|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
Following the establishment of the Port Phillip District as part of the Colony of New South Wales in 1836, the Governor directed that a Branch of the Surveyor-General's Department be set up there. The first Survey officers, appointed on 10 September 1836 and led by Robert Russell, followed the newly appointed Police Magistrate for the District, William Lonsdale, arriving at Port Phillip in late September in the Stirlingshire, accompanied by a party of convict labourers, horses and tons of equipment.
Unlicensed occupation of land at Port Phillip was one of the major concerns of the new administration. The government surveyors began to map the shores of Port Phillip Bay in 1836 using accurate bearings provided by HMS Rattlesnake anchored in the Bay. Gradually that work spread inland to include towns, rivers, roads and farmlands.
Detailed instructions for the survey of the District, an essential preliminary to the sale of Crown lands, were given to Robert Russell by the Deputy Surveyor-General in Sydney on 10 September 1836 (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 5, pp.6-8). Later directions issued on 15 September outlined Lonsdale's general superintendence role (p.10). Russell was soon replaced by Robert Hoddle who visited Port Phillip in March 1837 with New South Wales Governor Bourke and whose appointment was confirmed in August 1837. In the meantime Hoddle produced plans for the Town of Melbourne and acted as auctioneer at the first land sale on 1 June 1837. Hoddle's main instructions from the Surveyor-General, dated 31 July and 18 November 1837 (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 5, pp.98-100 and pp.116-117) provided the basis for major surveys of the District in ensuing years. Late in 1839 the Survey Department prepared a list of all resulting land sales, totalling 86,000 acres and raising 117,000 pounds in revenue. In the years 1851 to 1853 Hoddle became Victoria's first Surveyor-General.
Russell and Hoddle were also appointed as Commissioners of Crown Lands concurrently with their surveying duties (New South Wales Government Gazette 21 September 1836 and 10 May 1837). In this role they were among those responsible for policing the unauthorised occupation of Crown land. For information about the responsibilities of District and Field Surveyors and Commissioners of Crown Lands, see VRG 27 District Land Offices.
The Port Phillip Branch received instructions from the Surveyor-General's Department in New South Wales, but was also responsible to the Police Magistrate of the Port Phillip District (1836-1839) and subsequently the Superintendent (1839-1851), who in turn reported to the Governor of New South Wales, (see also VA 472 and VA 473). However, except for his involvement in Russell's replacement, Lonsdale's role was limited to the provision of support services. Following separation from New South Wales in 1851 a separate Surveyor General's Department (VA 2921) was established in Victoria under Robert Hoddle as Surveyor-General.
Location of Records
For records of the Surveyor-General's Department, Port Phillip Branch see List of Holdings, 2nd edition, 1985, section 3.18.4. and list below. Relevant records are also to be found in the Archives Office of New South Wales.