AGY-16 | Colonial Secretary and Registrar of the Records of New South Wales (1821-1824) Colonial Secretary (1824-1856) Colonial Secretary or Principal Secretary to the Government (1856-1859) Chief Secretary [I]

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On 30 June 1820 Major Frederick Goulburn was commissioned as Colonial Secretary and Registrar of the Records of New South Wales. On 1 January 1821, Frederick Goulburn was officially sworn in and assumed his duties as Colonial Secretary. (1) Goulburn’s duties, powers, and responsibilities had not been clearly defined. (2) A dispute with the Judge Advocate concerning custody of the Criminal Court’s records had to be settled by the Colonial Office - which ruled against Goulburn. The early duties of this position included the collection of fees for -
title deeds to land grants;
special licenses for marriages;
commissions on which the Great Seal of the Colony was used;
the registration of vessels over 40 tons;
and the mustering of convicts on arrival.

In 1823 this right to collect fees was abolished by the home government, and the monies collected were paid into colonial revenue.

The Colonial Secretary’s Office kept the Registers of Letters, and prepared the financial and statistical Returns of the Colony, which were sent annually to the Secretary of State. The offices of Secretary to the Governor and Colonial Secretary were not separated until May 1824 when Major Ovens was officially appointed Governor Brisbane's Private Secretary (although he had been acting in this capacity since the middle of 1823).

Another aspect of the Colonial Secretary’s Duties was as a legislator. The Secretary was an ex officio member of the Legislative Council, which first sat in August 1824. The warrant establishing the Council listed in order of precedence the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary, Principal Surgeon, and Surveyor General. (3)

The most important function of the Colonial Secretary’s office was that it acted as the channel of communications between the Governor, other government offices, and private settlers.

On 5 January 1826 Governor Darling requested that "Heads of Departments and Commandants of Stations (except when the subject relates to the Military Branch of the Service) (to) address their Applications and Reports " to the Colonial Secretary "for the information and decision of the Governor". (4)

Governor Darling believed that the supervising and controlling power of the Governor - to see that all orders and regulations were followed up and put into effect - should be vested in the office of the Colonial Secretary. Its principal duties were the framing and perfecting of measures for the better government of the colony, improving the public departments, and exercising a general superintendence over the machinery of government.

Governor Darling transferred to the Department of the Principal Superintendent of Convicts all matters relating to the conduct and management of the convict population. The victualling and supplying of the convict establishments, expenditure on which was paid from the Military Chest, was transferred to the Commissariat becoming the responsibility of the Deputy Commissary General. (5)

On 1 November 1826 Governor Darling appointed an Assistant Colonial Secretary. While the Colonial Secretary concentrated on more political work especially with the Legislative Council, the Assistant Secretary undertook the administrative work of the office. The first Assistant Colonial Secretary Thomas Cudbert Harington reorganised the Department instituting staff training, and work allocation of tasks mechanical in nature or those calling for the higher intellectual faculties. Lines of responsibility were defined for the "checking and counter checking" of documents, and the framing of official letters. (6)

The Deeds Registration Act in 1825 had made the Supreme Court responsible for the registration of all documents relating to land sales or grants.

By a public notice dated 26 December 1848 (11) all correspondence from private individuals respecting leases, tenders, and all matters of detail connected with Crown Land beyond the settled districts, were transferred to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, although the Colonial Secretary was consulted in those cases in which interpretation of the law was required.

Before 1842 the Colonial Secretary’s role as a Legislative Councillor had been very much secondary to that of the Governor. Outside the Council he played a major part in drafting legislation and preparing government business. During the life of the old Council he was chairman of 13 subcommittees and a member of another nine. Inside the chamber he functioned as leader of the house, introducing legislation, including the annual estimates, and answering questions relating to its content and purpose. (7)

Under the new constitution of 1842 the Governor ceased to occupy a seat in the legislature and his place as chief government spokesman was taken by the Colonial Secretary. As senior government spokesman he was well placed to influence the political development of the Council. The Secretary was also leader of the house who was responsible for seeing that public business was performed effectively by presenting and defending government policies. (8)

The Colonial Secretary and his department in partnership with the Governor dealt with the correspondence for the Home Government. When a ship was about to sail for England they experienced what Governor Gipps referred (in 1845) to as "the agonies of a Bag", for numerous papers had to be prepared for transmission to the Secretary of State. (9)

By 1855 the Colonial Secretary’s Office was made up of six branches (10)
legislative and land;
records; and ,

