Group VRG 11
Superintendent, Port Phillip District
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1839 - 1851
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
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 1836, Charles Joseph La Trobe was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Port Phillip District. He actually took over from the Police Magistrate (VRG 7) in October 1839, inheriting responsibility for the general administration of government in the District and fulfilling the role of the head of the civil service establishment (New South Wales Blue Book 1839, p.258). Functions inherited from Police Magistrate Lonsdale, some still in embryonic form, included:
census and statistics
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
registration and issue of liquor licences.

The Superintendent also came to have responsibility for regulating and funding schools, Victoria's first library, 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 established in 1839 under Chief Protector George Robinson (VA 512) 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 honourary protectors, their duties being to visit reserves, report on the condition of Aborigines and supply Aborigines with food and clothing "in cases of extreme emergency".

NOTE: For a brief history of the administration of policy and programs relating to Aborigines in Victoria, see VRG 58 Aboriginal Affairs.

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 (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 1840's led to virtual suspension of assisted immigration. During this period the British Government sent out some ships with exile 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.

NOTE: for a brief history of the administration of immigration from 1836 to 1983, see VRG 68 Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

Liquor Licensing: The control and supervision of liquor licensing was from the time of first settlement in Victoria deemed to be a judicial procedure carried on in courts of petty sessions by licensing magistrates.

However, the actual issue of licences for the sale and supply of liquor, and the registration of these was considered a completely separate non-discretionary function associated with revenue collection.

In 1839 under the provisions of the Act 2 Vic.,No.18 the Sub-Treasurer at Melbourne was appointed to grant licences in the District of Port Phillip (New South Wales Government Gazette 11 September 1839).

In 1851 this function became the responsibility of the Treasurer (VRG 23) along with other finance and revenue collection duties.

For a brief account of the history of liquor licensing in Victoria see:

VRG 4 Courts, for 1836-1968
VRG 82 Industry, Technology and Resources, for 1968-ct
VRG 23 Treasurer, 1851-ct.

Ports and Harbours: Port Phillip had been surveyed and charted, basic ports and harbour facilities installed, and the first bay pilot licensed during 1836-1839. Under Superintendent La Trobe a Harbourmaster, C.M. Lewis, was appointed, more permanent navigation aids installed (the first permanent lights being built at Point Gellibrand in 1840 and Queenscliff in 1841-1843), 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 further 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 when a larger facility had become necessary.

NOTE: 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 from La Trobe. Increasingly all matters to do with the District were channelled through La Trobe. Although the Superintendent could call upon military forces stationed in the District for assistance, La Trobe exercised no direct control over their expenditure and could not interfere in military matters. (For further information on the armed forces and administration of justice during this period, see VRG 3 Armed Forces and VRG 4 Courts).

Local Government and Legislative Developments in the Colony of New South Wales

Melbourne, named by Governor Bourke in 1837 was growing rapidly and became incorporated as a town in 1842 (see VRG 12 Municipalities). In that same year the Port Phillip District was given representation by an Act of the British Parliament in the newly formed New South Wales Legislative Council, returning six out of twenty-four elected members.

In 1843 the Governor of New South Wales proclaimed two counties in the Port Phillip District; Bourke, centred around Melbourne and Grant centred around Geelong. The boundaries of each county incorporated the occupied rural areas around the two major Victorian settlements. Each county was administered by a District Council which reported to the Governor of New South Wales, although frequently communications between the Governor and the district Councils were made via the Superintendent.

Note: For more information on the structure of government in the Colony of New South Wales during this period, see VRG 17 Executive.

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 VRG 17 Executive for details). The Crown Colony came formally into existence on 13 January 1851 under the provisions of an Act of British Parliament 1850 passed in response to growing discontent in the District and pressure for separation from the New South Wales administration.

Functional and Agency Groupings 1839-1851

All civil administrative functions for the 1839-1851 period and the agencies responsible for them have been grouped under VRG 11 Superintendent, Port Phillip District, unless an agency clearly belongs to one of the categories covered by the Non-Ministerial Groups - VRG 5 Cemeteries, VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies, VRG 9 Prisons and Youth Training Centres, VRG 10 Police, VRG 12 Municipalities, VRG 24 Educational Institutions and VRG 27 District Land Offices. Military and defence functions are grouped under VRG 3 Armed Forces, and judicial matters under VRG 4 Courts.

