In 1832 Lieutenant Governor Arthur was finally able to begin sorting out problems relating to land grants in the Colony. Alfred Stephen had first questioned the validity of land titles in 1828 pointing out that all grants in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land had not been made in proper form (being in the name of the governors rather than in the name of the sovereign) and further research showed extensive land jobbery and wilful violations of conditions of grants. In January 1832 Arthur finally received a Royal Warrant from London giving him authority to begin the process of investigating all contested land grants, and on 31 January 1832 he published an Executive Act in the Gazette setting out the proposed arrangements for fixing grants or instruments of title, which provided that:
A new grant or lease will, upon application through the Surveyor General be immediately issued in the proper form without charge of any kind except for five shillings being the sum fixed by the King’s instructions for enrolment. (A copy of this Proclamation is available at the Tasmanian Archives at CS055/1/22 in the 1832 volume of Proclamations, Government Orders and Notices, issued by His Excellency, Colonel George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land).
Arthur announced the establishment of a Land Board whose function was to examine claims to Crown grants, including claims by persons who titles were defective. The Board, consisting of the Surveyor-General, George Frankland, and the Superintendent of Government Stock at Ross, James Simpson, was kept busy hearing claims until it was superseded by the Commission of Claims (soon to be referred to as the Caveat Board), established by an Act passed by the Legislative Council on 16 October 1835 (6 Will IV No 11). Arthur appears to have been persuaded that the Land Board did not have enough powers to sort out all the disputed claims. While the new Commission was authorised to take over the Board’s unfinished business, previous decisions of the Board remained valid.
Although the prevailing opinion at this time was that government activities in the public arena should be kept to a minimum Arthur recognised that the postal service was a recognised sphere of public business and in 1832, he set about taking over the existing privately-operated enterprise. By 1834 he had completed the reorganisation of the business, culminating in the Legislative Council passing An Act To Amend And Consolidate The Laws Providing For The Conveyance And Postage Of Letters (4 Will IV, No 18). An article by K A Green “Lieutenant Governor Arthur and the Establishment of the Post Office THRA provides more details on this.
The extent of other public works in the colony was largely confined to what could be achieved with convict labour: wharves, causeways, churches, gaols, hospitals, roads and bridges. Arthur also believed in the importance of clean and impressive buildings. In 1833 he was able to get the Legislative Council to pass a comprehensive Police Act (4 Will IV No 11), based on the provisions of English local statutes, which allowed prosecution of an extensive range of offences designed to make life more comfortable for the citizens of Hobart. It took another two years for the Legislative Council to pass the Water Act (5 Will IV No 14) which aimed to overcome the hygiene problems of contaminated water supplies. The importance of well-run markets was dealt with in 1834 (5 Will IV No 9), and in the same year an Act (5 Will IV No 6) dealing with fencing, and sheep, cattle and horse stealing was passed to assist graziers and large landowners.
During his 12 years as Lieutenant Governor in Van Diemen, Arthur and the Legislative Council passed a wide range of legislation required to effectively govern a colony gradually moving from a largely penal institution with a focus on convict discipline towards a more representative governing body addressing the needs and concerns of free settlers. In addition to the laws referred to above, legislation relating to the press, juries, debtors, commercial and maritime matters, courts and revenue collection all became part of the legal framework of the Colony. Following his recall to the UK Arthur embarked from Hobart on 30 August 1836, leaving the colony in the hands of Lieutenant Colonel Keith Snodgrass until the arrival of Sir John Franklin, the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor, in early January 1837.
For a detailed account of Arthur’s time in Van Diemen’s Land Sir George Arthur, Bart 1794-1854 by A G L Shaw provides a comprehensive account of his time in Van Diemen’s Land from 1824 to 1836. It paints a picture of life in a remote colony on the other side of the world, in another hemisphere, with communications taking up to four months each way (all handwritten on vellum or first class foolscap paper).