In the proclamation by the Governor on 9 October 1856 (11) the functions and duties of the Colonial Secretary or Principal Secretary to the Government involved business connected to -
Legislative matters;
Naval and Military Establishments, including the Volunteer Corps;
Foreign Correspondence; .
Postal Arrangements and Contracts;
Police, including Petty Sessions;
Gaols and Penal Establishments;
Medical Establishments, including Quarantine, Vaccination and Lunatic Asylums;
Registration and Statistics;
Municipal Institutions;
Government Printing;
Proclamations, Commissions, and other Instruments under the Great Seal;
Naturalization of Aliens;
Ecclesiastical Establishments;
Public Education;
Literary and Scientific Institutions (the Museum and Sydney Observatory);
Hospitals and Charitable Institutions;
Remission and Execution of Sentences; and
All other matters of internal arrangement not confided to any other Minister.

The Colonial Secretary was also responsible for the supervision and control of the following Departments:
Postmaster General;
Immigration Agent;
Police Magistrates;
Clerks of Petty Sessions;
Visiting Justices and Officers in charge of Gaols, Penal Establishments, and Lunatic Asylums; .
The Medical Adviser;
The Health Officer;
The Registrar General; and
The Government Printer. (12)

Flowing from these arrangements the Colonial Secretary was to correspond with:
The Judges of the Supreme Court;
The President and Clerk of the Legislative Council;
The Speaker and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly;
The Returning Officers;
The Clerk of the Executive Council;
The Naval and Military Authorities;
The Consuls of the Foreign States;
The Secretaries of Colonial Governments;
The Government Resident at Moreton Bay;
The Land and Emigration Commissioners;
The Colonial Agent;
The Benches of Magistrates, except on judicial questions;
The Heads of the several Churches;
The Governing Bodies of Educational Establishments, and Literary and Scientific Institutions;
The Governing Bodies of Charitable Institutions; and
Municipal Authorities. (13)

And also in certain cases correspond with:
The Sheriff;
The Chairman of Quarter Sessions;
The Prothonotary of the Supreme Court;
The Registrar of Deeds, and
The Curator of Intestate Estates. (14)

Official correspondence would also go to newly formed Ministries (and their departments) of the Attorney General, the Colonial Treasurer, and the Secretary for Lands and Public Works. This ended the official requirement of addressing all matters requiring the action or decision of the Government to the Colonial Secretary. (15)

Complementing the new arrangements the office of the Colonial Secretary changed with the Secretary becoming the political head of the Department - and in fact the Colony. The Premier usually became the Colonial Secretary. The former departmental role the Colonial Secretary had played was now undertaken by the Under Secretary (or Permanent Head). The first Under Secretary, William Elyard was appointed on 26 June 1856. (16)

In the further Administrative Arrangements notified by the Governor on 4 October 1859, the Colonial Secretary was referred to as the "Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary to the Government". (17) This was probably the beginning of the use of the title of "Chief Secretary", which was gradually adopted as the title of the office, although an official ministerial title change did not occur until 1 April 1959 under the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1959 (Act No.4, 1959), assented to 24 September 1959. (18)

From 1859 to 1876 the applications to the Governor for the issue of Naturalization Certificates were made through the Colonial Secretary's Office, although the records were kept by the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court.

Under the 1859 Administrative Arrangements the Colonial Secretary was charged with business connected to
Legislative Matters
Judicial Establishments
Crown Law Officers
The Great Seal.
Colonial Governments.
Consuls of Foreign States.
Naval and Military Establishments, including the Volunteer Corps.
The Establishment of the Auditor General.
Ecclesiastical Establishments.
Public Education.
Municipal Institutions.
Police, including Petty Sessions.
Gaols and Penal Establishments.
Execution and Remittance of Sentences.
Registration and Statistics.
Literary and Scientific Institutions.
Charitable Institutions.
Medical Establishments, including Lunatic Asylums and Vaccination.
The Government Gazette; and
And all other matters not confided to any other Minister.

The Post Office Department and the Government Printing Department had been transferred to the Colonial Treasurer. Aborigines and Immigration were now the responsibility of the Secretary for Lands.

