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.