Andrew Miller arrived on 26 January 1788 with the title of Commissary of Stores and Provisions (1). His initial functions were to provide and organise the supply of stores and provisions for the penal colony (2). Miller held this post until 1790 when he was forced to retire due to ill health. John Palmer was appointed as his replacement.
As the settlement grew in size and complexity, the Commissariat functions rapidly expanded, so that for the first 30 years it was virtually the colony’s market and bank (3). By 1819 there were commissariat stores at Sydney, Parramatta, Windsor, Liverpool, Bathurst, Hobart, Port Dalrymple and Newcastle (4).
From the beginning the accounts kept by the Commissary were numerous. In 1796 Palmer stated that he was obliged to keep accounts of all stores received and issued, as well as the transmission of all ordnance, naval victualling, and hospital stores, that may be received and issued to the different Boards (5). It was also his duty each time a ship sailed for England, to furnish a report for transmission to the Government on the numbers of persons of all classes receiving rations as well as providing copies of accounts of stores received, issued, and remaining in the Commissariat stores (6).
When Governor King arrived in 1800 he noted that there had been no instructions issued for the guidance of the Commissary. He rectified this situation by issuing the following series of instructions:
(1) The Commissary was to control the receipt and issue of stores and provisions into and from His Majesty’s stores.
(2) No articles were to be received or issued without a written order from the Governor.
(3) Detailed store receipts were required of all grain or animal food purchased or otherwise received into the store.
(4) Accounts of expenditure were to be furnished quarterly
(5) If the amount of provisions obtained by convict or public labour proved insufficient for the use of the those necessarily maintained by the Crown, the commissary was to present for the Governor’s approval an estimate of the balance required.
(6) The Commissary was directed to reform the irregularity that has existed in the mode hitherto followed in making payment for such articles as have been purchased from the inhabitants for the public use (7).
As well as the above instructions, the Commissary was required to present to the Governor once a year the following account books for audit: Victualling Book, Clothing and Slop Expense Book, Book specifying receipts of stores, provisions, and clothing from England or elsewhere, Store Purchasing Book, Purchasing Book, Book of Particular Expense, An open list kept of all births, deaths and absentees during each year, Weekly Victualling and Store-issue Book, and when a ship was due to sail for England, the Commissary was to furnish a general return of the inhabitants and a return of expenditure and remains of government stock (8).
In the rebellion against Bligh’s government in January 1808, Palmer was removed from his office and placed under house arrest. It was alleged that Palmer had introduced many abuses into the Commissariat (9). Lieutenant Foveaux examined the books and account and declared that they had been improperly kept and stated that the Commissariat had been riddled with corruption (10). In December 1809 Lachlan Macquarie arrived as the new Governor with instructions from the Treasury to have the accounts of the Commissary properly examined, and to place the office of a proper footing (11). Macquarie released Palmer from gaol and allowed him to return to England to present his case to Treasury. He did not return to the Colony until 1814 when he was appointed Assistant Commissary General (12).
In 1810 Macquarie issued a General Order containing a revised set of regulations for the Commissary :
(1) Storekeepers were to make up vouchers for all purchases each month, which were to be sent to the Commissary.
(2) Storekeepers were to make out weekly returns of all food received by them, copies of which were to be sent to the Commissary as well as to the Governor’s Secretary.
(3) Stores receipts to be given for stores received for transmission to the Commissary each month.
(4) All requisitions for stores at Sydney had to be counter-signed by the Governor’s Secretary.
(5) Invoices of all stores purchases were to be delivered to the Governor’s Secretary.
(6) Statements of receipt and expenditure were to be made up at 30 June and 31 December each year, for presentation to the Governor’s Secretary.
(7) Storekeepers were to furnish to both Commissary and Governor weekly returns showing receipts and issues of stores.
(8) The Commissary was to continue to keep lists of persons victualled from the public stores.
(9) A Statement of Settlement was to be furnished by the Commissary before each ship sailed for England (13).
As a result of the allegations made at the time of the Bligh rebellion, the Commissioners of the Treasury in London considered that the Commissariat administration was in need of revision. Up to this point the Commissariat had been a separate colonial department under the control of the Government. In 1813 it was decided to reform the Commissariat as a branch of the office of the Commissary General in London, which was a sub-department of the Treasury. The Officers of the Commissariat were to be part of the English Commissariat staff. A Deputy Commissary General was appointed as head of the Colonial Branch, and was subject to the instructions issued by the British Commissariat. The Governor of NSW would now only have a supervisory role (14).
On the 11 June 1813, David Allen arrived in the Colony as the first Deputy Commissary General (15). During the first few years this new administrative arrangement proved to be fraught with difficulties. The British Commissary General was too distant from the Colony to have any real control, and Governor Macquarie had to constantly use his supervising authority, which the Deputy Commissary General did not always feel bound to obey (16). Allen was said to have acted frequently against instructions from England, and as a result of complaints from Macquarie he was recalled to England in 1819 and Drennan was appointed as his replacement (17). In 1820 Macquarie ordered and inquiry into Drennan’s administration and it was found that he had opened the door to fraud and peculation (18). He was sent back to England under arrest in 1822, being unable to explain satisfactorily a debt of upwards of $6000 (19). This appears to have been the turning point for the Commissariat, as there are no accounts of further corruption (20).
