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Federation: 1880-1900

The 1880s proved to be 'the turning point at which the 'federal idea' found in all the schemes of the previous forty years would be transformed into the Federation movement.'


Board of Health | Bureau of Statistics | Collector of Customs | Colonial Secretary | Executive Council | Governor | Government Printing Office | Justice Charles James Manning | Marine Board | National Australasian Convention | Treasury


The 1880s proved to be

the turning point at which the 'federal idea' found in all the schemes of the previous forty years would be transformed into the Federation movement.1

At an intercolonial conference on customs duties held in Sydney in January 1881 Henry Parkes, then New South Wales Premier, called for the creation of a federal council to deal with intercolonial matters. This idea was not acted upon until two years later when Henry Parkes was out of office. 1883 saw increased activities of foreign powers in the Pacific, namely German designs on New Guinea (which Queensland promptly annexed) and French on the New Hebrides together with plans to transport recidivists to New Caledonia. This made the colonies realise division weakened their representations to the British Government.

Here was a practical and convincing argument for federation.2

Physically the most populous colonies were drawing together with the completion of the Sydney–Melbourne rail link. In 1883 at the Intercolonial Convention in Sydney, representatives from the six Australian colonies, New Zealand and Fiji drafted a Bill to constitute a Federal Council of Australasia. The proposed council had no executive powers or control over revenue or expenditure. The New South Wales government did not pursue the Bill, indeed Henry Parkes who had advocated a federal council opposed it due to its inadequacies and viewed the proposed council as an impediment to federation.

Australia's 'first expeditionary force'3 which left Sydney in March 1885 for the war in the Sudan was a contingent of 750 men from New South Wales which had been raised amid patriotic fervour following the death of General Gorden at Khartoum. It arrived at Suakin on 29 March and took part in a skirmish in Tamai and departed for home on 17 May 1885. From a defence perspective, it served to highlight the distance of Australia from Europe.4

An Act to Constitute the Federal Council of Australasia was passed by the British Parliament on 14 August 1885, as it had been wanted by a majority of colonies. It established a Federal Council to deal with matters of common interest to the colonies on which united action would be desirable. Only New South Wales and New Zealand refrained from joining the Council whose first meeting was held in Hobart in 1886 (although South Australia was only a member from 1888-90). New South Wales' refusal to join 'fatally handicapped' the Council.5

To celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887, the first Colonial Conference was held in London with the premiers of the Australian colonies in attendance. The New South Wales Premier Henry Parkes was notable by his absence. New South Wales was preparing celebrations to take place in 1888 to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of the First Fleet. Henry Parkes proposed changing the name of New South Wales to Australia. The other colonies expressed their outrage, clearly demonstrating that the national sentiment attached to the name Australia was shared by all six colonies. As Duncan Gillies, then Victorian Premier wrote,

the possession of one common name by these Colonies is certainly a real bond of union. To interfere with that name runs counter to the federal spirit which all colonies profess to cherish … 6

Henry Parkes also proposed a great park and State House to celebrate the centenary. While the State House did not proceed Centennial Park came into being and was the scene for the inauguration celebrations of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

As discussed at the Colonial Conference federal action took place with naval defence. The parliaments of the colonies agreed to the Australasian Naval Forces Act to maintain an auxiliary fleet at joint expense of Britain and the colonies in addition to the normal strength of the Imperial fleet on the Australian Station.7 Military forces were a different matter with each colony maintaining local contingents comprised of a small permanent force and volunteers. In 1889 Major General Sir J. Bevan Edwards reported on the situation in each of the colonies and concluded that reorganisation on federal lines should be undertaken and that a federal defence force was needed. Such federal sentiments were quickly taken up by Sir Henry Parkes when, on 24 October at Tenterfield, he delivered his now famous oration urging the creation of

a great national Government for all Australia.8

The Australasian Federation Conference in Melbourne in 1890 with delegates from the six colonies and New Zealand decided to call a National Convention the following year. When speaking at the conference banquet Sir Henry Parkes stated,

The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all,

thus emphasizing the unity of the proposed nation based on a common heritage. Prior to the Conference the Australian Natives Association had held an intercolonial conference on federation. The popular and political movements were starting to run on the same course.

