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Historical Notes: Administration and Law

The legislation of Tasmania dates from 1826, the year in which the first Act of Council was passed by the Legislature constituted under the Imperial Act 4 Geo IV, c. 96.


See Archives guide for a good summary of the early administration period.

See also Tasmanian Parliamentary Library summary on constitutional events.

See also Commonwealth Parliamentary Library summary on constitutional events.


Van Diemen's Land

Until 1856 the colony was known as Van Diemen's Land (named by Abel Tasman in 1642 – Van Diemen had been a Governor General of the Dutch East Indies).


The Island governed as a dependency of the colony of New South Wales. The Lieutenant-Governors and Commandants in charge were subordinate to the Governor in Sydney.
  • 1787 – British Parliament passed Imperial Act 27 Geo III, c. 2 [enable Court of Criminal Judicature on the Eastern Coast of New South Wales] Governor or Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales may convene a Court of Judicature for the trial of offenders.
  • King George III in 1787 – by letters patent and Royal instruction issued his warrant for a Charter of Justice [with civil court] – appointed Governors and Lieutenant-Governors as justices of the peace within settlements and power to keep the peace, arrest,..etc. [see Founding Documents]
  • The second permanent European settlement in Australia started at Risdon Cove  (at first called Hobart) near the current Hobart on 13 September 1803 under the command of Lieutenant John Bowen.   A Commission from the Governor-in-Chief in Sydney, dated 13 October 1803, appointed Bowen Commandant of "Hobart" and the whole island of Van Dieman.   [Bowen's references are at Historical Records of NSW Vol. V p.676. ]
  • Hobart was founded in 1804 and the first Lieutenant-Governor was Colonel David Collins.   [See transcripts of Collin's Commission and Parliamentary history project for interaction between Collins and Bowen]. In the same year a settlement was effected by Colonel Patterson at Port Dalrymple.  Reported on all matters civil and military to Sydney. Collins issued general and garrison orders.
  • 1804-1812: Van Diemen's Land was administered as two counties (Buckinghamshire and Cornwall ) by Lieutenant-Governors / Commandants who were responsible to the Governor of the colony in Sydney.   The two divisions became one on 1 July 1812.  The office of Commandant continued in the north.  Until 1813 the settlement was considered only a place of punishment for the re-convicted felons of the colony of New South Wales.
  • 1814, April 2 – 2nd Charter of Justice of New South Wales [See Founding Documents] – Judicial foundation of Van Diemen's Land – created 3 courts: the Lieutenant-Governor's Court was created specifically for Van Diemen's Land and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extended to the dependency.
  • 1815 – Lieutenant-Governor's Court – Deputy Judge Advocate – for small financial disputes. Prior to this the 1st Charter of Justice was not brought to the colony and so the court could not be established; instead, matters were considered in Sydney.
  • 1819 , January – Chief Justice made first trip to Van Diemen's Land so first matters heard in the Colony.  Suits for larger amounts were otherwise previously instituted in the Supreme Court at Sydney. The next sitting was held in 1821.   The Judge-advocate attended as well and, for the first time, opened a criminal court. Up to that period convicts committing offences (not murder though) went before magistrates in Hobart Town (monthly meetings).   Free people were referred to the Criminal Court at Sydney.
  • 1823, July 19 – British Parliament passed Imperial Act 4 Geo IV, c. 96 [Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land] which allowed for the eventual administrative separation of Van Diemen's Land (s. 44) from New South Wales.   Authorised Courts of Criminal and Civil Jurisdiction in Van Diemen's Land.   A temporary Court of Judicature – The Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land.   Instituted by Royal Letters Patent October 1823. Survey Office to be independent of New South Wales. Lieutenant-Governor to recommend persons to the Governor in Sydney as magistrates, etc.   Enablement of a Legislative Council in Van Diemen's Land.  Courts of Quarter Sessions and Courts of Requests were also instituted by the powers given to the Governor. [See Founding Documents].
  • 1824, May 7 – Royal Charter of Justice 1823 – read in Hobart Town.   [See Founding Documents]


