Agency VA 473
Superintendent, Port Phillip District
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Date Range: 1839 - 1851
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
Appointment of Superintendent

The position of Superintendent of Port Phillip District was created by the British Government on 4 February 1839. The Superintendent effectively held the powers of a Lieutenant-Governor and reported directly to the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales.

On 26 March 1839, Charles Joseph La Trobe was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Port Phillip District. He actually took over from the Police Magistrate (VA 472) in October 1839, inheriting responsibility for the general administration of government in the District and fulfilling the role of head of the civil service establishment (New South Wales Blue Book 1839, p.258).

Functions inherited from the Police Magistrate, some still in embryonic form, included:

finance and revenue collection
police administration and prisons
ports and harbours
post offices
protection of Aborigines
public works
survey, management and sale of Crown lands
trade and customs.

The Superintendent also came to have responsibility for regulating and funding schools, administration of the goldfields and the provision of Crown Solicitor's Services.

Functions Administered by the Superintendent

During 1839-1851 the population of the District grew from 5,000 to 77,000. Government administrative arrangements reflected this growth and development. as follows:

Aborigines: The protectorate system was established in 1839 under Chief Protector George Robinson (VA 512) and continued until 1849 when the Guardian of Aborigines (VA 513) was appointed following a Select Committee report which recommended the abolition of the Protectorate. The Guardian was solely responsible for providing "protection" to Aborigines and the Crown Land Commissioners were appointed as honorary protectors, their duties being to visit reserves, report on the condition of Aborigines and supply them with food and clothing "in cases of extreme emergency".

Crown Solicitor's Services: In 1841 a Solicitor was appointed to provide legal advice to the Superintendent and conduct criminal and legal proceedings for the Crown, marking the beginnings of the Crown Solicitor's Office (see VA 667).

Education: Early schools were run by religious organisations. In 1848 a Board of National Education (VA 920) and a Denominational School Board were established in New South Wales (VA 920-see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.8.2) to regulate denominational schools and provide for government funded education. In the Port Phillip District a Denominational School Board (VA 703-see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.8.3) was set up in the same year to regulate and inspect the secular aspects of denominational schools supported by public funding.

Health: A small general hospital was established in Melbourne in 1841 under Assistant Colonial Surgeon Cussen (see also VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies).

Immigration: The Superintendent was responsible for administering immigration in conjunction with the British Emigration Agent in London who supervised the selection of applicants and arranged for their passage. In carrying out this responsibility the Superintendent was assisted by locally appointed Immigration Agents. Between 1839 and 1851 over 80,000 migrants arrived under Government funded and ly sponsored schemes as well as unassisted. Immigration was seen as a means of populating and providing labour for the District. A financial depression in the 1840s led to virtual suspension of assisted immigration. During this period the British Government sent out some ships with exiled convicts. Upon arrival the 'exiles' were given a pardon on condition that they did not return to Britain for the unexpired term of their sentence. Assistance to migrants resumed in 1847. The Superintendent's responsibilities included local administration of Government funded assisted immigration schemes, reception and initial settlement of immigrants as well as monitoring immigrant arrivals, including inspection of ships and certification of passenger lists, and regulating alien immigration.

Ports and Harbours: Port Phillip had been surveyed and charted, basic ports and harbour facilities installed, and the first bay pilot licensed between 1836 and 1839. Under Superintendent La Trobe a Harbour Master, C.M. Lewis, was appointed, more permanent navigation aids installed (the first lights being built at Point Gellibrand in 1840 and Queenscliff between 1841 and 1843), wharf facilities improved and additional pilots appointed.

Post Offices: The first full-time Postmaster was appointed for Melbourne in August 1839 and by 1841 the first Post Office was completed on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets.

Public Works: Plans for the District's early permanent public buildings were prepared by the Colonial Architect in Sydney. Public works were overseen by locally appointed officers under La Trobe's direction.A Superintendent of Bridges was appointed in 1844 with responsibility for overseeing a range of public works, including roads and bridges. The first permanent bridge across the Yarra (the first Princes Bridge) was built between 1846 and 1850. The Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street was completed in 1844.

Survey, Management and Sale of Crown Lands: Survey and mapping functions were undertaken by the Port Phillip Branch of the New South Wales Surveyor-General's Department (VA 943) under Hoddle, who was to become the Colony of Victoria's first Surveyor-General in 1851. Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed to regulate the use of Crown land under licence, manage Crown lands and supervise their sale. The Commissioners reported to Superintendent La Trobe and received administrative support from his clerks in relation to the management and sale of land. (See VRG 27 District Land Offices for details.)

Trade and Customs: Trade and customs controls were well established when La Trobe took over. Planning for the first Customs House had commenced in September 1837 and it was completed in 1841. It was replaced in 1857 by which time a larger facility had become necessary. In a number of areas, including survey and customs, government officials in the District continued to deal directly with their parent offices in Sydney, although the Superintendent was charged with general oversight of all civil administration and locally appointed officers received all their instructions form La Trobe. Increasingly all matters to do with the District were channelled through La Trobe.

District Counties

In 1843 the Governor of New South Wales established the Counties of Bourke and Grant in the vicinity of Melbourne and Geelong respectively. These bodies reported to the Governor of New South Wales through the Superintendent and were the earliest form of municipal government in rural areas of the Port Phillip District. Their primary concern was the development and maintenance of roads. However the scope of their role in the government of the District does not appear to have been firmly laid down.

