AGY-1861 | Secretary to the Governor

NSW State Archives Collection
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The position of secretary to the Governor began with the foundation of the colony on 26 January 1788. (1)

The first secretary appointed was Andrew Miller. Initially his duties were confined to the preparation and counter signing of warrants of appointment, and of orders issued by the Governor. Miller’s term ended in June of 1788 due to ill health. He was replaced by Captain David Collins, who was both the secretary to the Governor and the Judge Advocate. (2)

During Collin’s term the Secretary’s responsibilities and the volume of business passing through his hands increased. The Secretary became responsible for the preparation and issue of pardons of all kinds; for marking our land grants and leases; together with their registration; for the transcribing of the public dispatches of the Governor; for preparing copies of proclamations, government orders and notices; and for the increasing volume of correspondence with officials of the other departments. (3)

At this time the Secretary also had the custody of all official papers of the Colony, including convict indents, memorials and petitions to the Governor, official agreements such as charter-parties and indentures and correspondence from outside the Colony. (4)

In 1792 the office of Secretary to the Governor was officially recognized in England by the inclusion of his salary on the parliamentary estimate. (5)

Collins held the role of Secretary to the Governor until September 1796. He was replaced in June 1798 when Richard Dore was appointed. Dore was also the Judge Advocate. (6) Dore’s appointment was short lived as he was dismissed by Governor Hunter in January 1799 due to Hunter’s dissatisfaction with his role as Judge Advocate. This marked the last time that that the duties of Judge Advocate and Secretary to the Governor were combined. (7)

Dore was replaced by Captain Neil Mckellar who held the position until April 1801. He was replaced by William Chapman who held the position until March 1804. (8)

In 1804 Governor King described the duties of the Secretary as follows: “The Secretary has custody of all official papers and records belonging to the Colony; transcribes the public dispatches; is charged with marking out all grants, leases and other public colonial instruments; also the care of numerous indents or lists sent with convicts of their terms of conviction and every other official transaction relating to the colony and Government; and is a situation of much responsibility and confidence." (9)

When Chapman was replaced by Garnham Blaxcell in March 1804 Governor King recommended that a fulltime permanent secretary to the colony be appointed to cope with the increased volume of business. This suggestion was largely ignored in England. (10)

In 1808 the rebel leaders, after deposing Governor Bligh, introduced the proposal made by King when they appointed John Macarthur as Secretary to the Colony. Although this position was abolished within five months when Foveaux reverted to the practice of having a private secretary. (11)

With the arrival of Governor Macquarie and his appointment of John Thomas Campbell as Secretary on 1 January 1810, the office of Secretary to the Governor entered upon its most fruitful period. (12)

With an increasing population, both convict and free, the administration work of the Secretary also increased. Macquarie and his secretary introduced measures to tighten up the discipline of the public service, and to promote a smoother and more efficient flow of public business. (13)

It was not only the wide range of business transacted by the Secretary that increased the prestige of his office. There was its increasing use as an agency to control and coordinate the work of the other departments and the machinery of government in general. (14)

In 1819 Macquarie appointed Campbell as the Provost-Marshall with the intention that he would fill both posts. (15) However on 1 January 1821 Frederick Goulburn was appointed Colonial Secretary by a commission from King George the Fourth dated 30 June 1820. (16) Unlike the secretary who was appointed at the Governor's pleasure, and was purely an executive officer and had no duties other than those delegated to him by the Governor and had no authority by virtue of his office (17), the Colonial Secretary was appointed in England and therefore was to some extent independent from the Governor in the same way as any other department head. (18)

The offices of Secretary to the Governor and Colonial Secretary were not separated until 1 May 1824 when Governor Brisbane appointed Major Ovens as his private secretary. (19)

Footnotes and References:
(1) Historical Records of Australia, Series 4 Volume 1, p.691.
(2) McMartin, Arthur, Public Servants and Patronage: The Foundation and Rise of the New South Wales Public Service, 1786-1856, p.55.
(3) ibid., p.56.
(4) loc. cit.
(5) HRA Volume 1, Series 4, p.691.
(6) McMartin, op. cit., pp.56-57.
(7) loc. cit.
(8) HRA Volume 1, Series 4, p.691.
(9) HRA Volume 1, Series 4, p.538.
(10) McMartin, op. cit., pp.61-62.
(11) loc. cit.
(12) loc. cit.
(13) Ibid., p.65.
(14) loc. cit.
(15) ibid., p.67.
(16) H.R.A. Series I Volume 10, p.380 (General Despatch No.1 of 1821. Governor Macquarie to Earl Bathurst 7 February 1821) for arrival and swearing in of Goulburn as Colonial Secretary, and H.R.A. Series 1 Volume 10, p.664 for Goulburn's commission dated 30 June 1820.
(16) McMartin, op.cit., p.59.
(17) ibid., p.67.
(18) Concise Guide to the New South Wales State Archives, 2nd ed., p.2.

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