A separate colony with Lieutenant-Governor directly responsible to Secretary of Sate in London.   A nominated Legislative Council established.
  • 1825, June 14: Order in Council pursuant to s. 44 of the Imperial Act 4 Geo. IV, c. 96 – constitution of the Colony of Van Diemen's Land – to separate Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales:   [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 868 and Founding Documents].
  • 1825, July 16 – Commission of Lieutenant General Ralph Darling as Captain General and Governor in Chief of Van Diemen's Land ( first Governor of the Colony ).     Instruction to create an Executive Council, and powers in respect of appointments, armed forces, division of the colony into districts etc, granting of land, control of finances and commerce. In his absence from the island, administration devolved on Lieutenant-Governor Arthur who retained the Commission appointing Darling [plus Royal Instructions, Warrant for Legislative Council, and Order of separation] (Darling departed [5] [6] December 1825 – no Governor back until 1855).   [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 871].
  • The territorial jurisdiction of the Governor of Van Diemen's Land was defined in the Commission to include "all Islands and Territories lying to the Southward of Wilson Promontory in thirty-nine degrees and twelve minutes of South latitude, and to the Northward of the forty-fifth degree of South latitude, and between the hundred and fortieth and hundred and fiftieth degree of longitude East from Greenwich, and also Macquarie Island" .
  • 1825, July 17 [Warrant by His Majesty King George IV] – Van Diemen's Land made a separate colony with its own governing body - constituting a Legislative Council of Van Diemen's Land [an appointed/nominated Legislative Council of six members – the Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary and 4 non-official members – and the Lieutenant-Governor (as President)].  Also appointed an Executive Council.
  • 1825, December 3 – Proclamation by Governor of the colony [in Hobart Town], Sir Ralph Darling, notifying separation of Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales and confirming the constitution of a Legislative Council and appointment of First Executive Council [The Lieutenant-Governor, The Chief Justice, The Colonial Secretary, and 2 other members – the Superintendent of Police and the Colonial Treasurer]:   [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 878] and [Historical Records of Australia Series III Vol. V p.11 ] .
  • 1825, December 17 – Proclamation  notified in the Hobart Town Gazette by Lieutenant-Governor (Governor) of Van Diemen's Land (George Arthur) notifying his powers to act in the absence of Darling: [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 880].
  • The Commission devolved to Arthur.  The Instructions included a Warrant for the creation of Legislative Council with whose advice Arthur was to make laws (the Instructions provided the subjects covered).    The Lieutenant-Governor was, therefore, vested with prerogative powers and charged as the Chief Executive.  The (Imperial) Principal Secretary of State instructed on general policy.
  • 1826, April 12: First meeting of Legislative Council ( Lieutenant-Governor plus 6 members) – First Act passed the Council 1 August 1826.
  • 1828 – (Imperial Act 9 Geo. IV, c. 83 [Australian Courts Act 1828 - Huskisson Act ] – continued by 6 & 7 Wm IV, c. 46; 7 Wm. IV & 1 Vict., c. 42; 1 & 2 Vict., c. 50; 2 & 3 Vict., c. 7; 3 & 4 Vict., c. 62) Legislative Council increased to 15 – the Lieutenant-Governor (President), Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary, Attorney-General, Colonial Treasurer, Senior Chaplain, Collector of Customs and 8 non-official members (nominated by Lieutenant-Governor). Majority vote required to pass a law.   Permanent Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land to be held by one or more judges.   All laws and statutes in force in England at the time of passing of the Act applied in the administration of justice in the Courts of Van Diemen's Land.   Laws passed transmitted to the Supreme Court for certification that they were not repugnant to the laws of England . Governor given power to resolve by ordinance application of the English law and to limit or modify such law.   [See Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 899 and Founding Documents].
  • 1830 – the Colonial Legislature passed Acts [10 Geo. IV No. 2 and No. 3] to institute a Court of Requests and of General and Quarter Sessions under the powers of the Huskisson Act [sections 17 and 18]   for such Acts.
  • 1831, March 4 – Charter of Justice [Letters Patent] – granted by King William IV – The Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land created and consisted of The Chief Justice and The Puisne Judge. A Registrar, Master and Keeper of Records, and Sheriff also appointed.   [See Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 907].
  • 1833, November 13 – Regulating Police in Towns and Ports of Hobart-town and Launceston and prevention of nuisances and obstructions (4 Wm. IV No. 11): Surveyor-General to set out and mark the limits of the Towns of Hobart Town and Launceston and the Ports of Hobart Town and Launceston.   Power to appoint Surveyors of Towns.   Certain offences identified.
  • 1837 – Colonial Regulations : compilation of various Rules issued by the Colonial Office as a manual for colonial administration.   Enumerated a Governor's powers.
  • 1842 – Australian Constitutions Act, 1842, section 53 [Imperial Act 5 & 6 Vict., c. 76]: made permanent the Imperial Act 9 Geo. IV, c. 83 and the other recited Acts relating to that Act . [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 849]
  • 1850, August 5 – Australian Constitutions Act, 1850 sections 7, 11, 12, 25, 29, 32 [Imperial Act 13 & 14 Vict., c. 59]: - Governor and Legislative Council may establish electoral districts and number of members for Legislative Councils and may make laws.   Existing laws to continue in force.   Power to alter the constitution of the Legislative Council and to consist of elected members and new Houses [ Parliament ].   [See Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 851 and Founding Documents]


Establishment of a new Legislative Council with some members elected.