Separation, Self-Government and Formation of Crown Colony of Victoria

La Trobe remained Superintendent until 31 December 1850 when he was re-appointed as head of government in the new Crown Colony of Victoria with the title of Lieutenant-Governor (see VA 466). The Crown Colony came formally into existence on 13 January 1851 under the provisions of an Act of British Parliament of 1850 passed in response to growing discontent in the District and pressure for separation from the New South Wales administration.

Location of Records

Significant holdings of the Superintendent's records are held at the Public Record Office Victoria. Official records of the history of the District, relating to the period prior to separation from New South Wales in 1851, can be found in the Archives Office of New South Wales as well.

See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.3.0 (Arts), 3.6.2 (Lands), 3.8.0. (Education), 3.10.2 (Immigration), 3.12.0 (Housing), 3.16.3 (Superintendence), 3.18.0 (Inquests, Registration, Survey), 3.22.0 (Treasury, Statistics), 16.5.0 (Aboriginal Affairs), 16.6.0 (Customs) and list below.

For records of the County of Bourke see List of Holdings, 2nd edition 1985, section 10.23.0 (VPRS 39 and 40).

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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1839 - ? 1853 Inwards Un-registered Correspondence, Harbourmaster VPRS 12420 North Melbourne Open
? 1839 - ? 1896 Inward Registered and Unregistered Correspondence VPRS 44 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1840 - ? 1850 Inward Unregistered Correspondence VPRS 21 North Melbourne Open
? 1841 - ? 1979 Supplementary Inward Registered Correspondence VPRS 1226 North Melbourne Open
? 1843 - ? 1875 Land Grants for Special Purposes VPRS 81 North Melbourne Open
? 1847 - ? 1850 Draft Act for the Regulation of the Court of Requests in the County of Bourke VPRS 5516 North Melbourne Closed
? 1847 - ? 1855 Outward Letter Books (Clerk of Works 1847 -1851, Colonial Architect 1851 - 1854, Colonial Engineer 1854 - 1855) VPRS 46 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1848 - ? 1851 Register of Applications for the Lease of Pastoral Runs VPRS 13924 North Melbourne Open
? 1850 - 1980 Crown Reserves Correspondence VPRS 242 North Melbourne Open
? 1982 - ? 1982 Aboriginal Affairs Records (Microfilm Copy of VPRS 4409, 10, 11, 4410, 12, 2895, 4399, 4397 4398, 4466, 4412, 4414, 4465, 2897, 2893, 2894, 2896, 4411, 4415, 6760). VPRS 4467 North Melbourne Part Open
1836 - ? 1873 Early Church Records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials VPRS 18496 North Melbourne Open
1836 - 1840 Outward Letter Books VPRS 1 North Melbourne Open
1837 - ? 1972 Reports of Land Sales by Public Auction VPRS 11862 North Melbourne Open
1837 - 1851 Register of Crown Grants VPRS 11868 North Melbourne Open
1837 - 1856 Register of Purchasers of Town Land VPRS 102 North Melbourne Open
1839 - ? 1843 Index to Inward Registered Correspondence [Refer to Microfilm Copy VPRS 2138] VPRS 17 North Melbourne Open
1839 - ? 1864 Applications for Remission VPRS 98 North Melbourne Open
1839 - 1851 Inward Registered Correspondence to the Superintendent of Port Phillip District, relating to Aboriginal Affairs (refer to digitised images available online) VPRS 10 North Melbourne Part Open
1839 - 1851 Outward Registered Correspondence VPRS 16 North Melbourne Open
1839 - 1851 Registers of Inward Correspondence [Refer to Microfilm Copy VPRS 2139] VPRS 18 North Melbourne Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1839 - 1851 Census and statistics VF 3
1839 - 1851 Finance VF 5
1839 - 1851 Immigration (nineteenth century) VF 8
1839 - 1851 Police VF 10
1839 - 1851 Ports and harbours VF 11
1839 - 1851 Postal services VF 12
1839 - 1851 Prisons and youth training centres VF 13
1839 - 1851 Buildings, government (design and construction) VF 14
1839 - 1851 Roads and bridges VF 15
1839 - 1851 Health, public VF 125
1839 - 1851 Aboriginal affairs VF 175
1839 - 1851 Crown lands (public) VF 309
1839 - 1851 Crown lands (government) VF 310
1839 - cont General superintendence VF 6
- 1851 Education VF 19
- 1851 Goldfields administration and mining VF 20
- 1851 Library, State VF 22
- 1851 Botanic gardens VF 27
- 1851 Crown solicitor's services VF 36
Functions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1839 - 1851 Liquor licences, issue and registration of VF 302
Superior AgenciesSuperior Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
1839 - 1851 Governor of New South Wales VA 4399
Subordinate AgenciesSubordinate Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
1839 - 1849 Chief Protector of Aborigines VA 512
1839 - 1851 Surveyor General's Department, Port Phillip Branch (also known as the Melbourne Survey Office) VA 943
1840 - 1851 Coroners Courts VA 2263
1840 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Westernport VA 2710
1840 - 1851 Police Magistrate, Portland Bay VA 4730
1840 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Portland Bay VA 4737
1840 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Grant VA 4739
1841 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Bourke VA 4729
1843 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Murray District VA 2711
1843 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Gippsland District VA 4738
1846 - 1851 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Wimmera District VA 4740
1850 - 1851 Guardian of Aborigines VA 513
1850 - 1851 His Majesty's Gaol, Pentridge (known as Pentridge Prison) VA 863
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1839 - 1851 Superintendent, Port Phillip District VRG 11