Function VF 63
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  • Use this Function for
    Defence policy
    Armed forces co-ordination
    Command of military forces (1870 to 1901)

  • Do not use this Function for
    Armed forces;
    Armed forces command (to 1870)
    Coastal defence units;
    Military units;
    Naval units;
    Volunteer forces.

Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function

The defence function does not include the individual military and naval units (Imperial and local) which comprised the Colonial armed forces (see armed forces ) or the nominal local command of the Imperial armed forces vested in the Colonial executive (see armed forces command).

1836 to 1854

During this period defence of the Colony was under the nominal command of the Police Magistrate (18361839), later Superintendent (18391851), later LieutenantGovernor (1851-1854) although actual control was exercised from London (from 1836 to 1851 via the Governor of New South Wales).

The primary forces (military and naval) were Imperial regiments which drew their pay from the Military Chest supplied by the Imperial Government.

1854 to 1870

Defence activity was greatly stimulated by the outbreak of the Crimean war. In 1854 a select committee of the Legislative Council (the Select Committee on the Defence of the Colony) was appointed to take evidence and report upon the probable manner in which the Colony might be attacked. The Committee recommended:
that an application should be made to the Imperial Government for a war steamer
that arms and ammunition should be purchased from the Royal Arsenal
that the strength of Imperial troops stationed in the Colony should be augmented
and that a local volunteer corps be established.

In 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.

At this time the Colony agreed to meet practically the entire expense of maintaining the Imperial forces and work began on the military barracks in St. Kilda Road and on batteries at Williamstown and Sandridge. Victoria also sent to England Commander W.N. Lockyer to superintend the building of an armed steamer for the defence of Port Phillip. The ship, the wooden steam sloop Victoria arrived in the colony in May 1856.

In 1858 the enthusiasm for defence in Victoria waned and a new agreement came into force whereby the Colony provided the requisite barrack accommodation and colonial pay and allowances for Imperial troops, while the British Government defrayed the Imperial pay and allowances of the regular troops. The Colonial Government was also responsible for expenditure on defence works.

The Imperial Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865 provided for a colonial naval policy under which the colonies were able to provide, maintain and use their own vessels of war under prescribed conditions, to raise and maintain seamen for service and to raise and maintain volunteers for the Royal Naval Reserve. In May 1866 the Treasurer, Mr G.F. Verdon, proceeded to England to bring the subject of the defence of the Colony to the notice of the Imperial Government. This resulted in the gift to the Colony of the Nelson in 1868 (which became the training ship for the Naval Brigade) and the contribution by the Imperial Government of 100,000 pounds towards the cost of the Cerberus (which arrived in the Colony in 1871).

Ministerial Responsibility

It is most likely that the Colonial Secretary (VRG 16) to 1855 and the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) after 1855 had some responsibility for the growing defence function. Further research is required to establish this responsibility with certainty. It is clear that from 1856 until 1857 the Chief Secretary had responsibility for defence co-ordination and policy with respect to Her Majesty's Regular Troops, the Commissariat, the Volunteer Forces and Staff and the Steam Sloop Victoria.

From 1858 the Treasurer (VRG 23) appears to have assumed responsibility for central defence coordination and policy with respect to Military troops in Garrison, Local Staff, Stores, Barracks, the Volunteer Force and the Naval Training Ship Nelson.

1870 to 1901

In 1870 all Imperial troops were withdrawn from the Colony. The defence of the Colony then rested entirely upon colonial volunteer forces and the defence issue became increasingly politically important. After general elections in 1883 the new government appointed a Minister for Defence (VRG 38).

Besides the Victoria, Cerberus and Nelson the naval defences of the Colony in 1885 included the Childers, a firstclass torpedo boat, two secondclass torpedo boats and four harbour trust dredgers armed with old guns.

In 1884 the entire volunteer military force was disbanded and a militia defence force was established.

In 1887 an Australasian Naval Defence Force was established following a Colonial Conference in London. This force was jointly financed by the Imperial, New Zealand and six colonial governments.

Ministerial Responsibility

In 1883 a Minister of Defence was appointed and a Council of Defence was established to direct and control the organization of Victorian naval and military forces, including the volunteer forces. With Federation in 1901, a Commonwealth Minister of Defence (VRG 87) assumed control of all Australian defence forces.

Further Research

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

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    Armed forces VF 372
Other InformationOther Information
Agencies with prime responsibility for this FunctionAgencies with prime responsibility for this Function
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Date of Responsibility Agency Title Agency Number
1901 - cont Commonwealth Department of Defence VA 2712
Other Agencies responsible for this FunctionOther Agencies responsible for this Function
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Date of Responsibility Agency Title Agency Number
Groups related to this FunctionGroups related to this Function
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Date of Responsibility Group Title Group Number
- 1858 Chief Secretary VRG 26
1858 - 1883 Treasurer VRG 23
1883 - cont Defence VRG 38