Registrar-General's Department

Public Record Office Victoria
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Full description

Introduction of Compulsory Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages 1853

In 1853, a Registrar-General's Department was established under the provisions of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 16 Vic., No.26, (1853) with the introduction of compulsory registration of all births, deaths and marriages. A Chief Registrar, who reported to the Colonial Secretary (VRG 16) and later to the Chief Secretary (VRG 26), was appointed and had responsibility for the Deputy-Registrars who were assigned to various districts throughout Victoria for the purpose of registering all births, deaths and marriages. The Department was also responsible for indexing, searching for, and issuing birth, death and marriage certificates.

Census and Statistics

The Registrar-General's Department was gradually expanded. In 1854 functions previously carried out by the Statistics Branch of the Colonial Secretary's Office (VA 856) were transferred to the Department. These functions included responsibility for the collection of statistics by the Deputy-Registrars (a task previously carried out by the police) and the compilation of the 'Blue Books' containing statistical and other information on all government activities, expenditure and employees.

Other related responsibilities included periodic census taking, preparation of statistics for Parliament, Government and its agencies, the sending out and lodging of annual returns for Friendly Societies and the holding in custody of documents under the Companies Act.

Registrar of the Supreme Court

Further expansion of the Department occurred in January 1858 when the responsibilities of the Registrar of the Supreme Court were combined with those of the Registrar-General, the latter assuming both titles in 1859. This additional function included the registration and management of land transfer documents, the issuing of deeds and the signing of all documents requiring legal verification.

Other Registration Functions

Officers of the department also became responsible for performing civil marriages and the registration of the clergy following the proclamation of the Marriage Law Consolidation Act 22 Vic., No.71 in 1859.

By 1859, through the district Deputy-Registrars, the Department also had responsibility for registering public vaccinations, providing the necessary forms and, until 1859, supplying the vaccine to the medical officers performing this task. The latter responsibility was transferred to the Chief Medical Officer in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 457).

Under the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Acts and the Coroners Acts, coroners were required to forward inquest depositions to the Crown Prosecutor. From 1853 and the proclamation of An Act for Registering Births Deaths and Marriages in the Colony of Victoria 16 Vic., No.26, coroners were required to inform the Chief Registrar of the particulars of deaths and the findings of the jury or the opinion of the magistrate as to the cause of death in those cases where an Inquest or Magisterial Enquiry was held.

In 1856, following correspondence between the Chief Registrar and the Attorney General concerning the obligations of coroners to provide information, the Attorney General advised the Chief Registrar that depositions in cases of inquests would, in future, be forwarded to that office as soon as it had been ascertained that they were no longer required for the administration of justice. (See register of legal opinions in the custody of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.)

The practice of forwarding inquest depositions to the Registrar-General continued until 1988 when the State Coroner's Office (VA 2807) assumed responsibility for all coronial records.

Some of the many diverse functions of the Registrar-General's Department included registering or collecting returns for livestock, licence liens on agricultural land, naturalizations, hospitals, banks, companies, patents, printing presses and types, powers of attorney and Parliamentary electors.

Land Titles Registration

A major reform in the transfer and registration of land titles, colloquially known as the 'Torrens System', came into effect in October 1862 with the proclamation of the Real Property Act 25 Vic., No.140. The Act made provision for the appointment of an Assistant Registrar-General and Lands Titles Commissioners. A Solicitor was also appointed to advise and assist in carrying out the provisions of the Act which dealt with all types of land transactions and registration under the new system. A Real Property Branch was established within the Registrar-General's Department to carry out the provisions of the Act. However, under the provisions of the Real Property Amendment Act 27 Vic., No.180 (1863), the Solicitor became known as the 'Commissioner of Titles' and assumed the powers previously exercised by the Lands Titles Commissioners together with the judicial functions and powers previously conferred on the Registrar-General under the Real Property Act 1862. In 1864, The Real Property Branch and its staff were transferred and absorbed into a Commissioner of Titles Office (VA 2926) in the Law Department (VA 2825), and an Assistant Registrar-General was appointed to the Office.

Patents and Copyright

In 1865, all the powers and functions concerning the registration of patents previously undertaken by the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) were transferred to the Registrar-General's Department under the Patents Statute 36 Vic., No.432 (1865). In 1869 following the passing of the Copyright Act 33 Vic., No.350 which made provision for an Office of Copyright Registry, the Registrar-General's Department assumed responsibility for the registration of copyright.

Transfer from Chief Secretary (VRG 26) to Law (VRG 19)

In 1869, responsibility for the administration of the Registrar-General's Department was transferred to the Law Department (VA 2825), and in 1873 the Department was amalgamated with the Office of Titles (VA 2888) to become the Office of the Registrar-General and Office of Titles (VA 862).

Location of Records

Significant records of inquests and early statistical returns are held at the Public Record Office. See also List of Holdings 2nd Edition 1985, section 3.4.12 (company registration), 3.18.2 (inquests, wills, statistics, land transaction registration records) and 3.18.3 (statistics, births, deaths and marriages).

Data time period: [1853 TO 1873]

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