National sentiment was also being fostered through the literature of Henry Lawson and A.B. ('Banjo') Patterson and in journals like the Bulletin. Australian nationalism can be seen in the sporting arena especially in competition against the English in cricket and sculling. Australia defeated England in the 1897-98 Cricket Test and the national colours of green and gold were first worn by the Australian cricket side when it toured England in 1899.9 It has been said that sportsmen,

did most to conjure a sense of Australianness in the years before Federation.10

The first National Australian Convention was held in Sydney between 2 March and 9 April 1891. Delegates from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand attended. Sir Henry Parkes, then New South Wales Premier, was made President of the Convention. They accepted Parkes' resolutions which outlined the basis of a federal legislative, judiciary and executive and concerned the powers of the colonies and the Commonwealth Parliament.11 It was decided to adopt the name Commonwealth of Australia. A constitution was drafted on board the Queensland government steamer, Lucinda, on the Hawkesbury River. The constitution was based largely on the drafts by Andrew Inglis Clark (Tasmania), Charles Cameron Kingston (South Australia) and Samuel Griffith (Queensland), who together with Edmund Barton (New South Wales) formed the drafting committee. This provided the basis for all subsequent redraftings and was very similar to the final constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.12 A draft Constitution Bill was ready for the delegates to present to their respective parliaments. Inaction followed, however, in all colonies with the exception of Victoria, as economic depression and strikes became more urgent matters to address. In New South Wales the first Labor Party members had been elected to Parliament with their own constitutional theories and ideas of social reform. Sir Henry Parkes failed to promote the draft Constitution Bill when it came before the New South Wales Parliament 13 and lost office in 1892. Edmund Barton now emerged as the leader of the federation movement and promoted the development of federal leagues through the Australasian Federation League.

The idea of the people as both the legitimating and the active agent behind Federation took hold.14

The border leagues in the Riverina believed federation would erase arbitrary borders and the problems of tariffs. They organised the first people's convention, the Corowa Conference held between 31 July and 1 August 1893. The result was the Corowa Plan that called on the parliaments to legislate for the election of delegates to a convention to write a federal constitution with a referendum to follow.

The Premiers met in Hobart in January 1895 and agreed to another convention with the popular election of the delegates similar to the Corowa Plan with the additional proviso that having drafted a constitution the convention would adjourn to allow colonial parliaments to suggest amendments and then reassemble. When Sir Henry Parkes died 27 April 1896, he was described as the prominent figure in 'Australian' politics. The Peoples' Federal Convention was held at Bathurst between 16 and 21 November 1896 where the 1891 draft constitution was fully discussed clause by clause.

The women's suffrage movement gained momentum in this period. The Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales was established in 1891. The first known women's federationist organisation was the Ladies Organising Committee of the Bathurst People's Federal Convention in 1896. In 1898 the first Women's Federal League was formed in Sydney and was followed by others in country areas. Women in South Australia had received the vote in 1894. A petition was presented to the Second Australasian Convention held in Adelaide in March 1897 from the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales requesting that female suffrage be included in the Constitution. The request was denied. While many in the women's suffrage movement were ardent federationists, such as Maybanke Wolstenholme, others such as Rose Scott were opposed to federation.

Acts directly aimed at restricting the influx of Chinese were passed in New South Wales in 1881 and 1887. At a Premiers Conference in March 1896 it was agreed to extend restrictions on coloured immigration to include other races in addition to the Chinese.15

The goal of White Australia was becoming … more tied up with the goal of Federation.16

In 1898 New South Wales enacted another restrictive law that was aimed at excluding all non-Europeans, including those who were British subjects. This act was the first to include a dictation test.

South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania had passed Enabling Acts to allow delegates to be elected to a convention on federation and elections were held for this purpose. Western Australian delegates were elected by Parliament while Queensland was not represented until January 1898 at the third session of the convention. The second National Australasian Convention held its first session in Adelaide in March and April 1897, its second session in Sydney in September, and the third and final session from January to March 1898. The ten New South Wales delegates were Edmund Barton QC; George Reid (Premier); Joseph Carruthers (Minister for Lands); William McMillan (ex Treasurer); William Lyne (leader of the Opposition); James Brunker (Chief Secretary); Richard O'Connor; Sir Joseph Abbott (speaker); James Walker and Bernard Wise (ex Attorney General). Barton was chosen as leader of the convention and chair of the drafting committee for the constitution. Between the first and second sessions the premiers attended the celebrations of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and a Colonial Conference in London while the colonial parliaments suggested many amendments to the proposed Constitution Bill. After much debate and many amendments they had a draft constitution and a new Constitution Bill to put to referendum.

