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Tasmania's Heritage
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The Colonial Secretary's Office

For an understanding of the foundations of the key office of Colonial Secretary in Van Diemen's Land, it is necessary briefly to trace through the development of the position in the island's parent colony, New South Wales, as well as briefly to consider the origins of the office of Private, or Lieutenant-Governor's, Secretary in Van Diemen's Land itself.

In New South Wales, Governor King in 1804 urged the Secretary of State for the Colonies to put his provisional appointment of "Secretary to the Colony" on a permanent footing. The duties then included the custody of all official papers, the transcription of the public despatches, the drafting of land grant deeds, and the care of convict indents.1 The position of Governor's Secretary was not then new, for David Collins had held the post from Phillip's time until 1797, but this despatch of King's marks the beginning of an expansion of the responsibilities of the office which eventually resulted in its gaining an importance second only to that of the Governor's own.

During the interregnum of military rule after the deposition of Governor Bligh, Major Johnston, as Lieutenant-Governor, appointed John Macarthur "Secretary to the Colony",2 and it was laid down that all public letters "relative to the Civil Department" were to be addressed to him. Johnston later referred to this appointment as the creation of "an office which has never before existed here."3 He presumably referred to the title, soon contracted to "Colonial Secretary", but the new aspect of his duties, the conduct of all public correspondence, was emphasised when Major Foveaux appointed a Secretary by Proclamation of 30 July 1808.

When Governor Macquarie succeeded in 1810 he found that:

The Press and Accumulation of Public Business that now fall to the Lot of the Secretary ... is so very much increased of late years ... that a proportionate Increase to the Salary and Establishment of this Office appears to me highly necessary and reasonable. I therefore respectfully submit that the Gentleman now holding this office should henceforth be denominated Colonial Secretary ...4

The submission was ignored and in 1815 Macquarie again asked the Secretary of State to have J. T. Campbell appointed Colonial Secretary, adding that "this Designation will add great Weight and Respectability to the office ..."5 The Secretary of State refused, however, because of lack of funds.6 Macquarie persisted during 1817 in despatches to both the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary,7 but his efforts were not rewarded until 1820, when the British Government decided that the growing wealth and importance of New South Wales justified the appointment of a Colonial Secretary by Royal Commission; Major Frederick Goulburn was the
first appointee.8 His Commission named him "Colonial Secretary and Registrar of the Records" of New South Wales, and it was under the latter part of his designation that Goulburn felt entitled to assume custody of the records of the Criminal Court.9 The pretension was however quashed by the Secretary of State, who held that the Criminal Court as a Court of Record held the indisputable right of custody of its own papers.10 This ruling was no doubt of importance in Tasmania in the development of the practice of the Supreme Court's custody of its own records, and of the other departments' similar right as they branched off from the central executive.
By the time of the separation of Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales in 1825 the office of Colonial Secretary had there become of such importance that Governor Brisbane had occasion to complain of what he considered an excessive assumption of power by Goulburn; he felt that the practice which had developed of insisting that all communications from within the colony should pass through the Colonial Secretary gave the officer altogether too much discretion in the decision in each case.11 The position was cleared up in the Secretary of State's Instructions to the new Governor, Darling, which were later repeated to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur:

... you will understand, in addition to those functions which under your general Instructions are specifically committed to the Colonial Secretary, he is to conduct, under your direction, all Official Correspondence in the Colony, and is to act on all occasions as the general medium of Communication, through which your orders are to be signified either to the community at large, or to private persons. He is also to render to you his Assistance in the various details of your Administration, on every occasion, on which you may require such assistance, and in the manner you may think fit to prescribe.

