On Friday 14th July 1837, the Hobart Town Courier reported on the first meeting of the Legislative Council that had taken place in Hobart four days earlier. At 1 o’clock the Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Franklin, took the Chair and read his first address to the Council. He began by commenting on his appointment and his initial impressions of the Colony:
The state of public business, being, at length, such is to enable me to meet you in the discharge of your legislative functions, I gladly avail myself of the opportunity, which the occasion affords, of renewing personally those expressions of regard, which have already been so warmly reciprocated between myself and the community generally in a different relation.
Received, as I have been so cordially – I will, say – so affectionately, by all classes, the obligation by which I am bound to my most gracious Sovereign to watch over the interests of his people in this his island of Van Diemen’s land is in no trifling degree strengthened and confirmed. It has ceased to be merely a duty. It has become a privilege, to the exercise of which I look forward, notwithstanding the anxieties that must frequently attend it, as so a source of the highest and purest enjoyment.
When I accepted the honourable post to which his Majesty was graciously pleased to appoint me, I felt a peculiar satisfaction, that my first administration of the duties of a Governor should be in a colony which, separated as it is by the widest of oceans from the land of our birth and our affections, is so essentially British in its origin, its elements, and its interests – one, in whiçh whatever there may be of evil in its composition, is full of energies for transmuting that evil into good.
Let us shew then our filial allegiance to our mother country and our brotherhood of sentiment in this land of our duties, or of our adoption, by cultivating amongst ourselves and endeavouring to transmit to our children, the hereditary virtues of our race; the same integrity and public spirit, and the like active philanthropy ; as firm an attachment to liberty and social order, as devoted a loyalty to our King, and as fervent, or rather a yet more fervent, diffused, and enlightened piety.
With these stirring words of patriotism perhaps this a good time to mention a quirky footnote to the year 1837: for a period of around four months there were two separate monarchies in the British Empire. From 20 June people in England went about their business under the rule of a teenage girl while, in the words of Sir John, colonies “separated as it is by the widest of oceans from the land of our birth and our affections” happily carried on giving their allegiance to King William IV. The news of this regal change-over did not reach the Australian colonies until 8 October, thereby creating some regnal year legal citation quandaries for future researchers.
Back to the confidences of Sir John, the sub-text of which can be interpreted as ‘I’ve heard your complaints but need time to make up my mind, with your help of course”:
When I consider the extent of those interests which have been confided to me – and the sanguine anticipations which I know have been formed regarding my future measures, and when I contrast the importance of some of those questions which now call for adjustment with my own as yet defective local experience, I feel that under other circumstances I might well shrink from encountering them. But when I see you, Gentlemen, assembled to assist me, who have witnessed the transitions of the colony through successive states of social existence – who have seen its capabilities gradually developing, and who yourselves have had no small share in drawing them forth, when in consequence I feel the assurance that you are able to discern the springs of action operating around us, and therefore to distinguish the causes which retard, from those which accelerate improvement, surely I am justified in indulging the hope that our labours will not terminate in disappointment.
He then announced quite a significant decision, and one that would never have been countenanced by the previous Lieutenant Governor, Sir George Arthur. The first sitting of the Legislative Council in 1826 was held in camera, no press or other publicity given to its proceedings except the promulgation of the final measure in the Gazette for public information. Members had to swear an oath of secrecy not to disclose information of the Council’s proceedings. Some greater publicity of Council business did occur in 1828, with the abolition of the requirement to swear the oath of secrecy and the requirement to notify in the press, or make an adequate public announcement, eight clear days beforehand of any law was to be passed. These measures were not sought by Arthur, but forced on him by English legislation.
I have decided also, and I trust that in the present circumstances of the colony you will concur with me in the expediency of that decision, to avail myself of the aid which may be derived from a discussion extended beyond these walls of the measures before us. With this intention I have made arrangements for the admission, to witness our proceedings, of such a number of colonists as the limited size of this apartment will admit of being accommodated. The result of this will, I trust, be such a thorough sifting of every point admitting of a difference of opinion as will tend most materially to confirm us in the propriety of our decisions when they are right, and on the other hand, lead us at an early period to retrace our steps, should we occasionally wander into error. But, be this as it may, of one thing I feel convinced, the better the reasons for your several decisions are known, the greater will be the weight attached to them by the public, while the general result will be an increased confidence in the wisdom of your deliberations.
Hence the presence of a Hobart Town Courier journalist at the meeting of the Council on 10 July and following days, and the publication of the Address and Council business on 14 July.
Sir John’s Address went on to set out a wide range of his plans for the Colony which will be discussed in future posts.