Group VRG 38
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1883 - 1901
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
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 which had first been established in 1854.

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

In 1887 an Australian Naval Force was established to provide additional protection for shipping in Australian waters. This force was jointly financed by the Imperial, New Zealand and six colonial governments.

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

With Federation in 1901, a Commonwealth Minister of Defence assumed control of all Australian defence forces. (See VRG 87).

Brief Account of Defence Administration prior to 1883

A detachment of Imperial troops of the 4th Kings Own Regiment under the command of Captain William Lonsdale, Police Magistrate, arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1836. From then until 1870 various Imperial regiments were stationed in the colony with responsibility for the defence of Victoria.

Lonsdale's separate military instructions gave him command of troops consisting of one subaltern, two sergeants, and thirty rank and file troopers (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 1, p.46).

As military commandant Lonsdale communicated with and for the Major-General's information upon all military subjects requiring report (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 1, p.48). (The Major General commanding His Majesty's Forces and Vice Admiral of the same was also the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke.) Lonsdale received his military instructions via Captain William Hunter, Assistant Military Secretary, New South Wales, while his civil instructions were conveyed to him by the Colonial Secretary, New South Wales.

This separation of the distinct jurisdictions continued with the stationing of local commanders in the colony. In 1854 the Commander in Chief of the Australian Colonies, Sir Robert Nickle established his headquarters in Melbourne.

The Imperial forces drew their pay from the "military chest" supplied by the Imperial government. (Except for a short period in the mid 1850's when the Colonial Government paid all salaries of Imperial troops stationed here. The Colonial Government also provided revenue for public works in relation to accommodation for the military and also for defence works.

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 the Aborigines.

During the 1850's they also provided the gold escort and their role at Eureke Stockade is well known. Ships of the Royal Navy were associated with the Australian colonies from 1788 to 1913 when the Australian Navy was formed.

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).

NOTE: 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.

Volunteer Forces

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.

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.

Ministerial Responsibility

From 1856 to 1857 the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) was responsible for defence co-ordination and policy which included Head Quarters Staff, Her Majesty's Regular troops, the Commissariat, the Volunteer Forces and staff and the steam sloop Victoria. In 1858 until 1883 when a Minister for Defence was appointed the Treasurer (VRG 23) undertook responsibility for central defence policy and planning including Military troops in Garrison, Local Staff, Stores, Barracks, the Volunteer Force and the Naval Training Ship.

Further Research

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.

Location of Records

Records associated with this group are those documenting the central administration of the defence forces. For records created by individual corps, units and military districts, see VRG 3 Armed Forces.

The Public Record Office does not hold records created by the various Victorian defence forces. However records relating to their activities may be found within those of other Groups such as the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) and the Treasurer (VRG 23). The Australian Archives also hold records .

See also List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.16.5. (Chief Secretary's records) and 3.22.1 (Treasury records).


Minister for Defence 1883-1901

Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
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Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1883 - 1901 Department of Defence VA 2884 Dept. of State
Functions related to this GroupFunctions related to this Group
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Date within Group Function Title Function Number
1883 - cont Defence VF 63
- 1901 Defence and armed forces co-ordination VF 270