Referenda voted in favour of the Constitution Bill in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. In New South Wales while the majority voted in favour of it the numbers did not reach the 80,000 votes which had been set as a statutory minimum by the New South Wales Parliament. The ambivalence of the New South Wales Premier George Reid, the powers of the Senate and House of Representatives, fiscal considerations and the unresolved federal capital site were seen as contributing factors in its defeat.17

The other colonies must have realised they could not proceed without New South Wales.18 A conference of Premiers in Melbourne held between 29 January and 3 February 1899 agreed to amendments to the Constitution Bill which made it more attractive to New South Wales voters, including that the location of the federal capital would be in New South Wales although not less than 100 miles from Sydney. On 20 June 1899 the 'Yes' vote was successful in New South Wales. The other colonies of South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland all voted 'Yes' in the referenda.

The war between the British and the two Dutch South African republics - the Boer War - began on 11 October 1899 when the Boers declared war on the British. Though federation was imminent, the Australian colonies still retained local responsibility for land defence and intercolonial rivalry once more came to the fore as each colony tried to be first to send and exceed quotas for troops.19

In March 1900 a delegation consisting of Edmund Barton (NSW), Alfred Deakin (Vic), James Dickson (Qld), Charles Kingston (SA), Sir Phillip Fysh (Tas) and Stephen Baker, the Western Australian observer, was sent to London to negotiate enactment of the Constitution. Though the delegation had aimed to have the Bill passed without amendments, several were made, the most contentious being the section on appeals to the Privy Council. Communication between their respective governments was maintained by telegraph as records in the State archives attest.20 Meanwhile in Western Australia the federation campaign was advancing apace with pressure from the goldfields which threatened to separate if Western Australia would not federate.

The British Parliament passed the Bill on 5 July 1900 and Queen Victoria assented to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act on 9 July 1900. Edmund Barton telegraphed the good news to New South Wales on the same day and also indicated that he would be returning with the pen, inkstand and table used by Queen Victoria to sign the commission giving assent to the bill.21 The writing table was subsequently featured in the Federation Pavilion in Centennial Park on 1 January 1901. Western Australia finally held its referendum on 31 July and voted 'Yes' to join the federation. On 17 September it was proclaimed that the Commonwealth of Australia would be inaugurated on 1 January 1901.

The Earl of Hopetoun, a former Governor of Victoria, was appointed as Australia's first Governor-General on 21 September 1900. When he asked New South Wales Premier William Lyne (an opponent of federation) to form a cabinet as the first Prime Minister this caused outrage among colonial leaders and is known as the 'Hopetoun Blunder'. Lyne returned the nomination and Edmund Barton, the federationist leader, was nominated as the first interim Prime Minister.

Board of Health

NRS 593, Quarantine books, 1881-1915 [5/5853-54]
Item [5/5853] 1881-1900 consists of copies of various documents concerned with quarantine matters. It includes papers from intercolonial conferences on quarantine, 1896, 1900 and the Federal Quarantine Conference, 1904.
Item [5/5854] 1900-15 is indexed and covers a wider range of matters, 'quarantine' of isolation of persons, buildings and areas in addition to ship quarantine reflecting the impact of the Plague epidemic of 1900 and the effect of federation on quarantine questions.

Bureau of Statistics

The Returns of the Colony or Blue Books were the official record compiled annually in the Colonial Secretary's Office from 1822 to 1857 for the information of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. A smaller volume of condensed tables called 'Statistics' for general circulation in the Colony was published using the Blue Books.

In 1848 the Registrar General assumed the responsibility of collecting the returns and the New South Wales Statistical Register was first published in 1859. On 5 July 1886 the first Government Statistician, Timothy Coghlan was appointed, his office being under the direction of the Colonial Secretary. In 1908 the Intelligence Department and Bureau of Statistics was transferred to the control of the Department of the Attorney General and Justice, then in 1909 came under the direction of the Colonial Secretary and in 1924 was transferred to the Colonial Treasurer's Department. On 30 August 1957 the Commonwealth and State statistical organisations within New South Wales were integrated as the New South Wales Office of the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. The following records have been included in the Guide to assist those researchers wishing to do a comparative study of the colonies.

NRS 698, 'Statistics of the Seven Colonies of Australasia', 1894-99 (incomplete) [6/5601 part]
This publication contains brief statistics and comparative tables for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. It gives information about: population; vital statistics; shipping, imports and exports; production; agriculture; finance; revenue; expenditure; education; communications; railways; etc.
These issues were published between 1895 and 1901, although the information in them ranges from 1861 to 1899.