On 13 February the Colonial Secretary was given responsibility for Immigration but the business concerned with the Police Magistrates and the Clerks of Petty Sessions was transferred to the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. (19)

In 1894 at the Royal Commission into the Civil Service the Principal Under Secretary for the Colony Critchett Walker testified about the role of the Colonial Secretary’s Department. The Department considered the economic efficiency of the Civil Service, it also administered the checking of all hospital accounts (striking out unjustifiable claims) while school of the arts accounts had been recently transferred to the Department of Education. There were four central branches within the Colonial Secretary’s Department - Accounts, Correspondence, Records, and the Long Room. With legislative change such as the new Electoral Act, or the opening of a new institution like the Rookwood Asylum, an initial temporary workforce would be recruited by the Department. These workers, however, would not appear in the current Blue Books. (20)

Three quarters of the correspondence received by the Department concerned its administration of 140 Acts of Parliament (Companies’ Act, Constitution Acts, Electoral Acts, Fisheries Acts, Hospitals’ Acts, Lunacy Acts, Police Acts, Real Property Acts, Registration Acts, and Sydney Corporations Acts). Letters and Documents of an "important nature" which went before the Executive Council, the Attorney General and others were preserved as evidential records. If a letter concerned a particular department it would be "pigeon holed" for on forwarding without being "registered and recorded". (21)

Under the administrative arrangements of 4 December 1896, the Chief Secretary was charged with business connected with:
The Great Seal;
The registration of Commissions under the Great Seal;
The Executive Council Office;
The Naval and Military establishments including the Volunteer Corps (except Public School Cadets);
The construction of fortifications and other works of Military Defence;
The Fortifications and Military Land;
The Execution of Capital Sentences;
The Appointment of Magistrates;
The Department of Audit;
Police Department;
Fire Brigades Board;
Aborigines Protection Board;
Government Statistician;
Registrar of Friendly Societies;
Fisheries Commission;
The issue of Theatrical Licenses;
Medical Establishment, including the Officers appointed for the purpose of Vaccination;
The Institutions for the care and treatment of the Insane;
The Metropolitan and Country hospitals;
Charitable Institutions aided from the Consolidated Revenue;
Business relating to ecclesiastical establishments;
The Naturalization of Aliens;
Municipal Institutions;
The Botanic Gardens and Government Domains;
The control of the Centennial Park;
The management of the National Park;
The administration of some 65 acts; and
All matters of business not expressly assigned and confided to any other Minister. (22)

Dealings with Colonial Governments and Foreign Consuls plus parliamentary business had been transferred to the Premier. (23)

The Chief Secretary was to correspond with the returning officers of electoral districts; the heads of the several churches; and "also, as occasion may arise, with other public officers and public bodies". (24)

Though Frederick Flowers was appointed on 22 April 1914 as Minister for Health, (25) the Ministerial responsibility for health matters belonged to the Colonial Secretary until 26 November 1938 when the Department of Public Health was established.

In many cases the work of the Chief Secretary’s Department paralleled and sometimes crossed Departmental boundaries. For example in the 1920s the care of destitute children was the responsibility of the State Children Relief Department while the Chief Secretary’s Department administered votes for the maintenance and transport of destitute persons, the railway transport of the destitute, Christmas cheer, the burial of destitute persons, and special grants to ecclesiastical orphanages. The 1918-1920 Royal Commission into the Public Service found "considerable overlapping" between the two Departments in the areas of outdoor relief and the "doubling up" of inquiries about destitute children by State Relief staff and the Police. In some cases State Relief payments were supplemented by the Chief Secretary’s Department. (26)

In the 1930s, E.B. Harkness, the Under Secretary of the Department, had the responsibility of advising no fewer than three ministers, the Colonial Secretary, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Social Services, the latter portfolio being first created on 22 August 1935. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the Department was responsible for relief operations on a very large scale. The Department played a leading role in the formation of the policy of bread for the unemployed (27), and subsequently administered food relief. It was also concerned in providing benefits in the form of railway passes, spectacles and surgical aids, including artificial limbs. Railway passes were provided principally to enable patients to obtain hospital treatment. (28)

In the twentieth century the Department remained one to which numerous functions were attached. Among these were:
the protection and welfare of the Aboriginal population (from colonisation to 1969);
management of the affairs of Lord Howe Island;
protection and development of the fisheries of the State;
enforcement of laws on Sunday observance;
administration of racing and the laws governing gaming and betting;
administration of the laws relating to the height of buildings in Sydney;
theatre regulation and licensing (from 1828);
obscene and indecent publications;
administration of laws relating to charities, art unions, and trade competitions;
control of films and plays;
bush fire control;
electoral matters;
fauna protection;
poker machine licensing (from 1956);
appointments of Justices of the Peace (to 1975);
custody of the Public Seal and maintenance of the Register of Patents; and
the reception of British migrants from 1962 when it took over the Immigration Division from the Department of Tourist Activities until its transfer in 1975 to the Department of Youth and Community Services

