Agency VA 856
Colonial Secretary's Office
About this Agency Records Related Functions Related Agencies
Date Range: 1851 - 1855
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
Appointment of Colonial Secretary

Charles Joseph La Trobe remained Superintendent of the Port Phillip District (VRG 11) until 1850 when he was re-appointed Lieutenant-Governor in the new Crown Colony which came formally into existence on 13 January 1851. The Colonial Secretary was the chief official of Government during the period 1851 to 1855.

Functions Administered by the Colonial Secretary

Functions inherited from the Superintendent and administered directly through the Colonial Secretary's Office included:

census and statistics
goldfields administration, including the Chinese on the goldfields
police administration and prisons
protection of Aborigines
management and sale of Crown Lands
public works and buildings
roads and bridges

The Colonial Secretary also came to have responsibility for the care and control of lunatics, recording births, deaths and marriages, the registration of theatre licences, and the Colony's first art gallery and museum. In 1854 and 1855 the Colonial Secretary also was responsible for the Gold Office.


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 honorary 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.

Census and Statistics, Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Collection of statistics and periodic census taking was at first the responsibility of the Statistics Branch of the Colonial Secretary's Office. In 1853 compulsory registration of births, deaths and marriages was introduced under the Act 16 Vic., No.26 and the Registrar-General's Department (VA 2889) was established to administer this function. It also took over responsibilities relating to census and statistics. Prior to 1853 the births, deaths and marriages records were maintained by the churches. For a brief history of these functions, see VRG 69 Property and Services and the relevant agencies.


Early schools were run by religious organisations. In 1848 a Board of National Education (VA 920) and a Denominational School Board had been 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 - had been set up in the same year to regulate and inspect the secular aspects of denominational schools supported by public funding. In 1852 the Victorian National Schools Board (VA 919) - see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.8.1. - was established with responsibility for regulating government schools, appointing teachers and maintaining school buildings.

Note: For further information about the history of education, see VRG 35 Education.


A small general hospital had been established in Melbourne in 1841 under Assistant Colonial Surgeon Cussen. By 1851, following separation from New South Wales, the civil establishment for the Medical Department, which was responsible to the Colonial Secretary, included the Colonial Surgeon, Melbourne, who was also Surgeon to the Gaol and Surgeon to the Lunatic Asylum, the District Surgeon, Geelong, a Dispenser and the Superintendent and staff of the Lunatic Asylum at Yarra Bend (VA 2839). By 1852 there were also Assistant Colonial Surgeons in Melbourne, Geelong, Williamstown and Ovens and by 1854 District Surgeons had also been appointed to Portland, Belfast, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Ballarat, Avoca, Beechworth, Kyneton and Kilmore. Other medical staff were based at Pentridge and at the hospitals established on the goldfields at Castlemaine, Sandhurst and Ballarat.

The Chief Medical Officer and the Medical Officers in Melbourne were responsible for immigrants from the time of their landing until their departure from the Immigration Depot, for the police, and for the officers and prisoners in gaols and stockades. In the seaport towns and the goldfields they were responsible for immigrants, police, military, prisoners and officers of the gold commission.

The Health Officer, who was primarily concerned with quarantine, was Superintendent of the Sanitary Station which had been established in 1852 at Ticonderoga Bay, Point Nepean, until 1853 when he was transferred to Queenscliff and ordered to board every inward bound ship and ascertain the state of health of its passengers and crew and where necessary to place the ship in quarantine.

In 1855, under the provisions of the Public Health Act 18 Vic.,No.13 (1854), the Central Board of Health was established and became responsible for the prevention, containment and treatment of infectious and contagious diseases; the construction and maintenance of adequate drains and sewers; the regulation of noxious trades; the enforcement of standards of proper sanitation; regulation of the preparation and sale of food and drink; the compulsory vaccination of children; and the registration and control of common lodging houses. Local Boards of Health, which were effectively the municipal councils, also had a significant role in the administration of public health. (See also VRG 12 Municipalities.)

Prior to 1848 lunatics were detained in the District's gaols or sent to the asylum in New South Wales. The first permanent asylum in Victoria was built at Yarra Bend in 1848 (VA 2839). When it first opened it was officially a ward of the Asylum at Tarban Creek in New South Wales. However responsibility for the administration of the asylum was shared between the Superintendent of the Asylum and the Colonial Surgeon as part of his general responsibility for Health. They reported to the Colonial Secretary.

Note: For a brief history of the administration of health from 1836 to 1989 see VRG 39 Health and VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies.