NRS 696, 'The Seven Colonies of Australasia', also called 'A Statistical Account of Seven Colonies of Australasia', 1890-96, 1901-02 [6/5601 part-5602 part]
This publication gives information on economic, social and demographic matters relating to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. Details are given about such matters as: political divisions; areas and boundaries; population; climate; shipping; railways; defence; agriculture; commerce; manufacturing; education; religion; social conditions; employment; finance; land and settlement; and local government.
The volume covering 1901-02 gives additional information on the Commonwealth, the constitutions of the States, and more detailed histories of the States and New Zealand.
From 1902 onwards this publication was known as 'A Statistical Account of Australia and New Zealand'.

Collector of Customs

NRS 3657, Tide Surveyors' Office, Sydney: Copies of correspondence with the Collector of Customs, 2 Jan 1879-10 Apr 1885 [4/472]
Enclosures and memoranda from the Collector are copied along with letters. Correspondence relates to the illegal entry of ships into the harbour, seizures and the duties of tide surveyors.

NRS 3659, Inland Bonded Warehouse Branch, Bourke: Customs duty stamp book (Beer excise), 1889-1901 [36/2585]
A Sub-Collector was based at Bourke, where there were inland bonded warehouses. This volume records the weekly amount of duty stamps sold for beer excise. Nine denominations of stamps are recorded for various containers of beer.

NRS 3660, Out-port Branch, Eden: Register of wharfage dues (Goods book), 23 Apr 1891-16 Jul 1904 [6/5143]
This volume gives the date, names of the ship and consignee, and a description of the goods consigned. There are also annotations recording such details as from where, bonds given, transhipments and if stored.

NRS 3661, Border Branch, Murray River: Diary of the Sub-Collector, 1 Jul 1884-31 Mar 1887 [4/470]
This contains details of goods passing between New South Wales and Victoria and duties payable, and of the monthly returns forwarded to the Sub-Collector at Albury. Personal and official journeys made are noted.

Colonial Secretary

NRS 905, The Submission of the Australasian Federal Constitution to the Electors of New South Wales under the Australasian Federation Enabling Act, 1899 M20575/1 in [5/6523]
This includes the writ of election and results of the poll listed alphabetically by the electorates of New South Wales.

NRS 906, Special bundles

Intercolonial Conference, Sydney, 1881 - arrangements - and 1877-79, 1880-81 - defence arrangements [4/830.3]
This bundle contains papers relating to the Intercolonial Conference, 1881, including a representation from Corowa Progress Association concerning border duties; travel arrangements of delegates from the various colonies, and the cancellation of the collection of border duties on the South Australia - New South Wales border as a result of the conference. Also included are papers relating to Colonel P.H. Scratchley's preliminary report on defences in the Colony, defence arrangements, 1877, payments to Scratchley for his services, and correspondence from New Zealand relating to Scratchley advising on defences there in 1879.

* Proposed prohibition of Chinese Immigration into Australia, 1880-81 [4/829.1]
This bundle contains papers relating to the Bill to restrict the influx of Chinese into New South Wales, 1881, and reference to discussion of the matter at the 1881 Intercolonial Conference. The bundle also contains despatches from London dated 26 February 1862 and 12 February 1868 concerning An Act to regulate and restrict the immigration of Chinese.

San Francisco mail service, 1883 [4/846.1]
This bundle contains copies of a petition to secure the services of the San Francisco Mail Postal Service to deliver in forty days at a higher cost than delivery in forty-five days.

* Transportation of convicts to New Caledonia, 1876-1904 [4/960.1]
The majority of the papers in this bundle cover the years 1876-1884 and concern the dissatisfaction of the Australian Colonies and New Zealand over escaped, pardoned or time expired French convicts coming to their colonies and their combined efforts to have the British Government intervene with the French government on their behalf.

Establishment of Federal Council of Australasia, 1883, 1885 [4/855.1]
Correspondence and printed papers relating to the Bill for the Constitution of the Federal Council. Also includes Report of Proceedings of the Intercolonial Convention, Sydney 1883.

* Sudan Contingent, 1885 [4/853, 4/856]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the transport arrangements for troops and horses, equipment and stores, reports and maps of operations in the Sudan and arrangements to bring the troops home. A facsimile nominal roll listing the members of the Sudan Contingent located in [4/856] is available in the reading room as COD 474.

