaged as boys (younger than 18 years of age), their engagement forms are accompanied by letters from their parents or guardians giving permission for them to join the ANF, and occasionally copies of birth certificates to prove their age. In these cases there is often a difference in dates between the date of engagement and the date of actually volunteering to engage. This is because the actual engagement starts on the recruit attaining majority at age 18. However, volunteers could be sponsored by their guardians to become a ship’s boy from the age of 15 – a tradition that dates back well beyond the Napoleonic era navy.

The ship’s boy would perform routine tasks aboard ship, such as cleaning and running messages, while learning the trades of a sailor – in modern terms the ship’s boy would be considered an apprentice. The ship’s boy would likely have come from poorer sections of society – where by contrast the midshipman is a boy of similar age who has come from a monied class and is in apprenticeship to be an officer.

In total the records provide information on some 1700 Australian and New Zealand sailors. Each individual is identified by an ANF number, and the records are arranged by these numbers rather than by name, however an index at the beginning of Item 7 lists individuals alphabetically against their ANF numbers.

System of arrangement and control:

This series was originally contained in a set of bound volumes are numbered 1 - 8. In order to preserve the records more effectively, volumes 1-6 were unbound and the records rehoused in box files. These files are organised by volume, with records filed in ANF number order. Each record consists of one or more form S-55A, with occasional related ephemera. These have been digitised and are now available online.

Volumes 7 and 8 retain their original binding and are ledgers containing service records, organised by official number, with two records to each large format page.

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