Financing Van Diemen’s Land

Following the American War of Independence in 1783, the UK government could no longer send convicts to America. It was now faced with the problem of finding another overseas destination for the ever-increasing numbers of prisoners in its overcrowded gaols and prison hulks. Two of the essential criteria were that it had to be far away (to make it difficult for ex-convicts to return to England) and it had to be as cheap as possible. The eventual choice owed much to the report of Captain James Cook about what he had observed in 1770 when sailing up the east coast of what was then called New Holland. He claimed the entire eastern coast of the continent for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales.

Claiming territory was one thing but until settlements were established it was theoretically possible for other nations to claim unoccupied territory. By establishing a penal colony in New South Wales the British would be able to consolidate their claim as well as getting rid a considerable number of the prison population. The rights of the natives were effectively ignored.

Captain Arthur Phillip sailed from Portsmouth in late 1787 with around 1,500 people aboard the eleven ships of the First Fleet. The bulk of the passengers were prisoners, along with a contingent of marines and officers (some with wives and children). Arriving on 18 January 1788 at Botany Bay, Phillip was not impressed with the location. After sailing around for just over a week he finally decided on Port Jackson as the best location for the convict settlement.

In late 1802 Nicholas Baudin, Commander of the French expedition, sailed into Port Jackson to resupply his two ships. He was on a voyage to observe and research the geography and natural history of the coasts of New Holland. Governor King was concerned that the French explorers, in addition to their scientific activities, may well have had a hidden territorial agenda: to claim Van Diemen’s Land as French territory. In early 1803 he despatched Lieutenant John Bowen, with a splendid new uniform and a proclamation to be read any to any Frenchman who might dare to set foot on the Island, that this was British territory and an extension to the penal settlement in New South Wales. But no French ships appeared in the Derwent River. When they left Port Jackson they took the first right turn into Bass Strait, continuing to carry out their scientific observations along the southern shores of the mainland.

Initially both penal settlements were paid from the British Treasury, but the expectation was that the colonies would, in time, become self-sufficient. After all this was no holiday camp, but a place of punishment that would serve as a warning to the criminal classes in England that petty crimes could be punishable by banishment to the other side of the world. As for free settlers, enticements such as land grants and free convict labour went hand in hand with the loss of some of the civil rights they had enjoyed in England.

Under the terms of the New South Wales Act 1823 Van Diemen’s Land was granted colony status and officially separated from New South Wales on 3 December 1825. It now had its own governing body, a Legislative Council, and was able to enact its own legislation. From 1826-1830 a total of  34 Acts were passed, with approximately a third dealing with raising revenue for local purposes. This power was provided for under the provisions of both the New South Wales Act 1823 and the Australian Courts Act 1828 and included licensing and sale of liquor, imposing duties on newspapers, registration of deeds, wills, judgements, property conveyances, postage of letters, impounding animals for trespass, and regulating the slaughter of sheep and cattle. These revenue raising activities were legislated by the Legislative Council and the money raised had to be used to fund the specific activities relative to each Act. The money raised could not go into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Expenditure on Administration of the Colony, the Convict Establishment, the Military, the Judiciary and the Churches was paid out of the British Treasury.

It was not until 1833 that the first Appropriation Acts describing the annual expenditure for the administration of the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land were enacted (4 Will IV No 6 and 4 Will IV No 7. Act No 6 sets out expenditure for Civil, Judicial, Ecclesiastical (including Schools), and Military departments, followed by a group of Miscellaneous matters. It takes a lot of concentration to read as the amounts for each item are included in the text of the Act: eg Section 4 reads:

“IV.-AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED that out of the produce of the said duties there shall and may be issued and applied any sum or sums of money not exceeding six hundred and twenty pounds eleven shillings and eight pence to defray the salaries and contingent expenses of the Military Establishment in Van Diemen’s Land”

Act No 7 uses the same format but does include marginal notes which makes it much easier to see the individual amounts of expenditure(three examples listed below – note use of “l s d” abbreviations for pounds, shillings, pence).

  • 43,310l. 6s. 2d. for the Civil Establishment viz.
  • 771l. 10s. for the Lieutenant Governor’s Establishment.
  • 638l. 5s. for the Department of the Councils.

Appropriation Act 6 Will IV No 9 for 1835 makes it even easier for anyone wanting to see the details of expenditure for that year. Headings are listed as marginal notes and items of expenditure are detailed in two columns: the item and the cost. Listed below are the seven headings and the total costs for each:

  • Civil Establishment – £34,724. 7s. 2d.
  • Departments of Public Works –  £19,896. 19s. 1d.
  • Judicial Establishments –  £12,345 17s. 6d.
  • Ecclesiastical and School  Establishments –  £14,445 16s. 10d.
  • Colonial Military Establishment –  £384 16s. 8d.
  • Pensions –  £845 0s. 0d.
  • Miscellaneous Services –  £13,150 0s. 0d.

By 1849 the breakdown of expenditure for the Colony had increased from seven sections listed above to 23, as detailed in 13 Vict No 4.The final Appropriation Act for the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land was 19 Vict No 19. This authorised the expenditure for the year 1855. The next Appropriation Act would be for the Colony of Tasmania with expenditure no longer approved by an appointed Legislative Council but a bi-cameral Parliament which included some elected members.

About dashea2014

A Law Librarian with extensive experience in general legal and court libraries. Editor of the Australian Law Librarian for 4.5 years (2008-2012) and active member of Law Libraries Tasmania. Special topics - Tasmanian legislation and case law. A passion for maintaining access to print resources.
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