* Annexation of New Guinea, 1883-85 [4/849, 4/851-52]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the annexation of New Guinea and adjacent islands, refusal of the Imperial Government to confirm the annexation of New Guinea, and the Federation of the Australasian colonies. Discussion on the proposed convention on Federation, requesting that delegation from each Colony should be representative of the Colony as a whole, and not merely the dominant political party.
Other matters included are each colony's contribution towards the cost of maintaining the Protectorate of New Guinea and the costs associated with annexation, protests against German occupation in Australasian waters and the proposed Bill to prevent the introduction of 'Foreign Criminals' into Queensland.

* Extensions to Railways, 1886 [4/868.1]
This bundle contains papers relating to the construction and extension of railway lines throughout New South Wales. Copies of reports concerning railways from the NSW Legislative Assembly, 1885-86, including Sir John Fowler's report on railways and the system of light lines.

* Imperial conference to discuss naval defence of the Colonies, development of postal and telegraphic communications etc., 1887 [4/877.2]
Correspondence and printed concerning the Imperial conference to be held in London in an attempt to bring all parts of 'Her Majesty's Empire' into joint deliberation. The Imperial conference aimed to discuss issues such as imperial and colonial defence, in particular, naval defence and the strengthening of the Australian Squadron. The promotion of commercial and social relations by the development of a postal and telegraphic communication system and issues relating to New Guinea and the New Hebrides. Also includes correspondence concerning conference planning and the nomination of delegates to attend the conference.

* Captain C.A. Blom Crawford's Inventions, 1874-87 [4/875.1]
Correspondence between the Government and Captain Blom Crawford respecting his discoveries titled the Wave Breaker and the Torpedo Antidote. Focuses largely on the Torpedo Antidote - an appliance for protecting ships from torpedos - and Blom's attempt to gain official recognition for this particular invention.

* Annexation of New Guinea and New Hebrides, 1886-87 [4/865-66]
Correspondence relating to the contribution of expenses for the administration of New Guinea from the Australian colonies and the proposal that the Queensland government should assume future administrative responsibility for New Guinea. Copies of declarations relating to the Western Pacific, printed in both English and German.
Correspondence concerning the annexation of the New Hebrides to France and the concern expressed by the Colonies and the Imperial Government on the subject of the transportation of relapsed criminals to the Pacific region. Papers relating to the New South Wales Intercolonial Convention November and December 1873 are also included.

* Centennial arrangements, 1888 [4/886.3]
Correspondence concerning arrangements for the 1881 Centennial Celebrations which included feasts for the poor, musical recitals, centennial medals, illuminations and fireworks.

* Papers re Patriotic Fund in aid of Sudan Contingent, 1885-88 [4/884.2]
This bundle contains lists of contributors and amounts given in aid of the Sudan Contingent and disposition of fund stating amounts given to members of the contingent or their families, amounts returned to contributors and amounts given to charities.

* Torpedo Defence, 1886-88 [4/885.1]
This bundle contains documents concerning provision for the maintenance of a properly equipped submarine mining establishment, the efficiency of the submarine mine defences of the Colony and the advisability of a permanent Torpedo Corps. Includes details of defence works to be undertaken at Newcastle, Botany Bay, Port Jackson and Wollongong and reports on the purchase, storage and use of the Schwartzkopf torpedoes.

* Proposal to change name of the colony of New South Wales to Australia, 1887-88 [4/875.3]
This bundle contains copies of the proposed Bill to change the name of the colony of New South Wales to Australia and correspondence from other colonies expressing their opposition. Draft replies and newsclippings are also included.

* Prohibition of Chinese Immigration into Australia, 1887-88 [4/884.1]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning legislation to restrict Chinese immigration in New South Wales, the other Australian Colonies and New Zealand and the need for concerted action.

* Unregistered papers from Sir Henry Parkes' room - requests for assistance from individuals, confidential letters, papers re proposed Bills etc., 1887-90 [4/899.2]
This bundle contains correspondence and printed papers concerning land purchase, appointment of Justices of the Peace and Magistrates, and the state of hospitals, military forces, the railways and threat of strike action by unionists, water conservation, census, railways and tramways, the Wollongong Harbour Trust, postal service, electric lighting, divorce and pensions.
It also includes a letter to Sir Henry Parkes from Indigenous people of the Sydney area requesting a piece of Land at Jervis Bay. The letter is dated 6 December 1890.
This bundle has been included in the Guide to illustrate Sir Henry Parkes' interest in a wide range of matters.