  • 1854, November 1 – The Constitution Act 1855 (18 Vict. No. 17) – to establish The Parliament of Van Diemen's Land consisting of the Governor and a Legislative Council and House of Assembly.   [See Founding Documents ]
  • 1851, February - Australian Colonies Government Act [Imperial, 13 & 14 Vict., c. 59) – [section 37] proclaimed in Van Diemen's Land .   This Act gave Van Diemen's Land its first partially representative government.  The membership of the Legislative Council was increased to 24.   Eight were nominated by the Crown and 16 were elected.   The new Legislative Council met for the first time in 1852 after elections held in October and November 1851.   The Lieutenant-Governor ceased to be a member and presiding officer elected by the Council.
  • 1852, October 15 – The Municipal Act (16 Vict. No. 17) – in force 1 July 1858: establishment of Municipal Councils in the City of Hobart Town and Town of Launceston.   Power to make bye-laws.  
  • 1854 – the Legislative Council passed the Act (18 Vict. No. 15), which increased membership to 33 (11 nominated, 22 elected).   Elections held in 1855.
  • 1854 – Common Law Procedure Act [18 Vict. No. 9] – regulation of the practice and proceedings of the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land.
  • 1855, January 8 – Commission appointing Sir Henry E. Fox Young Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief.   Instructions issued were first intended for a Tasmanian Governor to be under a responsible government.   Powers to make laws, with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and House of Assembly.   Governor to preside over Executive Council.  


Elected bicameral Parliament with a Governor.

  • 1855, May 1 – Royal Assent of The Constitutional Act and proclaimed 24 October 1855.   2 fully elected Houses – Legislative Council 15 members, House of Assembly 30 members.
  • 1856, September and October – first elections for bicameral Parliament.  


  • 1856, January 1 – The name of Tasmania adopted as per Order-in-Council issued by Queen Victoria in 1855.   [See Founding Documents]
  • 1856, December 2 - The first Tasmanian Parliament opened.
  • 1858, February 25 – The Rural Municipalities Act (21 Vict. No. 50) – in force 1 July 1858: establishment of Municipal Institutions in the Country Towns and Districts in the Colony.   Any Town, Electoral, Police or Road District constituted a Rural Municipality and Municipal Councils constituted.   Control of Police Force vested in Municipal Councils.   Power to make Bye-laws, rates etc.
  • 1865 – The Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865 (Imperial Act 28 & 29 Vict. C. 63) – Colonial laws could not be repugnant to Imperial legislation extended to the colony.   Confirmed powers of colonies to establish courts and representative legislatures (Tasmania) to alter their Constitution.
  • 1885, August 14 – Federal Council of Australasia Act 1885 (Imperial Act 48 & 49 Vict. c. 60) – institution of Federal Council for the purpose of dealing with matters of common Australasian interest [Colonies of Fiji, New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia] – powers to make laws.   Governors of each Colony appoint 2 representatives.   Matters listed for which Council had legislative authority [relations with islands of Pacific; criminal influx; fiheries; civil process of courts; enforcement of process;   referred matters to do with defence, quarantine, patents, copyright, bills of exchange…].
  • 1885, November 30 – The (Tasmanian) Federal Council Act, 1885 (49 Vict. No. 10) – to bring into operation the Imperial Act.
  • 1889 – The Federal Council Referring Act, No. 1 (53 Vict. No. 2) – referred certain matters of Lunacy and Wills.
  • 1890's – The first National Australasian Convention on federation was held in Sydney in 1891, followed by a series of meetings, culminating in the drafting of a constitution to be approved in a Bill to be set before the British Parliament, and referendums - Tasmania indicated its support for the move in the referendum of 1898 . [See Parliamentary website]. 

1901 and after

The Constitution of Tasmania limited by the establishment of the Commonwealth Constitution.

  • 1900, July 9 – Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (63 & 64 Victoria, Chapter 12) – passed by the British Parliament.  The constitution was, however, drafted as a consequence of the Conventions in the 1890's.
  • 1900, September 17 – Proclamation (Imperial Statutory Rules and Orders – 1900 No. 722) – approved.
  • 1900, October 29 – Letters Patent, and Instructions to the Governor – permanent provision for the office of Governor in and over the State of Tasmania and constitution of an Executive Council .   [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 882, 886].
  • 1900, October 29 – Dormant Commission – provision for the appointment of the Chief Justice to administer the Government of Tasmania .   [see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959, Volume 6, page 897].
  • 1901, January 1 – Proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia in Sydney.  
  • 1906, November 26 – Local Government Act, 1906 (6 Edw. VII No. 31) –   Consolidated and amended laws relating to Local Government.   Abolished many local authorities and replaced with 47 municipalities plus Hobart and Launceston.
  • 1985, November 6 – Australia Acts (Request) Act 1985 – Tasmanian Act requesting the Parliament of the Commonwealth and of the United Kingdom to consent to an attached Australia Bill.
  • Australia Act 1986 – no Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act to be extended to Australia and the termination of certain governance matters.  

Governors and Lieutenant-Governors

See:   for list of Commandants   Lt-Governors   Governors   Administrators  etc.

Last updated Sunday, February 12, 2023 19:18 PM