Appointment of Superintendent
The position of Superintendent of Port Phillip District was created by the British Government on 4 February 1839. The Superintendent effectively held the powers of a Lieutenant-Governor and reported directly to the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales.
On 26 March 1839, Charles Joseph La Trobe was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Port Phillip District. He actually took over from the Police Magistrate (VA 472) in October 1839, inheriting responsibility for the general administration of government in the District and fulfilling the role of head of the civil service establishment (New South Wales Blue Book 1839, p.258).
Functions inherited from the Police Magistrate, some still in embryonic form, included:
finance and revenue collection
police administration and prisons
ports and harbours
protection of Aborigines
survey, management and sale of Crown lands
trade and customs.
The Superintendent also came to have responsibility for regulating and funding schools, administration of the goldfields and the provision of Crown Solicitor's Services.
Functions Administered by the Superintendent
During 1839-1851 the population of the District grew from 5,000 to 77,000. Government administrative arrangements reflected this growth and development. as follows:
Aborigines: The protectorate system was established in 1839 under Chief Protector George Robinson (VA 512) and continued until 1849 when the Guardian of Aborigines (VA 513) was appointed following a Select Committee report which recommended the abolition of the Protectorate. The Guardian was solely responsible for providing "protection" to Aborigines and the Crown Land Commissioners were appointed as honorary protectors, their duties being to visit reserves, report on the condition of Aborigines and supply them with food and clothing "in cases of extreme emergency".
Crown Solicitor's Services: In 1841 a Solicitor was appointed to provide legal advice to the Superintendent and conduct criminal and legal proceedings for the Crown, marking the beginnings of the Crown Solicitor's Office (see VA 667).
Education: Early schools were run by religious organisations. In 1848 a Board of National Education (VA 920) and a Denominational School Board were established in New South Wales (VA 920-see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.8.2) to regulate denominational schools and provide for government funded education. In the Port Phillip District a Denominational School Board (VA 703-see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.8.3) was set up in the same year to regulate and inspect the secular aspects of denominational schools supported by public funding.
Health: A small general hospital was established in Melbourne in 1841 under Assistant Colonial Surgeon Cussen (see also VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies).
Immigration: 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. In carrying out this responsibility the Superintendent was assisted by locally appointed Immigration Agents. Between 1839 and 1851 over 80,000 migrants arrived under Government funded and ly sponsored schemes as well as unassisted. Immigration was seen as a means of populating and providing labour for the District. A financial depression in the 1840s led to virtual suspension of assisted immigration. During this period the British Government sent out some ships with exiled convicts. Upon arrival the 'exiles' were given a pardon on condition that they did not return to Britain for the unexpired term of their sentence. Assistance to migrants resumed in 1847. 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 and certification of passenger lists, and regulating alien immigration.
Ports and Harbours: Port Phillip had been surveyed and charted, basic ports and harbour facilities installed, and the first bay pilot licensed between 1836 and 1839. Under Superintendent La Trobe a Harbour Master, C.M. Lewis, was appointed, more permanent navigation aids installed (the first lights being built at Point Gellibrand in 1840 and Queenscliff between 1841 and 1843), wharf facilities improved and additional pilots appointed.
Post Offices: The first full-time Postmaster was appointed for Melbourne in August 1839 and by 1841 the first Post Office was completed on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets.
Public Works: Plans for the District's early permanent public buildings were prepared by the Colonial Architect in Sydney. Public works were overseen by locally appointed officers under La Trobe's direction.A Superintendent of Bridges was appointed in 1844 with responsibility for overseeing a range of public works, including roads and bridges. The first permanent bridge across the Yarra (the first Princes Bridge) was built between 1846 and 1850. The Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street was completed in 1844.
Survey, Management and Sale of Crown Lands: Survey and mapping functions were undertaken by the Port Phillip Branch of the New South Wales Surveyor-General's Department (VA 943) under Hoddle, who was to become the Colony of Victoria's first Surveyor-General in 1851. Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed to regulate the use of Crown land under licence, manage Crown lands and supervise their sale. The Commissioners reported to Superintendent La Trobe and received administrative support from his clerks in relation to the management and sale of land. (See VRG 27 District Land Offices for details.)
Trade and Customs: Trade and customs controls were well established when La Trobe took over. Planning for the first Customs House had commenced in September 1837 and it was completed in 1841. It was replaced in 1857 by which time a larger facility had become necessary. In a number of areas, including survey and customs, government officials in the District continued to deal directly with their parent offices in Sydney, although the Superintendent was charged with general oversight of all civil administration and locally appointed officers received all their instructions form La Trobe. Increasingly all matters to do with the District were channelled through La Trobe.
In 1843 the Governor of New South Wales established the Counties of Bourke and Grant in the vicinity of Melbourne and Geelong respectively. These bodies reported to the Governor of New South Wales through the Superintendent and were the earliest form of municipal government in rural areas of the Port Phillip District. Their primary concern was the development and maintenance of roads. However the scope of their role in the government of the District does not appear to have been firmly laid down.
Separation, Self-Government and Formation of Crown Colony of Victoria
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 (see VA 466). The Crown Colony came formally into existence on 13 January 1851 under the provisions of an Act of British Parliament of 1850 passed in response to growing discontent in the District and pressure for separation from the New South Wales administration.
Location of Records
Significant holdings of the Superintendent's records are held at the Public Record Office Victoria. Official records of the history of the District, relating to the period prior to separation from New South Wales in 1851, can be found in the Archives Office of New South Wales as well.
See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.3.0 (Arts), 3.6.2 (Lands), 3.8.0. (Education), 3.10.2 (Immigration), 3.12.0 (Housing), 3.16.3 (Superintendence), 3.18.0 (Inquests, Registration, Survey), 3.22.0 (Treasury, Statistics), 16.5.0 (Aboriginal Affairs), 16.6.0 (Customs) and list below.
For records of the County of Bourke see List of Holdings, 2nd edition 1985, section 10.23.0 (VPRS 39 and 40).