As however you will remain exclusively responsible for every Act, which may be done by your Authority, and in your name, the Colonial Secretary will have no pretension to control your Judgement or to direct your decisions in any particular case.12

In the new settlement of Van Diemen's Land, which at first was divided between two Lieutenant-Governors, one at the Derwent and one at Port Dalrymple, there is no evidence that either Collins or Paterson regularly availed himself of the services of a secretary; the communities were so small that there was little need for such an official. The domestic records of Collins's administration (1804-10) are now almost non-existent. It was stated by H. M. Hull, the statistician and early historian of Van Diemen's Land, that he had heard William Maum, at one time a clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Office, give evidence that, on the night of Collins's death, "Mr and Mr went over to Government House, and, in the Governor's Office, for purposes best known to themselves, destroyed all the Official Documents by fire."13

There is a similar lack of the public records of Lieutenant-Governor Davey's period (1813-17). In evidence before Commissioner Bigge on 11 April 1820, Davey stated that he had sent "all the Papers connected with my office", with the exception of a few which he listed, to the Earl of Harrowby, whom Davey considered his patron.14 The exceptions included an "orderly book", the Colonial Seal, and the patent of the Colony; but certain convict indents were also transferred by Davey to his
successor.15Soon after his arrival in Hobart in 1813 Davey provisionally appointed Ensign T.A. Lascelles to act as his secretary; he sought and received Macquarie's support to have the appointment recognised in England. In June 1812 the northern settlement at Port Dalrymple had been placed in subordination to the Hobart administration,16 and the change gave the Lieutenant-Governor additional responsibilities. Macquarie therefore agreed that Davey needed a Secretary;17 but, at least up to September 1815, Macquarie had not received the Secretary of State's sanction.18

Under Lieutenant-Governor Sorell H. E. Robinson succeeded Samuel Hood as Secretary in July 1818, and in 1820 he and others gave evidence before Commissioner Bigge on the duties of his office. He signed all tickets-of-leave and ships' clearances, mustered the crews and passengers of ships cleared, attested Government and General Orders and colonial appointments. He also had to muster the convicts arriving from either Sydney or England, and he had the custody of the convict indents.19
The records of Sorell's period were regularly handed over to his successor, though they do not constitute a separate archival series; insofar as they have survived, they are now to be found incorporated in the correspondence records of Arthur's administration (CSO1). But it is evident from a list made at the time of their transfer in 1824,20 that many series have become lost.

Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, on his departure from England to take up his appointment in 1824 brought his own Private Secretary, but he lost his services during the voyage; therefore on his arrival he appointed Captain John Montagu to act for him. He explained to the Secretary of State that the "duties of the Appointment are strictly those of a Colonial Secretary".21 Arthur had been informed during discussions at the Colonial Office that the proposed separation of Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales would mean the appointment of a Colonial Secretary, 22 and Bathurst confirmed that in June 1825 in a despatch in which he also approved of the appointment of Montagu as Private Secretary;23 thus the distinction between the two offices was recognised, and the fact that they could exist side by side. But until 1826 Montagu also discharged the duties of Colonial Secretary.24 An appointment had been made in England in June 1825 but was superseded at the end of the year; a second appointment was also cancelled in March 1826, but John Burnett was finally commissioned in that month as "Colonial Secretary and Registrar of the Records".25 Before having heard this Arthur had written to the Secretary of State arguing that it was essential for him to have further assistance; he had therefore transferred Montagu and provisionally appointed W. H. Hamilton as Colonial Secretary.26

In a General Order of 28 April 1826 Arthur set out the details of the new departmental structure which resulted from the delegation of various aspects of his administration among several offices; the section concerning the office of Colonial Secretary conformed to the pattern already established by Governor Darling in his Order of 5 January 1826. It read:

5. Colonial Secretary - 
The Public Correspondence of the Colony is to be carried on generally through the Medium of the Colonial Secretary. The Heads of Departments and Commandants of Stations (except where the subject relates to the Military Branch of the Service) will address their Applications and Reports to this Officer, for the Information and Decision of the Lieutenant-Governor.27

In the same despatch informing Arthur of Burnett's appointment,28 the Secretary of State referred to the recent dispute in New South Wales between Governor and Colonial Secretary; in order to forestall a similar controversy in Van Diemen's Land, Lord Bathurst repeated his remarks of July, 1825 to Darling, as to the relative positions of the two officers.

