Function VF 372
Armed forces
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  • Use this Function for
    Military and naval forces (British and local) prior to transfer of defence functions to Commonwealth
    Coastal defence units
    Military forces
    Staff, military

  • Do not use this Function for
    Administration of defence functions generally
    Barracks and fortifications
    Civil defence
    Nominal command functions vested in executive (use: armed forces command)
    Police involvement in civil defence and wartime activities

Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function

The Armed Forces comprised individual army and navy units and military districts between 1826 and 1901.

Western Port Military Establishment 1826 to 1828
The Western Port Establishment was administered by the Crown Colony of New South Wales. Fear of French incursions seems to have motivated the British Government to instruct New South Wales Governor Darling to establish posts on the south and west coastlines of Australia.

A party of forty, including twenty convicts, under Captain Wright and Lieutenant Burchell on board the Fly and the Dragon, arrived at Western Port in November 1826. The Establishment was military not penal in character and was abandoned in January 1828 once fears of the French subsided.

1836 to 1854

A detachment of Imperial Troops of the 4th King's Own Regiment under the command of Police Magistrate Captain William Lonsdale arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1836. From then until 1870 various Imperial regiments had responsibility for the defence of Victoria.

The Imperial forces drew their pay from the "military chest" supplied by the Imperial government.

The Imperial troops also performed a wide range of duties, apart from their obvious defence duties, for which they were paid out of the colonial revenue.

In the early years detachments of Imperial troops:
performed garrison duty
assisted with the policing of the colony
accompanied survey parties
attempted to prevent conflict between the settlers and Aborigines.
During the 1850's they also provided the gold escort and their role at Eureka Stockade is well known.

1854 to 1870

In November 1854 an Act was passed authorising the enrolment of a volunteer corps to be placed under the supervision of Her Majesty's regular forces. The Melbourne Volunteer Rifle Regiment, the Victorian Yeomanry Corps and the Geelong Volunteer Rifle Corps were established under this Act.

The Volunteer Forces (naval and military) could be mobilized in the event of invasion or attack. The naval force was strengthened by the arrival of the Steam Sloop Victoria in 1856 and other vessels in subsequent years. When in 1860 the regular forces were transferred to New Zealand at the outbreak of the Maori Wars, the Volunteer Forces assumed their responsibilities.

Between 1854 and 1858 the Colonial Government undertook the payment of Imperial troops as well as the newly established volunteer forces. After 1858 the Imperial Government resumed providing funds for the former until 1870 when all Imperial troops were withdrawn from the colony.

In July of 1858 the total strength of the regular and volunteer forces in Victoria was 1,112. In 1863 the volunteer forces were re-organised under the provisions of the Volunteer Corps Amendment Act 1863. The re-organised forces consisted of more than 3600 men in a Naval Brigade, an engineer corps (Victorian Volunteer Engineers), 7 artillery companies (Royal Victorian Volunteer Artillery) and 13 rifle companies (Victorian Volunteer Rifles).

1870 to 1901

At the intercolonial conference of 1870 it was agreed that the conditions laid down for the maintenance of Imperial troops in the Colonies were not acceptable and that the Colonies would have to rely on their own resources for military protection. On the other hand it was decided that the naval defence of the coastline and defence of the commerce in Colonial ports was a matter primarily for the Imperial Government. Accordingly, in 1870 all Imperial military forces were withdrawn from the Colony. Naval and coastal defence remained a direct responsibility of the Imperial government until Federation.

Thereafter permanent Colonial Military Forces were created for land defence and some local naval units did operate in Victorian waters.

During 1884 the volunteer forces were replaced by militia with rifle clubs being established to absorb volunteer enthusiasts that could not find time for regular training. In 1885 the country districts formed a regiment of mounted rifles and in 1888 an Infantry Regiment, the Victorian Rangers, was raised. In 1897 a Scottish regiment composed entirely of volunteers made it's appearance.

In 1899 the first contingent of Victorian troops to undertake overseas duty departed for service in the Boer War.

Early Links Between Military and Civil Service

Military officials were also often "seconded" into civil service duties for which they were paid from Colonial revenue. This was especially so in areas of government administration where technical skills were required. The first public buildings in Melbourne were erected by soldiers under Captain Lonsdale's command but were paid under colonial charge for these extra duties. Robert Hoddle was employed as Melbourne's first surveyor for which his salary was paid as a civil servant but he remained an officer of the Corps of Royal Military Surveyors and Draftsmen on half-pay.

Detachments of Mounted Police were drawn from infantry regiments stationed in New South Wales. They were posted on overland routes and attached to Police Magistrates' Districts to assist in general police duties. They also served with the gold escort and Goldfields forces attached to the Goldfields Commissioners (see also VRG 25 Mining Districts).

Commissioners of Crown Land, the Superintendent of Water Police, the Agent for Colonial Contracts, and the Overseer of Convicts were all in the early days of settlement drawn from the military into the civil service.

Further Research Required

Further research is required to establish lines of responsibility for central administration and co-ordination of the armed forces prior to 1883 and the links to related agencies.

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- 1901 Armed Forces VRG 3
1901 - cont Not Otherwise Classified - Commonwealth VRG 87