Superintendent of the Port Phillip District

State Records Authority of New South Wales
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The rapid settlement of the Port Phillip District led the British Government to agree with Governor Bourke’s request for the appointment of a permanent commandant for the settlement who would be paid £800 per annum.(1) Charles La Trobe received notification dated 4 February 1839 of his appointment as Superintendent of the Settlement of Port Phillip(2) and his official appointment is entered in the Returns of the Colony as 26 March 1839.(3) La Trobe arrived in Sydney on 26 July 1839 and his appointment was published in the Gazette on 31 July.(4) The prescribed Oaths for La Trobe’s appointment were administered in the presence of the Governor and Executive Council on 10 September 1839.(5) Charles La Trobe arrived in Port Phillip on 30 September and commenced his duties as Superintendent on 1 October 1839.(6) The Superintendent effectively held the powers of a Lieutenant-Governor and reported directly to the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales.(7) La Trobe was responsible for an area comprising that portion of the Territory of New South Wales which “lies to the south of the thirty-sixth degree of south latitude, and between the one hundred and forty-first and one hundred and forty-sixth degree of east longitude”.(8) La Trobe succeeded the Police Magistrate as head of the civil service establishment and inherited responsibility for the general administration of government in the Port Phillip District.(9) The Superintendent was responsible for the following functions: finance and revenue collection; health; immigration; police administration and prisons; ports and harbours; post offices; protection of Aborigines; public works; survey, management and sale of Crown lands, trade and customs.(10) The Superintendent also came to have responsibility for regulating and funding schools, administration of the goldfields and the provision of Crown Solicitor’s services.(11) The Superintendent was responsible for administering immigration in conjunction with the British Emigration Agent in London who supervised the selection of applicants and arranged for their passage. The Superintendent’s responsibilities included local administration of Government funded assisted immigration schemes, reception and initial settlement of immigrants as well as monitoring immigrant arrivals, including inspection of ships, certification of passenger lists, and regulating alien immigration. Locally appointed Immigration Agents assisted the Superintendent with many of these responsibilities.(12) Charles La Trobe’s only support staff for the first two years was Edward Lee, a Clerk who was appointed on 6 September 1839.(13) An extra Clerk was appointed on 1 July 1841 and a messenger on 22 April 1841. By 1846, in addition to Edward Lee (1st Class Clerk) and the messenger, there was Alexander Holmes (2nd Class Clerk) and Charles Holmes, a 3rd Class Clerk.(14) On 10 October 1846, Charles La Trobe proceeded to administer the Government of Van Diemen’s Land after the dismissal of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot.(15) The Sub-Treasurer for the Port Phillip District, William Lonsdale, was appointed Acting Superintendent until La Trobe returned to his duties at Port Phillip on 24 February 1847.(16) By 1850, La Trobe’s staff had increased to include a Secretary (Edward Bell), one 2nd Class Clerk, two 3rd Class Clerks, five extra Clerks, one Messenger, one Housekeeper, and one Orderly. By this time, Charles La Trobe was paid £1500 per annum as Superintendent of the Port Phillip District.(17) La Trobe remained Superintendent until 31 December 1850, when he was re-appointed as head of government in the new Crown Colony of Victoria with the title of Lieutenant-Governor.(18) The Crown Colony formerly came into existence on 13 January 1851 under the provisions of The Australian Colonies Government Act 1850, passed in response to growing discontent in the District and pressure for separation from the New South Wales administration.(19) ENDNOTES
1. Historical Records of Australia (HRA), series 1, vol.19, pp353-354.
2. HRA, series 1, vol.19, p785.
3. Returns of the Colony for 1840.
4. NSW Government Gazette, 31 July 1839, No.437, p823.
5. NSW Government Gazette, 11 September 1839, No.448, p997.
6. HRA, series 1, vol.20, p385; Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1788-1850, Vol.2, p89.
7. HRA, vo.19, p786; NSW Government Gazette, 11 September 1839, No.448, p997.
8. NSW Government Gazette, 11 September 1839, No.448, p997.
9. Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) registration for Victorian Agency (VA) 473; NSW Blue Book 1839, p258.
10. Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) registration for Victorian Agency (VA) 473.
11. loc. cit.
12. loc. cit.
13. Returns of the Colony for 1840.
14. Returns of the Colony for 1846.
15. Returns of the Colony for 1847; ADB, vol.2, p91.
16. Returns of the Colony for 1847.
17. Returns of the Colony for 1850.
18. Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) registration for Victorian Agency (VA) 473.
19. loc. cit.
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