Under Arthur's administration, the very close relationship between the Lieutenant-Governor's Office and the Colonial Secretary's meant that the respective functions of the Private and the Colonial Secretary were not always easily distinguishable. Thus when Lord Huskisson succeeded at the Colonial Office, he felt that it would be a reasonable economy for Arthur to dispense with his Private Secretary altogether; the Colonial Secretary would take over all his responsibilities, as had been done in other Crown colonies. But such a measure did not by any means accord with Arthur's administrative arrangements; he wrote to his Private Secretary: "... I am very sorry for this - it is as impossible for the Colonial Secretary to undertake the duties of Private Secy, as it wd. be for me to superintend the detail of his office in addition to my own".29   In reply to the Secretary of State he wrote:

Before the arrival of Mr Burnett in the Colony, I found it to be absolutely impossible to continue the multiplied duties in my own office, which resulted from the system introduced for the regulation of the several Departments of the Government, and positive necessity compelled me to appoint a gentleman to act as Colonial Secretary ..., Mr. Hamilton was the gentleman I appointed, and ... I was so far relieved from the executive part of mere matters of detail as to be enabled to find time for projecting several measures for the general regulation of the Government; but still I found it next to impossible to continue the degree of superintendence over the transactions of every Department, which I desired.

Burnett's lack of business experience and local knowledge had resulted in a still heavier burden of detail, and he had therefore replaced his Private Secretary with a man of greater secretarial experience. He paid tribute to Burnett's zeal, but described at some length the laborious manner in which he found it necessary to do business with him; "Almost without exception the outline of every Public document, or letter, is either by brief memorandum, or more extended minute, prepared by myself and my notes on the margin of most commonplace letters furnish the answers;". He concluded with the remark that even if Burnett were an ideal official, "... he would be incompetent to unite with his own office the duties of Private Secretary".30

In the face of this appeal the Secretary of State agreed for the time being to allow Arthur to keep his Private Secretary.31   But in 1830 the subject of expenditure in the Governor's Office came up again, and the Secretary of State once more suggested that if the Private Secretary's duties were such as to entitle him to the clerical assistance he was receiving, it was apparent that his duties were encroaching on those of the Colonial Secretary, and he disallowed the employment of clerks in the Governor's Office.32   In reply, Arthur expanded on the development of the two offices in Van Diemen's Land, and on the heavy duties of the Colonial Secretary:

My predecessor ... had the assistance of a Private Secretary, a Chief Clerk, and two convict writers, but little as was required to be done, comparatively in those days..., Colonel Sorell found it impossible to convey his decisions in writing, and almost the whole business of the Government was transacted verbally. This, however unavoidable, led to much confusion, and to the most injurious results, for it became impossible to trace up transactions which subsequently involved questions of much moment ...

It was therefore one of the first measures to which I resorted to require that all transactions should, as far as possible, be notified in writing, and although almost every branch at that time was centred in the Lieutenant Governor's Office, I had no other assistance than my Predecessor possessed, than one additional convict writer ...

In the early part of 1826, the pressure of public business became so great that it was impossible, without further aid, to get through it, and as my Lord Bathurst, in the formation of the several Departments, had left so much to my discretion, and as I was aware that it was his Lordship's intention to afford the aid of a Colonial Secretary to the Government, I was obliged to seek relief from the accumulation of business by the temporary appointment of Mr Hamilton, as acting Colonial Secretary, and transferred to his office from my own all the official correspondence, which ... is far more voluminous than you can possibly suppose ... Mr Hamilton, although a Gentlemen of much arrangement, and accustomed to the detail of business, found the portion assigned to him more than he could well master ... so that ... I could transfer no more to him. On Mr Burnett's succession, in addition to his being quite unversed in all matters of business, he had to contend with those difficulties which are incident to a want 
of local knowledge in such a department, consequently to him the labour was greatly increased and he has literally got through it only by dint of perseverance animated by zeal and a sincere desire to do his utmost, but with an evident sacrifice of health.

All official correspondence, whether with the inhabitants or public officers, passes through the Colonial Secretary's hands. He conducts the correspondence with the Commandants of the Penal Settlements, is charged with the examination of their proceedings, examines every description of expenditure, and draws the Lieutenant Governor's attention to any items which appear questionable, before any Warrants are prepared. He is expected also minutely to examine the requisitions for Stores in every branch whether Convict or Civil ... The examination of the proceedings of all Police Magistrates and those of the  Principal Superintendent of Prisoners,  together with the endless communications with them upon matters connected with the Convict population, engage a large portion of the Colonial Secretary's attention and time - it is his duty also to give the necessary directions for the transport of all convicts to and from the Penal Settlements, and to regulate the general employment of the Colonial Craft; to which are to be superadded his duties as a member of the Councils - his constant conferences with the Lieutenant Governor, and interviews with all persons who have occasion for any personal explanation.

