Muster Rolls and Pay Lists
Muster Rolls and Pay Lists form one of the most comprehensive series of army records available. They can be used to trace the service of soldiers who served in the British Army between around 1730 and 1898. Of particular interest are those in the National Archives, Kew, relating to the years, series and piece numbers as follows:
1708-1878 WO10 Pieces 1-2887 Artillery.
1816-1878 WO11 Pieces 1-432 Engineers.
(From 1816-1856 the musters are principally of the Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners and list only NCOs and other ranks until the merger in 1856 into the Royal Engineers).
1731-1878 WO12 Pieces 1-13307 General including Household, Cavalry and Infantry.
1780-1878 WO13 Pieces 1-4675 Militia and Volunteers.
In 1878-1898 a new series emerged as WO16 Pieces 1-3049 and continued on from WO10 to WO13. Thus Artillery, Engineers, Cavalry, Infantry and Militia can be found in this single series.
The Muster Rolls can be followed through for the whole period of a soldier’s service and give much fuller information of where and when he served than the soldiers’ documents of WO97 or WO121 Chelsea Pension Discharge to Pension documents. However, it is necessary to know the regiment and, in the case of the Royal Engineers, the company can be helpful.
Muster rolls and pay lists give the enlistment date, movements and discharge date of all soldiers in the British Army. From 1868 to 1883 musters may also contain lists of ‘men becoming non-effective’ and can be found at the end of each quarter (or the beginning for those stationed in India). They were taken every month or quarter – frequency varied over the years.
Monthly Returns to the Adjutant General
Series WO17 comprises returns to the Adjutant General showing the distribution of each regiment at home and abroad, and its effective strength in all ranks, with the names of all commissioned officers present and absent. The Returns give general particulars as to the health of the regiment, the dates of death of officers dying within the month and the numbers of men discharged for any cause.
The Australian Joint Copying Project
The AJCP was probably the longest-running project of its kind in the world. It located, described and filmed thousands of classes and collections of Australian, New Zealand and Pacific records held in hundreds of institutions, organisations and homes in almost every part of Britain and Ireland. It produced and despatched to Australia over 10,000 reels of microfilmed records dating from 1560 to 1984. The complete collection is in the National Library in Canberra but State Libraries across Australia hold complete or part copies of the collection. Western Australia has copies of the collection relevant to that State, including WO11 Muster Rolls and Pay Lists and WO17 Monthly Returns.
Eleven AJCP Handbooks were published to provide an index to the material filmed in the Project. Part 1 is a general introduction and shelf list of copying. Parts 2-7 and 9-11 are series and piece lists for Public Record Office (now the National Archives) records filmed by the Project. Part 8 provides a brief description of each Miscellaneous Series collection.
Royal Engineers records available from the AJCP in Western Australia are as follows:
Muster Rolls and Pay Lists:
Reels 7180 to 7188 WO11 Piece Number Range 126-207 Years: 1850-1862
For details see AJCP Handbook Part 11, pages 151-152.
From Oct 1858 to Sep 1859 records of the 20th Company appear in the Muster Rolls and Pay Lists in a consolidated alphabetical index within the 19th to 27th Companies [Reel 7186 WO11-164 to 167].
Corps Service Numbers do not appear in the Royal Engineers Muster Rolls and and Pay Lists until 1859.
Monthly Returns to the Adjutant General:
Reels 909 to 911 WO17 Piece Number Range 1246-1258 Years: 1850-1862
For details see AJCP Handbook Part 4, pages 24-25.
1. To avoid a “lucky tip” approach to finding a soldier in the Musters, remember the size of the British Empire and calculate the time it took to undertake a voyage to Australia when looking for monthly muster records.
2. The names were often written in advance and changes made later, so look out for the notes written on the right side of the page or for names over-written or scored out with comments.
3. Neither the reel numbers nor piece numbers commence at the beginning of a calendar year. For example, Reel 7183 Piece 146 covers the period April 1855 to March 1856 and continues on Reel 7184 Piece 152 for the period April 1856 to March 1857; in this example records of the 6th Company Auckland are between the records of the 20th Company Fremantle. This is possibly linked to the dates of the fiscal year in Britain.