Saturday, July 7, 2012

Indian Immigration Registers/Ships Lists Natal

The Indian Immigration Registers, or as they are popularly known, the Ships Lists, are a unique record of the coming to Natal from India of over 150 000 migrants between the years 1860 and 1911. During that period there were gaps of several years when migration, for various reasons, was interrupted.

Detail from page of Indian Immigration Register
The original registers, handwritten and difficult to read, as well as in fragile condition (particularly the early lists), are held at the Durban Archives Repository*.

Information given includes Registration (or Indenture) Number, Name, Father's name, Caste, Age, Height, Zillah (Province of origin in India), Thanna (nearest big town), Village and name of Employer to whom the migrant was to be indentured. Ship arrival date is given and also included are descriptions of physical marks - scars, tattoos etc. There may be additional subsequent events in the career of a particular migrant, such as death or his/her return to India.

A mammoth voluntary project to index these registers has resulted in the publication of a database searchable by name of migrant, as well as by Registration Number, displayed in columns corresponding with those found in the original lists (except for the column pertaining to physical marks which has been omitted). This database or index not only avoids excessive use of the original material, which is a plus in terms of preservation, but provides an accessible facility for research purposes – especially in the case of descendants wishing to trace migrant ancestors.

However, it should be emphasised that while the Migrants Index is a wonderful resource, it is not a magic wand. The information it offers requires interpretation; it demands some knowledge and effort on the part of the descendant/researcher, as well as the use of archival and other records in conjunction with the Index. Further discussion on this aspect in future posts.

To order a copy of the CD Indian Migrants to Natal: Ships Lists (1860-1911)  GSSA CD011  ISBN 978-0-9869742-2-9 (Copyright J.B.Brain) contact the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA): 

The Ships Lists are also available online at
In this version the lists are searchable by Registration Number.

*Durban Archives Repository
Nashua House
14 De Mazenod Lane
Tel: (031) 309 5682    
Hours: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays.


vishallachi said...


I am from Malaysia. I would like to know the source or agency that has ship list on Indian Migrants from South India to Malaya (now Malaysia)? email>

Mole said...

Regret I only have information on Indian migrants to South Africa. You would need to approach archives in Malaysia to find out if any such migrant lists have survived for that area. Sorry I can't be of more help.

Jagerdeven Rajoo said...


I am trying to find details of someone who's number does not match the standard list. This number begins with DCCL/4*****. Please let me know if you can help.

Mole said...

Hello, it sounds to me as if you have a colonial number (or some other number) rather than the registration number which was given to indentured migrants as they entered Natal. Colonial numbers were issued only to those persons born in Natal. I suggest you enter your number into naairs index and see what emerges, either with or without the ancestor's surname or other details. Mole

anuj shrivastav said...


My name is Anuj and I am from India.

I am in need of information of Indians in Durban (SA).

It would be of great help.


Mole said...

Hi Anuj: tracing Natal Indian ancestry is a complicated matter and there are no shortcuts, unfortunately. As a start, you might want to search using the facility on this blog's left hand top corner, entering search terms such as 'indian immigrants', 'indentured indians', 'indenture + Natal' etc and read what comes up. Firstly you must establish whether your ancestors were indentured Indians who came to Natal under contract to work, or whether they were so-called 'passenger Indians' who paid their own passage out and could live wherever they wanted, many of them becoming storekeepers etc.
Try to gather as much information from your family as you can before starting your quest: you need details such as spouse name for an ancestor, which can help cut down on hits; also familiarise yourself with the NAAIRS index where there may be references, such as deceased estate files mentioning your ancestor/s. Use the NAAIRS database NAB for Natal.

Shahiel Deeplal said...

good day,

i am trying to trace my roots back but cannot locate the shipment documents on the UKZN folder to verify numbers of great grandparents who travelled to south africa. it says the servers at ukzn have no document links anymore. who can assist me urgently? thank you