Functional and Agency Groupings 1851-1855

The Lieutenant Governor (later Governor) remained head of Government until the proclamation of the new constitution conferring full responsible government in November 1855 (see VRG 17 Executive for details).

During 1851-1855 chief executive authority rested with the Governor advised by the Executive Council. The main Departments of Government were those of the Colonial Secretary (VRG 16) and the principal colonial officials or principal officers of government, including the Treasurer, Auditor-General, Surveyor-General, Collector of Customs (later the Commissioner of Trade and Customs) and Postmaster-General. The Colonial Secretary was the Chief Official and all other colonial officials communicated with the Lieutenant-Governor (later Governor) via his Office.

A number of Ministerial Groups covering the responsibilities of the principal colonial officials have been dated from 1851. The Superintendent is shown as passing responsibility for the functions listed below to these Groups. They are:

VRG 18 Lands Survey and Mapping
VRG 19 Law Crown-Solicitor's Services
VRG 21 Postmaster-General Post Offices
VRG 22 Trade and Customs Trade, Customs, Ports and Harbours
VRG 23 Treasurer Finance and Revenue Collection

All other functions - census and statistics, health, immigration, police and prison administration, the "protection" of Aborigines, education, goldfields administration, public works and buildings, roads and bridges, and the management and sale of Crown lands (until 1853) - and the responsible agencies have been included in the Colonial Secretary's Group (VRG 16), unless an agency clearly belongs to one of the categories covered by the Non-Ministerial Groups - VRG 3 Armed Forces, VRG 4 Courts, VRG 5 Cemeteries, VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies, VRG 9 Prisons and Youth Training Centres, VRG 10 Police, VRG 12 Municipalities, VRG 24 Educational Institutions, and VRG 27 District Land Offices. The Auditor-General's Group (VRG 15) has also been dated from 1851. As the entire business of the colony was conducted either directly or indirectly through the Colonial Secretary, the Colonial Secretary's records reflect not only the functions of the Colonial Secretary but also those of other colonial officials.

The executive arm of government was not during this period subject to parliamentary control. The principal officers of government were appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor (later Governor) and were responsible through him to the British administration. Government nominees to the Legislative Council and Executive Councillors were appointed from their ranks, but their executive positions as colonial officials were not dependent on their retaining their seats in Parliament (then the Legislative Council only), as was the case after 1855.

Ministerial appointees after 1855 were for a time also effectively heads of their Departments and it was not until the 1880's that public service structures as we know them today began to emerge. However after 1855 the chief colonial officials or principal officers of government can be considered to have achieved Ministerial status and their executive positions (as Ministers and Executive Councillors) were dependent on their retaining their seat in Parliament and the support of the majority in the Lower House.

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. Records of the British administration are also of vital importance during this period.

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), 3.16.2 (Superintendent),3.18.0 (Inquests, Registration, Survey), 3.22.0 (Treasury, Registration, Licensing and Statistics), 16.5.0 (Aboriginal Affairs), 16.6.0 (Customs).

For records of the District County of Bourke see List of Holdings, 2nd edition 1985, section 10.23.0 (VPRS 39 and VPRS 40) and section 4.6.0.

A card index to publicans, land sales, and pastoral runs in VPRS 7 Correspondence Inwards (Sub-Treasury) for the period 1838 to 1855 is located in the Laverton Search Room.

Records of British and New South Wales Administrations

The Public Record Office in London has published a number of guides and lists to their holdings. Of particular relevance is R.B. Pugh The Records of the Colonial and Dominions Offices (1967 : PRO Handbook No.3), a revised version of which, by Anne Thurston, is in preparation. A selective guide to Australian material in the official archives (and other repositories) is to be found in Phyllis Mander-Jones (ed.) Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific (Canberra, 1972). The Commonwealth Archivists Association is publishing a series of guides to Colonial and Commonwealth materials in repositories in the British Isles - forthcoming publications will include detailed studies on Australia and New Zealand.

