Prior to Van Diemen’s becoming an independent colony on 3 December 1825, a succession of Lieutenant Governors had administered the Island largely through the issue of General and Garrison Orders. As the names suggest Garrison Orders applied to the military and General Orders to civilians, including convicts. David Collins, first Lieutenant Governor, brought a small hand press with him which was used to print copies of the Orders which were headed by the Royal Coat of Arms and placed on an Order Board for the whole settlement to see.
The Mitchell Library in Sydney holds a copy of the General and Garrison orders issued by Collins for the years 1803-1808. The introduction asserts that the 355 pages of the volume “contains a very interesting and authentic account of the first settlement in Port Phillip … and Risdon and Hobart Town”. The following examples from the Subject Index of General Orders show the minute detail of the day-to-day concerns in governing the settlement:
Hogs – running loose to be sold to defray damages committed
Huts, persons occupying them are to keep the Road in front thereof clean
Kangooroo not to be received [in the stores] in a damagd or putrid state
Night Watch – not to interfere with Military
Swans – not to be destroyed witht. Permissn
The Subject Index is followed by the full text of each Order. The handwritten Orders do not appear to have been numbered, and are identified by the date issued and subject of each Order.
The first book printed in Van Diemen’s Land appears to be a 36-page compilation of Orders and Proclamations issued during the first year of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Davey’ tenure 1813-1814
It is not clear if this was an official government publication or a commercial venture by George Clark who appears to have been doing the work of a government printer, though there is no formal record of his appointment. By the time Lieutenant Governor Sorell arrives to take over from Davey, official Government Orders and Notices were being published in the Hobart Town Gazette.
In the main vice-regal General Orders were taken to be valid law-making acts, enforceable by magistrates but by 1820 it was becoming evident that some General Orders were open to challenge in the New South Wales Supreme Court because of doubts about the legality of certain colonial powers, particularly in the area of raising tax revenue.
Sorell was the last Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land who had to rely solely on General Orders to govern the civilian and convict population. When Colonel George Arthur arrived in 1824 to succeed Sorell as Lieutenant Governor, he too could only make General Orders but by the end of 1825 Van Diemen’s Land had become independent from New South Wales, with an Executive Council to advise and a Legislative Council to legislate.
Arthur now had almost unlimited power to make laws for the new Colony, with both councils prepared to rubber-stamp his policies and legislation. However, he did not go into a frenzy of law making, with just 26 Acts passed from 1826-1830, an average of five a year. In the ten years from 1826 to 1836, 88 statutes were passed compared with 136 in six years under his successor Sir John Franklin.
Where possible Arthur still preferred to continue the practice of issuing General Orders to regulate colonial affairs. All Acts passed by the Legislative Council could be disallowed by the Queen, whereas General Orders were not subjected to such scrutiny.
The numbering system for statutes enacted in by the Legislative Council in Van Diemen’s Land from 1826 to 1852 followed the convention used by the UK Parliament, by using regnal years.
The first Act to be passed was:
An Act for the Summary Punishment of Disorderly Conduct in Any Offender in the Service of Government or of Any Inhabitant of New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land (7 Geo IV, No 1).
King George IV had become King on 29 January 1820, thus the first year of his reign started on 29 January 1820 and ended on 28 January 1821, which was expressed as 1 Geo IV. On 29 January 1821, the regnal year becomes 2 Geo IV, and so on until we get to 7 Geo IV which began on 29 January 1826 and ended on 28 January 1827. As the Act was passed in August 1826 its citation is 7 Geo IV, followed by the No 1 (since it was the first Act of this regnal year) – hence 7 Geo IV, No 1.
Some citations can be even more complicated – See Regnal Years of English Monarchs.