Group VRG 22
Trade and Customs
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1851 - 1901
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
Appointment of Collector of Customs

On the separation of Victoria from New South Wales in 1851 the British Government appointed a Collector of Customs for Victoria. This officer was also a member of the Executive Council during the period 1851-1855 (see VRG 17 Executive). Responsibilities for trade, customs, ports and harbours were inherited from the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District (see VRG 11). By 1851 trade and customs controls were well established in the District under a Sub-Collector of Customs, who was also an appointee of the British Board of Commissioners of Customs. Prior to 1851 Port Phillip had been surveyed and charted, ports and harbours facilities installed, bay pilots appointed, permanent navigation aids erected and a Harbour Master appointed.

Appointments of Commissioner 1855

In November 1855, with the formation of the self governing Colony of Victoria, a Commissioner of Trade and Customs was appointed with ministerial-type responsibility for the Department of Trade and Customs (VA 606). In the years that followed the Commissioner's and Collector's positions were held by separate individuals. The Collector's position evolved into the permanent head of the Department of Trade and Customs (VA 606).

Functional Responsibilities 1851 to 1900/1901

The prime functions associated with Trade and Customs portfolios until 1901 were:
collection of customs duties
distilleries and excise
explosives and powder magazines
ports and harbours
navigation, lighthouses
shipping registration
standards of marine safety
certification of marine pilots, ships masters, mates and engineers.

Ports and Harbors Branch

From the beginning of the Department of Trade and Customs a number of functions were consistently grouped together administratively and this grouping subsequently became identified as the Ports and Harbors Branch of the Department.

The Ports and harbors Branch was responsible for:
control of vessel movements into and out of Victorian ports
regulation of loading and discharging of goods including the collection of wharfage rates
provision of pilots services
construction and maintenance of Government marine vessels
maintenance of navigational aids and operation of lighthouses, lightships and signal stations
provision of emergency services along the Victorian coast
immigration and emigration

Between 1864 and 1874 the Alfred Graving Dock at Williamstown was constructed by the Government and was thereafter administered by the Ports and Harbors Branch.

In 1877 responsibility for the ports and harbors functions within the Port of Melbourne was assumed by the newly-established Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners (VA 2799).

In 1900, immediately prior to the abolition of the Department of Trade and Customs, the Ports and Harbors Branch was transferred to the Public Works Department (VA 669). At this time the Branch was also responsible for the inspection of fisheries, which had emerged as a responsibility of the Department of Trade and Customs in 1873, following proclamation of the Fisheries Act 37 Vic.,No.473 (1873).

Immigration 1855-1900

From 1855 to 1900 the Commissioner of Trade and Customs was also responsible for functions relating to immigration, previously undertaken by the Colonial Secretary (VRG 16). Operational responsibilities rested with the Immigration Agent, an officer of the Ports and Harbours Branch of the Department of Trade and Customs (VA 606), for:

administration of assisted immigration and nomination schemes (to 1883)
monitoring of immigrant arrivals and departures, including regulation of alien immigration, naturalisation, and certification of passenger lists
reception and initial settlement of immigrants (to 1883).

The promotion of emigration and the selection and conveyance of migrants at the British end was the responsibility of the British Emigration Agent until the appointment in 1868 of the Agent-General for Victoria in London. The Office of the Agent-General was established by the Victorian Immigration Statute 1864, 27 Vic., No.195, to assume responsibility for promoting migration, selecting migrants and arranging their passage on behalf of the Victorian Colonial Government. The Statute which consolidated earlier legislation, including the 1863 Act 27 Vic., No.175, also provided for the employment of Immigration Committees to assist new arrivals to settle and find employment, introduced Government and ly sponsored nomination schemes, and provided for alien (i.e. non-British) immigration. Separate legislation, also administered by Trade and Customs officers, applied to Chinese immigrants who were required to pay an impost on entry and a yearly impost thereafter, which included their miner's right (see the 1854, 1857 and 1859 Statutes 18 Vic., No.39, 21 Vic., No.41 and 22 Vic., No.80).

During the Gold Rush period, 1851-1861, most migrants paid their own way and Government schemes of assisted immigration were largely eclipsed. By 1873, as a result of the economic situation, the government began to withdraw financial support for assisted immigration and by 1883 such immigration ceased altogether. The Government sponsored nomination scheme for immigrants with special skills was also phased out. (It is unclear however whether a nomination scheme continued for unassisted immigrants). Unassisted immigration from British and foreign ports continued strongly throughout the latter half of the century.

From December 1900, the Chief Secretary (VA 26) assumed responsibility for the control of alien immigration and naturalisation, and the Commissioner for Public Works (VRG 28) became responsible for the monitoring of immigrant arrivals and departures in 1900. These responsibilities passed to the Commonwealth in 1904 and 1923 respectively. For details of the resumption of assisted immigration in 1906 when, under the Closer Settlement Act 1906 (No.2067), the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey became responsible for administering the nomination scheme, provision of reception, initial settlement and employment services, see VRG 18 Lands.

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

Pilot Board

The Pilot Board, later the Marine Board (VA 1424), was responsible for mercantile marine matters, including standards of marine safety, shipping registration and certification of pilots, ships masters, mates and engineers.

Federation 1901

Upon Federation the Commonwealth (VRG 87) assumed responsibility for key
Trade and Customs functions and the position of Commissioner was abolished. Mercantile marine matters, explosives and control of alien immigration passed to the Chief Secretary (VRG 26). The Minister for Public Works (VRG 28) had inherited ports and harbours, including lighthouses and navigation, fisheries and the monitoring of immigrant arrivals and departures in 1900.

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 the period 1851 to 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: 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. The Collector of Customs (from 1855 Commissioner of Trade and Customs) was a member of the Executive Council (VA 2903) from 1851 and of the Legislative Council (VA 471) between 1853 and 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

There are extensive holdings of 19th and early 20th century immigration records (to 1923). Naturalisation records were inherited by the Commonwealth and are held by Australian Archives.

See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.6.0 (Fisheries and Wildlife), 3.10.0 (Immigration), 3.16.4 (Colonial Secretary) 3.21.0 and 16.13.0 (Mercantile Marine, Ports and Harbours). 16.25.0 (Trade and Customs).


Commissioner of Trade and Customs 1855-1901

Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1851 - 1901 Department of Trade and Customs VA 606 Dept. of State
1854 - 1887 Pilot Board of Victoria VA 4179 Other Instrumentalities
1854 - 1901 Port Phillip Sea Pilots (Port Phillip Pilot Service) VA 4180 Other Instrumentalities
1877 - 1900 Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners VA 2799 Major Statutory Authority
1888 - 1901 Marine Board of Victoria VA 1424 Statutory Authority
Functions related to this GroupFunctions related to this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Function Title Function Number
1851 - 1900 Ports and harbours VF 11
1855 - cont Immigration (nineteenth century) VF 8
- 1900 Fisheries and wildlife VF 98
- 1900 Immigration (monitoring arrivals) VF 99
- 1900 Fisheries, commercial licences VF 230
- 1901 Dangerous goods VF 150
- 1901 Mercantile marine VF 279