Arthur Phillip was authorised to establish the Colony of New South Wales under Commissions dated 12 October 1786 and 2 April 1787. Following receipt of instructions from George III (25 April, 1787), the First Fleet sailed from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, arriving in Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. On 7 February 1788, the Governor's Commission was read at an official ceremony, and this date marks the effective commencement of the Colony of New South Wales.
The original Colony of New South Wales extended from latitudes 10 degrees 37 minutes south [Cape York] to 43 degrees 39 minutes south [South Cape]. The Governor had territorial jurisdiction over this defined area, was custodian of the Public Seal, empowered to administer oaths, to appoint justices and other officers of the law, to grant pardons, to levy armed forces, to proclaim martial law, erect fortifications, to exercise sovereign naval powers, to control finances and commerce, and to grant land. The Commissions made arrangements for filling the vacancy in the event of death or indisposition of the Commander-in-Chief.
The New South Wales Act, 1823 (4 George IV c.96) (1) established an appointed Legislative Council and set out the powers and limitations of the Council. (2) The temporary Act was replaced by the ‘Australian Courts Act, 1828’ (3), which essentially made perpetual the temporary 1823 Act, setting out the rules for the appointment of the Legislative Assembly, its procedures and responsibilities. (4) Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) became a separate Colony by Order in Council on 14 June 1825.
Other changes to the boundaries of the Colony in the first half of the nineteenth century included the westward expansion of New South Wales to 129 degrees east in 1825, and the removal of South Australia when it was proclaimed a separate colony on 28 December, 1836.
The (Imperial) Australian Colonies' Government Act [13 and 14 Vic. c. 59) provided for the separation of the Port Phillip region from New South Wales as the Colony of Victoria, and self government for the Colony of New South Wales. Victoria was proclaimed a separate colony on 1 July 1851.
In 1849 the Northern Territory merged with New South Wales where it remained until its transfer to South Australia in 1863.
On 22 December 1852, the Legislative Council passed an Act to confer a Constitution on New South Wales and to grant a Civil List to Her Majesty (17 Victoria, Act No 41). The Act was reserved and the necessary ratifying legislation was passed by the Imperial parliament in 1855. The new Constitution of the Colony of New South Wales received Royal assent on 16 July 1855 and was proclaimed on 24 November that year. This act introduced responsible government, established the bi-cameral Parliament, set down the method of its election, procedures for business and the extent and limitation of its powers, and set down the boundaries of the colony it governed. The first Parliament under the new Constitution met on 22 May 1856.
Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony on 6 June 1859. There were a number of minor amendments to the Constitution Act in 1874, 1884 and 1889, and the Colony of New South Wales was abolished with the commencement of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.
1. An Act to provide until the First Day of July One thousand eight hundred and twenty seven, and until the end of the next session of Parliament for the better Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land and for the more effectual Government thereof; and for other purposes relating thereto.
2. Sections XXIV-XXVII.
3. An Act to provide for the Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land and for the more effectual government thereof.
4. Sections XX-XXXI.