* Reports by J. E. F. Coyle C.E. on navigation etc. of River Murray, 1889 [4/894.1]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the conditions of navigation, nature of trade and diversion of water in the Murray River. Report of the NSW Legislative Assembly 1889 on the Murray River and plans showing railway communication and the Murray River tributaries, 1889. Charts and diagrams concerning discharge of water on the Murray River are also included.

* Spectacle Island - Occupation of by Imperial Navy, 1890 [4/895.1 part]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the occupation of Spectacle Island by the Naval Authorities. Includes an 1883 printed report on the storage of war office stores and Spectacle Island.

* International Customs Conference, 1890 [4/900.4]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the International Customs Tariff Conference at Brussels 1890. Includes a copy of the Convention as signed by the various countries agreeing to contribute towards the funds for the publication of the Customs Tariff of various nations, a report on the International Customs Tariff Bureau and correspondence relating to the question of funding toward the scheme.

* Correspondence to Governor, including military matters, Fiji, French communist exiles from New Caledonia etc., 1874-90 [4/895.1]
Correspondence to Governor covering a broad range of topics, including a report on the occupation of Spectacle Island by the Imperial Navy, 1890, correspondence relating to communist exiles from New Caledonia, the proposed release of communist prisoners and escaped communists, the administration of the Legislative Council, Fiji and military matters.

* Appointments - Secretary of Defence, 1880-90 [4/898.2]
This bundle contains applications to be appointed as Secretary of Defence and to various positions under the Military Secretary.

* Defence of New South Wales, 1858-91 [4/7054A&B]
These volumes contains reports of the NSW Legislative Assembly 1858-91 relating to the defence of New South Wales. Includes the Report on the Proposed organisation of the Military Forces of the Australian Colonies, 1889 by Major General J. Bevan Edwards. A number of plans and sketches are attached to these reports relating to matters of military defence.

Federation, 1889-91 [4/902.1]
Correspondence to Sir Henry Parkes and some draft replies concerning the organization of the 1891 National Australasian Convention, includes list of delegates from each colony, form of commission and proposals.

* Navy and Colonial Defence, 1886-93 [4/903.2]
Correspondence and printed papers on a broad range of topics are covered including for example, inspections, regulations, police protection, music examinations, a training ship for Colonial Naval Cadets, and receipt of letters concerning licences to employ native labourers. This correspondence is mainly addressed to the Governor from the Rear Admiral and Commander in Chief of the Australian Station. Correspondence relates to a number of places including Sydney, Hobart, Tonga and New Caledonia.
Includes a copy of the printed paper Colonial Naval Defences detailing correspondence laid before a meeting which was held on board Her Majesty's Ship Nelson at Sydney on the 26 and 27 April 1886, when the Premiers of Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, and the Naval Commander-in-Chief were present.

* Imperial Institute of the United Kingdom, the Colonies and India - exhibitions etc. of colonies, 1890-93 [4/905.1]

Correspondence and printed papers concerning the establishment of a permanent museum at the Imperial Institute of the United Kingdom, the Colonies and India in commemoration of the 50th year of the reign of Her Majesty the Queen.

Report and comments by military officers on Royal Commission on Military Service and report of committee on local defence, 1892-93 [4/906.1]
Report of the Royal Commission on Military Service of the Colony, 1892. Includes comments on the report by various military and naval officers; printed reports of New South Wales defences, 1877-87; military forces of the colony, 1891 and estimates of expenditure, 1892-92. It also includes reports by Major General J. Bevan Edwards, Military Forces of the Colony, 1889 and Proposed organisation of the Military Forces of the Australasian Colonies, 1890.

* Post Telegraph Conference, 1892-1894 [4/910.2]
Correspondence and printed papers concerning the postal and telegraphic conference held in March 1892 in Hobart and March 1893 in Brisbane and the Pacific Cable, 1893-94.

* Federal Election Convention: special authorities for payment of expenses, 1897 [4/923.2]
Correspondence concerning the payment of allowances and extra remunerations to returning officers; setting up of polling places for the election of delegates to the Federal Convention.

* Federal Enabling Act, 1897-98 [4/935.1]
Correspondence from returning officers acknowledging copies of regulations received in connection with the Enabling Act 1895 and 1897 amendment.

* Papers from Mr Brunker's room (Chief Secretary) - unregistered letters, newspaper cuttings, deputations, Bills etc., 1892-99 [4/935.2, 4/922.3]
Correspondence and printed papers on a broad range of subjects including the Queensland International Exhibition in 1897, restrictive immigration, military matters and articles from newspapers in the United Kingdom concerning Australia. Of special note in [4/922.3] are copies of telegrams received on the death of Sir Henry Parkes in 1896.

