New Index to Indigence Cases 1899-1948

Queensland State Archives recently released a new index titled Indigence Cases 1899-1948 which provides an easy way to search for recipients of the Indigence Allowance for this period. This index was completed in partnership with the Communities and Personal Histories unit (DATSIP).

So what is an Indigence Allowance? In 1897 the allowance became available to those who could prove that they were destitute and had no relatives to financially support them. Usually recipients were aged or infirm, however married couples, singles or children could also receive the allowance. Married couples and single adults were paid a weekly cash allowance of five shillings, equal to the cost of maintaining them at Dunwich. Numerous applicants were of South Sea Islander or Chinese heritage, however all Queenslanders in reduced financial circumstances could apply for the allowance. It is interesting to note that many children are represented in the records due to prolonged ill health. A parent could apply for the allowance on behalf of their child until the child attained the age of 16 when they could then apply for a disability payment instead. A small percentage of Indigence cases were later admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum.

In the earlier part of the twentieth century aged pensions were not common nor easy to obtain. One option for land owners was to surrender their land to the Crown in lieu of receiving an allowance or pension, rather than admitted to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum. When allowance recipients died, the land was sold and the Home Secretary’s Office was reimbursed for the amounts paid out and costs for maintaining the property and rates. Heirs of allowance recipients were entitled to any profit left over from the sale of the land. It was also possible for heirs to inherit the property, if they made payment on any monies owing to the government.

The index was compiled from specific Indigence case file batches in Series ID 8400, Special Batches. The indigence batches are bundles of correspondence that were removed from, or not included in, the general correspondence series of the Colonial Secretary, later known as the Home Secretary’s Office, and the subsequent Health and Home Affairs Department.

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The files themselves contain a variety of documents including memos, police reports, general correspondence and usually an application form or letter requesting assistance. Some files contain additional information about allowance payments, employment, land sales or surrender and other pension details. Whilst others contain gazettal notices and correspondence regarding the surrender of owned land in lieu of receiving an allowance.

Researchers using this index may discover that if they locate an individual’s case file it often records other family members’ names and their relationship. Before anyone was considered to receive an allowance, family members were contacted to see if they could afford to provide some form of financial support and /or a residence for the applicant. Siblings, parents, spouses and children are sometimes listed and can include their place of birth or residential locality (or address) in addition to that of the applicant.

Researchers can continue their research by looking at other similar records such as:

  • Series ID 13012, Register of Authorities to Receive Indigence Allowance on Behalf of Indigents, 1899-1903. There is an alphabetical index to indigents and file numbers in the front of the register.
  • Series ID 13860, Indigence Case Files, 1900 – 1934. Search by name in the item list.
  • Item ID 18097, Batch file – Correspondence and papers re indigence allowance, 1901-1927
  • Item ID 279892, Batch file: State Children, generally Letter No. 16/10650 – list of people getting State Children Allowance and State Indigence Allowance, 1900-1939


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