The Chief Secretary's Department was abolished, when, under the changes in the Machinery of Government in January 1975, the Department of Services was established to administer a number of functions previously the responsibility of several other departments or the former Chief Secretary's Department. The functions transferred to the new department included - the conduct of elections (State Electoral Office), the registration of auctioneers and agents, the issue of licenses for theatres and halls, animal boarding establishments, speedways. (29)

The Forestry Commission and the State Fisheries were transferred to the new portfolio of Lands and Forests. The Board of Fire Commissioners became the responsibility of the new portfolio for Police and Services while "disaster administration" through the State Emergency Services and the Bush Fires Branch was carried out by the newly formed Department of Youth, Ethnic and Community Affairs. The Immigration Division was also transferred to this department. The administration of the Justices of the Peace was absorbed into the Department of Attorney General and Justice. Also a Poker Machines Section was established in the new Department of Revenue which came under the control of the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. (30)

See the Colonial Secretary Correspondence Guide for a list of holders of the offices of Colonial Secretary, 1821-1959 and Chief Secretary, 1959-76.

1. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.1, 1788-1850, A-H, p.463. See also Historical Records of Australia (HRA). Series I, Vol.10 General Dispatch No.1 of 1821 Governor Macquarie to Earl Bathurst 7 February 1821 - Arrival of F. Goulburn, p.380. Goulburn arrived on the ship Hebe on 31 December 1820 and was sworn in the following day.
2. Goulburn’s official appointment date was 1 January 1821. HRA. Series I, Vol.10 p.664 (Dispatch No.17 of 1822 Sir Thomas Brisbane to Earl Bathurst) records his commission from George IV dated 30 June 1820.
3. Dispatch from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to His Excellency Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, transmitting a Warrant appointing a Legislative Council in the Colony of New South Wales, 19 January 1824, in Minutes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council from 1824 to 1831 and Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council form 1832 to 1837, Sydney, Government Printing Office, 1847, p.1.
4. Darling to Hay, 2 February 1826, HRA Series I, Vol.12, p.152.
5. HRA Series I Vol.13, p.564 - 27 October 1827.
6. Arthur McMartin, Public Servants and Patronage: The Foundation and Rise of the New South Wales Public Service, 1786-1859. Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1983, p.160.
7. S.G. Foster, Colonial Improver: Edward Deas Thomson 1800-1879. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1978, p.64.
8. Ibid., pp.66-67.
9. Ibid., p.139.
10. Colonial Secretary: Return of the Department of Colonial Secretary, 17 April 1855 (SRNSW ref: [4/720.1]).
11. NSW Government Gazette No.155, 9 October 1856, p.2661.
12. Ibid., p.2661.
13. Ibid., p.2661.
14. Ibid., p.2661.
15. Ibid., p.2661.
16. A.G. Kingsmill, Witness to History: A short study of the Colonial Secretary’s Department. Sydney, Alpha Books, 1972, pp.18, 25.
17. Third Supplement to the NSW Government Gazette No.201, 4 October 1859, p.2171.
18. NSW Government Gazette No.112, 2 October 1959, p.3009.
19. NSW Government Gazette No.40, 13 February 1866, p.453.
20. Minutes of Evidence - Principal Under Secretary for the Colony Critchett Walker - First Examination - Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into the Civil Service, in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1894-95, Vol.3, pp.133-136.
21. Ibid. (Critchett Walker - second examination), p.425.
22. Supplement to the NSW Government Gazette No.992, 4 December 1896, p.8773.
23. Ibid., p.8773.
24. Ibid., p.8773.
25. Supplement to the NSW Government Gazette No.72, 22 April 1914, p.2471.
26. Report of the Royal Commission (Mr. G. Mason Allard) respecting Administration of Acts relating to State Children. (Being the Fifth Sectional Report on Public Service) in NSW Parliamentary Papers, Second Session 1924, Vol.4, pp.491-492.
27. These actions flowed from the Flour Acquisition Act 1931, and the Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Price of Bread, County of Cumberland in the Joint Volume of Papers presented to the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, Vol.5, 1930-31-32, pp. 441-464; see also the Bread Contract for Unemployed Food Relief with Shadlers Limited and related correspondence, pp.1093-1108.
28. A.G. Kingsmill, op. cit., p. 50.
29. The Lewis Ministry did not appoint a Chief Secretary. NSW Government Gazette No.5, 3 January 1975, pp.49-50.
30. Barry Moore, ‘Machinery of Government Changes in New South Wales", Public Administration, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, June 1975, pp.119, 121-122, 124.

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