* Election papers, 1898-99 [4/952.1]
Includes papers on the Federal Enabling Act 1899 and Federal Referendum largely of a routine administrative nature from returning officers.

* Confidential printed papers, 1870-1901 [2/8095B.2] 
The contents of this bundle is listed in full below.
- Progress Report of Defence Commission, 1870
- Report on the islands of the Western Pacific, 1879
- Note on the Military and Naval Defences of the Australian Colonies by Colonel P.H. Scratchley, 1882
- Report on Defences of Sydney and Newcastle, 1885
- The Mount Rennie Case, 1886-87
- Fall of the Jennings Ministry, 1886-87
- Papers re Chinese Immigration, 1888
- Correspondence re precedence of Colonial Governors, 1889
- Federation of Australia, 1889-90
- Instructions for mobilizing Naval and Marine Pensioners on the Australian Station, 1895, and
- Commonwealth Defence Bill drafted by the Federal Military Committee, 1901

NRS 1008, Copies of telegrams to and from the Agent General for New South Wales in London, 1873-1908 [4/3973-89; 4/3982]
The volumes [4/3981], [4/3982] and [4/3988] contain references to the Boer War.

NRS 1254, Photographs of the departure of the New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent for South Africa, n.d. (c.1900) [SZ 1032]
Reel 2786; Photocopy: COD 422
Original photographs and the 'master' aperture card negatives nos. 7774-7795 are closed to public access. The positive viewing microfilm Reel 2786 and the 35mm viewing contact prints COD 422 are open to public access in the reading room.
* View these photographs on Photo Investigator

Executive Council

NRS 4232, Minute books, 1825-1935

NRS 4235, Registers of minute papers laid before the Executive Council, 1846-1909


Government Printing Office

The Government Printing Office existed to meet the printing and photographic requirements of Parliament, Government departments and agencies and semi-governmental organisations, and in some cases Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities.

NRS 4413, Letters sent to departments and government officials, 1882-1922 [1/141-88]
These letters are press copies of letters sent to government departments and government officials. Of special note are the volumes for 1900-01 concerning arrangements for Commonwealth Celebrations, the Commonwealth Gazette and federal elections.

NRS 4414, Indexes to letters sent to departments and government officials, 1882-1922 [1/63-69]
Alphabetical indexes giving date of letter sent, volume and letter numbers.

NRS 4449, Beer excise duty stamps printed and issued, 1891-95 [1/21]
This volume records number and values of stamps produced each month.

NRS 4481, Glass negatives, 1870-1988 [4/8585-98, 4/8599B-8679]
Reels 278, 2546-47, 2643; COD 121 A & B
The photographs cover a wide variety of subjects. Of special note are those images of Federation decorations for the Commonwealth Celebrations in January 1901 and the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in May 1901. Also includes images of the Parkes Ministry and Cranbrook.
The original plates are not available for research due to their fragility. State Records, however, has copied a number of them on to modern safety film and a preliminary list of the photographs and an index are available in the reading room.
Additional negatives have been copied by the State Library of NSW as part of its PICMAN project.
a. Same size prints taken from the glass negatives, c.1890–c.1920 (c.1900 prints to date)
b. Contact prints taken from glass negatives, c.1890–c.1920
c. Aperture card negatives, c.1890–c.1920 (c.2100 aperture cards to date)
d. Viewing positive microfilm copies of glass negatives, c.1890–c.1920.

NRS 4446, Miscellaneous papers of the Postage Department, 1849-1909 [SZ34-37]

Justice Charles James Manning

NRS 7308, Semi official correspondence of Justice Manning, 1889-98 [2/8561]
This series contains an invitation to the Peoples' Federal Convention at Bathurst in 1896 and a draft of Manning's letter declining to attend.

Marine Board

NRS 15521, Maritime Conference 1894: report and proceedings [18/1785.4]
A bound copy of the report and proceedings of the maritime conference of the principal officers of the marine department of the Australasian colonies, with appendices, and chart showing existing and proposed lights in Australia and Tasmania, 1894. The intercolonial maritime conference was held at Parliament House, Tasmania, April 1894.

National Australasian Convention

The proceedings of the Convention are printed in New South Wales Votes and Proceedings, 1891 Volume 1, commencing page 133.