The Chief Clerk was of little assistance in these matters, for his time was chiefly taken up with the examination of convicts' applications for indulgences, and in supervising arrivals and departures of ships; in any case Burnett was reluctant to delegate any duties for which he considered himself particularly responsible. In these circumstances, Arthur explained, he could not expect to be able to thrust any more work on his Colonial Secretary.33

The Colonial Office once again allowed Arthur (as well as Darling in New South Wales) to retain a Private Secretary, but his clerical assistance was to be discontinued.34

There the matter rested; the duties of the Private Secretary were distinct from those of the Colonial Secretary in that the former assisted the Lieutenant-Governor in those matters which pertained to the Governor's rather than to the Colonial Secretary's Office: the transcription of despatches, the maintenance of the letterbooks of outward despatches and the arrangement of the inward; and the conduct of that part of the Lieutenant-Governor's correspondence which did not pass through the Colonial Secretary. Some colonial officials had the right to communicate direct with the Lieutenant-Governor (e.g., the Chief Justice, the Archdeacon, the Attorney-General), and their correspondence, as well as some of a semi-private nature (e.g., with other colonial governors, with private settlers and with the Under-Secretary of State) was handled by the Private Secretary.

The changes in the internal arrangements of the Colonial Secretary's Office which resulted in the creation of the three "branches" of the registry are described under CSO8. In 1843 a reorganisation of the convict system under a Comptroller-General of Convicts resulted in the transfer to the latter's department of most of the duties connected with convict administration which had hitherto been discharged by the Colonial Secretary. The Comptroller-General became in large measure a second Colonial Secretary in convict matters; he had the right of direct access to the Lieutenant-Governor, and he became the channel for communications relating to convict administration to pass to and from the latter.35 This transfer of function, and with it the transfer of a considerable body of records, was not however completed until 1847; in April of that year the Colonial Secretary listed the duties which it would henceforth be the duty of the Comptroller-General to perform: the preparation of 
convicts' pardons and the handling of all applications for the same; correspondence with other colonies on all subjects connected with their transportation of convicts to Van Diemen's Land; checking the expiration of convicts' sentences; preparing the certificates for masters and surgeons of convict ships; several series of convict records hitherto kept by the Colonial Secretary were also handed over.36

At this same time J. E. Bicheno reorganised the registry of the Colonial Secretary's Office, as described under CSO24; all correspondence was brought back into a single series, and the duties of the office were re-distributed among the various clerks.37

From this account it will be seen that, until 1843 and more particularly 1847, the Colonial Secretary played some part in almost every transaction in which the Lieutenant-Governor was concerned. Therefore it will be evident that the records of his office cover an enormous variety of subjects connected with the domestic administration of the Colony. In addition to the duties that have been mentioned, he was responsible for many aspects of convict administration until 1843 and more particularly 1847; for example, he had to receive and inspect the various documents relating to the voyage of a convict ship, and to furnish the necessary certificates.38 In the administration of land alienation, he was, until 1831, responsible for the registration of land grants, and, after 1831, for the delivery of grant deeds.39 He had to check accounts and warrants in respect of the authority for any expenditure by Government departments.40

With the exception of a few items, the whole of the records comprising this Record Group constituted the nucleus of the holdings of the State Archives when the Public Records Act was passed in 1943.41 In about 1912 the Government became conscious of the importance of the accumulation of these records, and there was talk of the appointment of an officer to classify and generally care for them. In 1913 they were transferred from upstairs offices in the main Government buildings to a renovated basement area where they remained until the Archives Office of Tasmania moved to the State Library Building in 1962.42 A few items, all of which cannot be positively identified, were probably transferred to this repository in c.1917, from the Government Stores to which they had been removed from the old Treasury buildings in c.1890.43

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