AGY-1773 | Surveyor General [I]

NSW State Archives Collection
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The office of Surveyor General was established at the foundation of the Colony (1). Augustus Alt arrived on the first fleet holding the Office of Surveyor of Lands (2). In his Commission, Governor Phillip was instructed that he issue his warrant to the Surveyor of Lands to make surveys of, and mark out in lots, such lands upon the said territory as may be necessary for their use (3).

Due to ill health Alt’s colonial services had virtually ceased by 1797, and his duties were being carried out by the Deputy Surveyor of Lands Charles Grimes (4). Alt retired in 1802 and Charles Grimes was appointed to the position of Surveyor General (5). In 1804 Grimes was granted a leave of absence to return to England, from which he did not return until 1806. During his absence George Evans was appointed to undertake the duties of Surveyor General (6). He performed this role until he was discharged from this office for fraud in 1805. Henry Williams was appointed to replace him (7) until Grimes returned in 1806. Grimes again left the colony in 1808 because of events connected with the deposition of Governor Bligh (8).

Governor Macquarie stated in a dispatch to Viscount Castlereagh in 1810 that a good surveyor was much needed, and if Grimes is not permitted to return to duty that a successor must be appointed to discharge the important duties of this office (9). Grimes resigned from the position of Surveyor General in 1810 (10).

In 1812 John Oxley was appointed to the position of Surveyor General (11). Much of Oxley’s time was devoted to journeys of exploration rather than ordinary survey work (12). This fact was noted in Commissioner Bigge’s report in 1822. He stated that the business of the surveying department had fallen into arrears, either by the proportion of staff to the increase in work of the department, or the frequent interruptions occasioned by the long absences of Mr. Oxley, Mr. Meehan and Mr. Evans on tours of discovery (13). As a result of the report additional surveyors and draftsmen were appointed in an attempt to overcome the arrears of survey work in the Colony (14).

In his report Bigge strongly recommended that in order to facilitate the location of land to settlers on their arrival from England,....that the country intended to be settled, should be previously surveyed and laid out in districts (15).
Consequently in 1825 Royal Instructions were issued to Governor Darling which ordered a general survey of the Colony, and its division into counties, hundreds and parishes. A general valuation of the land throughout the Colony was also to be undertaken. Neither the survey nor the valuation of the lands was to extend into those districts which lie beyond the range of any actual settlements. As the population advance these operations would be extended over those Districts, so that at all future times settlers will know in what County, Hundred and Parish any particular lands are included, and at what rate they have been valued. No land was to be granted until the survey was completed (16). Commissioners of Survey were appointed to put these instructions into effect. The Surveyor General was appointed as one of the Commissioners (17).

John Oxley died in 1828 and Major Thomas Mitchell was appointed to the position of Surveyor General.
The Survey of the Colony was fraught with difficulties and delays, and a map of the 19 counties was not produced until 1834 (18).

During the same period the Surveyor Generals Department underwent considerable internal re-organisation (19). In 1830 the Surveyor General was given control of the Surveyor of Roads and Bridges (20), and in the same year the commissioners appointed by the Royal Instructions in 1825 had the Commission revoked and the Surveyor General became responsible for all arrangements connected with the Survey of the Colony (21).In addition the Colonial Architect also came under the control of the Surveyor General from 1833-1835. In 1837 supervision of roads was transferred to the Royal Engineers, and the Colonial Secretary became responsible for the Colonial Architect in 1835 (22).
In 1844 the budget of the Surveyor Generals Department was drastically reduced as a result of the economic depression of the 1840’s. Many Surveyors were removed from the salaried staff of the department and forced to work as licensed surveyors (23).

In July 1855 Governor Denison appointed a commission of inquiry into the Surveyor General’s Department, arising from Mitchell’s pre-occupation with exploration and surveys in the field. Thomas Mitchell died in October 1855 before the Commission reported (24).Little was done to implement the recommendations of the Commission except the appointment of District Surveyors throughout the colony to supervise work of various licensed and salaried surveyors (25).

In 1856 with the introduction of responsible government, the Surveyor Generals Department came under the ministerial control of the Secretary of Lands. Correspondence formerly addressed to the Colonial Secretary regarding the alienation of Crown Lands was now dealt with by the Surveyor General (26).

In 1858 a Select Committee of Enquiry investigated the Surveyor Generals Department and repeated most of the criticisms in the earlier 1855 enquiry (27).

In 1867 the clerical branches of the Lands Department and the Survey Department were amalgamated so that correspondence formerly dealt with by the Surveyor General Department was now dealt with by the Ministerial, Miscellaneous, Roads and Alienation Branches of the Lands Department. The Surveyor General now dealt only with the professional correspondence with surveyors.

In 1887 following upon the Report of a Board of Inquiry into the working of the Lands Department, the office of Surveyor General was abolished. The Report was a result of the Crown Lands Act of 1884, which established Land Board Offices throughout the colony. The report highlighted the fact that the duties and responsibilities of the Surveyor General were lessened by the independent action cast upon the District Surveyors under the present land law (28).

Footnotes and References:
(1) Concise Guide to the New South Wales State archives, p.2
(2) Historical Records of Australia, series 1, volume 1 p.756
(3) Ibid p.14
(4) Ibid p.756
(5) Ibid, series 1, Volume 3, p.572
(6) Ibid, series 1, Volume 5, p.65
(7) Ibid p.449
(8) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(9) Historical Records Op Cit, series 1, volume 7, p.224
(10) Ibid, p.362
(11) Ibid, p.481
(12) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(13) Historical Records Op Cit, series 1, volume 11, p.930
(14) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(15) Historical Records Op Cit, series 1, volume 11, p.930
(16) CGS 937 p.530-5
(17) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(18) Historical Records Op Cit, series 1, volume 14, p.209
(19) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(20) Historical Records Op Cit, series 1, volume 15, p467
(21) Loc Cit
(22) Concise Guide Op Cit, p.2
(23) Loc Cit
(24) Ibid p.3
(25) Loc Cit
(26) Loc Cit
(27) Loc Cit
(28 Votes and Proceedings 1882, Vol.2, p.62

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