To cope with the needs of a rapidly expanding colony, an Accounts Branch of the Commissariat was established in NSW in 1824. This was also probably intended to check on the activities of the Deputy Commissary General following a long period of maladministration (21). Following the administrative separation of Van Diemens’s Land from New South Wales in 1825, it was decided the Commissariat in Hobart should no longer be responsible to Sydney. This separation of the two Commissariats took place on 15 September 1825 (22).
When Governor Darling arrived in December 1825 he was immediately obliged to devote the whole of his time to the reorganisation of Government Departments, including the Commissariat (23). It is from this re-organisation that the Commissary of Stores was created as a branch of the Commissariat. (24). In January 1826 Governor Darling issued a General Order explicitly defining the duties of the Commissary of Stores. One of the changes was that the Commissary of Stores was to be given physical custody of all articles received and issued (25). In the same year Darling combined the superintendence of Military Stores and Civil Stores under the Deputy Assistant Commissary General (26). In 1827 the Home Treasury ruled that the whole expense of police, convicts, gaols and the Colonial Marine was to be carried by Great Britain, and was to be paid through the Commissariat military chest (27). Although this solved the financial problems of the Colonial Treasury, it soon introduced difficulties for the Commissariat. The Commissariat drew treasury bills whenever the military chest required it, and this became a frequent practice after 1827 (28). With the use of coinage increasing at the time, this decreased the demand for treasury bills to such an extent that the depleted military chest could no longer be satisfactorily recouped by this method (29). During 1832 the Commissariat applied for two separate loans from the Colonial Treasurer to save the military chest (30). The financial burden of the Commissariat was increased when Governor Bourke placed convict and military buildings under the control of the Deputy Commissary General (31).
In 1834 Governor Bourke made it clear that the very high expense of the military and convict establishments would bring more frequent applications from the Commissariat for loans from the Colonial Treasury. Bourke requested that the British Government adopt immediate measures for providing the necessary fund for defraying the costs of these establishments (32). In view of this situation, the English Government planned certain administrative changes which came into effect on 1 January 1836. The most important of these was the establishment in the Colony of a branch of the British Ordnance Department. The Ordnance Department was given physical custody of the military works and buildings, the ordnance and other military stores, as well as the buildings occupied by the convicts and the stores and clothing required for the use of the convict establishment (33). The Ordnance Department also became responsible for keeping most of the records relating to custody and issue of all government non-perishable stores in NSW (34).
As a consequence, from January 1836 the responsibilities of the Commissariat were very much reduced in size, leaving it only an administrative-financial branch of the British Treasury (35). The Commissariat did continue to be responsible for entering into the necessary contracts for performance of works or purchases of stores and materials (36). With the gradual decline in the number of convicts supported from the government stores after 1840, with accompanying reductions in the British Military forces, and improved efficiency in the keeping of accounts, the Accounts Branch of the Commissariat was abolished in 1846 (37).
After 1855 the Commissariat was only responsible for the maintenance of convicts at the penal settlement at Cockatoo Island and in the Lunatic Asylum at Parramatta (38), as well as continuing to pay for the British Military forces in the Colony. This military responsibility continued until 1870 when all imperial forces were withdrawn form the Australian Colonies, and this effectively saw the abolition of the Commissariat in New South Wales (39).
(1) HRA 1.1.596
(2) Concise Guide to the New South Wales State archives, p.1
(3) loc. cit
(4) HRA 1.10.87
(5) HRA 1.1651
(6) Concise Guide, op.cit, p.1
(7) New South Wales State Archives Guide to the Commissariat, p.8-9
(8) Ibid, p.9-10
(9) HRA 1.6.665
(10) HRA 1.6.628
(11) HRA 1.7.84
(12) HRA 1.8.254
(13) Commissariat, copies of government and general orders, 1810-1819, CGS 1334
(14) HRA 1.8.126 and note 19 p.657)
(15) HRA 1.9.248)
(16) Commissariat Guide, op. cit, p.15
(17) HRA 1.10.87
(18) HRA 1.10.416
(19) HRA 1.10.629
(20) Commissariat Guide, op. cit, p.14
(21) Ibid, p.15
(22) HRA 1.12.424
(23) HRA 1.12.148
(24) Commissariat Guide, op. cit, p.15
(25) HRA 1.12.152
(26) HRA 1.12.692
(27) HRA 1.14.332-333
(28) Commissariat Guide, op. cit, p.16
(29) Ibid p.17
(30) HRA 1.16.658
(31) HRA 1.17.26
(32) HRA 1.17.479-478
(33) HRA 1.17.706
(34) HRA 1.18.623
(35) Commissariat Guide, op. cit, p.18
(37) HRA 1.25.67-68
(38) Commissariat Guide, loc. Cit, p.19
(39) loc. cit