The Colonial Secretary's Office 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 function the British Emigration Agent and the Colonial Secretary's Office were assisted by locally appointed Immigration Agents. Between 1851 and 1855 over 350,000 migrants arrived under Government funded and ly sponsored schemes, as well as unassisted. During the Gold Rush period, 1851 to 1861, most migrants paid their own way and Government Schemes were largely eclipsed. The responsibilities of the Colonial Secretary's Office 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.

Management and Sale of Crown Lands

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 the Colonial Secretary and received administrative support from the Land Branch of the Colonial Secretary's Office until 1853 when the Department of Crown Lands (VA 2878) was established (see VRG 18 Lands and VRG 27 District Land Offices for further details).

Public Works and Buildings, Roads and Bridges

The first public works and road building were undertaken by convict labourers overseen by the military detachment responsible for guarding them. The first Clerk of Works was appointed in mid 1837 and the first Overseer of Roads in September. Plans for the settlement's early public buildings were prepared by the Colonial Architect in Sydney but the locally appointed Clerk of Works took direction from the Police Magistrate and subsequently the Superintendent.

A Superintendent of Bridges was appointed in 1844 with responsibility for overseeing a range of public works, including roads and bridges. In May 1846, Henry Ginn was appointed Clerk of Works and by 1850, the civil establishment for public works included the Clerk of Works, Superintendent of Bridges, six overseers and clerks, a clerk and a messenger.

The period between separation from New South Wales in 1851 and the achievement of responsible government in 1855 was characterised by a large expansion in revenue, population, the size of the colonial administration and the need for public works and buildings. During this period the structure of the administration was re-organised a number of times. In 1851 the Colonial Architect was responsible for the construction, maintenance, rental and furnishing of public buildings while the Superintendent of Bridges was responsible for roads and bridges and other public works. By October 1852 a Colonial Engineer had been appointed at a salary twice that received by the other two officials and appears to have exercised joint responsibility with them. By 1854 there had been an amalgamation of the functions of the Colonial Engineer and the Colonial Architect, the latter position having been abolished, and while the position of Superintendent of Bridges remained, it was clearly subordinate to that of the Colonial Engineer. Each of these officials was responsible to the Colonial Secretary.

In 1853 under the provisions of An Act for making and improving Roads in the Colony of Victoria, the Central Roads Board (VA 2803) was established and assumed responsibility for the construction and maintenance of proclaimed main roads and bridges. The Act also provided for municipal responsibility for local roads and bridges, subject to the general superintendence of the Board, and District Road Boards were established. Under the provisions of their own Acts, the towns of Melbourne and Geelong were also responsible for the construction and maintenance of local roads and bridges.

The Returns of Public Works, Civil Establishment lists (see VPRS 943 Blue Books) and Finance Statements for the years 1851 to 1854 give some indication of the very rapid expansion in the administration of the public works function. In 1851, the civil establishment for public works was thirteen and by 1854 the combined establishment of the Colonial Engineer and the Central Roads Board was seventy-four. Appropriations for the six months from July to December 1851 totalled 13,372 pounds and by 1853 the appropriations for public works and buildings and roads and bridges had risen to 1,314,056 pounds for the year.

On the achievement of responsible government in 1855, the Public Works Department (VA 669) assumed responsibility for all public works functions and the Central Roads Board (VA 2803) continued to be responsible for roads and bridges until its abolition in 1858.

Theatre Licences

Under the provisions of An Act to amend the Law for regulating places of exhibition and entertainment 1850 14 Vic., No.23, the Colonial Secretary's Office was responsible for all theatrical and artistic performances involving profit or gain, or to which admission was charged. The Superintendent (VA 473) may have administered theatrical licences prior to 1851.

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 years 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 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 agencies covering the responsibilities of the principal colonial officials have been dated from 1851. The Superintendent (VA 473) is shown as passing responsibility for the functions listed below directly to these Agencies. They are:


VA 2921 Surveyor General's Department Survey and Mapping
VA 2825 Attorney-General's Department Crown-Solicitor's Services
VA 2872 Postmaster-General's Department Post Offices
VA 606 Department of Trade and Customs Trade, Customs, Ports and Harbours
VA 865 Department of the 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, 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. 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.

Responsible Government 1855

The majority of functions administered by the Colonial Secretary's Office passed to the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) in 1855, notable exceptions being immigration, inherited by the Department of Trade and Customs (VA 606), geological survey which passed to the Surveyor General's Department (VA 2921) and the Gold Office, resumed by the Department of the Treasurer (VA 865).

Location of Records

There are substantial holdings for the 1851-1855 period at the Public Record Office, including the Colonial Secretary's correspondence.

