In the early 19th century in New South Wales, couples (other than convicts) could be married either by banns or by license, following the usual practice in England.
Marriages by banns 1824–1864
To be married ‘by banns’ a couple’s intention to marry was ‘published’ (that is, read out) in their home parishes on three successive Sundays during the course of the main service, which was usually Morning Prayer. The Minister would read out the names of the man and woman, their marital status (bachelor, spinster, widower or widow), the parish they lived in, their intention to marry and would then say to the congregation, ‘If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it’.
This custom was an effective means of checking the validity of proposed marriages in pre-industrial England, when the majority of the population lived in the same locality all their lives. Their neighbours and close relations, who would usually live nearby and attend the same church, would know if they were free to marry or whether there were any
‘impediments’ to the proposed marriage (for example, a previous marriage with the other partner still living, or a prohibited degree of consanguinity).
If there were no objections then the marriage could proceed. When the intended marriage did not take place, the reason is noted in the banns book.
Because the banns had to be called in the home parish of both parties, the St James’ Banns Books include the publication of banns for couples who were then married in another church. This is noted in the book, for example, ‘Married at Liverpool’.
In New South Wales the consent of the Governor was required for the marriage of all convicts still under sentence. The convict indents were checked to verify the person’s marital status on their arrival in the Colony. Those who had been listed as married on arrival could not remarry unless conclusive proof could be provided of the subsequent death of their spouse. Assigned convicts also had to have the consent of the person to whom they were assigned. In some cases the parties themselves changed their minds and withdrew from the proposed marriage. Other marriages were ‘forbid’ because objections were notified to the clergy.
The St James’ Banns Books cover the period from March 1824-September 1864. From 1824 to 1847 the Banns Books may include information that is not given in the marriage register, for example the ship on which a convict was transported, the person to whom they were assigned and whether they were free, freed by servitude, or held a ticket of leave. From 1848 the entries consist only of the names of the parties and the dates on which the banns were called. Banns were last called at St James’ Church on 11 September 1864. The custom has died out in Australia but is still in use in the Anglican church in England.
Marriages by license 1824–1963
Being married by license was more expensive than being married by banns but permission to many was granted more quickly and, unlike calling the banns, the parties to the marriage did not have to be resident in the parish prior to the wedding. The cost of the license made it somewhat more prestigious than being married by banns. It was also a more private way of applying to be married. For many migrants who did not have friends and family in the Colony, marriage by license was more appropriate than the familial custom of calling the banns.
Marriage declarations 1870–1892
These forms were filled out by the couple before the marriage and usually contain the same information as that given in the marriage register.
The baptism, marriage and burial registers of the church are a valuable source of information for family historians. They are however very fragile and, for conservation reasons, are not generally available to researchers; nor may they be photocopied. In order to make these registers available for research, while ensuring their preservation, various records have been microfilmed.
The following St James’ marriage records have been microfilmed:
Banns of marriage 7 March 1824 to 11 September 1864
Marriages 27 February 1824 to 24 August 1963*
Marriage declarations 1870–1892
* Records after this date are not currently available for general research.
These microfilms are available at:
The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie Street, Sydney
The Society of Australian Genealogists, Richmond Villa, 120 Kent Street, Sydney
The Society of Australian Genealogists’ (SAG) Reel Numbers for the microfilmed St James’ Church records are given for ease of reference and are as follows:
SAG Reel 62 Banns of marriage 1824–1864
SAG Reel 61 Marriages 1824–1825
SAG Reel 62 Marriages 1826–1835
SAG Reel 136 Marriages November 1835 to January 1839
SAG Reel 61 Marriages 1839–1853
SAG Reel 64 Marriages 1853–1858
SAG Reel 65 Marriages 15 May 1858 to 9 December 1892
SAG Reel 136 Marriages December 1892–1915
SAG Reel 137 Marriages 28 August 1915 to 18 April 1925
SAG Reel 66 Marriages 18 April 1925 to 12 February 1934
SAG Reel 67 Marriages 24 February 1934 to 22 February 1947
SAG Reel 68 Marriages 28 February 1947 to 24 August 1963
SAG Reel 62 Marriage declarations 1870–1877
SAG Reel 63 Marriage declarations 1877–1884
SAG Reel 64 Marriage declarations 1884–1892