NRS 10647,  Roll of delegates, 1891 [SZ100]
This roll bears the signatures of the delegates from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand who attended the National Australasian Convention to consider and report upon an adequate scheme for a Federal Constitution, Sydney, 2 March 1891.


The first Colonial Treasurer, William Balcombe, was appointed on 28 October 1823 by Earl Bathurst under His Majesty's Commission.

After responsible government the Treasurer became increasingly important as the manager of the colony's fiscal policy. As the Treasurer is responsible for the preparation of the estimates, the administration of government funds and the control of accounts, the office is in close contact with all other agencies. Once in the 1880s, and commonly from the mid 1890s until the establishment of the Premier's Department in 1907, the Premier held the Treasury portfolio. Thus records concerning policy matters may be found with the Treasury papers.

NRS 14194, Special bundles

Australasian Federal Convention on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1896-98 [10/4153.2 part]
Includes a Draft Bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia as adopted by the Convention at Melbourne on 16 March 1898, together with an explanation of its provisions by Randolph Garran and related correspondence.

* Papers re federation, 1899-1900 [10/4153.1, 10/4154 part]
Item [10/4153.1] includes cablegrams and correspondence with Edmund Barton in London, cables and correspondence concerning amendments to Bill from the various Premiers; printed papers relating to Federation presented to both Houses of Parliament in London and papers concerning Western Australia's position.
Item [10/4154.1] includes instructions to Barton in London, correspondence concerning the passage of Bill, further papers on Western Australia. Documents include translation of cipher cablegrams re passing of Bill, dated 5 July 1900, message of congratulations from New Zealand, cable re Delegates meeting Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, correspondence re proposed dates for proclamation of Commonwealth and federal elections.

* Fortification of Albany and Thursday Island, 1889-1908 [10/4160]
Correspondence from the Australian Colonies expressing the need to federate their defences following Major General J. Bevan Edwards' report; cooperation on intercolonial defence of Albany, King George's Sound and Thursday Island (includes plans); intercolonial military conference, 1896; contributions by the Australian Colonies to the fortifications and defence garrisons at Albany and Thursday Island; valuing New South Wales' interest when Thursday Island was transferred to the Commonwealth.

NRS 14417, Letters received, 1886-87 [4/873-874.1]
Letters received by Sir Patrick Jennings, Premier and Colonial Treasurer from 26 February 1886 to 19 January 1887, in his capacity as Premier. They are concerned with a wide variety of matters, particularly those affecting the other Australian colonies.

NRS 14419, Press copies of letters sent, 15 Jul 1886-19 Jan 1887 [4/3967-68]
These volumes cover the latter half of the period in which Sir Patrick Jennings was Premier and colonial Treasurer from 26 February 1886 to 19 January 1887. The letters, telegrams and memoranda are signed by the Premier and his Private Secretary, Robert Scarlett. The subject matter includes correspondence with the Premiers of other colonies about the administration of New Guinea, arrangements for Centenary Celebrations in 1888, the Imperial Institute, memos to other government departments requesting information for the Premier, correspondence relating to the resignation of the Chief Justice, Sir Julian Salomons, and other policy matters.


[1] 1901 Centre, UTS, Web site (online), URL: (cited January 2001).

[2] Quick and Garren, op.cit., p.110.

[3] The Australian Encyclopaedia, 4th ed., Vol. 9, The Grolier Society of Australia, 1983, p.220.

[4] Helen Irving, ed., The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation, University of Cambridge Press, Cambridge, 1999, p.8.

[5] The Australian Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4, p.115.

[6] NRS 906, Colonial Secretary: Special bundles, Proposal to change name of the colony of New South Wales, 1887-88 [4/875.3].

[7] Quick and Garren, op.cit., p.116.

[8] ibid., p.118.

[9] Irving, ed., op.cit., p.426.

[10] loc.cit.

[11] Quick and Garran, op.cit., p.124.

[12] Irving, ed. op.cit., p.41.

[13] ibid., p.61.

[14] ibid., p.46-47.

[15] ibid., p.59.

[16] loc.cit.

[17] ibid., pp. 74, 80.

[18] ibid., p.80.

[19] ibid., p.338.

[20] NRS 14194, Treasury: Special bundles, Papers re federation, 1899-1900 [10/4153.1, 10/4154.1].

[21] loc.cit.

State Records Authority of New South Wales
Sydney,  Australia
May, 2001
© Copyright reserved by the Government of NSW, 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method without the prior written consent of the State Records Authority of NSW.
ISBN 0-7310-1759-5