The first step towards an independent law-making governing body for Van Diemen’s Land was the separation of the Island dependency from the Colony of New South Wales. On 17 July 1825 King George IV had signed a warrant (issued under the power of the Order-in-Council dated 14 June 1825) constituting a single chamber parliament, a Legislative Council, for Van Diemen’s Land. The Order-in-Council was proclaimed at Hobart Town on 3 December 1825 by Governor Darling on a short stop over on his way to take up his position as Governor of New South Wales. Darling also proclaimed the Island’s administrative independence from New South Wales, as outlined in the New South Wales Act, 1823, section 44. The original copy of the Order-in-Council separating Van Diemen’s Land from New South Wales is listed as an “unfound document” on the Documenting a Democracy website.
The Council, consisting of the Lieutenant Governor and six members chosen by him, met for the first time on 12 April 1826 and the first Act of the new Colony which was passed on 1 August 1826 dealt with the summary punishment of disorderly conduct in female offenders. Vive la égalité!
The original copies of the legislation produced by the first independent governing body of Van Diemen’s Land – the Executive Council – were handwritten on vellum sheets of varying sizes, except for Acts dealing with the finances of the Colony.
For the most part the vellum sheets appear to have been hand cut and have been folded for storage purposes. The dimensions of the sheets vary slightly but an average measurement would be around 57cm x 63cm. The thickness of the vellum sheets varies from being quite thin (easily unfolded) to thick (requiring weights to hold the pages down).
Acts for the appropriation of revenue for the Colony are written on paper sheets measuring 23cm x 28cm. I have been unable to find an official reason for this but, looking at the layout of these financial Acts, I suspect it was quite likely that using large sized vellum sheets to record long lists of financial information would have been more difficult to set out clearly that they would be on the smaller paper sheets.
The Supreme Court of Tasmania currently holds the original handwritten copies of the Van Diemen’s Land Legislative Council Acts from 1833 to 1851 (which are part of the collection to be transferred to the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, under the terms of the Legislation Publication Amendment Act, 2013, section 6). Investigations into the whereabouts of the official copies of VDL legislation for the years 1826-1832 will be published in a separate Post.
Details of the Acts currently held by the Supreme Court have been recorded on a spreadsheet to accompany the Acts when they are transferred to Archives. An additional document has also been prepared listing the condition of each Act for:
- Any damage to wax seals;
- Type of fasteners used to keep multi page documents together;
- Mottling on vellum sheets;
- Crumpling, creasing and tears on folds on vellum sheets;
- Mould; and
- Durability of ink.
Conservators from The Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office have provided valuable assistance to the volunteers working on the Project in the Supreme Court about suitable folders and boxes for individual Acts, as well as advice on the handling of damaged items.
They have visited the Court to check firsthand on possible mould and insect damage to the handwritten copies of the Acts. No evidence of insect activity was identified and much of the mould is slight to moderate, dry and therefore dormant.
It was decided that these Acts would remain in their current finished storage folders and boxes as they are well-protected in four flap folders inside archival clamshell boxes in a cool and dry storage room.
All archive boxes containing any Acts for the period 1833-1851 that have been identified as being mould-affected have been clearly marked to ensure Archives staff are aware of the existence of even minimal traces of mould when the boxes are transferred.
The Conservators also checked twelve handwritten Acts where the ink appeared to be fading. It was suggested that the “fading” was probably due to some inherent chemical instability in the iron gall ink used by the scribes responsible for copying the text of the Acts on to the vellum sheets, possibly combined with poor storage at some earlier stage. As there is some doubt about the effectiveness and long-term safety of current conservation treatments it was recommended that limited handling of the documents and storage in a stable environment would be a sufficient solution for the time being.
However it was also recommended that, when the Acts are transferred to Archives, the documents should be digitised in their current state just in case there is further deterioration causing the ink to continue to lighten. As the folded velum sheets present particular problems for handling and flattening in preparation for digitisation, it was felt that this task be undertaken in house in the Government Archives and Preservation section. A list of the twelve Acts has been created and boxes containing Acts with ink problems have been marked so Archives staff can easily identify where the documents are located.