|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
Formation of Department of Trade and Customs 1851
The Department of Trade and Customs was established in 1851 under the Collector of Customs who was also an officer of the Executive Council. From 1855 a newly appointed Commissioner for Trade and Customs had ministerial responsibility for the Department and the Collector's position evolved into that of Permanent Head or Chief Administrator.
Responsibilities for trade, customs, ports and harbours were inherited from the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District (see VA 473). By 1851 trade and customs controls were well established in the District under a Sub-Collector of Customs, 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.
Functional Responsibilities 1851 to 1900/1901
The prime functions of the Department of Trade and Customs related to:
collection of customs duties
distilleries and excise
explosives and powder magazines
ports and harbours
Ports and Harbours
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 Harbours Branch of the Department. The Ports and Harbours 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 pilot 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 (see below)
Between 1864 and 1874 the Alfred Graving Dock at Williamstown was constructed by the Government and thereafter was administered by the Ports and Harbours Branch.
In 1877 responsibility for ports and harbours 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 Harbours 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 (1873) 37 Vic., No.473.
From 1855 to 1900 Trade and Customs was also responsible for functions relating to immigration, previously undertaken by the Colonial Secretary (VA 856). Operational responsibilities rested with the Immigration Agent, an officer of the Ports and Harbours Branch of the Department, 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 migration 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 475) assumed responsibility for the control of alien immigration and naturalisation and the Public Works Department (VA 669) 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, and for provision of reception, initial settlement and employment services, see VA 538 Department of Crown Lands and Survey.
Pilot Board, later the Marine Board (VA 1425), was responsible for mercantile marine matters, including standards of marine safety, shipping registration and certification of pilots, ships masters, mates and engineers. Staff carrying out the functions of the Board were mainly located within the Department of Trade and Customs until 1901.
Upon Federation the Commonwealth (VRG 87) assumed responsibility for the key trade and customs functions and the Victorian Department was abolished. Mercantile marine matters, explosives and control of alien immigration passed to the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475), while the Public Works Department (VA 669) had inherited ports and harbours, including lighthouses and navigation, fisheries and the monitoring of immigrant arrivals and departures in 1900.
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 (Transport), 16.13.0 (Mercantile Marine, Ports and Harbours) and 16.25.0 (Trade and Customs).
See also list below for records of this agency relating to the Ports and Harbours function.