See also List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, sections 3.3.0. (Library, Gallery, Museums), 3.4.0. (Prisons and Gaols), 3.8.0. (Education), 3.10.0 (Immigration), 3.11.0. (Health), 3.16.4. (Colonial Secretary's records), 3.19.0 (Public Works), 16.5.0. (Aboriginal Affairs).

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Record series created by this AgencyRecord series created by this Agency
Displaying 1 to 20 of 107  Go To First Page Of List Go To Previous Page Of List of 6 Go To Next Page Of List Go To Last Page Of List 
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1839 - ? 1896 Inward Registered and Unregistered Correspondence VPRS 44 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1841 - ? 1979 Supplementary Inward Registered Correspondence VPRS 1226 North Melbourne Open
? 1843 - ? 1875 Land Grants for Special Purposes VPRS 81 North Melbourne Open
? 1847 - ? 1855 Outward Letter Books (Clerk of Works 1847 -1851, Colonial Architect 1851 - 1854, Colonial Engineer 1854 - 1855) VPRS 46 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1848 - ? 1875 Security Copy Microfilm of Pastoral Run Registers VPRS 245 North Melbourne Closed
? 1850 - 1980 Crown Reserves Correspondence VPRS 242 North Melbourne Open
? 1851 - ? 1854 Minute Book (Colonial Architect 1851 - 1854, Colonial Engineer 1854) VPRS 956 North Melbourne Open
? 1852 - By 1893 Petitions VPRS 1192 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1853 - ? 1854 Register of Officers, Penal Department VPRS 16630 North Melbourne Open
? 1982 - ? 1982 Aboriginal Affairs Records (Microfilm Copy of VPRS 4409, 10, 11, 4410, 12, 2895, 4399, 4397 4398, 4466, 4412, 4414, 4465, 2897, 2893, 2894, 2896, 4411, 4415, 6760). VPRS 4467 North Melbourne Part Open
1836 - ? 1873 Early Church Records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials VPRS 18496 North Melbourne Open
1837 - ? 1972 Reports of Land Sales by Public Auction VPRS 11862 North Melbourne Open
1837 - 1856 Register of Purchasers of Town Land VPRS 102 North Melbourne Open
1839 - ? 1864 Applications for Remission VPRS 98 North Melbourne Open
1839 - 1853 Inward Registered and Unregistered Correspondence, Lands VPRS 6905 North Melbourne Open
1839 - 1859 Statistical Returns of Gaols and Criminals Executed [1839-1850]; Estimates of Expenditure [1841] and Criminal Statistics [1858-1859] VPRS 8 North Melbourne Open
1839 - 1871 Register of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom [refer to microform copy, VPRS 3502] VPRS 14 North Melbourne Closed
1840 - 1878 Pastoral Run Files 1840-1878 [Refer to Microfiche Copy VPRS 5920] VPRS 5359 North Melbourne Closed
1841 - 1852 Correspondence and Report Book VPRS 73 North Melbourne Open
1842 - 1854 Register of Convicts VPRS 110 North Melbourne Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
Displaying 1 to 20 of 23  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 of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1851 - 1853 Roads and bridges VF 15
1851 - 1853 Crown lands (public) VF 309
1851 - 1853 Crown lands (government) VF 310
1851 - 1854 Census and statistics VF 3
1851 - 1855 Education VF 19
1851 - 1855 Goldfields administration and mining VF 20
1851 - 1855 Library, State VF 22
1851 - 1855 Botanic gardens VF 27
1851 - 1855 Immigration (nineteenth century) VF 8
1851 - 1855 Police VF 10
1851 - 1855 Prisons and youth training centres VF 13
1851 - 1855 Buildings, government (design and construction) VF 14
1851 - 1855 Health, public VF 125
1851 - 1855 Aboriginal affairs VF 175
- 1853 Births, deaths and marriages VF 39
1854 - 1855 Gold office VF 23
- 1855 Geological survey VF 24
- 1855 Herbarium VF 26
- 1855 Galleries VF 82
- 1855 Museums VF 83
Functions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibility
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Superior AgenciesSuperior Agencies
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Subordinate AgenciesSubordinate Agencies
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1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Westernport VA 2710
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Murray District VA 2711
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Bourke VA 4729
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Portland Bay VA 4737
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Gippsland District VA 4738
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Grant VA 4739
1851 - 1853 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Wimmera District VA 4740
1851 - 1855 Coroners Courts VA 2263
1851 - 1855 His Majesty's Gaol, Pentridge (known as Pentridge Prison) VA 863
1852 - 1855 Department of Commissioners for the Gold Fields (also known as Gold Commissioner's Department) VA 4951
1853 - 1855 Registrar-General's Department VA 2889
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1851 - 1855 Colonial Secretary VRG 16