The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was established by a Commission from Queen Victoria on 14 January 1840.(1) The Commission was a British instrument based in London and was also known as the Colonial Land and Emigration Board but the term Commissioners appears to be the more common term. After self government was established in New South Wales in 1856, the term Emigration Commission was also used.(2)
The Commissioners subsumed the responsibilities of the two British agencies, the Agent-General for Emigration and the Colonisation Commissioners for South Australia.(3) Despite this transfer, the amalgamation of the South Australian Commission was not completed until early 1843.(4) A Board of Commissioners of Emigration had been set up in 1831 charged particularly with arranging the emigration of "unprotected Females". This work was subsequently carried out by committees until the appointment of Thomas Frederick Elliot as Agent-General in April 1837.
The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners were responsible for the management of land sales in the British Colonies, and using some of the proceeds to promote and regulate emigration to the colonies.(5) This included the selection and conveyance of migrants through the use of emigration officers. When the Commission was established, all eleven officers stationed at London, Liverpool, Bristol, Greenock, Leith, Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Sligo, and Londonderry were selected from the Royal Navy.(6) The Commissioners were to prepare schemes of emigration, select persons for free passages, charter ships, regulate conditions on board British passenger vessels, safeguard the health and comfort of the emigrants by appointing surgeons and matrons, and protect emigrants against fraud and imposition. This was to be achieved through a series of Passenger Acts. One of the most important duties of the Commissioners was the general supervision and administration of the working of the many Passenger Acts.(7)
Thomas Frederick Elliot, Robert Torrens, and Edward Ernest Villiers were appointed members of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission upon its establishment in 1840 and the first meeting was held on 20 January of the same year.(8) Elliot was a former secretary to the Emigration Commission in 1831 and in 1837 he had been appointed agent-general for emigration.(9)
Commissioner Robert Torrens resigned on 15 December 1840 and with the appointment of his successor, John George Shaw Lefevre, the Commission was reconstituted - Elliot and Villiers were salaried members and Lefevre was unpaid. Edward Ernest Villiers died in October 1843 and was replaced by Charles Alexander Wood. Lefevre’s replacement when he resigned in the spring of 1846 was Frederick Rogers and as a third member, Rogers provided a deciding voice when necessary and acted as a replacement when the second member was absent.(10)
Rogers held a second office, as Assistant Under-Secretary of State in the Colonial Department, although this lasted only six months because it became necessary to devote all his energies to the work of the Commissioners.(11) Part of Roger’s role at the Colonial Department was now transferred to the Commissioners - examining and reporting on laws passed in the colonies. This greatly expanded the role of the Commissioners because they were now responsible for reporting on all colonial laws in addition to the management of colonial land and emigration.(12)
Frederick Elliot was succeeded by Thomas William Clinton Murdoch on 27 November 1847, and Frederic Rogers was succeeded by Stephen Walcott, who now filled the positions of Commissioner and Secretary to the Commissioners.
A statistical department was added to the Commissioners establishment in the 1850s.(13) After considerable expansion of staff numbers, there was a decline after 1857, particularly in temporary staff. When self-government was established in New South Wales in 1856, it was recognised that waste lands belonged to the colonial, and not the imperial government, and the "direct participation of the Commissioners in colonial lands and emigration was doomed to end."(14) In 1857, the number of Commissioners was reduced to two when C.A. Wood retired.
By 1872, the activities of the Board in the field of government immigration had almost entirely ceased. On 1 January 1873, responsibility for emigration officers and their staff was transferred to the Board of Trade under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1872. On 31 December 1876, the financial business of the Commissioners was transferred to the Crown Agents for the Colonies and only a small staff and one Commissioner (Walcott) remained.(15)
By the end of 1877, the Treasury Lords refused to approve a budget for the Commissioners for the coming year.(16) Commissioner Walcott informed the Colonial Office he would be resigning on 31 March 1878 and on this date the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was abolished.(17) The remaining clerks of the Emigration staff were transferred to the Colonial Office and any emigration work would be completed by an officer within that Office.(18)
1. Hitchins, Fred, The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1931, p44. The Commission was signed by the Queen on 10 Jan 1840. The second draft of the Commission to the Colonial Office can be found in the Colonial Office series C.O.384/62 in the Public Record Office in England.
2. ibid., p310.
3. Madgwick, R. B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788 – 1851, Sydney University Press, Sydney, p170.
4. Hitchin, op. cit., p67.
5. Concise Guide to the State Archives of NSW, NRS968 description.
6. Hitchins, op. cit., p159-160.
7. ibid, p119 and p307. Passenger Acts were introduced for the following years: 1803, 1817, 1825, 1828, 1835, 1842, 1847, 1848, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1855, 1863, 1870.
8. ibid., p59.
9. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1977, vol. 1, p353.
10. Hitchins, op. cit., p70.
11. ibid., p71.
12. loc. cit.
13. ibid., p78.
14. ibid., p311.
15. ibid., p92.
16. ibid., pp90-92.
17. ibid., p93.
18. ibid., p94. The Commissioner’s seal was ordered to be recalled.