Much of the official material relating to Australia has been copied onto microfilm as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP). A full set of the films is available at the State Library of Victoria. The films can be approached through the AJCP Handbooks.

The records of the New South Wales Colonial Secretary are of vital importance for the pre-separation period. Some records of the 1826 settlement can now be found under the Record Group Establishments (Military, Penal and Agricultural) in the New South Wales Archives Authority's Concise Guide. Other important Group headings in the New South Wales Guide include:

Attorney General Immigration Department
Auditor-General Lands Department
Colonial Architect Mounted Police
Colonial (Royal) Engineer Ordnance and Colonial Storekeeper
Commissariat Postmaster General
Customs Department Supreme Court and General Sessions
Governor Surveyor General
Harbour Department Treasury
Hospitals Vice Admiralty Court

The New South Wales State Archives are described in a variety of guides and finding aids produced by the Archives Authority of New South Wales. The only complete list of holdings is the Concise Guide to the State Archives of New South Wales, originally published in 1970 and updated by later Supplements. In the Concise Guide, records are arranged by Government agency. Series titles, dates, location numbers and (in many instances) descriptions of the records are given.

In addition to the Concise Guide and Supplements, the Archives Office of New South Wales has produced numerous finding aids, including inventories which list the complete records or select groups of records of particular Government agencies; subject guides which relate to particular kinds of records regardless of the creating agency; and indexes to individuals, subject and localities. The following are of chief interest to those researching Victorian history, particularly in the pre-separation period:

Colonial Secretary : Correspondence records
Guide to records relating to the Occupation of Crown Lands
Guide to Convict records in the Archives Office of New South Wales
Guide to Shipping and Free Passenger records
Index to Assisted Immigrants arriving Port Phillip, 1839-1851.

The Archives Authority's publication programme also includes the Genealogical Research Kit, published in four stages, which comprises microform copies of shipping, immigration, convict, land and other frequently used records, such as the Returns of the Colony (known as "Blue Books"). A full Kit is available at the State Library of Victoria and the University of Melbourne and parts of the Kit are held at a number of other locations within the State.

In addition to the Genealogical Research Kit, the Authority has published the early Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825, on microform, and a printed index to the papers. These documents constitute the largest and most extensive collection of public records relating to the formative years of settlement in New South Wales. The records reflect all aspects of colonial life - administration by the civil and military authorities, the granting and settlement of land, the operation of the convict system, the exploration of the coast and the interior, interaction with the Aboriginal population, and the commercial and maritime development of the Colony.

Sources for the administrative history of New South Wales are similar to those for Victoria. For the early period, the most important of these are the Returns of the Colony, included in Stage I of the Genealogical Research Kit, which comprise sets of statistical returns of the Colony of New South Wales and of areas under its jurisdiction compiled annually from 1822 to 1857 by the Colonial Secretary for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. In the Blue Books from 1837 to 1850 the returns either include Port Phillip information or there is a separate return for the District under various statistical headings.

Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
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Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1839 - 1851 Superintendent, Port Phillip District VA 473 Dept. of State
1839 - 1851 Surveyor General's Department, Port Phillip Branch (also known as the Melbourne Survey Office) VA 943 Sub Department
1841 - 1842 Melbourne Market Commissioners VA 3155 Other Instrumentalities
1841 - 1851 Office of the Victorian Government Solicitor (previously known as the Office of the Crown Solicitor) VA 667 Sub Department
1848 - 1851 Denominational School Board VA 703 Statutory Authority
Functions related to this GroupFunctions related to this Group
Displaying 1 to 20 of 24  Go To First Page Of List Go To Previous Page Of List of 2 Go To Next Page Of List Go To Last Page Of List 
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Date within Group 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 Survey VF 17
1839 - 1851 Health, public VF 125
1839 - 1851 Aboriginal affairs VF 175
1839 - 1851 Liquor licences, issue and registration of VF 302
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