The Provost Marshal was originally an officer of the royal forces, naval or land, in charge of prisoners taken at sea, or battlefield prisoners. Other responsibilities included command of a camp’s military police, the suppression of military offences, and the execution of sentences of courts martial. In the Colony of New South Wales the post was part of the original civil establishment and paid for by the British Treasury.
The Provost Marshal was the most important executive or ministerial officer of both the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction and the Civil Court. The most important of these duties was to carry out all the orders and judgements of the Courts. In criminal proceedings the Provost Marshal 'received the bodies of all offenders to hold in safe custody till trial', and was required to be present at all sittings of the Court. He, or his deputies, had to execute sentences of death or other punishments. In civil proceedings he had to serve upon defendants the processes of the Court to compel appearances, to take bail, and to seize and put up for sale all goods and estates of defendants against whom judgement had been given. (2)
During Governor Bligh’s administration the Keeper of Sydney Gaol was subordinate to the Provost Marshall who would allow no one to be imprisoned without a magistrate’s warrant nor liberated without a warrant of discharge. For at least six months before the Rum Rebellion the Provost Marshal doubled as Superintendent of Police. By custom the Provost Marshal presided at public meetings for colonists. Governor Macquarie regularised this, making him responsible for receiving petitions for public gatherings, transmitting them to the Governor and advertising and convening those approved. (3)
From November 1813 the Provost Marshal acted as the executive officer of the Court of Vice Admiralty. The Provost Marshal’s responsibilities extended to all the settlements of the Colony. A separate post of Provost Marshal of Van Diemen’s Land was not created until 1815 and on at least one occasion Provost Marshal William Gore, on his own authority, appointed a deputy there. He had the assistance of small department of deputies including a clerk (at Sydney) and bailiffs (at Parramatta and the Hawkesbury). These deputies and assistants were not salaried officers rather they were paid from the proceeds of the office of Provost Marshal. With breaches of the peace the Provost Marshal could call upon the constabulary for aid. (4)
The office of the Provost Marshal was abolished in the Letters Patent pursuant to the New South Wales Act, 1823 ( 4 Geo. IV, c.96 , also known as "the Third Charter of Justice" or "the Third Charter"). (5). This Charter was formally promulgated on 17 May 1824. (6) The first Sheriff, John Mackaness, was appointed in 1823 under the provisions of the Charter of Justice, replacing the Provost-Marshall (7 & 8)