The Acts Custody Act 1858, passed some three years after the name change for the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania, made provision for the custody of all the Acts of the Legislature of Tasmania. Section 1 of the Act provided that persons having custody of Acts from 1826 to the commencement of the 1858 Act should transmit the same to the Supreme Court where they were to be kept in the records of the Court. The Acts Custody Act went on, in section 2, to stipulate that the Act itself, and all subsequent Acts, were required, within seven days of receiving Royal Assent, or of promulgation of reserved assent, to be transmitted by the Clerk of the Legislative Council to the Supreme Court to be kept within the records of the Court. This legislation made the Supreme Court the custodian of all the official copies of the old Legislative Council Acts as well as those of the new bi-cameral Parliament.
By 2008 It became clear that the Court had neither the space nor the staff to continue to care for these unique documents. Chief Justice Ewan Crawford began discussions with the Department of Premier and Cabinet about legislating to make the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office the custodian of all the official copies of Tasmania’s legislation and in mid-2013 the Legislation Publication Act 1996, section 6 was amended to allow the Clerk of the Legislative Council to send all future official copies of the Acts directly to Archives, and for the Court to begin the task of preparing its collection for transfer. A small team of volunteers has been working on this task since 2014, with the end in sight in the first half of 2020.
The Supreme Court of Tasmania currently holds the official copies of the Van Diemen’s Land Legislative Council Acts from 1833-1851, the Colony of Tasmania Acts from 1852-1901, and the State of Tasmania Acts from 1901 to mid-2013. This raises the question: where are the original copies of the Acts from 1826-1832?
From 1 August 1826 to 20 January 1830 (7 Geo IV No 1 – 10 Geo IV No 11) a total of 26 Acts were passed by the Legislative Council. These 26 Acts were gathered together under the heading Copies of the Laws and Ordinances passed by the Governor and Council of the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land 1826-1830 and after being presented to the UK Parliament (as required by UK Act 9 Geo IV, c 83, section 29) they were ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed on 11 March 1931.
A copy of this publication is available in both the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Tasmania. However this publication is part of the UK parliamentary papers series, not the records of the Supreme Court of Tasmania.
An ongoing search of the Tasmanian Archives series Enrolments of Acts of Council has so far located nine handwritten official copies of the 26 Acts identified in the above paragraph. Seventeen more to go!
From 20 March 1830 to 24 April 1830 (11 Geo IV No 1 – 11 Geo IV No 11) nine more Acts were passed by the Legislative Council. These do not appear to have been presented to the UK Parliament, but six more handwritten official copies for this period have been found in the Enrolment of Acts of Council series at Tasmanian Archives, bringing the number of Acts to be found up to 15.
There was only one Act passed in 1831, An Act for the Effectual Administration of Justice in the Supreme Court of Van Diemen’s Land (2 Will IV No 1) and no official handwritten copy has yet been located. No Acts were made by the Legislative Council in either 1829 or 1832.
Final score: 21 missing out of 11,190 Acts, but the search continues.