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Old Age Pensions and Genealogy
This page describes records of applicants for old age pensions in Queensland and some other States, and my indexes to those sources. It explains who was and was not eligible for a pension, and the implications for genealogy and family history research. See also 'Pension records before and after 1908-1909' below; and for a more detailed explanation of surviving records, see the book Tips for Qld Research.
Pension register

The Australian Commonwealth Government began introducing various pensions from about 1908, but for a brief period during 1908-1909, old age pensions were the responsibility of the Qld State Government. Registers of applicants, and a few lesser sources, have survived and have been indexed. These registers include information about people who received the pension, plus hundreds of others whose applications were rejected. Although only those aged at least sixty-five (that is, born before about 1843-1844) were actually eligible, applications were received from many who were under the specified age.

Eligibility for the Old Age Pension

The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 occupied twelve pages of the Queensland Government Gazette. The main criteria for eligibility are summarised as follows:

  • currently resident in Qld, and aged at least 65 years
  • resident in Qld for a total of at least 20 years (not necessarily continuously, except for the 5 years immediately preceding the application)
  • unable to maintain himself / herself
  • of good moral character, having led a temperate and reputable life for the previous 5 years
  • net capital value of property not exceeding 260 pounds
  • has not, without just cause, deserted his / her spouse, or his / her children aged under 14 years, for a period of a year or more, within the preceding 5 years. (A man could also have his application rejected if he had failed to support his family)
  • if not a British subject, must have been naturalised for at least 6 months
  • Chinese and other Asiatics were not eligible for the pension under any circumstances, even if they were naturalised or British subjects
  • Aboriginal natives of Australia, Africa, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands were not eligible

An application would be rejected if it failed to fulfil any of these criteria. Most rejections were on the basis of age or period of residence, but other reasons for rejection provide unique information about the applicant and his/her character and habits.

The maximum pension granted was 26 pounds per year (usually paid as 10 shillings per week). This was reduced if the applicant's annual income was more than 26 pounds, or if the total value of his/her property exceeded 260 pounds.

Implications for genealogical research

After a person lodged an application, the local police investigated the claim. No pension was granted unless statements made in the application were corroborated by documentary or oral evidence, so old age pension registers probably contain relatively reliable information.

In 1908-1909 electoral enrolment was not compulsory in Qld, and old age pension registers give the place of residence of many people who were not on electoral rolls. This includes some applicants who were not British subjects and not naturalised (and thus not eligible to vote) but who applied (though in vain) for a pension.

Sources indexed (all held by Qld State Archives):

  • Home Secretary's Office: register of old age pension claims, 1 Jul 1908 - 10 Sep 1908
  • Home Office: register of applicants for old age pension, Aug 1908 - Aug 1909
  • Home Office: letterbook of letters on old age pensions
  • Clerk of Petty Sessions, Ravenswood: register of applications for old age pensions, 13 Jun 1908 - 5 May 1909
  • Clerk of Petty Sessions, Townsville: register of applications heard in Pensions Tribunal (Commissioner's Court), 13 Jun 1908 - 26 May 1909

My index to those sources has over 9,200 names. The vast majority are from the State-wide registers (the first two above), which give:

  • claim number
  • date claim was registered
  • surname and given names
  • country (or Australian State) of birth - with the exception of the first 500 applications, on which this is not recorded
  • alleged age
  • total number of years in Qld
  • town or suburb of current residence
  • whether the application was approved or rejected
  • if approved, the amount of pension payable, date payment commenced, and town where paid
  • if rejected, the reason for rejection
  • occasionally other remarks (e.g. 'sent to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum')

The two Clerk of Petty Sessions registers give similar details for applicants in their local area, plus (usually) marital status, spouse's name, full address and exact birthdate. The letterbook contains copies of letters from the Home Office to, or about, some pensioners. Only a small proportion of the entries are from these three sources.

Name index

Other pension records (before, during and after 1908-1909)

For years before 1908, use the following sources (which I can search as part of my professional research service at Qld State Archives):

  • Home Office: alphabetical register of applications for Charitable Relief, 1899-1904. Gives date and town.
  • Home Office: index to register of persons to whom Outdoor Relief is payable, Jan-May 1905. May give age, district, how long in Qld, and remarks re death date, movement to another district, etc.

Pension records after mid-1909 are held by the National Archives of Australia, to whom enquiries should be directed; but two Queensland sources may give some information:

  • Police Department correspondence re old age pensions and invalid pensions 1908-1952.
  • For the area around Toowoomba and the eastern Darling Downs, lists of old age pensioners admitted to Toowoomba Hospital (Qld State Archives location A/73219). There are two lists - females 1915-1924 and males 1917-1924. Both are chronological, not alphabetical. If you do not know exactly where the pensioner lived, and can identify the town by using this list, you will then be able to search electoral rolls etc. I can search this source as part of my professional research service.

Interstate records

The Macquarie Book of Events says that New South Wales introduced the first old age pensions in 1900, and similar legislation was passed in Victoria around the same time. Enquiries should be directed to archival institutions in those States.

Police Department correspondence 1908-1952 refers to some residents of other States. See also the other suggestions below.

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Other Suggestions

Other Australian pension records (before, during and after 1908-1909).

Police Department correspondence re old age pensions and invalid pensions 1908-1952.

In Specialist Indexes in Australia: a genealogist's guide, see

  • Goulburn District (NSW) - Pioneers, Pensioners, and Small Cemeteries
  • Imperial Pensions (Queensland)
  • Ireland: Old Age Pension Claims, 1908-1922

To find other overseas pension records, search for the word pension in FindMyPast's world list.

My other genealogy sites have more advice, and more names from records in archives.

Search this site  (in alphabetical lists here, SURNAME in uppercase is first, followed by Given Name):

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